For caravanners who would like to switch to electric for their daily driving, but still want the convenience of simply filling a fuel tank on long journeys, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) makes a lot of sense. Sales of PHEVs almost doubled in 2021. Around one in 14 cars registered were PHEVs. In this guide, we’re sharing our pick of the best plug-in hybrid tow cars.
This type of drivetrain has a mixed reputation for towing. The demands of hauling a fully loaded car and caravan rapidly eat into the battery’s charge, and legal towing limits can be much lower than those of a similar diesel.
On the other hand, though, PHEV technology has improved rapidly, with longer ranges and good performance even with the battery at a low state of charge.
Be sure to take a look at our guide to the best cars for towing caravans too, where we share our top picks.
Who should buy a plug-in hybrid tow car?
A PHEV isn’t for everyone. To get the most from the technology, you need to be able to start most journeys with a fully charged battery. So ideally, you will need off-street parking and a dedicated charging point at home. These recharge more quickly than a domestic socket without putting a strain on the household electrics.
According to statistics gathered by the Department for Transport, the average car journey is 8.4 miles long – well within the all-electric range of most PHEVs, which
is typically around 30 miles. So if you can charge your car at home and rarely take long journeys, you could go for weeks without needing to fill the fuel tank.
Conversely, though, if you don’t have somewhere to install a charging point, and you regularly need to drive long distances, then you are unlikely to get the best from a PHEV. A modern diesel is likely to be cheaper to run and will actually emit less carbon dioxide than a plug-in vehicle that is rarely recharged.
The best plug-in hybrid tow cars – our top picks:
BMW X5 45e
- Price: From £71,310
- Kerbweight: 2510kg
- Legal towing limit: 3500kg (2200kg if towing gear retrofitted)
This BMW deserves to be on our round-up of the best plug-in hybrid tow cars. In fact, if your pockets are deep enough, this is the PHEV that we would recommend. The BMW X5 45e is simply superb to drive, with or without a caravan.
The weight of the batteries and the motor pushes the car’s kerbweight up over two tonnes, making this one of the heaviest passenger cars on sale.
That certainly helps with high-speed stability, although credit must also be given to the superbly judged suspension that combines comfort and control.
With 286hp from the petrol engine and 113hp from the electric motor, the X5 has the performance to go with the stability. It easily pulls even the heaviest twin-axle caravan up to speed. Hill starts are child’s play with this much muscle and four-wheel drive.
The X5 scores over most PHEV rivals with an excellent electric range of 51-54 miles. Even allowing for the slightly optimistic official tests, the 45e can handle many solo journeys on electricity alone.
The car’s big battery and long electric range contribute to very respectable economy figures while towing a caravan.
When our friends at The Camping and Caravanning Club tested the X5 45e, it returned 23.8mpg – not bad for a 2.5t 4×4 with so much power.
You do lose the third row of seats that’s available in other X5 models, but otherwise there’s little compromise in choosing the PHEV rather than a petrol or diesel version. There’s 500 litres of space for luggage, and plenty of room for adult passengers to relax very comfortably in the BMW’s luxurious cabin.
Volkswagen Passat Estate GTE
- Price: From £41,080
- Kerbweight: 1760kg
- Legal towing limit: 1600kg
With a price that’s just north of £40,000, the Passat Estate GTE is going to be within reach of more budgets than the X5.
Although it might lack the BMW’s distinctive wow factor, the GTE has much to offer and is a thoroughly appealing PHEV.
The high kerbweight for its size contributes to impressive stability, whether you are driving on the motorway or travelling on a country road.
A tauter suspension set-up compared with the otherwise similar Škoda Superb iV gives the Volkswagen a more secure feel while towing.
What’s more, the healthy 1600kg towing limit means that a broad choice of family tourers can be towed by the GTE, so you won’t need to compromise or limit your choice of caravan if you are considering the switch to a petrol-electric car.
Some PHEVs can sound rather raucous when the engine is working hard.
You will find that this is not a problem with the Volkswagen, because the GTE’s 1.4-litre petrol engine is impressively serene.
The official all-electric range for the Passat is 38 miles. We haven’t quite matched that in our test drives, but we have achieved over 30 miles.
When the battery does run low and the petrol engine is required, the changeover from electric to hybrid running is smooth and subtle.
As far as the car’s interior is concerned, the Passat is solidly made, if rather conservative in its design. Importantly for tow car drivers, there’s lots of passenger space and luggage room is very generous, too.
Volvo XC40 Recharge T5
- Price: From £49,150
- Kerbweight: 1812kg
- Legal towing limit: 1800kg
Despite being the smallest of Volvo’s SUVs, the XC40 is heavy. Choose the Recharge T5 and it has a kerbweight of 1812kg, giving an 85% match figure of 1540kg, which is well within the 1800kg towing limit.
Set off with your caravan and the Volvo is capable of driving on electric power alone, even at motorway speeds. It’s an unusual but appealing sensation to tow at 60mph with no engine noise.
The Volvo delivers strong performance when the petrol engine and electric motor are working together, with enough punch for swift overtaking.
After a few miles, or if you are heavy with the throttle, the petrol engine will join in, but this is not a coarse or intrusive engine. Having started our towing economy route with
the battery just over half full, we saw 26mpg when towing a 1500kg caravan with the Volvo.
Without a tourer hitched up, the Volvo is quick and satisfying to drive. It’s not as exciting as a BMW X1 or a Cupra Formentor, but it’s a comfortable car.
The cabin is beautifully made, with the clean and understated style we have all come to expect from Volvo. The driving position is superb, and we have covered long distances in the XC40 with no aches or pains.
However, there’s no getting away from the fact that this is a relatively small car for a very considerable price. You can buy bigger, more practical cars for similar money, such as the Kia Sorento with a choice of diesel, hybrid or plug-in hybrid power. Despite this, if the Volvo has enough room for your needs, we’d highly recommend it.
- Price: £54,695
- Kerbweight: 2099kg
- Legal towing limit: 1500kg
We found this Sorento to be both stable and reliable, two traits that are commonly seen in the best tow cars.
This plug-in hybrid has a legal towing limit of 1500kg. When matched to a caravan with a MiRO of 1330kg, we found it could tow without problem, whether on a dual carriageway at 60mph, or on a steep hill at 50mph.
As a four-wheel drive, it’s well-equipped for dealing with damp Tarmac in wet weather. Manoeuvring at the campsite is also easy, with cameras providing a 360-degree view of the car, while a reversing camera offers a decent view of the towball.
When it comes to solo driving, this plug-in hybrid tow car also operates well. It’s official electric range is 35 miles, although we would say high 20s is probably a more realistic option, based on both your driving style and the weather conditions.
The petrol engine is smooth to start up, and we like that there’s no awkward jolting. We found steering to be both precise and it operates smoothly, so we’d say it’s better suited to longer journeys, as opposed to quick trips.
Something we really like is how roomy the car is, with the driver and front passenger benefiting from comfortable seats, while those in the middle row get to enjoy decent head and legroom too. The third row also provides more space than you typically find in seven seater cars, ensuring all passengers can have a more pleasant experience on the road.
Full review: Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDi Plug-In Hybrid 4
- Price: £74,135
- Kerbweight: 2460kg (with adaptive air suspension; 2450kg without)
- Legal towing limit: 3500kg (with adaptive air suspension; 2700kg without)
This Audi Q7 is an expensive, yet impressive tow car, combining a 3.0-litre petrol engine with a powerful electric motor. Pretty much every caravan will be a sensible match with this tow car, thanks to its healthy kerbweight of 2460kg if you opt for adaptive air suspension, or 2450kg if you do not. Choosing adaptive air suspension will also increase the towing limit to 3500kg, instead of 2700kg.
We matched it to a caravan with a MiRO of 1671kg, setting off in hybrid mode. When it came to pulling off, the motor was able to do so relying solely on electric power, with the petrol engine providing additional help if needed. Switching from pure electric to hybrid is a smooth experience too.
Both reaching 60mph and a hill start on a 1-in-10 slope proved no problem for this plug-in hybrid tow car. If you use full throttle, you’ll find the vehicle is able to bolt forward, allowing you to confidently overtake.
Something to bear in mind with this is that while it’s still spacious, you do only get five seats. The driver and front passenger get plenty of space, as will anyone sitting in the second row.
It’s an expensive model, but one that offers stability and an excellent towing performance, as well as a great kerbweight and four-wheel drive. We’d say it’s up there with the very best plug-in hybrid tow cars.
Full review: Audi Q7 55 TFSIe (Quattro 381PS Black Edition)
- Our guide to the best budget tow cars will provide you with some pocket-friendly options to consider
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