Best hybrid cars for 2020
By Oliver Trebilcock
Article 2 of 16
The best hybrid cars make an excellent 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 more and 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. Even luxury brands such as BMW are getting in on the act.
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 fuel economy they promise when you actually get them out on the road.
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.
We also reveal the hybrid cars you should avoid.
Scroll down for our top hybrid car recommendations.
If you want to find out more about how to buy the best hybrid car, use the links below to jump to:
Best hybrid overall
If you’re looking for an extremely well-made luxury hybrid SUV, this model is our highest scoring new hybrid overall. It’s not much of a mud-plugger, but it’s spacious, comfortable and incredibly refined. Tested fuel economy isn't bad for an SUV, especially around town. Factor in excellent reliability, based on our in-depth survey of owners, and it’s a cracking hybrid car.
Best SUV or 4x4 hybrid
Best cheap hybrid
This small hybrid hatchback has all the practicality and ease of use of the standard combustion version, but with much-improved fuel economy. If you’re an urban driver, expect to make significant savings. It’s also one of the easiest small cars to get into and out of, and very reliable as it ages.
Best used hybrid
This brand has great experience with hybrid technology, and this old generation limousine shows it off to great effect. It’s supremely quiet and refined and returned acceptable fuel economy in our tests, despite the hybrid system being mated to a very large petrol engine. It’s also superbly well-made and backed up by the brand’s bomb-proof reliability record.
Best Toyota hybrid
The latest version of this popular model ditches diesel altogether and is available solely as a petrol hybrid. That’s no bad thing at all. Not only is quiet and effortless to drive, it’s also proved very economical, with improved fuel consumption on the motorway – typically a weakness for hybrid models. Only a clunky infotainment system lets it down slightly.
Haven't found the hybrid car you're looking for? Use our hybrid car reviews to filter models by price and test score.
Hybrid cars to avoid
Not all hybrids perform well in our tests. They contain both a conventional combustion engine and an electric motor, so they’re inherently more complex. This means there’s more that can go wrong.
We’ve found some hybrid cars that are disappointingly unreliable, with a large proportion of owners experiencing faults even on new cars that are less than three years old.
We’ve also found models with transmission issues. And there are others that have dashboard controls so complex you’ll need to keep the manual to hand even after years of ownership.
We reveal in the tables below some of the worst offenders – hybrid cars you should definitely steer clear of.
Hybrid cars to avoid
This diesel hybrid offers a unique four-wheel-drive setup, and proved economical around town. Unfortunately, tested fuel economy wasn’t enough to justify buying one over a conventional diesel, and elsewhere this model is simply middling, with mediocre reliability and a dull driving experience.
This model disappoints in the key area for hybrids – fuel economy. We didn’t get anywhere close to the manufacturer’s claims in our own independent tests. If you drive primarily in town, it’s fine. But it won’t be for drivers who spend any time on motorways, as motorway mpg isn't particularly impressive
How to buy the best hybrid car
From the difference between the various types of hybrid car you can buy, to whether they're as economical as their manufacturers claim, we tell you what you need to know in order to buy the best hybrid for your needs.
A hybrid car combines a conventional engine (usually petrol, but diesel hybrids are also available) with electric power, ostensibly saving you on fuel costs and lowering exhaust emissions.
There are three types of hybrid:
Full hybrid cars
Electric energy generated, and usually wasted, as you drive – for example when coasting or braking – is instead used to charge the electric battery. These hybrids don't need plugging in to charge, but you can usually only drive them at low speeds for up to around a mile on battery power alone.
The Toyota Prius is an example of a standard hybrid.
Plug-in hybrid cars
You need to plug these cars into the mains to charge their batteries. Plug-in hybrids typically offer an emissions-free range of 20-50 miles, enough for shorter trips or most people's daily commutes.
If you make a longer journey, the batteries will become depleted. At this point the car automatically switches to its conventional engine and operates in the same way as a full hybrid.
The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a plug-in hybrid.
Mild hybrid cars
Mild hybrids have a very small battery that can't power the car on its own. In some models, the small battery will support the power of the conventional engine, slightly reducing fuel consumption.
In others, the small battery allows the conventional engine to be turned off when the car is coasting or stopping, yet also enables it to restart quickly.
Popular hybrid cars
What's the difference between an electric car and a hybrid?
An electric car is powered solely by an electric motor. This means that all electric cars need plugging in to the mains to charge them.
Electric cars can have a more limited driving range between refuelling (or recharging) than conventional cars. But this is changing as the market develops. Some electric cars, including Tesla electric cars, have ranges in excess of 200 miles.
The availability of charging points can also be limited, and the battery can take hours to charge, depending on the connection points available. You can have a charging point installed at your home so you can charge your car overnight, although you'll need to have off-street parking.
To find out which electric cars aced our tough lab tests, see our best electric cars.
A hybrid can be a useful compromise if you don’t want to worry about whether your car will have the range to reach your destination.
Full hybrids are likely to be the easiest transition from a full petrol or diesel car, as they don't need to be plugged in to charge their electric batteries. Plug-in hybrids have a longer electric driving range but, as the name suggests, need to be plugged in to get the most benefit.
There’s another kind of car on the horizon, too – hydrogen cars, such as the Toyota Mirai. These have an electric motor, but are powered by hydrogen. This makes them faster to refuel than battery electric cars (taking about as long as filling a petrol car), and the only tailpipe emission is pure water.
However, hydrogen refuelling stations are currently extremely limited in the UK.
Plug-in hybrids typically have larger batteries than standard hybrids; this allows them to have longer electric-only ranges.
In theory, this should improve their fuel economy for reasonably long journeys. However, we've found standard hybrids that beat similar plug-in hybrids for fuel economy, so check our car reviews before you buy.
As the name suggest, you do also have to plug them in to charge, plus fill up the conventional engine with fuel for longer trips. If you don't want to do both of these tasks, consider a standard hybrid or even an all-electric vehicle.
Popular plug-in hybrids include the Audi Q7 e-Tron, BMW 5 Series hybrid, MINI Countryman S E PHEV, Panamera E-Hybrid, Porsche, Volkswagen Golf GTE, Volkswagen Passat GTE, and Volvo XC90 Plug-in Hybrid.
Standard hybrids don't need to be plugged in to charge their batteries and can be treated like a conventional petrol car in day to day use.
See all of our hybrid car reviews.
How long does it take to charge a hybrid car?
Only plug-in hybrid cars require charging from the mains (full hybrids run on electric energy from the battery, which is recharged as you drive). 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 your plug-in hybrid at home, it could take several hours to charge. At fast-charging stations it could take an hour or less for a small battery. Charging technology and speeds are improving all the time.
How much does it cost to replace a battery in a hybrid car?
Replacing a hybrid car's battery can be very costly. The price will vary depending on the make and model of car, but it's likely to be in the low thousands.
Hybrid batteries are often included in the warranty when you buy a new hybrid car. So if you buy new, you shouldn't have to pay to replace the hybrid battery within the warranty period, if it's covered.
Toyota also offers Hybrid Battery Extended Cover after its five-year warranty period. This covers you for an additional year or 10,000 miles (whichever comes sooner), and can be renewed up until the car is 10 years old.
Do hybrid cars use regular fuel?
The conventional engines of hybrid cars use regular petrol or diesel fuel, with petrol hybrids being far more common. The electric motor runs on electric energy from the battery, which is recharged as you drive. This could be using energy generated when you brake, or from the engine directly as it powers the wheels.
Plug-in hybrids also charge as you drive, plus you can plug them in to the mains to top them up. Plug-in hybrids typically have larger batteries with longer electric driving ranges.
Are hybrid cars good for motorway driving?
For long-distance motorway driving, the average hybrid uses more fuel than the average diesel. This is because once the electric battery runs out, you’re lugging around the extra weight of the heavy battery.
However, there are exceptions – we've found some hybrids that perform exceptionally well for motorway driving. So if you pick the right model, you'll get great mpg on the motorway as well as in town.
For regular short journeys, you should expect to save on fuel costs by running on the electric motor – but only if the battery is sufficiently charged.
But what if you do a mixture of short and long-distance journeys? Our combined mpg figures from our independent lab tests are based on typical driving habits – 70% driving in urban or near-urban areas, and 30% on motorways. We've found hybrids with excellent combined mpg, and some that are disappointing.
See our hybrid car reviews to find out which have the best mpg.
Do hybrid cars require more maintenance?
Hybrid cars include both a combustion engine and electric motor, so in principle there's twice as much that can go wrong. We've found some hybrid cars with disappointing reliability, including those from top hybrid car brands.
We've also uncovered hybrids that are exceptionally reliable. Make sure you avoid a costly mistake by checking our hybrid car reviews, which include real-world reliability data based on thousands of drivers from the Which? Car Survey.
Are hybrids more expensive to insure?
Car insurance for hybrid cars is often higher than for conventional cars. There are several reasons why this can be the case.
Hybrids often cost more than their conventional-fuel counterparts. They also often contain cutting-edge technology that can be expensive to replace. Garages also need specialist staff trained in electrical drive components.
When you're deciding whether a hybrid car is the right choice for your budget, make sure you factor in additional car insurance costs, alongside fuel economy.
Can you run the Toyota Prius without a battery?
The standard Toyota Prius doesn't need to be plugged in to the mains for it to charge. If its battery runs out during the course of a long journey, it can keep going on petrol alone.
The plug-in hybrid version of the Prius, the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, does require plugging in, and has a longer electric driving range. However, this model will also operate on petrol alone, if you're unable to charge it.
We test cars more thoroughly than anyone else
Our tests go further than those carried out by other organisations, and because Which? is independent and doesn't accept advertising or freebies, 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 Which? Car Survey, using it to generate detailed reliability ratings for the cars we test.
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