Best hybrid family cars

Looking for a petrol or diesel alternative as your next family car? Take a look at our list of the best hybrid family cars

James Mills
Nov 8, 2018

Drivers who are concerned about what comes out of the exhaust of their diesel-powered car but don’t want to forgo the good fuel economy and competitive tax rates that diesel offers over petrol don’t have to despair: hybrid cars are here to help.

There is a greater choice than ever of cars that combine a fuel-burning petrol or diesel engine together with an electrically-powered motor.

For family car buyers, there are hatchbacks, Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), saloons and people carriers (or MPVs – Multi Purpose Vehicles). And if you need something smaller, perhaps as a second car, there are mini hybrids too.

This buying guide deals with standard hybrid cars, which are also known as self-charging hybrids. These recover energy that's usually lost during braking, as well as surplus power produced by the engine to charge their batteries. They can't be charged up with a cable, unlike a plug-in hybrid.

The best hybrid family cars

Best hybrid family cars hatchbacks 

Best hybrid SUVs and people carriers 

Best hybrid saloon cars

Tax advantages of hybrid cars

Because hybrid cars generally emit lower levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) than diesel cars, which in turn emit less than a petrol powered model, they attract less car tax and company car tax. For example, compare the best-known hybrid, the Toyota Prius, with the best hatchback on sale, the VW Golf.

An entry-level Prius Active costs £24,245 when new and emits 78g/km of CO2. Between 2018 and 2021 the company car tax bill to company car drivers would be £2,940 or £5,879 (20% or 40% tax payers respectively). The fuel cost is estimated to be 6.8 pence per mile.

The VW Golf SE 1.6 TDI DSG five door costs £23,325 and emits 102g/km of CO2. Fuel bills will be higher, at around 8.2 pence per mile. Meanwhile company car drivers will pay £3,789 or £7,578 – significantly more than the Prius.

Hybrids that were on the road before April 2017 are likely to pay little or no car tax, but the rules changed on April 1 2017, reducing the tax benefits of hybrids. Although the first year tax rate (usually included in the price of a new car) is based on CO2 emissions, there's a flat rate in subsequent years. Hybrid car owners pay £130 per year -  a £10 discount on the cost for conventional cars.


How do hybrid cars work?

Beneath the surface of a hybrid car, sophisticated machinery and technology is at work. The aim is to capture energy that would go to waste in a normal car, and use it to help reduce the car’s emissions and improve fuel economy.

A hybrid will typically have a petrol engine and fuel tank, like a conventional car. But in addition there will be a sophisticated gearbox, an electric motor, a battery and another motor/generator.

The idea is to use the electric motor to get the car moving, as it’s more efficient than pulling away with a petrol engine, and can continue on electric power alone up to speeds of about 15mph. When the traffic stops, there’s no wasteful use of the petrol engine, as the car can run on battery power alone – like an electric car. This is what makes hybrids less polluting in slow moving traffic. And the battery can be recharged by recovering energy during deceleration, thanks to the onboard generator that can take charge from the spinning wheels.


Which are the most efficient hybrid cars?

If fuel economy and emissions are the be all and end all when it comes to choosing the best car for your needs, see our list of the most frugal hybrids on sale.

Travelling further than any other car of its type on a gallon of petrol is the Toyota Prius – the original hybrid car for families, and one that proved an unlikely hit with Hollywood glitterati, in the noughties. The latest model can manage up to 83mpg, although you’d have to drive it like a saint to get close to such impressive economy.


Best hybrid hatchbacks

1) Toyota Yaris

Best hybrid family car for a frugal runaround or second car

Official fuel economy 85.6mpg CO2 emissions 75g/km
New price from £17,895

Not everyone needs a large family car. For many drivers, especially those who don’t travel far or live in city centres, having a compact car is a positive advantage.

That’s where the Yaris hybrid can make a deal of sense, offsetting its premium price. It will seat four in comfort yet can hold its own in the cut and thrust of urban congestion, and with emissions of just 75g/km, short of an electric car it’s one of the cleanest ways to get from A to B.


2) Hyundai Ioniq hybrid

Best used hybrid family car for those who don’t like the look of the Toyota Prius

Official fuel economy 83.1mpg CO2 emissions 79g/km
New price from £21,240

The styling of the latest Toyota Prius is, at best, an acquired taste. That’s a shame, because more’s the pity if it puts off drivers from the considerably improved hybrid tech’ beneath the surface.

However, it could play into Hyundai’s hands. The Korean company’s competitively priced Ioniq – which sounds like something from the treatment list at a detox sanctuary – is less challenging to look at and almost as good to drive.

The Ioniq returns up to 85mpg, has a very spacious cabin and Hyundai has kept the driver’s environment (dashboard and controls) mercifully simple to use. You’ll also benefit from a five-year warranty, matching Toyota.


3) Toyota Prius hybrid

Best used hybrid family car for the smoothest hybrid system

Official fuel economy 83.1mpg CO2 emissions 78g/km
New price from £24,245

This is the car that put hybrid on the map with Britain’s drivers. And the latest model has taken a big step forward – with CO2 emissions and fuel economy figures that are almost as good as the Yaris, the smaller, lighter hybrid found in Toyota showrooms.

As with any hybrid, part of the appeal beyond the on-paper benefits is just how smooth and relaxing it is to drive. That’s especially the case with the Prius, as its electric motor has enough oomph to make headway at low speeds, and the suspension gives a pliant ride that does a good job of smothering Britain’s broken roads – a real boon with children on board.


4) Toyota Auris hybrid

Best used hybrid family car for getting a deal

Official fuel economy up to 78.5 mpg CO2 emissions from 79g/km
New price from £22,510

Looking for a deal? Look no further than the Auris. The Golf-size hatchback is shortly to be replaced, which tends to drive down showroom footfall and leave dealers and manufacturers with unsold cars to clear.

Naturally, as a car that’s reaching the end of its life, the Auris hybrid is showing its age in some respects – namely, the dashboard layout and infotainment system. But the fact remains that it is still a credible alternative to driving a diesel-powered family hatchback.

There’s also an estate version, a rarity in the hybrid market, which could be just the thing for families with a pet pooch in tow.


Best hybrid SUVs and people carriers

1) Toyota C-HR hybrid

Best used hybrid family car for turning heads

Official fuel economy 74.3mpg CO2 emissions from 86g/km
New price from £24,220

The C-HR is one of the most interesting looking SUVs on the road. If you superimposed it into Blade Runner, it wouldn’t look out of place with officer Deckard at the wheel, hunting down replicants.

Those intersecting angles and curves come at a small price, as there’s not as much headroom in the back seat as in other family SUVs, but hey, you can’t have everything. And unlike those competitor cars, this one is available with a petrol-electric hybrid drive system, which means drivers can achieve diesel-like fuel economy without worrying about the particulates being left in its wake.

Surprisingly good to drive, if less comfortable and not as quiet as the Prius, it’s another impressive hybrid from Toyota.


2) Renault Grand Scenic hybrid

Best used hybrid family car for a practical seven-seat interior

Official fuel economy 80.7mpg CO2 emissions from 94g/km
New price from £26,880

Need a seven seat family car for those times when the school run passenger numbers grow in size? The Renault Grand Scenic is the go-to car for the job, boasting a superior interior to the Toyota Prius+ and much better entertainment – something that sways increasing numbers of car buyers.

Unusually, the French car company chose to fit its hybrid Scenic with a diesel engine. If that flies in the face of your motivation for buying a hybrid in the first place, fair enough. But know that the combination of a turbodiesel engine and modest electric motor help the people carrier achieve up to 80mpg.

Curiously, however, there’s no automatic gearbox with this hybrid – it’s the only one we can think of that has a manual.


3) Lexus NX300h

Best used hybrid family car for an alternative to German SUVs

Official fuel economy 48.7mpg CO2 emissions from 133g/km
Price from £34,940

When drivers make a shortlist of upmarket SUVs to test drive, it will inevitably feature models from Audi, BMW, Mercedes and, increasingly, Volvo. But there is another option, Lexus – the car company with some of the most satisfied customers on the road.

Its NX300h looks sharp and is more than capable of holding its own in the car park at work or at the golf club. The interior is equally contemporary in feel, the quality is impressive and there’s a good amount of space for four adults, or three younger children on the back seat.

Its hybrid system has been set up to give the NX300h four-wheel drive as and when extra grip is needed, as a second electric motor drives the back wheels. However, don’t expect especially impressive fuel economy – Lexus claims a potential of 48mpg but in day to day driving it will rarely better 40mpg.


4) Lexus RX450h

Best used hybrid family car for a large, luxury SUV

Official fuel economy 48.7mpg CO2 emissions from 132g/km
New price from £48,690

The original, upmarket SUV with hybrid power, the RX has steadily earned a loyal following amongst drivers who have ditched big Audis, Mercedes and Range Rovers in favour of an equally imposing status symbol that comes with a hybrid system that makes it just that little bit more socially acceptable.

In this case, the RX boasts a 3.5-litre V6, to give the driving experience an air of sophistication. It’s supported by not one but two electric motors, with the rear motor able to drive the back wheels as and when extra power or grip is required.

In such a large car, however – especially the new RX-L seven-seat version - this is not a car for record-breaking fuel economy. Equally, the impressive fit and finish, reputation for reliability and first class dealer network is almost as much a draw as the hybrid drive.


Best hybrid saloon cars

1) Mercedes E-Class Hybrid

Best used hybrid family car for beautifully-made interiors

Official fuel economy 166.2mpg CO2 emissions 41g/km
New price from £47,700

Another diesel hybrid enters our list, this time from Mercedes-Benz. The new E 300 starts at £47,700 and has just gone in sale in the UK.

Up front there’s a 2.0-litre diesel engine, with an additional motor. Combined power output stands at 302bhp, and Mercedes claims it’ll do 166.2mpg. Take this with a pinch of salt, but it should do around 30 miles on just electric power.

Inside, expect the usual hallmarks of a Mercedes - top quality interiors and loads of tech.

2) Lexus IS 300h

Best used hybrid family car for anyone that’s not a fan of the BMW 3 Series

Official fuel economy 65.7mpg CO2 emissions 104g/km
New price from £32,900

Ordinarily, if you were choosing a sports saloon that would be a pleasure to drive and frugal to run as a company car, you’d head straight for your nearest BMW dealer and start talking numbers on a 3 Series diesel.

However, with so much concern over the impact of diesel on air quality, you wouldn’t be alone if you paused for a moment and considered the Lexus IS 300h. It may not better a diesel for fuel economy, but it should put your mind at rest that there are fewer harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) being emitted, because the 2.5-litre, four-cylinder engine burns petrol.

It looks good, is quieter than a diesel in all conditions and the roadholding is reasonably well balanced, as it’s rear-wheel drive, like a BMW or Mercedes. For families, consider it a four-seat car and you won’t be disappointed by the level of space in the back seats.


3) Lexus GS 500h

Best used hybrid family car for a luxury limo experience

Official fuel economy up to 43.5mpg CO2 emissions from 147g/km
New price from £72,595

When Lexus introduced the original LS, almost 30 years ago, the world sat up and took notice. Or, more pertinently, engineers at rival car makers did. It was declared the world’s best car by the critics – some accolade for a fledgling luxury car company.

Today’s is a tour de force, crammed with technology and offering, for the first time, the choice of four-wheel drive. And as ever, it remains beautifully appointed and immaculately finished.

Some might argue that it’s too smart for small children to spend time in, or that the boot’s too small, but we’d expect buyers at this end of the car market to have other, more practical cars on their driveway.


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