Best hybrid cars 2021
The best hybrid cars will help reduce your fuel bills without needing to be plugged in. These are our favourites
Electric cars and plug-in hybrids are great when it comes to reducing tailpipe emissions, but not everyone has the means to plug in their vehicle to keep the batteries topped up. 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...
The Kia Sorento is one of the best large SUVs on sale, and while the plug-in hybrid variant will be more efficient, the next best thing is the pure hybrid. Power comes from a 1.6-litre petrol engine and an electric motor, which together produce 227bhp. Performance is adequate but it's efficiency that's more important here: up to 41mpg is claimed, along with CO2 emissions as low as 158g/km.
Elsewhere, the Sorento sports a handsome design, a well-made interior and lots enough space to swallow up a family and their luggage. Crucially, there are seven seats – a rare sight in the world of electrified cars. Fold the third-row seats down and there's an impressive 813 litres of load space on offer.
The Sorento is comfortable at a cruise, even if the powertrain can feel a little harsh under harder acceleration. The suspension sits on the slightly firmer side of comfortable, so can feel a bit fidgety on bad surfaces, but the tradeoff is decent handling on smaller roads. Read our full review.
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. Read our full review.
Hyundai Tucson Hybrid
The latest Hyundai Tucson marks a big shift for the familiar model; whereas previously it was rather plainly styled and came with traditional petrol an diesel engines, this new version boasts sharp styling and a choice of mild-hybrid, full-hybrid or plug-in-hybrid power. The Hybrid version is first out of the blocks, with a 'Smartstream' 1.6-litre petrol engine paired with an electric motor and a small (1.49kWh) battery, making 227bhp.
Although official MPG and CO2 figures are still TBC, our first impression is that the hybrid drivetrain is very well executed; there's a good amount of performance available, with enough torque to make it feel faster than the on-paper 0-62mph time would suggest. The engine doesn't get thrashy as those in some other hybrids can, instead producing quite a tuneful exhaust note under harder acceleration. Read our full review.
Renault Clio E-TECH
Hybrid technology has been slow to catch on in smaller cars, but Renault made a breakthrough in 2020 with the launch of its Clio E-TECH. It combines a 1.6-litre petrol engine with two electric motors and a 1.2kWh lithium-ion battery. The Renault emits between 98 and 99g/km of CO2 and returns fuel economy of just over 64mpg, thanks to technology that takes a slightly different approach than that of its key rival the Toyota Yaris Hybrid (below).
There's a complicated clutchless gearbox and 15 different operating modes, including pure-electric, but from the driver's perspective, you still operate the car with two pedals and don’t plug it in, so while the engineering may differ, the way you drive and live with the Clio hybrid is the same as any automatic-gearbox petrol or diesel car. Read our full review.
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. Read our full review.
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. Read our full review.
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. Read our full review.
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. Read our full review.
The previous generation of Yaris was offered in hybrid form, but it wasn't great to drive, as well as having an unappealingly cheap and plasticky interior. 2020 saw the arrival of an all-new hybrid Yaris, however, and it's a big improvement in almost every respect. It has a 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine working in tandem with an electric motor.
The Yaris feels most at home in the city, with direct steering and a willingness to operate under electric power for much of the time when in 'Eco' mode. It's great to drive on the open road, too, with a crisp, responsive feel through corners. Overall, the Yaris gets the basics that buyers want right – including low running costs and hassle-free ownership. Read our full review.
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. Read our full review.
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