Hyundai IONIQ Plug-in
The Hyundai IONIQ distinguished itself as the first car ever to go on sale with three different forms of electric power. Buyers choose from pure electric propulsion, hybrid propulsion or, as in this case, a Plug-in hybrid model. Given the choice between these three options, we think most potential buyers would probably take the Plug-in route if money was no object - and it's easy to see why, with up to 39 miles of all-electric driving range and CO2 emissions as low as 26g/km. Driving
In an IONIQ Plug-in, there's obviously much more potential for extended full-electric use than there is in the ordinary full-Hybrid model, thanks to the greater capacity of a considerably larger 8.9kWh battery that drives a pokier 61PS electric motor. Despite that, total system output remains pegged at 141PS, so ultimate performance is pretty much the same as it is with the ordinary Hybrid variant, though initial acceleration seems quicker thanks to the torque of the electric motor. Mind you, use too much of that and you'll quickly decimate the NEDC-rated 39-mile all-electric driving range.
The IONIQ shares the same basic platform as the Kia Niro, which is a very good place to start from. As a result, the Hyundai handles nimbly and takes corners with more composure than you might expect for a car that's main focus is on low running costs and emissions. The only limiting factor is the reduced rolling resistance tyres, but in day to day driving you'll find this car very capable. It also enjoys a tight turning circle and steering that's light to turn at low speeds. You can add some more weight to the helm by selecting the 'Sport' mode, but we find this makes it too heavy. Around town, the suspension is on the firmer side of comfortable but by no means unsettled. Accelerate hard and you'll really notice the benefits of this IONIQ's use of a proper cog-driven 6DCT dual-clutch auto transmission, a much better gearbox than the jerky belt-driven set-up used in a rival Toyota Prius and other hybrids.
There's not much point building a new car that offers three different electrified power trains for the first time ever if you're not going to make the most of every facet of its design. This is why Hyundai has gone to great lengths with the IONIQ to come up with a shape that has a drag coefficient of just 0.24. That makes this one of the most slippery shapes ever for a car as it cuts through the air, which helps reduce energy use and noise.
And inside? Well, inside this Hyundai, it doesn't feel futuristic. It's not that it's dull in the cabin: it's just that it's not trying to be too clever for its own good. We like that. What you get is a dash that bears a strong resemblance to the Korean company's other models such as the i30 and Tuscon. That's a very good thing as it's clear and made from excellent materials. There are hints, though, at what lies under the bonnet, such as the battery indicator gauge on the left-hand side of the main 7-inch instrument display. It tells you how economically you're driving and whether or not you are using energy reserves or topping them up. In the centre is a simple to read speedo, while on the right is a configurable screen for information such as doors left open and water temperature. Both IONIQ Hybrid models get a 443-litre boot.
We can see why so many IONIQ sales will be of this Plug-in variant. When the government's Plug-in Car Grant is taken into account, it's hardly any more expensive to buy than the ordinary full-Hybrid derivative and it offers far more ownership flexibility, with its 39-mile all-electric driving range.
No, it isn't very interesting to drive - but then few eco-models of this sort are. If though, for you, 'interest' at the wheel is defined by technology, you might find this car thoroughly satisfying. It's certainly state of the art.Click here to find out more about our Hyundai IONIQ Plug-in range
BMW 2 Series Active Tourer 225xe
BMW's 2 Series Active Tourer five-seat compact MPV gets the Munich brand's latest Plug-in technology. It makes quite a difference too. This car uses a BMW eDrive electric motor and a 1.5-litre three-cylinder BMW TwinPower Turbo engine to offer both an electric driving experience and unrestricted mobility. The resulting combined fuel consumption of 141.2mpg and CO2 emissions figure of 46g/km set the benchmark in the class.
If you don't get around to telling your passengers that this 2 Series Active Tourer features cutting-edge Plug-in hybrid power, they probably won't guess. There's almost nothing about this car, either to look at or to drive, that proclaims eco-consciousness and green-friendly smugness - which is probably what potential buyers will like most about it. You might like to tell your business colleagues around the water cooler that the 1.5-litre TwinPower petrol turbo engine it uses is the same as that in BMW's i8 supercar: then again, you probably won't bother. That would draw attention - which is precisely what a typical 225xe owner wouldn't want.
If you do put your foot down and use that MINI Cooper engine to its maximum, then things go pretty rapidly: 62mph is 6.7s away en route to 126mph. Better though to settle back and try and maximise the claimed 25-mile all-electric driving range. We say 'claimed' because it's unlikely you'll replicate that unless you drive like a nun. Around 15-20 miles is more achievable. Like all 2 Series Active Tourer models, this one drives through its front wheels in a very un-BMW-like fashion.
Intentionally, BMW has kept the visual changes that differentiate this 225xe variant from its conventionally-engined range stablemates to an absolute minimum. Which will leave potential buyers needing to like the standard 2 Series Active Tourer model's quite conservative design. The short overhangs and long wheelbase, the wedgy profile, the L-shaped rear lights, the crisp contours and the smart swage lines all point to this Munich maker. It also seems sportier than you might expect a car of this kind to be, courtesy of things like the steeply raked windscreen and the way that the distinctive double kidney grille is positioned lower than the headlights.
Inside, there are sliding and reclining rear seats that allow you to prioritise space for passengers or luggage. Maximum boot space is a respectable 400-litres. The rear bench is a versatile thing that can split 40:20:40 and when fully folded there's access to up to 1,350-litres. The front passenger seat also folds to accommodate items up to 2.4m long. Up-front, as usual in the brand's modern models, the iDrive infotainment set-up's freestanding multifunction colour screen takes pride of place in the middle of the fascia, though the display is not of the current trendy touchscreen variety, controlled instead by a circular rotary dial down by the gearstick.
Did you ever expect to see a BMW MPV built around front wheel drive, a three-cylinder engine and electric power? I'm not sure I ever did. Still, in this 225xe, we've got exactly that and it's a package that actually makes a lot of sense for the right practicality-orientated family buyer - someone with a business-minded eye on their taxation status who still enjoys their driving. This probably isn't the BMW you dreamed of owning in your school or college days. But it could well be the one you actually need.Click here to find out more about our BMW 2 Series Active Tourer 225xe range
MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4
The petrol/electric plug-in MINI Countryman manages a scarcely believable 134.5mpg combined cycle fuel return and puts out as little as 49g/km CO2. Plus, it's pokey and relatively affordable. Still want that diesel?
Here, the little 1.5-litre petrol Twin Power Turbo engine from an ordinary MINI Cooper is paired with an 88bhp motor mated to a lithium-ion battery pack, enough to generate a total system output of 224bhp. It's all controlled via a standard 6-speed Steptronic auto gearbox. As the name of this hybrid variant suggests, it comes only with 'ALL4' 4WD - with 385Nm of torque on offer, you'd want that. That's quite a lot for such a compact car, hence the rapid 6.8s 0-62mph sprint time. More relevant though, is this variant's ability to run on electric power alone for up to 25 miles.
To help maximise efficiency, what MINI calls a 'eDrive' toggle switch is provided that lets you swap between three modes, entitled 'Auto eDrive', 'Max eDrive' and 'Save Battery'. In the first of these settings, the car will only work on electric power alone up to 50mph, but if you select 'Max eDrive', the all-electric top speed will be raised to 78mph. In the 'Save Battery' position, the electric element is disconnected so that energy can be stored for future use - say for the end of a trip that'll involve a degree of urban motoring.
You'll have to know your MINI Countryman models quite well to differentiate this one from any normal petrol or diesel derivative. Look closely and you might spot model-specific design elements such as the "E" emblem on the radiator grille and side scuttles, as well as door sill finishers with a yellow "S" logo. The 17-inch light alloy wheels in a 'Light Spoke' design are another distinguishing feature exclusive to this plug-in model. Inside, hybrid-specific displays and the eDRIVE toggle switch are the only plug-in giveaways.
Many plug-in models force you to compromise on boot space - as this one does. Instead of the 450-litre boot you'd find in any other Countryman, you get a 405-litre capacity, extendable to 1,275-litres if you push down the rear bench (down from 1,309-litres). Our favourite optional feature is the 'Picnic Bench'. Tug this piece of padded material out from below the boot floor, then drape it over the bumper and you've got yourself a neat - and surprisingly comfortable - padded seat to sit on while putting on wellies or wrestling the kids into waterproofs. The magazines have sneered at this idea, pointing out that it'd be difficult to get at if the boot were full. But how often do you travel around with a completely full boot?
If you're about to buy an ordinary petrol or diesel MINI Countryman with high-spec trim, then don't: until you've tried this plug-in version. It simply makes more sense as an overall proposition - and the downsides are few, providing you can afford the up-front asking price.
As with all other plug-in models, the quoted fuel and CO2 figures are pie-in-the-sky - but the important thing is that the government believes them, so for business buyers, the tax breaks that come with this car will be useful. As for fuel costs, well overall, you'll probably end up paying much the same as you would to run a diesel Countryman. It's just that owning this plug-in model will make you feel so much cleverer and more eco-friendly. There's something to be said for that.Click here to find out more about our MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4 range