Best hybrid family cars 2020
Family cars must tick two key boxes: they need to be economical to ensure running costs are kept to a minimum, and they need to be practical enough to cope with the rigours of family life.
On these two points, hybrid cars are great, because they can improve the former without hindering the latter. Where a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) might have reduced boot space and legroom due to a sizeable battery, a standard hybrid doesn't have to make the same compromise.
This is because hybrid systems take up far less space than their PHEV equivalents, and while they aren't able to drive as far on electric power alone, they're adept at making a petrol or diesel car as economical as possible.
Hybrid cars achieve this by employing either a starter-generator or a small battery to power an electric motor, typically kicking in at low speed when an internal-combustion engine is at its least efficient.
This means you can navigate stop-start traffic and tricky parking manoeuvres without using any fuel, but when travelling long distances, you don’t also have the drawback of carrying around a heavy, idle PHEV system that's no longer contributing to the car's performance.
So what are the best hybrid family cars on the market at the moment? Here are our top picks, in no particular order:
Lexus NX 300h
The Lexus NX 300h is one of the more striking five-door SUVs to look at thanks to its bold, angular design. It’s powered by a 2.5-litre petrol engine assisted by an electric motor, helping to maximise fuel efficiency. Officially, the NX 300h delivers 48.7mpg in front-wheel-drive form, but it’s also capable of brief spells running on electric power alone. The batteries provide enough charge for around a mile of driving without the engine running, which means the NX 300h copes really well around town.
Toyota revived the Corolla name for its Auris replacement in 2018 and to great effect – the latest car is a great all-rounder and a fine alternative to the non-hybrid family-car establishment. Power comes from a 1.8 or 2.0-litre petrol engine mated to a small battery: as much as 63mpg is achievable and CO2 emissions top out at 89g/km. The Corolla’s taut, well sorted chassis strikes a great balance between handling and comfort, while an array of bodystyles means there’s a car in the range for just about everyone. Relatively high prices, clunky infotainment and a less-than-perfect CVT gearbox are slight issues, but not enough to spoil what's a great recipe overall.
Majoring on comfort, refinement and build quality, the Honda CR-V is a mid-sized family SUV boasting 2.0-litre petrol-electric hybrid power and a choice of front or four-wheel drive. It’s not an entirely normal setup, in that the petrol engine solely charges the batteries when the car’s set to its default mode; average economy officially tops out at a fairly disappointing 41mpg, but we managed as much as 45mpg in tests. It’s not the most efficient car on this list, but the CR-V is a very comfortable and quiet family car that’s sure to be reliable and very easy to own.
If you need your family hybrid car to be able to handle more than most, the Subaru XV is a great choice. What it lacks in outright efficiency it makes up for with true go-anywhere four-wheel drive, rock-solid build quality and award-winning on-board safety systems. The XV’s 2.0-litre 'boxer' petrol-electric drivetrain only manages economy of 35mpg and performance is just adequate. However, if you want a hybrid family car that can tackle some pretty serious off-roading while remaining very safe, comfortable and composed on road, there’s nothing much else around.
If you like the idea of a rugged-looking, practical, hybrid-powered SUV then the RAV4 should be all the car you need. Its 2.5-litre petrol-electric drivetrain is connected to a CVT gearbox, much as you’ll find on models from Toyota’s sister brand Lexus, and despite the SUV’s considerable size, it’ll return up to 51mpg on average. Four-wheel drive is an option if you need it; it doesn't make the RAV4 quite as capable as a Subaru or Land Rover, but should help in most everyday reduced-traction moments.
In a section of the market where so many vehicles have opted for exuberant styling, the hybrid Kia Niro has gone for a more understated look. This translates into the character of the car: it’s roomy inside, well equipped and relaxing to drive, although the ride could be a little more forgiving. A 1.6-litre petrol engine combines with an electric motor to produce 139bhp, CO2 emissions of 88g/km and 74.3mpg, according to official figures. Prices start from £23,490, and Kia’s seven-year warranty ensures you’ll get a good deal regardless of which trim you choose.
Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
The Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid has a 1.6-litre petrol engine that produces a total of 139bhp when working in conjunction with an electric motor. Unlike some of its rivals, the Ioniq Hybrid isn’t capable of driving on electric power alone, although the self-charging system helps it to achieve official figures of 78.5mpg and CO2 emissions of 84g/km. While the exterior is rather generic, the Ioniq Hybrid is spacious inside and will comfortably seat a family of five, with 443 litres of boot space to factor into the equation. It’s competitively priced too.
The Toyota Prius is the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid’s main rival, and while it’s a little more expensive than the Ioniq, running costs should be lower in the long run. A 1.8-litre petrol engine and an electric motor join forces to produce 121bhp, with claimed fuel economy of up to 83.1mpg. This means the Prius should go a little further than the Ioniq Hybrid between trips to the fuel station, and a small amount of electric-only driving range means you’ll be better off in traffic as well. As a hybrid family car, the Prius will serve you well.