Irish Times best buys: Eco-friendly cars

Whatever your budget or motoring needs, we identify the best in class, a few rivals to consider and what to buy used

Best in class: BMW 330e

The 330e is among the first horsemen in BMW’s drive towards the petrol apocalypse. Although it still has a petrol engine (and a bloody good 84bhp 2.0-litre turbo one at that) the headline here is that it’s a plugin hybrid, which can go for a claimed 50km on just the batteries and has a Co2 figure of just 44g/km. BMW also claims that it can get 148mpg, which is rubbish, but you can pretty easily squeeze 60mpg + out of it, which isn’t bad for a car with equivalent straightline performance to an all-petrol 330i. Plus, if you live in town and do mostly short hops, you can get from Monday to Friday without, potentially, using a drop of petrol. Better yet, it’s arrestingly affordable - for all this tech, and with a decent level of standard equipment, it’s €4,000 cheaper than a 320d diesel. Which pretty much seals its case, really.

Best buy: 330e M-Sport from €44,210. Prices start at €40,180.

PCP packages start from €POA a month.

Read the review:  BMW's new plug-in hybrids in 3-Series and 2-Series

Also try: Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Poor Mitsubishi finds itself in the news for all the wrong reasons at the moment (it’s been fiddling some fuel consumption figures) but that should not take away from the excellence of the Outlander PHEV, one of the first plugin hybrid vehicles to gain true mass acceptance. In part, that’s because Mitsubishi took the canny decision to price it barely any more expensive than the diesel model of the Outlander. The other part is the car’s ability to go for genuinely useful distances on just the batteries, as long as you’ve remembered to plug it in, but at least you always have the option of the petrol engine to get you home. The handling and ride are nothing special, and nor is the cabin, but that doesn’t stop the Outlander being a sensible, solid and perfectly pleasant vehicle. And one which is almost surprisingly forward looking.

Best buy: Outlander PHEV Intense + from €41,950. Prices start at €43,590.

Read the review: First drive: Mitsubishi's plug-in hybrid

Nissan Leaf 30kWh

Nissan has upgraded the battery in its all-electric Leaf, and so now you can get a theoretical 250km between charge-ups. It is a bit theoretical though - taking one on a long motorway journey is still to dice with the dread hand of range anxiety, but around town and for shorter hops, it’s brilliant, barely seeming to shed range at all thanks to a very efficient regenerative braking system. It’s still on the pricey side, at close to €30k for what is a family hatchback, and the quality of fit, finish and comfort in the cabin has fallen behind the rest, but the way it swooshes silently around town is a very pleasant thing to experience and you will never have to pay a cent to Big Oil ever again, which has its own appeal.

Best buy: Leaf SV 30kWh from €26,330. Prices start at €21,490.

PCP packages start from €388 a month.

Wild Card: BMW i3

Yes it's over-priced. Yes it's probably over-engineered. Yet with its carbon fibre monocoque, eco-friendly materials on the inside and impressive pace when fully charged, the little i3 will become a symbol of engineering prowess in the years to come. It's the Audi A2 of this era. You need the range extender if you want a little reassurance and it will be useful when it comes time to sell the car on, but in reality the little motor is pretty low-end, noisy and not in keeping with the general eco-ambience of the car. The electric range will improve with new batteries but there's always the risk of obsolescence. However it will be some time before others can boast of having a carbon fibre car, unless they're in a Porsche or Lamborghini.

Best buy: i3 with range extender €48,120 (€41,470 after SEAI grant). Prices start at €43,590 (€33,590 after SEAI grant)

Read the review: BMW's i3 electric has power and range, but stalls on price

Buying used? Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion

Yes, we have heard of the whole Volkswagen diesel scandal, and yet here we are advocating the purchase of one of the cars which triggered the whole thing. But you have to remember that (a) the scandal is over nitrogen oxide which does not contribute to climate change and (b) the Golf remains a very sensible, reliable and good to drive car. Check the lowered suspension for signs of wear or damage, and if the engine smokes excessively then the turbo’s on the way out. Electrical gremlins are not uncommon, but thankfully are usually minor. Better also inquire when it needs to come back in to have its engine refitted to make sure it’s complaint with emissions legislation, but once that’s done you’ll still have a smart, refined, roomy, well made hatchback that can average 65mpg with a bit of effort.

Best buy: 2012 Golf 1.6 TDI Bluemotion for circa €14,000