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Cars & travel.

26 August 2021

Best hybrid cars for 2021

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.
Daljinder Nagra
Fourth generation Toyota Prius Hybrid

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.


Which members can log in to see the hybrid cars we recommend below. If you're not already a member, join Which? to discover the best hybrid cars and to get access to all of our expert car reviews. 


Best hybrid overall

  • 79%
    £48617.00

    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.

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Best SUV or 4x4 hybrid

  • 71%
    £22255.00

    This easy-going crossover's hybrid drivetrain boosts economy around town, and it comes well specified as standard. It's not the most spacious small SUV we've tested but it's certainly good enough overall to consider.

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Best cheap hybrid

  • 74%
    £17790.00

    The latest iteration of this impressive small car comes as a hybrid only, which provides decent fuel economy, if not the most refined driving experience. Regardless, its ease of use and tremendously practical interior - which is fitted with plenty of kit as standard - make it a deserved Which? Best Buy.

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Best small hybrid

  • 75%
    £19021.00

    This supermini makes a strong case for itself as an urban runabout. Not only is it very fuel-efficient, it feels well made and comes with all the essential safety and comfort technology fitted as standard.

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Best plug-in hybrid

  • 79%
    £35451.00

    This highly-practical plug-in hybrid fully deserves its Best Buy status. It’s an eager performer and very comfortable, with an excellent cabin. It's got plenty of passenger space and a gargantuan boot, too, while the hybrid system opens up the potential for very low running costs.

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Best used hybrid

  • 79%
    £12702.00

    Owners of this particular brand are amongst the happiest on the road, with it consistently scoring highly in our annual car survey. This generation of its large luxury saloon is a particularly fine example of the breed; combining sumptuous build quality with an understated and silky-smooth driving experience. It’s so good that it’s beaten far newer and more expensive luxury saloons for overall driver satisfaction.

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Best Toyota hybrid

  • 75%
    £28737.00

    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 it 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.

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Haven't found the hybrid car you're looking for? Use our hybrid car reviews  and plug-in hybrid car reviews to filter models by price and test score.

A hybrid car to avoid

Not all hybrids perform well in our tests. The technology has advanced rapidly in recent years, and some early models in particular are now behind the curve. We reveal, below, the hybrid car you should steer clear of.

Which? members can log in now to see the hybrids you should avoid. Not yet a member? Join Which? today to reveal this information and get access to all of our expert, independent car reviews. 

  • 58%
    £10900.00

    There's nothing glaringly wrong with this estate model. It upholds the desirable virtues of its manufacturer, but the plug-in hybrid market has expanded rapidly in recent years, and this used model is beginning to look behind the times. There are better models available.

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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.

Are hybrid cars more reliable? 

Hybrid cars include both a combustion engine and electric motor, so it’s easy to assume there's twice as much to go wrong. But that's not true.

Most have CVT ‘gearboxes’ that never disengage, which means less wear than a conventional manual or automatic transmission. There’s also no need for a starter motor or clutch. 

The strength of the electrical power provided by a hybrid means that the petrol engine shouldn't be as stressed as a typical combustion engine, and means the manufacturer can choose to use a lighter petrol engine that revs lower. 

What is the most reliable hybrid car? 

Based on the results of our annual Which? 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. 

Plug-in hybrid (PHEV) reliability isn't nearly as strong, but the market is still establishing itself, so we would expect reliability to improve in the future.

To find out which cars you can (and can't) depend on, based on our extensive owners' survey, see our most reliable cars

We test cars more thoroughly than anyone else

Our tests go further than those carried out by other organisations, and because Which? 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 Which? Car Survey, using it to generate detailed reliability ratings for the cars we test.

To take the guesswork out of choosing your next car, join Which? and you'll get access to all our expert reviews and advice.