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The Irish Times car buyer’s guide for 2023: The best electric hybrids and plug-in hybrids

Our pick of the best plug-in hybrid and regular hybrid cars to buy in the coming months from family motors to crossover models

Toyota Rav4 is suddenly a really serious player on the crossover market
The Irish Times Best Cars 2023

Once again our list of best buys is focused on the cars you are actually buying or seemingly want to buy, if the word from the forecourts is correct.

Last week we gave you our choice of the top electric cars for 2023; next week it’s the turn of SUVs and crossovers – and we’ll also name our overall best buy for 2023.

Best electric cars to buy in 2023, from small run-arounds to executive saloonsOpens in new window ]

Today we present our choice of the top hybrids and plug-in hybrids for 2023. We hope this guide helps you choose – but doubt you’ll agree on all our selections.

Best small hybrid: Toyota Yaris

Best small hybrid: Toyota Yaris

It is so hard to vote against a Toyota being the best in the hybrid game, not least because the company has had more experience with designing, making and selling hybrids than anyone else. That really shows in this Yaris, which manages to combine genuine 4.5-litres per 100km all-round fuel economy with a chassis and steering that sparkles and makes driving frugally actually enjoyable. All the usual plaudits for Toyota’s quality apply here, and the dashboard design looks positively funky compared to the somewhat bland offerings of most rival superminis. The only problem is that the Yaris cleaves very closely to the mini end of that word – space in the back seats and boot is distinctly lacking. The best version, of course, is the firebrand GR Yaris all-wheel drive hot hatch, but that’s not a hybrid so technically doesn’t count here. Read our original review here


Also try: Renault Clio E-Tech Hybrid

Renault Clio E-Tech Hybrid

Renault is trying to play a very fast game of catch-up with Toyota, launching a swathe of hybrid models to try to stay in the combustion engine game until 2030. Of that swathe, the Clio is the most impressive, doubtless because it is the lightest and puts the least strain on its engine. Renault’s unique twin-electric motor and oddball gearbox design is technically fascinating but is less smooth than the Toyota set-up. It is hugely economical though, and the Clio’s cabin looks nicer and is roomier than that of the Yaris.

Wait for: Honda Jazz

Honda Jazz
Honda’s hybrid-engined Jazz

Honda’s hybrid-engined Jazz (and its odd Crossstar semi-SUV variant) has been on sale globally for a while now, but we are still waiting for it to arrive properly in Ireland. It’s worth waiting for though – sweet styling, masses of space and commendable frugality. Pricey, though.

Best hybrid crossover: Toyota Yaris Cross

Toyota Yaris Cross
Best hybrid crossover: Toyota Yaris Cross

The Yaris Cross is one of those cars that ends up being more than the sum of its parts. Mechanically speaking, it’s a tall Yaris – same platform, same 1.5-litre hybrid petrol engine, same everything really. And yet it’s a car that very much has its own character. It actually feels less like a Yaris and more like a modern-day first-generation RAV4. Fanciful? Well, the RAV4 may have grown up and become more expensive but the Yaris Cross and the first, early-90s RAV run the tape measure out to pretty much the same dimensions, and the Yaris Cross has some of the first RAV’s sparky sense of fun. The cabin has lots of hard plastic but still manages to feel well built, while the boot is more practical than that of many rivals. It is not the cheapest crossover around, but it is genuinely one of the best. Read our original review here

Also try: Nissan Juke Hybrid

Nissan Juke hybrid
Nissan Juke Hybrid. Photograph: Sebastien Mauroy

The Juke Hybrid borrows much from the Renault Captur Hybrid – not surprising, as both cars share a common chassis – and that means that the Nissan uses the Renault’s incredibly complicated gearbox. That makes it slightly odd to drive, as the engine, wheels and gearbox occasionally feel out of sync with one another. That said, it is actually a pleasant enough car to drive and the cabin is very well made. A shame it is so small in the back and in the boot. Read our original review here

Wait for: Dacia Jogger Hybrid

Dacia Jogger
Dacia Jogger Hybrid

Take the winning recipe that is the Dacia Jogger – affordable price, tolerable build quality, immense space, seats for seven – and add a frugal hybrid powertrain and an automatic gearbox. We hope Dacia’s dealerships invest in some rain shelters and outdoor heaters because there will be queues when this arrives.

Best family hybrid: Peugeot 308 Hybrid 180

Peugeot 308 phev
Best family hybrid: Peugeot 308 Hybrid 180

Peugeot’s slick looking 308 has arrived and upset the family hatch applecart. At a time when the mighty Volkswagen Golf is looking a bit underfed and under-interesting in its eighth (and final?) generation, the handsome 308 is bullying in, elbows out and all guns blazing. The hybrid version uses the tried and tested 1.6 turbo petrol engine allied to a battery pack big enough to give a potential 60km of electric-only range. Drive it carefully and it’ll return 5-litres per 100km on the motorway, too. The dashboard layout is a little messy, and not everyone likes the small steering wheel, but quality levels are very high. Usual PHEV compromises of small fuel tank and truncated boot, but you can get around the latter by buying the excellent SW estate model. Read our original review here

Also try: Toyota Corolla

Toyota Corolla Touring estate and hatchback

A constant botherer of the top spot in the Irish sales charts, and it’s not hard to see why. The Corolla remains a good-looking car, and it’s way sharper to drive than you’d expect. Simple hybrid set-up (no plug-in option) leads to excellent fuel economy but it’s tight on rear space and room in the boot unless you go for the Touring Sports estate. Read our original review here

Wait for: Honda Civic

Honda Civic hybrid
Honda Civic

Honda’s been on the back burner in Irish terms for some time now but this new Civic could change all that when it arrives in 2023. More quietly styled than before but with a gorgeous and roomy cabin and a very frugal 2-litre hybrid. You can practically smell the quality.

Best executive hybrid: BMW 330e

Best executive hybrid: BMW 330e

The 330e keeps this crown by the narrowest of margins over the Mercedes C-Class. Should the C-Class, with its 100km electric range, have muscled its way to the top? Possibly, but there’s something so appealing about having a car that is as desirable and brilliant to drive as the 3 Series, and knowing that if you plug it in regularly, you can slink around town on silent electric power and potentially get down to fuel consumption of just 2-litres per 100km. It gets thirstier on long drives, of course, and you do lose boot space but then we’d always recommend going for the Touring estate anyway. All 3 Series models now come with the “big screen” digital interior upgrade. Read our original review here

Also try: Mercedes-Benz C300e

Mercedes-Benz C300e

The C300e so nearly clinched this. That 100km electric range on a full charge makes it the most versatile of plug-in hybrids and the fact that it is a C-Class – a low-slung saloon and not a hulking SUV – means you’ll get closer to that figure in the real world than you would in something taller. The handsome estate model is just delightful, and if the C-Class isn’t quite as much fun to drive as its BMW rival then it certainly is satisfying. Read our original review here

Wait for: Audi A4

New Audi A4 teaser image
Audi A4

The new Audi A4 should arrive in late 2023 and as well as coming with mild-hybrid for all of its petrol and diesel engines, there will also be a proper plug-in hybrid model and – eventually – a fully electric version. Expect high levels of handsomeness.

Best large executive hybrid: Mercedes-Benz E300de

Best large executive hybrid: Mercedes-Benz E300de

Recommending a diesel-engined car in 2022? Have we gone mad? Well, no. At least not quite. The E300de might be on the expensive side, but it has compelling all-round performance for buyers who do regular long journeys yet still want to get a foot in the electric motoring door. Basically, the E300de is a regular plug-in hybrid. The battery is big enough for about 50km on electric power alone, and then for longer runs you let the combustion engine take over. The thing is, because this E-Class uses a diesel engine, that combustion use on long runs is seriously economical – barely any more thirsty than the standard, non-hybrid diesel. So you get the same long run economy but the ability to do short journeys on electric power. Win and win, we’d say. Drawbacks? The battery dramatically reduces boot space and the fuel tank is smaller too. Read our original review here

Also try: BMW 545e

BMW 545e
BMW 545e. Photograph: Uwe Fischer

The BMW 530e is both more affordable and more popular, but we’ve gone for the 545e because its six-cylinder engine is just so beautifully smooth when you’re running on petrol power, plus it is really quick when you need it to be. If you’re charging up regularly and making proper use of the electric bit, then the fuel consumption won’t be much worse than the four-cylinder 530e. Read our original review here

Wait for: Audi A6 e-tron

Audi A6 e-tron
Audi A6 e-tron

While Audi will offer an updated version of the existing A6 in 2023, with a reasonably efficient plug-in hybrid powertrain, perhaps if you’re going to wait it would be better to skip hybrid and just get into this gorgeous 770km-ranged all-electric A6 instead?

Best luxury hybrid: Merc S580e

Mercedes S580e PHEV
Best luxury hybrid: Merc S580e

So you want to travel in luxury but aren’t quite ready to fully commit to electric power? Equally, the slightly odd driving experience of the all-electric Merc EQS is putting you off, and the styling of that new BMW 7 Series is just plain disturbing? So how about this? The S-Class S580e is pretty close to being the best of both worlds. It’s a plug-in hybrid with a battery big enough to carry you for 100km before turning over to petrol power, and yet it is still frugal enough when burning fossils to squeeze about 800km from a tank. Inside it is arguably nicer than the EQS, with a more definitive sense of the quality and comfort that private jets still try, and fail, to emulate. While the EQS has that awkward brake pedal and slightly “boaty” feeling in corners, in the S-Class all is serene, but equally all is precise. Eventually the S-Class will have to go all-electric too, but for now the “Best Car in the World” is still capable of showing more techy rivals a thing or three. Read our original review here

Also try: Audi A8 PHEV

Audi A8 Phev
Audi A8 PHEV. Photograph: Sagmeister Photography

Only a 60km range on electric power for the big Audi, and it’s a design that’s starting to age a bit. Nonetheless, it is still an exceptionally good-looking car and if the cabin can’t quite match the majesty of its rival from Merc, then it’s still a rather wonderful place to be as the miles tick by.

Wait for: 7 Series Hybrid

BMW 7 Series
7 Series Hybrid

Styling? Bonkers. Cabin? Spectacular (and occasionally tacky). Electric range? Not bad – 90km or thereabouts. Would you have one? Maybe ...

Best crossover hybrid: Toyota RAV4

Toyota RAV4 PHEV
Best crossover hybrid: Toyota RAV4

What really sells the RAV4 is not so much the standard hybrid model, but the plug-in hybrid. It’s the norm for plug-in hybrid cars, especially tall and bulky SUVs, to become unreasonably thirsty on longer journeys – you are carrying all the weight of that big battery after all. Many struggle to do better than 7.5-litres per 100km on a long motorway run. The RAV4 PHEV? 5.4-litres per 100km, all day long. And 70-odd-km on a fully-charged battery. It’s a remarkable all-round performance. The rest of the RAV is a thoroughly good vehicle. The cabin is spacious and, if not exactly pretty then certainly beautifully put together. The chassis can feel a little wooden but reveals unexpected depths of fun if you ask it the right questions. It is even quite good at wandering off road, into the mud, sand and fields. Not cheap, but then again this is possibly one of the best motoring all-rounders of the moment. Read our original review here

Also try: Citroen C5 X

Citroen C5X
Citroen C5 X. Photograph: Matthew Howell

Citroen (or rather the Stellantis Group, of which Citroen is part) is trying to build the DS name up into its own luxury brand – a smooth and slinky French luxury car maker to compete with BMW and Mercedes. The problem is that, as good as DS models are, this C5 X is actually a better DS than any of them and it’s still a humble Citroen. Interesting styling, spacious cabin, massive boot and pillow-like comfort that makes long journeys seem not to have happened. Not the best PHEV set-up of all, but it is workmanlike. A French car that is distinctively French.

Wait for: Nissan X-Trail

Nissan X-Trail
Nissan X-Trail. Photograph: Sebastien Mauroy

Nissan’s new X-Trail is, as with the previous model, based on the Qashqai, but it looks beefier and bulkier than before. It is once again a seven-seater but this time comes with an intriguing new hybrid set-up called e-Power, in which an electric motor does all the driving and there’s a petrol engine on board only to top up the battery. Worth waiting for.

Best SUV hybrid: Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV

Best SUV hybrid: Hyundai Santa Fe PHEV

Hyundai’s big seven-seat plug-in hybrid SUV is a genuinely remarkable car. It’s a bit odd to look at, with that basking-shark grille and little narrow headlights (Kia’s mechanically-identical Sorento is the better-looking car of the two) but inside it has the sort of quality and comfort you might reasonably expect from a Mercedes. The plug-in hybrid bit is good too, giving a theoretical 50km electric range but not getting too thirsty when you need to venture further afield. It’s even pretty decent to drive for something so big and bulky. Read our original review here

Also try: Mazda CX-60

Mazda CX60
Mazda CX-60

Mazda’s newest offering is a big SUV with a big battery giving it a 65km range on a full charge. Mazda wants it to compete with the German premium big guns so has given it a gorgeous and very high quality interior. It is surprisingly rugged when you take it off-road, too.

Wait for: Honda CR-V PHEV

Honda CR-V

Honda, having been seemingly in the doldrums for some time, is really coming out swinging. Following on from the cutesy Honda e and the impressive new Civic will be a new CR-V, with more space, far sharper styling, a much higher quality cabin and a long-range plug-in hybrid powertrain.

Best luxury hybrid SUV: Lexus RX450h +

Best luxury hybrid SUV: Lexus RX450h +. Photograph: PA

Lexus has (thanks to being Toyota’s sharper-suited brother) more hybrid and battery-making experience than anyone and it really shows in this new RX. It’s not the prettiest car Lexus has ever made (that bulbous nose is more Jimmy Durante than Grace Kelly) and it has ditched the buttery-smooth V6 engine of the old model for a 2.5-litre four-cylinder unit based on that used by the Toyota RAV4. In spite of this, the new RX is a very, very good car. It’s whisper-quiet, unless you absolutely mash the throttle to the carpet. It’s also smooth and comfortable in how it deals with bumps and the interior has all the sybaritic sumptuousness you expect from a Lexus. It’ll do 65km on battery power if you charge it up and has reasonable fuel consumption once the petrol engine switches on. What it really does best is deal with modern traffic conditions: in the stop-start, snarled-up, crawl and creep that characterises most of our commutes, the RX is a haven of tranquillity. Possibly no other car on sale is quite so close to being a mobile day spa. Read our original review here

Also try: Range Rover P440e

Range Rover P440e

The Range Rover has become truly gargantuan, towering over other cars like a leather-upholstered cliff face. Yet, its environmental credentials have actually improved. The new Range Rover P440e plug-in hybrid (a more powerful P510e is also available) can stretch to 110km of all-electric power on a full charge and can to 5.5-litres per 100km on a long run if you drive it gently. Stunning interior, but watch the build quality.

Wait for: BMW XM

BMW XM. Photograph: PA

The XM is not pretty. Not pretty at all. In fact it is staggeringly ugly, looking like a 7 Series saloon has collided with a cash-in-transit van. Nonetheless, it is the first plug-in hybrid from the M-division, has a snarling petrol V8 engine, and is destined to be a future collector’s item.