September 27, 2016

When we look back at the age of consumption, the gas guzzling SUV will get its own chapter in the story.

They’re big, heavy and they did drink fuel at an alarming rate. With the likes of the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and Mercedes G-Wagon, we hit peak SUV. These are 5000lb sportscars and purpose-built status symbols and they are so beyond the remit of a normal car that it’s kind of hard to defend them.

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But, like fatty foods, sugar and alcohol, even though we know they’re bad for us, the human race actually loves them.

We love the commanding seating position, the comfort, the space and the feeling of security that goes with an SUV. We also love the cache, but it was kind of hard to have a social conscience with an SUV on the drive.

Not anymore. Now there is a vast array of hybrid SUVs that combine all of the good bits without the appetite for global destruction. But which one is the best?

1. Mercedes GLE 550e

Mercedes GLE 550e hybrid

Price: $66,500

Think about a Mercedes SUV and you’re inevitably drawn to the big, clumsy, thuggish G-Wagon that rappers, rock stars and professional athletes just love. But the smaller, more compact GLE is a much more complete car and for those of us that live in the real world then the hybrid version of this elegant SUV could be the answer you’ve been looking for.

It comes with a 50MPGe rating and combines a 329bhp, 3-liter V6 with an 85kW (114bhp) electric motor that sits between the engine and the seven-speed transmission. A few ponies get lost in the mix and the total power output is quoted as 436bhp, with 479lb/ft of torque.

Unsurprisingly, that means the GLE can mix it with most cars in this class, let alone machine’s with green credentials. The 0-60mph time of 5.3s leaves even the Porsche trailing in its wake and it’s the fastest car here by a country mile. It also handles well, in part due to the fact that it has given up all off-road pretense and really is a chunky, four-wheel-drive car.

The GLE hybrid benefits from Mercedes’ relatively cutting edge safety equipment like Active Brake Assist and Attention Assist. The interior, too, is a high-class affair that is dominated by the 8” screen on the dashboard that just screams quality. It’s just a great, feelgood car.

It’s a stunner and might just be the best hybrid SUV on the market right now.

2. Lexus RX Hybrid

Lexus RX hybrid

Price: $53, 020

The luxury arm of Toyota has blazed a trail with high-end hybrids and now the latest generation is upon us. The brave styling won’t be for everybody, but that distinctive front end that is a part of the Lexus design language really works on this imposing SUV.

The interior is awash with high-grade materials, as you’d expect from the Japanese rival for the likes of Mercedes. The Remote Touch joystick UI is a little dated compared to the touchscreens on offer elsewhere, but the Lexus is still a classy place to spend your time and the all-important mileage is a solid 30mpg in real world conditions.

The RX is fitted with a 3.5-liter V6 engine mated to two or three electric motors, depending on whether you opt for the two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive version. The more powerful car comes with 308bhp combined.

It’s not the most powerful car here and it takes 7.7s to hit 60mph, although most independent testers reckon that is conservative in the extreme and 7.1s is not uncommon when you strap on the testing gear. The 115mph top speed is more than enough for a car of this ilk, too.

The Lexus isn’t the sportiest here and it isn’t the most luxurious. But it’s a great all-round package and it certainly has a unique style that enough people will love. This car is going to be a serious hit.

3. Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid


Price: $87,675

The Porsche Cayenne was the absolute symbol of greed, consumption and selfishness. It was also a stunning car that eclipsed the 911 and became Porsche’s bestseller.

With a hybrid powerplant, one of the most competent four-wheel-drive SUVs on the planet has suddenly gained a compassionate heart. It’s a heavyweight car at 5346lb, but that’s just another stat that adds to the sense of occasion with a car like this. Big and heavy is good with an SUV.

That’s especially true when it still hits 60mph in just 5.9s and does more than 150mph thanks to a 416bhp combination of a 333bhp 3-liter V6 and 95bhp electric motor.

It will even do the quarter-mile run in just 14 seconds, which is impressive for any car, let alone a 5000lb+ environmental crusader. That acceleration is largely due to the 554lb/ft of torque, which is much more than a Lamborghini Huracan.

It will also reach 78mph in electric only mode and it can manage that for 22 miles, which means it can slink around town without touching the fuel in the tank. Porsche makes the bold claim it will do 83mpg and we’d love to actually see that and independent testers have revealed anywhere between 20-50mpg, so it depends on your driving style.

It isn’t the most economical SUV in real world conditions, but it is a stellar piece of engineering. It also comes with pure luxury on the inside and that prestige Porsche badge on the nose. The German firm is known for its pure engineering and this is one of the best hybrids in the world. If that eye-watering price is no obstacle then it might well be the one you want.

4. Volvo XC90 Twin Engine T8


Price: $68,100

If you want a premium hybrid SUV, but the Porsche is just a step too far and you want something more left-field than the Mercedes, then Volvo has the answer.

It’s an elegant seven-seater that’s full of neat touches, right down to the traditional Orrefors crystal glass gear selector. The Volvo is the embodiment of minimalist Scandinavian style inside, too, with a simple touchscreen taking care of the main controls and a second screen replacing the instrument binnacle.

The Swedish superstar feels special inside and it’s even better than the Porsche. As that’s the view the owner gets most of the time, this is a good thing.

It also gets four-wheel-drive, a range of different driving options to save on gas and an electric only mode that will take the big Volvo all the way up to 75mph.

The Swedes certainly didn’t skimp on performance either. It comes with 400bhp and 472lb/ft of torque thanks to the 65kW electric motor and two-liter engine that is both turbocharged and supercharged. It’s clever tech that adds up to serious power output and the economy is solid, too.

This car gets an MPGe rating of 54mpg on the highway, even with this level of opulence and seven people on board. Now that doesn’t always really relate to the real world and you can expect to see 28mpg from the Volvo on an actual road. But that’s still impressive for a car with this much power and poise.

We like this one, a lot.

5. Toyota Highlander SUV


Price: $30,490

This is a chunky hybrid SUV with up to eight seats that comes with a sturdy 280bhp, 3.5-liter V6.

The Highlander is a mainstay of the hybrid world and it was the first SUV to offer four-wheel-drive and it was also the first hybrid to offer more power than the petrol model. This is the third generation and it’s bigger and better than ever before.

It comes with seven seats thanks to a brace of Captain’s chairs at the rear and, for a car of this size, 28mpg fuel consumption is not to be sniffed at. Nor is the 248lb/f of torque that turns this into a competent tow car with a 3500lb towing capacity.

As it’s a Toyota, you get a solid amount of standard equipment and a rugged crossover that acquits itself well off-road too. The CVT gearbox is something Toyota has persisted with and it’s not necessarily a choice we agree with, although it is geared for fuel efficiency. But this is a solid SUV with car-like handling and if you need to move a big family then it is a great option.

It looks the part, it comes with Toyota’s legendary back-up and reputation for reliability and it’s an elegant, sturdy, no-frills hybrid.

6. Ford Escape S Hybrid


Price: $23,600

If you want a compact SUV with a low-end price tag to go with it then one of the best budget offerings comes from the Blue Oval.

The Ford Escape S comes with Ford’s new 2.5-liter iVCT engine with more tightly controlled valve timing for better efficiency. This is a full hybrid, so the Escape S can reach 25mph on electric power alone and you’ll get a few miles down the road before the engine kicks in to help you on your way.

It’s a front-wheel-drive machine that returns 25mpg on the combined cycle, but it only really has an advantage in the city thanks to the electric motor boosting the mileage to 34mpg. If you spend most of your time on the highway, then stick with the base-level petrol engine and you’ll actually get better economy.

The Escape is clean and simple on the interior, although there are way too many buttons for the modern age, and the materials aren’t going to win any awards. But the Escape S Hybrid knows that it’s a budget, solid, car-like SUV and it plays the part well.

7. Audi Q5 Hybrid


Price: $52,500

Audi keeps promising us a future filled with pure electric cars, but until they arrive we have to make do with the hybrid models. That’s not a disaster, they are pretty good.

The Q5 is geared more towards performance than off-roading. It has a distinctive car-like style and the Quattro four-wheel-drive system that is really designed for grip in bends rather than launching over rocks. It comes with 245bhp and 354lb/ft of torque, which is a meaty amount of power for a junior executive SUV that never really made its mark like the Q7.

A turbocharged 2-liter TFSI engine hooks up with a 40kW electric motor to provide 30mpg on the highway. The electric only range is a relatively paltry 2 miles, which does count against it.

It doesn’t make the most convincing case for itself at this price point, but that badge carries a lot of weight and some people simply want to drive an Audi. They’ll be more than happy with their purchase and don’t really want the pros and cons, but there are more technically adept cars on this list.

8. BMW XDrive40e


Price: $64,000

The BMW X5 was another one of those cars that perhaps ushered in the hybrid era. It was big, brash, thirsty and didn’t really seem to have that much of a purpose in petrol form. Yet still it sold by the bucketload.

For the new world, BMW has fitted the car with a hybrid motor that means it can cover 13 miles in electric only mode, as well as accelerate to 75mph, and with just the gas engine it covers 24mpg. You still get 308bhp and 332lb/ft of torque, courtesy of the turbocharged, 197bhp, two-liter powerplant and 83kW (111bhp) electric motor.

It’s a big, brutish car, too, with the prestige that goes with a BMW badge on the nose. The X5 was completely redesigned in 2014 and it just doesn’t sell in huge numbers anymore. That means it still feels fresh and looks like an executive SUV. Familiarity simply hasn’t had a chance to breed contempt.

It’s also pretty quick for such a big lump of metal and hits 60mph in 6.5s and reaches an electronically limited 130mph. It’s as fast as anything in the line-up, bar the V8 50i, and it gets an official 59 MPGe rating. The car will even help you get close to that with an onboard computer that reads the route and plans how to meter out its power for maximum efficiency. It’s clever stuff.

Inside you’re limited to five seats, whereas other X5 models can seat seven, but apart from that it’s traditional, high-quality BMW fare. It’s a luxury car with a solid heart and a good turn of speed that also undercuts the Volvo by a little and the Porsche by a lot.

9. Infiniti QX60 Hybrid


Price: $52,050

We want a hybrid powerplant in the wacky QX70, which looks spectacular, but until then the QX60 will do us just fine. It’s a stylish SUV in its own right and there’s a real flare to that rear window and tailgate assembly.

This is Nissan’s luxury arm and the interior of this car is inevitably a cut above the vast majority of SUVs in the world. As well as high-grade leather and screens in the back of each seat, it will also cosset and coddle six adults with ease. Then there’s the curvaceous dashboard that oozes quality, despite the vast array of buttons and the dial to control the central screen.

A 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine with a supercharger pushes out 230bhp and that joins forces with a 15 kW (20bhp) electric motor to give a combined torque output of 254lb/ft. The motor really doesn’t have the most intense form of electric power we have seen. In fact, it’s a borderline afterthought, which is why the car doesn’t feature higher on the list.

It has a combined MPG figure of 25mpg, which really isn’t that great either. Then again, this car weighs in at 4676lb and that explains the 0-60mph time of 10.7s and the top speed of 132mph.

This car isn’t going to win the technical war, but it’s a stylish, classy boardroom on wheels that will make an impression and it deserves its place here on those grounds alone.

10. Toyota Rav4 Hybrid


Price: $29,030

If the heavyweight Highlander is too much for you then Toyota has a cheaper and smaller option for you. It’s four-wheel-drive, although there’s no complex diff, it’s compact and it looks the part at a reasonable price point.

It comes with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder powerplant that puts out 150bhp and an electric motor that’s good for 105kW (142bhp) and a 50kW (67bhp) motor at the rear. It isn’t a conventional four-wheel-drive system, but it all combines to create a lightweight and fuel efficient set-up.

The plucky SUV will give 34mpg in the city and 31 on the highway, according to the EPA ratings, which shows that this is a car that is geared for the city streets and the commute rather than long-distance driving. If you cover a lot of miles, then a small petrol engine will be more effective.

A 0-60mph time of 8.1s is more than respectable at this price point and though it comes at the expense of top end speed, 115mph is enough for most people looking for a hybrid SUV.

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