Second-hand hybrids: save the planet without costing the earth

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HYBRID cars are becoming increasingly popular, and for good reason. They are clever and clean, but all that technology must make them far too expensive, right? Perhaps not. Now that early examples of these engineering master classes have suffered the bulk of their depreciation, you can actually find a bit of a bargain, meaning you can reap the sweet rewards of low fuel bills without paying a premium. A quick scour online and it wasn’t long before I’d found some cracking hyper-value hybrids.

Honda Civic 1.4 I-VTEC SE 4dr IMA (2003 – 2005)

Undated Handout photo of a new-look Toyota Prius, on sale now. See PA Feature MOTORING Column. PA Photo/Toyota

Undated Handout photo of a new-look Toyota Prius, on sale now. See PA Feature MOTORING Column. PA Photo/Toyota

This sensible but still modern-looking family saloon is ideal for those seeking petrol-electric capability on a tight budget. It won’t set your trousers on fire, but it won’t melt your bank card either: an immaculate example can be yours for around £2,000 and can manage up to 57.6mpg combined thanks to its 1.4-litre engine lifted from the Jazz supermini supplemented by a 14PS electric motor. Basically, the battery is charged by the engine when you lift off the throttle, drive down hills, or under braking, but both can work together when you want maximum acceleration. And don’t be put off by the tech – ageing these cars may be, but they display typically good Honda reliability, and owners are a satisfied bunch indeed. Smooth and relaxing to drive, it will easily take five people in comfort and, unlike the other hybrids here, the Civic uses a manual box but the changes are sweet. Tax and insurance cost sweetie money as well.

Toyota Prius 1.8 VVTi 5dr CVT auto hatchback (2009 – 2012)

Scotsman Motoring tested a brand new Prius a few weeks ago, and we were impressed. They also make great purchases on the second-hand market, roughly saving you a wallet-draining £13,000 compared with buying new. The Prius is the undisputed best-selling hybrid, with more than 2.5 million global sales. This newer-shape third-generation model uses a larger 1.8-litre engine with 62mph achieved in a smidgeon over 10 seconds. The ride and handling is typically Toyota – safe and acceptable – while the cabin is comfortable, futuristic, well laid-out and near silent around town when using the all-electric tree-hugger mode.

If you go for a post-2009 Prius, you benefit from the remainder of Toyota’s excellent five-year/100,000-mile warranty which also covers the batteries. Not that it’s a certainty you’ll need it though – in recent JD Power Customer Satisfaction surveys, the Prius has ranked among the best. It provides all the space and practicality of a regular family hatchback but returns a staggering 72.4mpg, while a tax disc will cost zilch. You can pick up the entry-level T3 for around £8,000, and the gadget-laden T-Spirit model with satnav and a reversing camera for just over £9,000.

Lexus RX 450h SE-I Lifestyle is perfectly suited for those who love the great outdoors

Lexus RX 450h SE-I Lifestyle is perfectly suited for those who love the great outdoors

Lexus RX450h (2009 – 2012)

This Lexus will be sure to get the badge-snobby neighbours’ curtains twitching. For just over £20,000 you could have a 2009 RX450h with around 60,000 miles on the clock – not bad for a car that cost £45,000 when it was showroom-fresh just three years ago. It’s sumptuously comfortable, serene to drive and does a sterling job soaking up road undulations.

Good handling is matched with light but responsive steering from its high driving position. Because the Lexus is a part-time 4x4 its system uses two electric motors, one for the front wheels and one for the rear, along with a high-output battery. The system can even recover heat from the exhaust. Very clever. The hybrid drive train works so well and is so refined that the engine morphs in and out of the equation like a ninja – totally silent but deadly when you want it to be – with nearly 300bhp and a 0-62 time of 7.9 secs at your disposal. The buttermilk-smooth V6 can be a bit naughty when you’re in the mood, filling your ears with a very satisfying roar.

Despite this, the RX will manage a hugely impressive 44.8mpg and emit only 145g/km of CO2, making it cleaner and more fuel efficient than a 12 month old 1.6-litre Ford Focus. The Lexus was the top-rated 4x4 in the latest JD Power survey, and provides all the benefits of a premium SUV with none of the drawbacks of running one. Just goes to show you can have your cake and eat it.

The beauty of hybrid cars is you don’t have to worry about how all the gubbins work or change your driving style or lifestyle. These three cars show you can have it all, no matter what your budget, for a fraction of their original price. Manufacturers are making more of their models hybrid compatible, so they’ll become a popular sight. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, in the UK alone there have been more than 19,000 petrol-electric hybrid sales so far this year.

l With thanks to the teams at Lexus Edinburgh and Struans Dundee Toyota.