Best hybrid cars for 2021
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.
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.
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.
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.
What is a hybrid car?
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.
Types of hybrid cars
Full hybrids, also known as 'self-charging' hybrids, are petrol or diesel cars with a battery charged using energy recuperated under braking or when coasting. This powers an electric motor.
A hybrid actually has two batteries - one to power the electric motor and the other is a regular 12v car battery that petrol and diesel cars have, too.
That electric motor can power the car’s wheels in conjunction with the petrol/diesel engine, or even by itself (though typically only for a mile or two, and at slow speeds).
The electric motor is particularly useful when the car is at its least efficient, such as when setting off, and can sharply cut fuel use when you're driving in town.
Some hybrids will also charge the batteries directly from the petrol/diesel engine under certain conditions.
- 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.
- Very limited electric-only range.
Plug-in hybrid cars
Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) have much larger batteries than full hybrids and have a much greater electric-only range, normally around 20 to 40 miles. The downside is that in order to make use of this range, and the best fuel economy generally, you’ll need to plug them in.
Most 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.
- 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 totally 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.
- You have to plug them in regularly for the best fuel economy - this may make it inconvenient if you don't have easy access to a charger
- They do still burn 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/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.
Instead, mild hybrids use a small electric motor to assist a petrol or diesel engine (rather than take over from it). How it does this depends on the model.
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 likely not notice much of a difference between driving a mild hybrid and a regular petrol or diesel car. The exception being 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.
- The electric motor can assist the combustion engine, affording you more acceleration and potentially smoother power delivery under certain conditions, like when you’re pulling away from a stop.
- You can't drive on electricity only
- Limited effect on CO2 emissions/fuel consumption.
Popular hybrid cars
Want to know which hybrid cars are the most popular on our website? Keep reading.
Honda Jazz (2020-), around £18,980
Fuel type: hybrid
We liked: well equipped
We didn't like: you don’t benefit from any government grants
Available as hybrid only, the fourth-generation Honda Jazz offers small dimensions with clever packaging. But does it match up with rivals such as the Ford Fiesta and Toyota Yaris Hybrid?
Toyota C-HR Hybrid (2017-), around £25,042
Class: compact/small SUV
Fuel type: hybrid
We liked: five-year warranty
We didn't like: claustrophobic rear cabin
The Toyota C-HR, launched in 2017, is a striking-looking, small crossover SUV. It’s been available since 2019 as a hybrid model only. Can it compete against the extremely popular Nissan Qashqai and Honda HR-V?
BMW 3 Series Plug-in hybrid (2020-), around £39,345
Fuel type: plug-in hybrid
We liked: superb cabin
We didn't like: hybrid batteries eat into boot space
Offered in saloon and estate versions, the BMW 330e uses a petrol engine together with an electric motor to deliver strong performance and reduced official emissions. How well does it all come together?
What's the difference between an electric car and a hybrid?
An electric car is powered solely by an electric motor and battery pack. This means that all electric cars need plugging in to the mains to charge them.
If you're thinking about investing in an electric car, here are some things to consider:
- Your driving will be emissions-free
- Although some electric cars now offer a driving range in excess of 200 miles, this is still more limited than a conventional or hybrid car
- The battery can take hours to charge, depending on the connection points available
- If you charge at home and have a competitive electricity tariff, you can keep your running costs low. But you will need off-street parking
- 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 , which also covers charging at home.
What are hydrogen cars?
There’s another kind of car on the horizon, too – hydrogen cars, such as the . 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). Plus the only tailpipe emission is pure water.
However, hydrogen refuelling stations are currently extremely limited in the UK.
How long does it take to charge a hybrid car?
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.
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.
How much does it cost to replace a battery in a hybrid car?
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 - but always check to see if it's covered.
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 - this 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. Some plug-in models we've tested have smaller fuel tanks to make room for the battery pack, which can limit overall driving range, particularly if you've not charged it up.
How does a hybrid car 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, which 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, and you charge it using 100% renewable electricity, then your hybrid will 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.
What hybrid cars are exempt from the congestion charge?
As they're powered by petrol (for at least some of the time), full and plug-in hybrid cars can't be considered exhaust-emissions-free in the same way that a battery 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 congestion charge. It all depends on the model and trim level. Once your car's official CO2 emissions push past 75g/km CO2 you'll no longer be exempt. 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 are not automatically applied either – you have to register your car with TfL first. If you haven't registered your car you will still be liable for the charge.
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.
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.
But what if you do a mixture of short and long-distance journeys? As well as our car reviews providing you with accurate fuel economy figures, based on our independent lab and road tests, for city, out of town and motorway mpg, we also provide you with combined mpg figures. We've found hybrids with excellent combined mpg, and some that are disappointing.
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 should not 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.
Can you run the Toyota Prius without a battery?
The plug-in hybrid version of the Prius, the , does require plugging in, and has a longer electric-only driving range. However, this model will also operate on petrol alone, like the regular Prius, 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, 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.