Best Hybrid Cars

Now the Toyota Prius has turned 21, other car manufacturers are catching up. We highlight the best hybrid cars on offer

John Evans
Mar 14, 2018

If the driving range of a normal petrol car combined with the tax savings benefits of low CO2 emissions, the option of electric-only driving, and the possibility of a Government grant towards its purchase price appeals to you, then you should consider a hybrid car.

Apart perhaps from the Toyota Prius, a hybrid doesn't look that different from any conventional car with a petrol or diesel engine. What differences there are, lie under the skin.

A hybrid combines a traditional internal combustion engine (typically petrol-powered) with a small electric motor, a battery, energy recovery technology to recharge the battery and a management system to control everything so seamlessly, you’re often unaware which power source is working.

                              

Some go further by allowing you to plug the battery into an external power source to recharge it. These are called plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs for short. Some models are available in hybrid and PHEV form, while some others are only offered as PHEVs.

The addition of electric power drives down a hybrid’s overall CO2 emissions while boosting its fuel economy, although you should take extravagant official economy claims with a large pinch of salt.
 
Their lower emissions, combined with the fact that the government applies a discount worth £10 to what it calls ‘alternative fuel vehicles’ such as hybrids, mean they attract a lower road tax charge than conventional petrol and diesel cars. This £10 discount applies to hybrids registered before and after 1 April.

In terms of company car tax, although there’s no discount for hybrids and other alternative fuel cars, their lower CO2 emissions mean that hybrids occupy lower tax bands than other cars.

Meanwhile, the Government is encouraging the uptake of new cars that emit very low levels of CO2 by offering cash grants towards the purchase price of certain approved models. Qualifying hybrids, that is, cars that emit less than 50g/km CO2 and which can travel at least 10 miles without emitting any CO2, attract the Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG) worth up to 35% of the car’s purchase price, up to a maximum of £2,500. New cars with a list price over £60,000 are not eligible for a grant. Used hybrids do not qualify for the grant since it was paid when the vehicle was new.

To check if the new hybrid you are interested in buying qualifies for a grant, visit the Government plug-in website.

These grants are attractive because all of a hybrid’s additional technology makes them expensive. Its high price is a hybrid’s major downside and why you should consider whether the projected savings in running costs are worth the extra expense of buying or leasing one over a petrol or diesel car.

Company car users are also taxed on a hybrid’s list price but its lower CO2 emissions balance this out.

One last thing: cars emitting less than 75g/km CO2 and which meet the Euro 5 standard for air quality (or higher) don't pay the London congestion charge. Many hybrids qualify for this discount.

Best Hybrid Cars

Toyota Yaris Hybrid

Best hybrid for the city

List price from £16,495 2017 cars typically from £14,995

As a small hybrid supermini, the Toyota Yaris is just about in a class of its own. There’s the cheaper Suzuki Ignis SHVS hybrid (list price £14,499) but the system’s only there to mildly assist the little car. You’d be better off with a standard Ignis.

Meanwhile, the Yaris is perfect for scooting around town thanks to a quiet and comfortable ride, and light and easy driving manners. Downsides are a below-par interior, at least for a Toyota, and the fact that best economy is only achieved around town. Beyond the city limits it’s quite thirsty as well as boring to drive. 

Read the Toyota Yaris buying guide 

Toyota Prius

Best hybrid for all-round excellence 

List price from £24,240 2016 cars typically from £19,990

The Prius is the granddaddy of hybrid cars and one of the best. The current version is the best looking, although it still looks a bit extreme. Economy in the high 70s should be attainable, and that’s in the city where the electric motor comes into its own, but CO2 emissions are not low enough to attract the Government grant.
   
That honour falls to the much more expensive PHEV version. The downside with that car is that the battery robs it of boot space. If you need to move a family and their luggage, the standard Prius is the more practical buy. 
     

Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

Best hybrid for family value

List price from £20,885 2017 cars typically from £18,295
If the looks of the Prius offend you, then check out the Ioniq. Not only is it a more conventionally stylish car but it’s also a lot cheaper (it has a bigger boot, too, so is more practical). However, it’s not quite as refined or as well resolved as the Toyota and like that car, does not attract the plug-in grant (again, that privilege is awarded to the more expensive Ioniq PHEV).
    
The Ioniq is a comfortable car and most at home ambling around town. It can do a claimed 83mpg and like the Toyota hybrids, it comes with a five-year warranty. 

VW Golf GTE

Best hybrid for economy and performance 

List price from £31,100 2015 cars typically from £18,990

The VW Golf GTE adds super-low running costs to the model’s already familiar virtues, namely good overall refinement, great build quality, secure handling and a roomy cabin. The recent facelift has injected a little more pizzazz into the looks but certainly in the GTE’s case, under the skin it’s much as before. Which means, an official economy figure of 156mpg and a 20-mile all-electric range on a full charge.

It’s also quite sprightly with 0-62mph possible in just 7.6 seconds, although that will come at the expense of economy.

Read the VW Golf GTE buying guide 

Toyota CH-R

Best hybrid for looks

List price from £24,215 2017 cars typically from £22,995

Its hybrid capability is probably the last thing on people’s minds when considering a CH-R. The fact is, it’s a great-looking car, one that turns heads whatever power source is under the bonnet. It’s great to drive, too, and just as attractive inside, if a little cramped in the rear.

Toyota knows a thing or two about hybrid systems but the CH-R’s isn’t the smoothest or most refined. Still, with an official economy figure of 74.3mpg it’s more economical than most diesel rivals, as well as cheaper to tax for company car drivers.

Read the Toyota CH-R buying guide

Kia Niro

Best hybrid for crossover style 

List price from £23,135 2017 cars typically from £19,500

Like the Hyundai Ioniq, the Niro is another, more conventional-looking alternative to the Toyota Prius. Again, it’s not as well-rounded and accomplished as that car but then it is cheaper and it does come with an industry-leading seven-year warranty. The other thing in the Niro’s favour is it’s crossover body style, a look that’s definitely in vogue.

It’s best driven in a relaxed rather than a push-on style. It does 74.3mpg but if you want to improve on that and, as a company car driver, pay much less tax, you’ll need to upgrade to the more expensive Niro PHEV, which also qualifies for the government’s plug-in grant.

Read the Kia Niro buying guide 

VW Passat GTE

Best hybrid for practicality 

List price from £39,030 2017 cars typically from £32,000

The Passat GTE competes in a class that has traditionally chosen diesel over anything else. However, that fuel’s days look numbered as drivers switch to petrol cars. Which is why the GTE’s time has come. It may be more expensive than a purely petrol-powered Passat, and even a diesel one, but the government’s plug-in grant knocks a useful £2500 off the price, while emissions of 39g/km CO2 and real-world economy of 53mpg (the official claim is 156.9mpg) will help keep running and tax costs down.

The addition of batteries robs the car's load area of some space but fold the seats down and you’ve still 1,613 litres to play with.

Read the VW Passat buying guide 

BMW 330e

Best hybrid for executives 

List price from £36,680 2016 cars typically from £23,495

The BMW 330e is another hybrid that competes in a class known for its love of diesels. That love affair is fading but like the Passat GTE, the 330e is still a more expensive alternative, even after the plug-in grant is taken into account.

On the upside, it can do a claimed 148.7mpg (expect around 50mpg in real-world motoring), emits 44g/km CO2 and, crucially, will travel for 25 miles on electric power alone. Being a BMW it’s fun to drive, if a little heavier and not quite as sharp as its petrol-powered equivalents.

Read the BMW 3 Series buying guide 

Volvo XC90 T8

Best hybrid for large SUV practicality 

List price from £62,505 2017 cars typically from £55,990

It's not only a hugely capable SUV with all the visibility and safety tech you could wish for, the Volvo XC90 is also a genuine seven-seat family car. That’s why the T8’s plug-in hybrid capability is so valuable, since it helps keep running costs of this huge vehicle within tolerable limits. However, like most plug-ins, that’s only true if you can charge it remotely, say from home. If you can, then you have up to 25 miles of electric motoring at your disposal, good if your commute is a short one with charging opportunities at each end.

Emissions are just 49g/km CO2 while claimed economy is 134.5mpg. Again, take that figure with a pinch of salt, since in reality it will manage around 31mpg, about what a diesel might return. Of course, it’s too expensive to attract the government plug-in grant. 

Read the Volvo XC90 buying guide

BMW i8

Best hybrid for shock and awe

List price from £112,735 2016 cars typically from £64,500

The most striking thing about the i8 is not its space-age looks, its claimed 134.5mpg economy (expect closer to 40mpg), its 49g/km CO2 or its 0-62mph time of 4.4 seconds. Instead, it’s what great value it is as a used buy. Forget trying to scrape a few savings with the new car and instead, buy it used. Being a BMW it will still feel as good as new and being an i8 will still turn heads, while saving you thousands of pounds in new car depreciation. 

        

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