Best Buys Eco-Cars: Plug-in Kia offers a bridge to an electric future

Our choice of the best new eco cars on the market right now

Could the Kia Niro Plugin Hybrid become a leader in the hybrid car market? We take it out on the road to find out. Video: Neil Briscoe


Best One: Kia Niro Plugin Hybrid

The thing is, that if we’re all going to give up our petrol and diesel engines, and go electric, we need bridging technology. Something to get us over the hump between now and the distant future when we’re all spinning around burning nothing but electrons. The Kia Niro Plugin Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) is that bridging technology, and it’s the most effective and simple plugin hybrid we’ve yet tried. Some other plugins fall apart when asked to tackle a long motorway journey, but the Niro chugs along happily in the outside lane, returning 65mpg on one long two-hour slog in our hands. That’s aircon going and the cruise set to 120km/h by the way. Around town, as long as you remember to keep it plugged in, you can easily get 40km from just the batteries, meaning that you could potentially get from one end of the week to t’other without using any petrol at all. On some half-charge runs, of around 30-odd-km, we saw better than 100mpg. So, it works. Plus the Niro looks pretty decent (nice mix of estate and crossover) is reasonably practical, well equipped, and if not exciting then at least perfectly pleasant to drive. The future’s not here, but the thing that gets us to the future is.

Best model: Niro Plugin Hybrid for €35,995 Price range: €29,095 to €35,995. Finance from €366 per month. Co2 emissions: 29 to 88g/km Sum up: As long as you can plug it in plenty, the Niro is the best of the new breed of PHEVs

Worthy Contenders

Toyota Prius

You do have to get past the Prius’ styling. Some people actually love the Manga Fish-Man looks of the Prius, but for most of us it’s a bit of a challenge. It’s one worth tackling though, because underneath this is the best Prius that Toyota has ever made. Its hybrid system sticks with old-fashioned nickel batteries, and a CVT gearbox (most competitors have moved on to dual-clutch systems and lithium-ion batteries) but Toyota has squeezed every last drop of efficiency out of its systems and the result is truly impressive economy wherever you drive. While motorway journeys used to be the old Prius’ Achilles Heel, now the new model easily tops 60mpg on such runs. And can top 75mpg around town, plus you’ll spend a surprising amount of urban time on just the batteries. The cabin is roomy, comfortable, and really nicely put together, and with the largely silent powertrain, the Prius is exceptionally relaxing to drive. It really has come of age. Plugin version looks slightly nicer and is seriously economical for city users.

Best model: Prius Hybrid Luxury for €34,150 Price range: €31,450 to €40,390. Finance from €243 per month. Co2 emissions: 22 to 82g/km Sum up: It wasn’t (quite) the first hybrid ever, but it has matured into one of the best

Nissan Leaf

Nissan’s new Leaf has jumped the species barrier, so to speak, from weirdo electric car for nerds and early adopters, to become a sensible, normal hatchback that just happens to be powered by electricity. The styling change has done much to normalise the Leaf, as has the interior which is far more plain (and it must be said, less interesting) than before. The electric powertrain has taken a big step forward, with a new 150hp electric motor, fed by a bigger 40kWh battery. The upshot of which is that Nissan claims a 275km one-charge range, and that’s on the tougher new WLTP economy test cycle. In reality, you should get 220km, unless you’re on the motorway all the way,. in which case range falls to about 180km. So long inter-urban drives still need planning, and a stop for a quick-charge, but more day-to-day driving in a Leaf has become much easier. Needs a better driving position (too high and perched up) and a more dynamic chassis to be truly brilliant, but it’s a big step forward for electric cars.

Best model: Leaf SV for €28,690 Price range: €26,290 to €32,600. Finance from €270 per month. Co2 emissions: 0g/km Sum up: Ultimately, it’s a conventional Nissan hatchback, but the electric driving experience is much improved

Honda Civic Diesel

Fear not, brethren! Fear not the dread word that is diesel. For I say unto thee that the fuel of Rudolf himself be not evil, just mis-understood. And anyway, it pleaded the headaches… Look, there’s plenty of hysteria about diesel at the moment, but here are some salient facts. One, there has been not the slightest suggestion that Honda has been cheating on its diesel emissions. Two, the Civic’s 1.6 iDTEC diesel engine is so smooth and quiet that you’ll barely realise it’s a diesel. Three, it gets a claimed 80mpg (and a solid 55-60mpg in real life) and gets within 5g/km of matching the Co2 emissions of a Toyota Prius. Four, the rest of the Civic is also good - roomy, well-made, sweet to drive. Five, yes it could do with looking a bit better and having a sweeter manual gearshift but thats not what we’re concentrating on here.

Best model: Civic Smart Plus 1.6 iDTEC for €27,950 Price range: €25,550 to €33,450. Finance from €POA per month. Co2 emissions: 93g/km Sum up: Can’t go electric and don’t like hybrid? Go for one of these, then…