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Updated: 16 Feb 2022

New VW Golf vs Nissan Leaf vs rivals: should you buy a petrol, hybrid or electric car?

Is it right to choose a conventional car, or go hybrid or electric in 2020? Our expert tests show which of the latest cars are worth your money

For many of us, driving has changed radically in 2020. While some are returning to their usual routines, homeworking has seen many driving much less. Others want a car to avoid public transport and for making longer journeys to visit family. So what's the best car for the job? The new Volkswagen Golf aims to build on past success, but electrified cars are now launching like confetti. Our independent lab and road tests show which cars come out top.

The Volkswagen Golf is one of the biggest car launches of 2020 - it's both Volkswagen's bestselling model and a family favourite that's a perennial top-five seller in the UK.

But maybe driving just needs something different these days. Renault hopes more fun is the answer with the all-new Megane RS hot hatch, while many other manufacturers are pushing electrified cars. This includes the pioneering Nissan Leaf, the plug-in hybrid Peugeot 508 SW PHEV and even the new luxury all-electric Mercedes EQC SUV.

Our expert tests reveal whether it's time to consider a revolution in your driving.

Best cars for 2020 - whatever car you're looking for, our rigorous lab tests and demanding driving assessments will help you choose the best model for your budget

New Volkswagen Golf, £22,923

Volkswagen Golf

The new Volkswagen Golf is now in its eighth generation and Volkswagen will be looking to keep it firmly wedged in the UK bestseller list.

In some ways, the new Golf is very traditional: the exterior design is still recognisably a Golf, despite a mild tweak. There's a choice of two 2.0-litre diesel engines or two 1.5-litre petrol engines, all carried over from the previous Golf, plus a 1.0-litre petrol engine.

However, choose the most powerful petrol engine with the optional seven-speed automatic transmission and what you actually get is a mild hybrid, with a small electric motor that boosts fuel efficiency. In a hint of things to come, a plug-in hybrid Golf GTE is on the horizon for later in 2020, too.

Plus, this latest Golf has a new sweeping all-digital cabin design, with almost every button and switch removed, and operation centred on a large 10-inch dashtop touchscreen.

Is the new cabin design an iPhone-like revolution or a horribly fiddly mess? And has VW done enough to stave off the competition?

Our independent lab and road tests reveal all. See our new Volkswagen Golf review.

Renault Megane RS, £26,217

Renault Megane RS

Move away Honda Civic Type-R and Volkswagen Golf GTI. Renault hopes to steal the hot-hatch crown with the stylish Megane RS, a souped-up performance version of its medium hatchback with a turbocharged 1.8-litre engine.

The Megane RS boasts 280hp as standard for boy racer thrills or go overboard on the 300hp 'Trophy' spec.

The Trophy version adds a limited-slip differential to improve cornering traction, stiffer suspension, anti-roll bars and plenty more toys - not to mention a louder exhaust. So you can turn the need for a practical car into something genuinely racy.

Mad or a sensible alternative to a sports car? Our experts couldn't wait to find out - read our Renault Megane RS review.

Nissan Leaf, £27,447

Nissan Leaf

Few cars feel more like the future than the all-electric Nissan Leaf, priced to appeal to mainstream family car buyers.

2020 has seen the car get the choice of a more powerful Leaf e+ model with a larger 62kWh battery, claiming a hefty 239-mile driving range per charge.

You have three charging options:

  • A wall-mounted fast-charging home box is currently offered free to owners (with a full charge taking 7.5-11.5 hours)
  • A slow charge in an emergency from a standard domestic plug (don't do this - it takes 21 hours)
  • Use Chademo public rapid-chargers, which take between 60 and 90 minutes to restore full charge.

Is it time to say goodbye to using a petrol pump ever again? And does the e+ really go the distance when put through our real-life tests? See our expert Nissan Leaf review.

Hyundai Ioniq PHEV, £27,855

Hyundai Ioniq PHEV

The Ioniq large hatchback come in a variety of electric flavours to suit the needs of anyone who wants to move away from petrol and diesel.

It can be either a standard Hyundai Ioniq hybrid, a pure electric car in the form of the Hyundai Ioniq EV (both reviewed separately) or, as here, a plug-in hybrid.

The plug-in version could be ideal for those who do plenty of shorter distance journeys, but don't want to be limited on the occasional long distance one with a pure electric car. For those with the space to install a home charger, in theory it should have better fuel economy for short trips than a conventional hybrid.

Is this the ideal car for the new normal? Find out in our comprehensive Hyundai Ioniq PHEV review.

Peugeot 508 SW PHEV, £36,530

Peugeot 508 SW PHEV

The Peugeot 508 SW PHEV is the latest family estate car to get the plug-in treatment, and it pairs a stylish feel with lots of space for passengers and luggage.

It combines a 1.6-litre petrol engine and an electric motor for 225hp overall. Peugeot claims is has an electric-only range of 33-39 miles for zero-tailpipe-emission driving.

Unlike the new VW Golf, Peugeot has resisted removing all the buttons when adding its new i-Cockpit digital dashboard system with 10-inch touchscreen, maintaining elegant-looking 'piano' shortcut keys below the touchscreen.

Could this be the perfect next car for your family? We put it to the test - see our exclusive Peugeot 508 SW PHEV review.

Mercedes EQC, £65,720

Mercedes EQC

Roll over dirty perceptions of larger SUVs - the Mercedes EQC is the brand's first mainstream fully-electric, zero-tailpipe-emission car.

It's a five-seater that competes against luxury rivals such as the Audi e-Tron and Jaguar i-Pace, and is a touch larger than the brand's mid-size conventionally powered Mercedes GLC model.

It's powered by a 80kWh battery pack and two electric motors for variable four-wheel drive, for a total power output of 300kW (or 408hp).

But is it worth the price, or is going electric with an SUV currently an expensive mistake? Our tests provide the answer.