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19 Aug 2021

The latest family cars tested: is plug-in hybrid the fuel type of choice?

Our latest crop of tested new cars is dominated by PHEV models, including electrified versions of firm family-car favourites
Citroen C5 Aircross PHEV

If you're debating whether to make the switch to an electric car but you're worried about limited range or the practicalities of regular charging, a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) could be the ideal solution. Our latest batch of tests include cars claiming to offer the best of petrol and electric propulsion.

With much larger batteries than conventional hybrid models, a PHEV can be driven for extended periods on electricity alone - often enough for daily use - but also fall back on a conventional combustion engine for longer trips. This makes them a tempting proposition for those who don't have access to private charging facilities or who regularly venture out of town.

However, our testing has regularly shown that to get anywhere near the impressive claimed economy of PHEVs you'll need to drive them on electricity as much as possible. The additional weight of the batteries can also affect the economy of the petrol engine, so you'll need to consider your needs carefully.

Read on to find out what we thought of the latest PHEVs from Vauxhall, Volvo, Volkswagen and Citroen, and if you're not convinced by the benefits of a PHEV, we've also tested conventional family cars in the form of the new Volkswagen Golf Estate and updated Hyundai i30 hatchback.

Best cars for 2021 - discover the best models for performance, comfort, safety and reliability

Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid (PHEV, 2020-), £34,005

It took Vauxhall three years to introduce plug-in hybrid tech to its largest SUV, but it seems it has been worth the wait. This spacious and safe family crossover is given an injection of performance with its hybrid conversion, as well as the promise of up to 35 miles emissions-free range from a full battery.

As with some of its PHEV rivals, boot space has taken a knock thanks to the addition of a battery pack, but its price premium is at least justified by a decent specification and a strong safety rating.

Find out if the PHEV is the pick of the Grandland X range in our Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid (2020-) review.

Volvo V90 Recharge (PHEV, 2020-), £53,277

Volvo's commitment to electrification continues unabated, with all its models now available as a PHEV or full electric.

Our latest test model is the 340hp T6 version of the brand's V90 luxury estate. This all-wheel-drive executive express has a claimed electric range of up to 35 miles, as well as official average fuel consumption of 104.6-134.5mpg.

With opulent surroundings for five, a high-performance engine and the promise of tiny fuel bills, there's very few situations the V90 Recharge won't excel in, despite its sheer size being a challenge around town. Thankfully all-around parking sensors and a rear-view camera are fitted as standard.

Find out if Volvo's largest estate really is the car for every occasion in our Volvo V90 Recharge (2020-) review.

Volkswagen Golf GTE (PHEV, 2021-), £35,584

Until recently the high-performance GTE PHEV - which sits alongside petrol and diesel versions, badged GTI and GTD respectively - was the only plug-in hybrid offered in the Golf range.

It's since been joined by a less powerful PHEV model in the Golf 8 range, with the GTE remaining for driving enthusiasts looking for a high-performance machine that won't cost a fortune to run.

So is the GTE now the pick of the high-performance Golf range? With little compromise to interior space, and the same high-tech, high-quality cabin, as well as the trump card of up to 40 miles claimed EV range and official fuel consumption of up to 235mpg.

But does the weight of the PHEV system blunt the experience for keen drivers? And does it suffer from the electronic maladies we've seen on other Golf models? Find out in our VW Golf GTE (2021-) review.

Volkswagen Golf Estate (2021-), £21,179

If you're put-off by the image of a high-rise crossover or SUV, but don't want to compromise on practicality or safety, a medium-sized estate car is often a great choice.

And, as mid-sized cars go, The VW Golf has great all-round appeal, which has been further boosted with the addition of an estate model that we've tested in 150hp 2.0-litre diesel guise.

Not only is it as spacious and well-equipped as you'd expect of a Golf, but its lower centre of gravity and modest proportions means it's more fun to drive than most family SUVs, too.

But does this Golf beat its rivals and hit enough high notes to secure a Best Buy rating? Find out in our VW Golf Estate (2021-) review.

Citroen C5 Aircross Hybrid (PHEV, 2020-), £32,470

The large, comfort-biased C5 Aircross SUV is the latest Citroen model to go through our lab tests in PHEV form. Producing a combined 225hp from its 1.6-litre petrol engine and electric motor combo, it's certainly a rather high-performance offering for a family SUV.

The interior is unchanged from the regular C5 Aircross and that's no bad thing. It's spacious, airy and comfortable - exactly what you want when transporting your nearest and dearest.

However, you'll have to read our Citroen C5 Aircross Hybrid (2020-) review to find out if its comfortable suspension renders it a roly-poly nightmare in the corners, and how much fuel it consumes once you've depleted its claimed 34-mile battery range.

Hyundai i30 (2017-), £19,763

For those who prefer the familiarity of a conventional petrol hatchback, we've tested the latest 1.0-litre mild petrol hybrid version of the Hyundai i30. If you're not a fan of the raft of small SUVs, it's well worth taking a closer look.

The most recent facelift has brought an uplift in quality and interior technology to this subtly styled hatchback - not that it was in any way behind the curve beforehand.

Read our Hyundai i30 (2017-) review to find out if the 1.0-litre engine is the one to choose, and whether it really can manage to match its claimed fuel economy in our stringent tests.