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, and they don't need to be plugged in via a cable.
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 a 'self-charging' hybrid) 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.
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 83.1mpg and 78g/km 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 63mpg and CO2 emissions of 85g/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.
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.
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.
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 high-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 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 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.
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.
Toyota Yaris Hybrid
Three models on this list shows just how strong Toyota (and sister brand Lexus) is in this sector. The Yaris Hybrid also shows Toyota’s boldness at exploring an area of the market nobody else has.
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.
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