CAR BUYERS can’t get enough of Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs) but this type of car doesn’t half get a tough time from anti-car lobbyists and environmental campaigners.
Recent research, reported by the BBC, found their popularity in the UK is highest among drivers who live in towns and cities rather than rural areas, where their rugged, high-riding design would seem most at home.
In fact, three quarters of SUVs are purchased by people living in the nation’s urban areas, according to a leading co-op and think tank focused on more humane, reasonable and effective ways of working and living.
The New Weather Institute also noted that more than a third of the vehicles purchased in the affluent London borough of Kensington and Chelsea are large SUVs, which it described as “two-tonne trucks”.
The report attacked specific brands including Land Rover for the advertising of its new(ish) Defender and Discovery, as well as Ford, which now reportedly spends two thirds of its advertising budget in the US promoting SUVs.
However, while they are indeed heavier than the equivalent hatchbacks, and create more drag through the air due to their height and shape, SUVs are popular for many reasons including the fact that they offer a commanding view of the road, are easy to climb in and out of, and are useful when you do find yourself navigating a pothole-strewn country lane.
What’s more they can be incredibly fuel efficient, if given the right powertrain. In fact, the most popular model in Kensington and Chelsea according to the report is the Lexus N300h, a hybrid, while the Defender, Discovery and Ford Kuga can all be even less polluting, potentially, as they’re now available as plug-in hybrids (PHEVs).
PHEVs are seen as a stop-gap between traditional petrol cars and pure-electric vehicles. They have both electric and a petrol motors, and can typically be driven for up to around 40 miles on electric power (producing zero emissions) before the engine joins the party, whereafter the car works more like a tradition hybrid.
As we shift towards a future where new petrol and diesel cars will be banned from sale, there are a large number of plug-in hybrids that could be exactly what buyers should be looking at, especially if they live in towns, where local air quality is a serious issue.
Here are five of the best plug-in hybrid SUVs you can buy right now.
1. Range Rover P400e
Starting price £89,390
Undoubtedly the most Kensington and Chelsea-friendly entry on this list, with a price to match, the current Range Rover is more at home humming past the entrance to Harrods than any other generation of the car — in fact, Jeremy Clarkson went as far as to say in his recent review that “we can no longer judge the Range Rover as a dual-purpose car” due to the fact that it has transitioned to full luxury vehicle status. Anyone brave enough to show it a muddy hill would find that they’re still unbelievably capable when it comes to off-roading, though.
The only issue with the plug-in hybrid version, which escapes London’s Ultra-Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) daily charge for the most polluting vehicles and can manage up to 31 miles on electric power alone, is that if you do fancy driving it into the Congestion Charging Zone, you will have to pay £15 a day. This is because officially it emits 77g/km of CO2 — 2g/km over the threshold for Congestion Charge exemption. For that kind of task, you’ll want to pick up one of the Range Rover Sport, Evoque or Velar variants, all of which fall below the 75g/km threshold.
2. Kia Sorento Plug-in Hybrid
Starting price £42,495
The all-new 2021 Sorento’s starting price is less than half of that of the Range Rover, and it represents excellent value for money: seven seats, a claimed 176.6mpg fuel economy, and carbon emissions of just 38g/km.
And while it can’t be compared with the Range Rover for luxury, the Sorento is impressively appointed: even in base “2” spec, you get 19in alloys, LED headlights and tail lights, and a heated leather steering wheel — and anyone who has had to do an early morning winter commute will know that’s enough reason to buy it in itself. And as with any Kia, you get that mammoth seven year/100,000 mile warranty — something of which Land Rover owners can only dream.
3. Ford Kuga Plug-in Hybrid
Starting price £36,485
On the face of it the new Ford Kuga might not seem as good value for money as the Sorento, until you hear that when Driving.co.uk editor Will Dron reviewed it his neighbour mistook it for a Porsche Cayenne. Not bad, considering that the Porsche is £20,000 more expensive, even in its cheapest guise.
And that’s just symptomatic of the Kuga’s glow-up from its last generation — interior space and infotainment are upgraded, build quality is impressive, seats are plush, sound deadening is spot on: the Kuga is a serene and comfortable place to be.
The only issue is, while you can get a massive 201.8mpg when using mostly electric power, when you’re out (after about 35 miles, if you were fully charged up) the 2.5-litre petrol engine is a little thirsty and it can’t be rapid charged. Perhaps one for those who can charge it nightly, then.
4. BMW X5 xDrive45e
Starting price £66,415
The BMW X5 was the first SUV to come out of the company’s Munich headquarters, and in the 22 years since then BMW has taken great care to make sure it maintains the car’s reputation as one of the best drivers’ SUVs currently on the market.
Despite the extra weight of having an electric motor, battery, engine and fuel tank, the xDrive45e is still impressive to drive, and is known as one of the most comfortable high-riding models about.
That’s especially true when using the quiet battery-only power, which the beemer can manage for up to 54 miles, the company claims — the most of any car on this list by quite a margin. However, like the Ford, when that runs out, you’re relying on a guzzler of an engine — a 3.0-litre, six-cylinder unit.
5. Audi Q5 55 TFSI e
Starting price £55,920
Audi’s plug-in SUV doesn’t have the electric range of the BMW, or the practical allure of the Kia — where it trumps the others is mixing fun factor with good economy. Standstill to 60mph takes a hot-hatch adjacent 5.3 seconds, and thanks to the petrol engine, the initial torque delivery of the electric motor isn’t just ephemeral, while a combined 362bhp is more than enough to elicit the occasional grin when you put your foot down.
However, there is a claimed 37 miles of electric-only range, which is plenty to do the school run, or if you’re lucky, to get to work and back. Audi claims that if you stay charged up and drive well, you can achieve 166.2mpg. The Q5 55 TFSI e then, may not have all of the practicality of the standard Q5, or all of the speed of the SQ5, but has the perfect amount of both.