We reveal the best hybrid cars that combine practicality with impressive fuel economy. We’ve also uncovered hybrids with terrible motorway mpg and worrying emission levels, so we can tell you which ones to avoid.

best hybrid car

 

The best hybrid cars can be a good choice for drivers looking to save on fuel costs, but who don’t want to plunge into the deep end with a fully battery-powered electric car.

Demand for hybrids is rising rapidly, with ever more car manufacturers offering the choice of a hybrid engine alongside petrol and diesel. There are plenty of options available — whether you want a small hatchback or a full-sized SUV or anything in between. However, not all hybrids are built equal.

We’ve tested models with disappointing reliability, surprisingly high emissions, and many that simply won’t give you the promised fuel economy when you actually get them out on the road.

What is a hybrid car?

A hybrid car combines a conventional engine (usually petrol, but diesel hybrids are also available) with an electric motor. Depending on the type of hybrid, the electric motor works alongside the petrol engine, or by itself for short periods, with the aim of saving fuel and lowering exhaust emissions. Below are the very best hybrid cars we’ve tested, including the best SUV, best cheap hybrid and best plug-in hybrid. These are all fantastic cars. Not only have they sailed through the same tests as their traditional petrol and diesel rivals, but they can also save you an impressive amount on fuel costs.

Types of hybrid car

There are three main types of hybrid car; the best for you will depend on how you use it and – crucially – whether you can easily install an at-home charging point to top up the battery that powers a hybrid’s electric motor.

Full-hybrid cars

Full hybrids, also known as ‘self-charging’ hybrids, are petrol (and to a far lesser extent diesel) cars with a battery pack (separate from the standard 12V car battery).

This battery is charged using energy recuperated while braking or coasting, and is then used to power a small electric motor.  That electric motor can power the car’s wheels in conjunction with the petrol/diesel engine, or even by itself (although typically only for short distances and at moderate speeds).

The electric motor is particularly useful when the car is at its least efficient under petrol or diesel power, such as when setting off, and can sharply cut fuel use during stop-start driving in town. Some hybrids will also charge the batteries directly from the petrol/diesel engine under certain conditions.  The Toyota Prius is arguably the most famous example of a full hybrid.

Pros of full hybrids

Standard hybrids don’t need to be plugged in to charge their batteries. This makes them more convenient if you don’t have easy access to a charging point.

Cons of full hybrids

Very limited electric-only range; the fuel savings compared with a traditional petrol or diesel are likely to be small, particularly if you mainly drive on motorways.

Plug-in hybrid cars

Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) have much larger batteries than full hybrids and have a much longer electric-only range – normally around 20 to 40 miles. However, to get anywhere near the advertised fuel economy for most models, you’ll need to plug it in to charge the battery as much as possible.

Most PHEV models can also use the engine to charge up the battery, but this is much less efficient. When the battery is depleted, PHEVs work like a full hybrid.

Our research has revealed that, compared with fully electric cars, PHEVs tend to use more electricity due to their weight and smaller electric motors.

If you can regularly plug in a car at home, you may want to consider moving straight to an electric car. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a plug-in hybrid.

How long does it take to charge a plug-in hybrid?

The amount of time it takes to charge a plug-in hybrid car’s battery will depend on both the size of the battery and the speed of the electric charger. If you’re charging at home, it could take several hours. At rapid-charging stations it could take less than an hour.

 

Pros of plug-in hybrids

A longer electric-only range, as they have larger batteries than standard hybrids. If charged regularly and used for short journeys only, plug-in hybrids can be largely emission-free. The combination of battery and petrol power should improve fuel economy for reasonably long journeys, provided the battery is charged when you set off.

Cons of plug-in hybrids

You have to plug cars in regularly for the best fuel economy – this may make it inconvenient and expensive if you don’t have easy access to a charger. They do still burn traditional fuel, so don’t expect any plug-in hybrids to have a 0g/km official CO2 rating. Plug-in hybrids are heavy cars, which can have an effect on ride quality and suspension.

Mild-hybrid cars

The main difference from full and plug-in hybrids is that mild hybrids can’t drive on electricity alone.

The battery is only there to assist the combustion engine, not take over from it. That limits their potential for low CO2 emissions and fuel consumption.  Some give extra power under acceleration; others let the engine be turned off when braking or coasting to save fuel.

The mild-hybrid battery can also work with the car’s regular 12V battery to power non-engine systems, such as the car’s air-conditioning. You’ll probably not notice much of a difference between driving a mild hybrid and a regular petrol or diesel car.

The exception is that, while modern cars cut the engine while stationary to reduce fuel consumption and pollutants, in a number of mild hybrids the engine will cut out while you’re coasting or decelerating.

So if you were slowing down for a set of traffic lights, for example, at low speeds the engine will cut out while you’re still in motion and won’t kick in again until you release the brake and need to accelerate.

It can feel a bit weird at first, coasting to a complete stop without the engine on, but you’ll quickly get used to it. Mild hybrids are rapidly spreading across the UK car market and include the Suzuki Swift and Volvo XC60.

Pros of mild hybrids

The electric motor can assist the combustion engine, affording you more acceleration and potentially smoother power delivery under certain conditions, such as when you’re pulling away from a stop. Unlike full and plug-in hybrids, they’re typically available with a manual gearbox.

Cons of mild hybrids

You can’t drive on electricity alone Limited positive impact on CO2 emissions and fuel consumption, depending on the model.

How do hybrid cars help the environment?

Hybrid cars run on both fuel and electricity, so in theory they should reduce the amount of petrol you use while driving. This in turn means the car will emit a lower amount of CO2.

However, it really does depend on how you use your hybrid car. If you use the car mostly for shorter journeys, where you can run it solely off the battery, then your hybrid is likely to be better for the environment than a conventional car.

But it’s important to remember that it will still be producing emissions in the same way as a normal car when it’s not using the battery.  Want to buy a low-emissions car? Use our free low-emission cars tool to find one.

Which is better: a hybrid or electric car?

There’s no clear-cut answer to this, as it will depend on your personal circumstances. There’s no denying that electric cars are better for the environment in terms of emissions, as they simply don’t produce any. But they aren’t right for everybody – or at least, not yet.  Here are the main advantages of hybrids vs fully electric cars (EVs).

Advantages of hybrids over electric cars

Longer driving range. Although most electric cars now offer a claimed driving range in excess of 200 miles, this is still more limited than a hybrid car (or indeed a conventional petrol car). At motorway speeds, EVs will lose range rapidly. To be fair, the same can apply to the electric range of hybrids.

If you’re a regular motorway commuter, you may be financially better off in a diesel – although of course that doesn’t take sustainability into account. The batteries that electric cars rely on can take hours to charge, depending on the connection points available.

Advantages of electric cars over hybrids

Your driving will be completely emissions-free; even plug-in hybrids will emit CO2 and other pollutants some of the time If you charge at home and have a competitive electricity tariff, you can keep your running costs lower than any car that relies on traditional fuel.

But you will need off-street parking to install an at-home charger All hybrid cars are due to be phased out by 2035, as the UK aims to eliminate CO2 emissions from road transport.

Whether you’re charging an electric car or a plug-in hybrid, the public charging network can be confusing, thanks to all the different networks, connection types and different rates of power available. Make sense of it all with our guide on how to charge an electric car, which also covers charging at home.

Our independent car tests reveal an electric car’s real range, so you can get a clear picture of just how far you can go on a single charge – see our best electric cars.

Which hybrid cars are exempt from the London congestion charge and other clean air zone charges?

As they’re powered by petrol or diesel (at least some of the time), hybrid cars can’t be considered free of exhaust emissions in the same way that a fully electric car can.

This can have implications when driving into clean air zones or other restricted areas of busy cities. Hybrid cars aren’t automatically exempt from the London Congestion Charge.

It all depends on the car’s official CO2 rating and emissions-free driving range (which means only PHEVs are eligible for exemption) If your vehicle doesn’t conform to the EU6 emissions standard, has CO2 emissions over 75g/km and can’t travel 20 miles on battery power alone, it’s no longer eligible.

To find out whether or not you need to pay the congestion charge, look up the official CO2 emissions figure in your vehicle’s manual.  It’s important to remember that exemptions aren’t automatically applied either – you have to register your car with Transport for London first.

If you haven’t registered your car, you’ll still be liable for the charge. Under current plans, plug-in hybrids are exempt from the London congestion charge until October 2021, while electric cars will remain free to drive into central London until December 2025. Currently, other clean air zones, such as those launched in Bath and Birmingham, only concern petrol cars made before around 2005, so the vast majority of cars – and no hybrid models – aren’t affected. This may change over time, however.

Are hybrid cars being phased out?

Yes, and it’s happening sooner for some hybrids than others.  It’s part of a package of green initiatives to help meet the UK’s legally binding target of reaching net zero emissions (by 2045 in Scotland, and 2050 in the rest of the UK).  There are two key dates to keep in mind in relation to hybrid cars.

From 2030, the sale of some new hybrids will be banned, along with fully petrol and diesel cars. This will include a ban on the sale of all new mild hybrids and, probably, some other hybrid models. 

From 2035, the sale of all new full- and plug-in hybrids will be banned. From this date, the only new cars you can buy will be zero-emission cars.

This includes fully electric cars plus zero-emission alternatives, such as hydrogen cars.  According to government guidance on the ban, there is a rather grey area around exactly which full- and plug-in hybrid models will be banned from which of these two dates.

According to the gov.uk website: ‘Between 2030 and 2035, new cars and vans can be sold if they have significant zero emission capability, which would include some plug-in and full hybrids’.

The definition of what constitutes ‘significant zero emission capability’ will be consulted on towards the end of 2021.

What is the most reliable hybrid car?

Based on the results of our annual Car Survey, petrol full-hybrid models (there are only a handful of diesel hybrids) are proving to be more reliable than conventional petrol and diesel models. This means you can buy one with the confidence that it won’t let you down.

 

We test cars more thoroughly than anyone else

 

Our tests go further than those carried out by other organisations, and because \ is independent, you can trust our reviews to give you the full, honest and impartial truth about every car we test.

Every car we review is subjected to more than 100 individual tests in a lab, on a test track, and on real roads – and we really clock up the miles, driving around 500 miles in every car we test.

Testing in controlled lab conditions means that the results we collect are directly comparable between different cars, helping us to determine exactly which models are better, and why, and helping you find the perfect car for your needs.

And so you know which cars are likely to prove reliable for years to come, we also gather feedback from thousands of UK car owners through the  Car Survey, using it to generate detailed reliability ratings for the cars we test.

Best Hybrid car reviews

Lexus RX (2015-) review

£48,852Price from

Test scoreShow Context

78%

Key features

  • Medium/Large SUV
  • Available new
  • Full hybrid

Compare

verdict: Impressive Which? Best Buy

It’s got a touch of Darth Vader about it, but the Lexus RX is a very impressive luxury 4×4. It’s extremely well made and has lots of impressive technology, and is spacious and comfortable. Just don’t expect it to match a Range Rover off road.

Pros
  • Very well made
  • Comfortable
  • Very safe
  • Lots of equipment
Cons
  • No combustion only or PHEV option
  • No seven-seat version

Toyota RAV4 (2019-) review

£29,711Price from

Test scoreShow Context

74%

Key features

  • Medium/Large SUV
  • Available new
  • Full hybrid

Compare

 verdict: Sure-footed and well-equipped hybrid SUV

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is a likeable new mid-size SUV. It’s well-made, comfortable and easy to live with. With decent practicality and the potential for high fuel economy around town with its hybrid drivetrain, there are few downsides – bar its frustrating infotainment system. It’s a deserved Which? Best Buy.

Pros
  • Low CO2 emissions
  • Hybrid drivetrain boosts efficiency in town
  • Comfortable and easy to drive
Cons
  • Not the most fun SUV to drive
  • Clunky infotainment system
  • Relatively high list prices.

Honda Jazz (2020-) review

£18,764Price from

Test scoreShow Context

78%

Key features

  • Small
  • Available new
  • Full hybrid

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 verdict: Highly efficient master of spaciousness

The Jazz is an easy-to-drive, well-put-together package that delivers on its targets of practicality and flexibility. The hybrid power system works well, and although it’s neither the most refined or most fun-to-drive car in its class, it’s pretty economical. Safety and equipment levels are strong suits, too, helping to earn it a Which? Best Buy.

Pros
  • Tremendous space inside
  • Easy to drive
  • Well equipped
Cons
  • Unrefined under hard acceleration
  • Pricey
  • Not as sharp to drive as some rivals

Toyota Yaris (2020-) review

£19,269Price from

Test scoreShow Context

73%

Key features

  • Small
  • Available new
  • Full hybrid

Compare

verdict: Appealingly frugal small hybrid

The hybrid-only Yaris is priced higher than many of its rivals, but it should provide very low-cost motoring thanks to very good fuel efficiency and low CO2 emissions. Safety and equipment are strong suits, too, and it’s a very easy car to drive. It’s a deserved Which? Best Buy.

Pros
  • Fuel efficient
  • Easy to drive
  • Well equipped
  • Safe
Cons
  • Not very refined
  • Pricey
  • Some rivals are more practical

Skoda Superb Estate Plug-in Hybrid (2020-) review

£36,017Price from

Test scoreShow Context

77%

Key features

  • Large estate
  • Available new
  • Plug-in hybrid (PHEV)

Compare

verdict: Highly practical hybrid

The Skoda Superb Estate plug-in hybrid doesn’t compromise too much on the regular model’s huge interior, with just as much passenger space and a still-gargantuan boot. It’s also an eager performer and very comfortable, with an excellent cabin. The hybrid system opens up the potential for very low running costs, too. It’s a Which? Best Buy.

Pros
  • Hugely spacious
  • Comfortable
  • Potentially very low running costs
Cons
  • Some scratchy cabin plastics
  • Boot space slightly compromised by hybrid system

Lexus GS (2012-2018) review

£13,891Price from

Test scoreShow Context

79%

Key features

  • Large
  • Used only
  • Full hybrid

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 verdict: Worth close consideration

A car that offers something genuinely different to its rivals. Fuel economy isn’t as good as you might expect from a hybrid, but the GS is definitely shortlist material.

Pros
  • Super-plush ride comfort
  • Seamless hybrid system
Cons
  • Expensive
  • Not very adaptable boo

Toyota Camry Hybrid (2019-2021) review

£32,127Price from

Test scoreShow Context

75%

Key features

  • Large
  • Used only
  • Full hybrid

Compare

verdict: Relaxing, high-quality hybrid

The Camry is back with a bang. Toyota’s latest large saloon is very easy to drive and live with, has efficiency and refinement boosting hybrid tech, and is backed by a five-year warranty and the brand’s bullet-proof reputation for reliability. Unless you’re looking for driver thrills – or need to tow something – we’ve no hesitation in recommending the Camry as a Best Buy model.

Pros
  • Good fuel efficiency
  • Roomy and comfortable cabin
  • Well specified as standard
Cons
  • No towing capacity
  • Mediocre braking performance
  • Currently no Apple Carplay/Android Auto

Volvo V60 PHEV Estate (2013-2018) review

£10,989Price from

Test scoreShow Context

66%

Key features

  • Large estate
  • Used only
  • Plug-in hybrid (PHEV)

Compare

 verdict: Impressive hybrid performance

It offers the promise or excellent fuel economy blended with great performance, but real-life fuel savings will vary hugely based on the type of driving you do.

Pros
  • Great green credentials
  • Bridges gap between electric and combustion
Cons
  • Expensive to buy
  • Fuel savings will vary enormously depending on journey type