The best hybrid cars

The BMW 5 Series was the first model to introduce the controversial ‘flame’ design that divided opinion. We’ve always been fans though, so we were eager to see if the latest design would hit the mark as well. We think BMW has done it right again with a dynamic and thoroughly contemporary design that keeps the 5 bang up to date.

The new 5 Series comes with a variety of EfficientDynamics technologies. There is automatic start-stop, optimal gear shift indicator, brake energy regeneration, active aerodynamics and low rolling resistance tires. Plus, a next-generation 8-speed automatic transmission with a longer final drive ratio to reduce engine revs at highway speeds, helping to achieve great fuel economy.

In the stakes, BMW has kept the 50:50 weight distribution, which together with the front-engined rear-wheel drive design, makes the 5 Series more agile than its rivals. There’s also no reason to expect anything other than the excellent build quality we’ve grown used to.

The latest Series 5 is more evolutionary than revolutionary, but when you start out so close to perfection, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The 520d ED delivers solid real-world performance while achieving fuel economy that puts many city cars to shame. With a brilliant combination of quality, style, performance and driving entertainment, it remains our favorite executive car.

It’s not long ago that Mercedes struggled to get into this guide, but with a new range of high-tech engines that is about to change. Mercedes may have been the slowest of the German manufacturers to bring fuel-efficient models to market, but the results are impressive.

Gone are the days when you could tell how big a Mercedes engine is just by looking at the badge. As an example, both the E200d and E220d share the same 2.0-liter engine. They even have the same compression ratio (an impressively high 15.5: 1 as you ask) so the power difference has more to do with engine management than old-school engineering.

Either engine is more than ready to provide a decent pace and since they achieve the same official fuel economy, the choice is likely to come down to budget. It’s worth noting that you should stick to standard 17-inch tires for best efficiency with larger tires, resulting in a hefty penalty (up to 10gCO2 / km).

To keep the E-Class ahead of the competition, the standard-fit automatic gearbox now includes 9 ratios, which somewhat explains the excellent official fuel consumption figures. Left to your own devices, you’ll be moving at the highest possible speed, but you can take control of matters if you want to continue thanks to ‘Dynamic Select’ providing ECO, Comfort, Sport, Sport + and a mix-and-match setup.

The latest E-Class takes the best aspects of the previous model, but adds state-of-the-art engines and a contemporary interior to keep it fresh. The Mercedes executive has always lagged behind the 5 Series and XF when it comes to driving, but now he’s closer than ever, meaning there is no longer a default option. The one you choose will come down to your personal taste, as they all represent executive lounges at the top of their game.

The rebirth of Jaguar has been one of the most surprising stories in recent years. In 2008, Tata bought the brand from Ford, who never understood what to do with Jag and made two very important decisions; Jaguar needed investment and Tata put a lot of cash on the table, but more importantly, it didn’t need management interference.

The XF is the latest confirmation that Tata was absolutely right. Jaguar never forgot how to build contemporary executive lounges, it just wasn’t allowed. The XF takes the fight to the BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes E-Class head on and is much better for it.

Jaguar has invested heavily in integrating aluminum into its production models with fantastic results. The latest XF is significantly lighter than the competition and is only 4% heavier than the smaller XE. Such a radical weight loss diet receives great recognition from us, as it benefits fuel consumption, handling and performance.

In addition to advanced construction materials, the XF also features a new ‘Ingenium’ engine that finally provides Jaguar with a world-class diesel engine. It also contributes to weight loss thanks to even more aluminum and its compact size. At the same time, it is capable of producing impressive power and torque figures that infuse the Jaguar with lively performance.

There has never been much wrong with the way the XF drives or looks, but it has never had a truly efficient engine. Now that this issue has been firmly addressed, the combination of excellent official fuel economy, attractive dynamics, impressively low curb weight, and slim looks make a compelling proposition.

The Lexus GS has been featured in the pages of the Green Car Guide for several years, but thanks to the performance hybrid approach, Lexus has never really explored the system’s fuel-economy potential, preferring to compare fuel economy to petrol rivals and light the wick. Than chasing down diesel numbers and diluting performance. That is until now.

The 300h has been very clearly designed to take the fight to diesel rivals with fuel economy, performance and price, all mimicking top-of-the-line German offerings. Lexus has long claimed that its hybrid gasoline / electric system can do everything a diesel can do, and the repost has been “proving” it. It seems like it pays to be careful what you want as on paper the 300h is up to the task and the most surprising thing is that this includes the list price.

To get better fuel economy, major mechanical changes have been made. The 3.5-liter petrol engine comes out and a 2.5-liter direct injection unit comes in that produces a moderate 178 hp. This is complemented by a detuned electric motor that produces an additional 140 hp, providing a very favorable total system power of 220 hp. Driving is still transmitted to the rear wheels via a CVT gearbox which, as always, is great for fuel economy and frustrating if you keep going.

So the Lexus may beat its diesel rivals by sheer grunt, but what about torque? The gas engine can’t get close, with 163 lb-ft at elevated 4200-5400 rpm, you won’t see which way the competition went. But as always with hybrids, that’s only half the story. The electric motor comes to the rescue once again, with a handy 221 lb.-ft. available at idle, it fills the gaps excellently and keeps the GS 300h on the run.

The GS maintains an exquisite finish and is possibly better suited to the lower exit system, as it is more competent to drive than to handle it with razor-sharpness. The 300h is no more expensive than diesel rivals, has a competitive fuel economy, and thanks to gasoline that emits less CO2 than diesel, it falls into VED band B and generates substantially lower company taxes. It also has the advantage of emitting no PM and very little NOx, so diesel rivals must resort to costly exhaust after-treatment. The GS isn’t perfect yet, but the 300h is a good enough package to make you think twice about ordering a diesel rival. Looks like Lexus wasn’t kidding after all, gasoline hybrids can really take on diesels at their own game.