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6 October 2020

Best hybrid cars for 2020

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 you know which ones to avoid.
Oliver Trebilcock

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.

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 all our car reviews.

Best hybrid overall

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Best Buy

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

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Best Buy

This impressive luxury SUV has only been improved by the addition of PHEV technology. There's potential for very low running costs - not something you'd normally associate with a full-fat four-wheel-drive car. Its impressive ride comfort, tech laden cabin and strong safety credentials ensure its position as a Best Buy model.

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Best cheap hybrid

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Best Buy

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.

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Best used hybrid

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Best Buy

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.

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Best Toyota hybrid

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Best Buy

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.

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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. The technology has advanced rapidly in recent years and some early models in particular are now someway behind the curve.

Whether it's meagre fuel economy, complex controls, poor reliability or an unsatisfying driving experience, we reveal in the tables below the hybrid cars you should definitely steer clear of.

Which? members can log in now to see the hybrids you should avoid. If you're not already a member, join Which? to reveal this information and to access all of our expert, independent reviews.

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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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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.

There are three types of hybrid:

Full hybrid cars 

Full or ‘self-charging’ hybrids, are petrol cars with a battery charged using energy recuperated under braking or when coasting. This powers an electric motor that can take over or help a petrol engine when it’s at its least efficient (eg when setting off), sharply cutting fuel use in town. They can be driven emissions-free, but only at low speeds for about a mile.

The Toyota Prius is an example of a standard hybrid.

Plug-in hybrid cars 

Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) have smaller batteries than EVs but can still be driven on electric power alone, normally for around 20 to 40 miles. You’ll need to plug them in regularly for best economy, but most models can also use the engine to charge up the battery. When the battery is depleted, PHEVs work like a full hybrid.

The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV is a plug-in hybrid.

Mild hybrid cars 

These use a small electric motor alongside (but not independent of) a combustion engine. How it does so depends on the model. Some give extra power under acceleration; others let the engine be turned off when braking or coasting to save fuel.

With much smaller batteries than full hybrids, you can’t drive one on electricity alone. So official CO2 emissions aren’t as low.

Mild hybrids include the Suzuki Swift hybrid and Suzuki Ignis hybrid

Popular hybrid cars

Popular hybrids include the Toyota Yaris Hybrid, Toyota Corolla, (both full hybrids), while the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid was the first car in the UK to be available as either a hybrid, plug-in hybrid (Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid) or an all-electric vehicle (Hyundai Ioniq EV).

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. Full hybrid cars are fuelled solely by petrol, with electricity generated on-board under braking or when coasting. 

Electric cars can have a more limited driving range between refuelling (or recharging) than conventional or hybrid cars. But this is changing as the market develops. Most models now offer a driving range in excess of 200 miles. Each of our electric car reviews includes an independently tested driving range, (typically lower than that quoted by manufacturers) so you can get a better idea of just how far you can go on a single charge.

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 and road 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 maximise their potential fuel economy benefits.

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 that a battery electric car can. This can have implications when driving into clean air zones or other restricted areas of busy cities. For instance, from October 2021, plug-in hybrids will no longer be exempt from the London Congestion Charge, whereas electric cars will remain free to drive into central London until December 2025. 

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). Plus the only tailpipe emission is pure water. 

However, hydrogen refuelling stations are currently extremely limited in the UK.

Which is better – a hybrid or plug-in hybrid?

With plug-in hybrids (PHEVs), as the name suggests, you do have to plug them in regularly for the best fuel economy. When a plug-in car's battery is depleted, it works like a full hybrid as most models can also use the engine to charge up the battery. 

Plug-in hybrids typically have larger batteries than standard hybrids; this allows them to have longer electric-only ranges. If charged regularly and used for short journeys they can be totally emissions free, though as they do burn fuel, don't expect any to have a 0g/km official CO2 rating.

In theory, the combination of battery and petrol power should improve fuel economy for reasonably long journeys, too (provided the battery is charged when you set off). However, we've found standard hybrids that beat similar plug-in hybrids for fuel economy, so check our car reviews before you buy. 

Popular plug-in hybrids include the Audi Q7 e-Tron, BMW 5 Series hybrid, MINI Countryman S E PHEV, Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid,, 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. This means they can be treated like a conventional petrol car in day-to-day use, without any negative impact to fuel consumption.

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 - 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. Plug-in hybrids typically have larger batteries with longer electric driving ranges. 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.

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. These 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. However, it's not quite a simple as that. With most having CVT gearboxes that aren't constantly engaged in the same way as conventional transmissions, and electric motors assisting the petrol engine, they are less stressed and prone to wear then a typical petrol or diesel.

The truly complicated parts of hybrid technology is the power inverter (which is a non-moving part) and the clever software the controls everything.

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. PHEV reliability isn't nearly as strong, but the market for plug-in's is still establishing itself, so we would expect reliability for this fuel type to improve in the future.

We've uncovered hybrids that are exceptionally reliable. Make sure you buy wisely by checking our hybrid car reviews, which include real-world reliability data based on thousands of drivers from our annual Which? Car Survey.

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 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 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.

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

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