Best hybrid cars 2020
If you're one of those people, then a hybrid car might be the answer: the technology helps make petrol (and sometimes diesel) vehicles go that little bit further on a tank of fuel, all without needing to be plugged in.
There are various different types of hybrid car: a full hybrid (sometimes called a parallel hybrid) will draw electricity from the engine and regenerative braking, and will be capable of driving short distances on that electric power alone.
Mild hybrids (sometimes branded as 'self-charging' hybrids) are very similar, except they can't move under electric power only. Instead, the electrical energy is used to assist the engine, making acceleration easier and thus reducing fuel consumption.
And because their use of electric technology is more restrained, hybrid cars don't tend to be as expensive as their plug-in relatives, making them more accessible to potential buyers.
It’s worth noting that while hybrids tend to be cheaper to run than an equivalent petrol car, a plug-in hybrid will typically be even more efficient. These use larger batteries and more powerful electric motors to give larger all-electric ranges, lower emissions and increased fuel efficiency.
Interested? The best hybrid cars will give you everything a normal internal-combustion-engined vehicle will, but with improved fuel economy and reduced CO2 emissions. We've put together the following list to get you started...
Think of a hybrid and the Toyota Prius is probably the car that springs to mind. That’s because after four generations, Toyota has refined the formula to make a brilliant hybrid family car.
It’s not fast, but it’ll be quick enough for most, with 121bhp on tap from its 1.8-litre petrol engine and electric motor setup. 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, it's 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 up to 68mpg and as low as 78g/km of CO2) that makes it 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 around 61 to 63mpg and CO2 emissions of up to 105g/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 well is the infotainment – like the brand’s Kona Electric, the setup is intuitive to use and loaded with technology.
If you’re in the market for a sleek luxury sports coupe and want a ‘self-charging’ drivetrain, there’s only one option available. Thankfully, that option is the Lexus LC 500h, one of the best-looking, most sophisticated cars of its kind.
While a rather special V8-engined version tops the range, the hybrid version gets a 3.5-litre six-cylinder paired with an electric motor. The former produces 295bhp, with the latter contributing 177bhp; total output is a punchy 354bhp.
It’s not the most efficient hybrid around – performance and smooth power delivery have been prioritised – but emissions as low as 184g/km and fuel economy of up to 34.8mpg are still better than all of its major non-electrified rivals.
If a Porsche 911 or BMW 8 Series is on your list, it’s worth checking out the Lexus too.
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 nearly 59mpg combined and as little as 109g/km of CO2. They’re good 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.
Honda CR-V Hybrid
Honda has got form with hybrid cars, right from mainstream offerings like the (sadly, now defunct) CR-Z right up to the mighty NSX. The CR-V Hybrid has all the common sense appeal of Honda's big, friendly family SUV, with the added appeal of being the most efficient offering in the range.
That's not to say that conventional diesel alternatives won't be a better bet for some high mileage drivers, as the 2.0-litre petrol engine and electric motor in the CR-V Hybrid still only achieves a claimed maximum economy of 40.9mpg in its most efficient, front-wheel drive form. We're currently running a CR-V on our test fleet, and at least it's meeting this figure in the real world.
The CR-V is quiet, comfortable and also one of the most practical cars in the class. On top of that, the CR-V also has a stellar reputation for reliability; its predecessor was rated as the sixth most reliable to car to own in the 2018 Driver Power survey.
Toyota Corolla Touring Sports
After an absence of many years, the Corolla badge returned to the UK in 2019: the hatchback is a decent little runabout, but the Corolla Touring Sports estate variant is where the hybrid model comes into its own. It drives very well, and the added practicality from the larger bodystyle makes it highly suited to families.
There's a choice of 1.8- and 2.0-litre hybrid powertrains, returning in the region of 65 and 50mpg respectively. While the latter is a little less frugal, it is a tad faster, hitting 0-62mph in 8.1 seconds; the full seconds quicker than the smaller engine.
Stylishly designed and built to a high standard, the Corolla Touring Sports won our 'Best medium hybrid car' prize at the 2020 DrivingElectric Awards.
There are a lot of Lexus cars on this list, but that’s because it’s the only manufacturer whose entire line-up (bar the forthcoming electric UX 300e) uses ‘self-charging’ hybrid technology.
The ES is one of the biggest cars in Lexus’ range – it’s a rival for the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6 – but it manages to be one of the most efficient, too: up to 53mpg and CO2 emissions as low as 119g/km are quoted.
Whether you need a large family saloon or are a business user looking for an efficient, quiet and comfortable motorway cruiser with low BiK, the ES is worth a look.
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 up to nearly 49mpg and 133g/km of 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: the interior is beautifully constructed out of high-quality materials and there’s plenty of space.
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 Kia 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 up to 59mpg and 110g/km CO2. Just be aware that if you go for the higher trim levels with larger alloy wheels these figures become slightly less impressive.
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.
Lexus RX 450h
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. It's so good in fact that we bestowed it with our 'Best premium hybrid car' and the 2020 DrivingElectric Awards.