Best hybrid cars
While plug-in hybrids tend to steal headlines for their ultra-impressive claimed efficiency figures, they’re often pricier than a conventional hybrid.
So if your budget won’t stretch to a plug-in model, but you still fancy trying to maximise the efficiency you can get from your next car while minimising your running costs and carbon footprint, then one of these conventional hybrid models is a good place to start.
There are plenty on sale still with a mix of budgets, body styles and powertrains to suit your needs.
It’s not fast, but it’s quick enough, with 121bhp on tap from its 1.8-litre petrol engine and electric motor setup. The latter is supplied by a 1.31kWh battery, so it’s small by even plug-in hybrid standards, but as you can’t plug the Prius in, it does at least mean fast recharging is possible using the petrol engine or when slowing down and using the motor in reverse to top up the battery.
Keep the revs low and refinement is good. too, as the electric motor plays a strong supporting role to reduce the work the petrol engine has to do.
The Prius’ infotainment is limited, but that’s about the biggest flaw, as otherwise there’s lots of space and light, a decent 343-litre boot and plenty of comfort if you stick with the smaller wheels. It rides nicely, so even around town, where the Prius is in its comfort zone, it’ll be smooth and serene.
It’s a bit noisy if you push the engine and the gearbox isn’t that responsive, but it steers and handles respectably and – importantly – delivers real-world economy (claims are 83.1mpg and 78g/km CO2) that will make this one of the most affordable hybrids on sale to run.
Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
It’s no surprise the Hyundai Ioniq looks a little bit like the Toyota Prius when it comes to the car’s general shape. It’s a direct rival to the Toyota and boasts a similar setup.
Here, there’s a 1.6-litre petrol engine and a larger 1.56kWh battery supplying an electric motor for a total of 139bhp. It’s responsive enough and the dual-clutch gearbox is nice, but the Ioniq’s ride is firm and the car bounces from bump to bump, which hampers comfort.
However, hybrids are about efficiency and the Ioniq Hybrid scores well, with official figures of 78.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 84g/km, so it’ll be cheap to run.
It’ll also be easy to live with, as there’s good space inside thanks to the large body and 443-litre boot. Where the Ioniq really scores is for infotainment – like the brand’s Kona Electric, the setup is intuitive to use and loaded with technology.
Toyota C-HR Hybrid
Compared to conventional hybrid rivals, the Toyota C-HR’s relatively radical styling for an SUV sets it apart. Yet there’s not much of a penalty to pay for those individual looks.
That’s because the car’s 1.8-litre petrol engine and electric motor setup, which it shares with the Prius, can deliver up to 74.3mpg and 86g/km CO2. They’re impressive figures for a family crossover.
However, what’s not so impressive for a car of this type is the space in the rear. Unfortunately, the C-HR feels cramped compared to its main rivals, and this dents its appeal slightly. But with no conventional hybrid family SUVs to contend with, the Toyota offers something unique in this class.
It’s also good to drive for a car of this type. The steering is relatively crisp, the ride is comfortable but composed and the suspension damping means ride quality and fun are nicely balanced.
The engine isn’t as enjoyable, but then the focus is on frugality, so we can make allowances for the less-than-stunning powertrain given the efficiency and low running costs it delivers.
While many manufacturers are turning towards hybrid technology for their compact executive cars, one company has been exploring the potential of combining petrol and electric propulsion for years: Lexus.
The Lexus IS in hybrid 300h form is a solid choice. It uses a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and electric motor to deliver 210bhp and the power, response and performance you’d expect from a petrol saloon car like this with running costs closer to a diesel. Lexus claims 61.4mpg and 104g/km CO2, which means as a business vehicle, company-car tax will be cheap and you won’t spend too much on fuel, either.
The Lexus makes an even stronger case for itself inside, as the interior is beautifully constructed out of quality materials, while there’s enough space, too.
There are a few foibles, such as the funny temperature controls and woeful infotainment, while the IS isn’t as much fun to drive as a BMW 3 Series or Jaguar XE, but as a relaxed, refined and premium saloon car, its hybrid setup means you’ll reap the benefits when it comes to fuel and tax bills.
An SUV body might not be the obvious choice to combine with an efficient hybrid powertrain, but the Niro proves the two aren’t mutually exclusive.
This car uses a similar engine, electric motor and gearbox setup as the Hyundai Ioniq (Hyundai and Kia are sister brands, so share technology), but there’s only 104bhp on offer here, helped by the electric motor and 1.56kWh battery.
Performance isn’t what you’d call rapid, but then this car is more about efficiency, and the Niro maximises what’s on offer with claims of 83.1mpg and 86g/km CO2. Just be aware that if you go for the higher trim levels with larger alloy wheels these figures become less impressive, at 65.7mpg and 100g/km CO2.
If you’ve got a family, the raised body means it’ll be easier to strap children in and load up the 427-litre boot, proving the worth of a hybrid SUV like this in blending practicality with economy.
It’s no surprise to see another Lexus in this list, as the brand's exploits with hybrid technology mean it’s now at the forefront of what’s possible with a non-plug-in petrol-electric car.
The RX 450h SUV is a shining example, too. In a luxury model, economy isn’t quite as important, but the RX definitely delivers. While it can’t match plug-in rivals, it does deliver running costs similar to a diesel when it comes to fuel economy, but much lower company-car tax bills.
It’s a big SUV that’s on the expensive side (even more so on both counts if you opt for the seven-seat RX 450h L) but a combination of a petrol V6 engine and Lexus’ Dual Motor drive means lots of easy, smooth performance and incredible cruising refinement on the motorway.
It’s not the best-riding car and it steers and handles with stodgy, sluggish responses, but apart from that, the RX is a quality product that uses technology to its advantage.
The interior is lovely, apart from the frustrating infotainment setup, which is one of the worst around, but the Lexus does things its own way for better or for worse. At the very least, it’s worth commending as this is a likeable hybrid SUV.
Toyota Yaris Hybrid
Hybrid superminis aren’t so popular, as the technology inflates the cost, but look at the economy on offer and the Yaris Hybrid makes a strong case for itself.
The 1.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor deliver up to 76.3mpg and 84g/km CO2 officially, so there are very few superminis that come close – and those that do are diesels that don’t get the tax breaks of this hybrid model.
The Yaris isn't the greatest car to drive, and nor is it the nicest inside, but there’s a respectable if not stellar level of room and therefore practicality, while the ride and handling are best described as safe rather than sporty or fun.