Toyota hybrid cars

Toyota pioneered the hybrid as we know it. These are the Toyota hybrid cars on sale today leading the charge

John Evans
Sep 27, 2021

The dictionary definition of ‘hybrid’ is a thing made by combining two different elements. In the case of Toyota and its range of hybrid cars, it means that the car is powered by both petrol and electricity.

But remember, a hybrid isn't a pure electric vehicle like the Renault Zoe or Tesla Model S, both of which only have an electric motor and nothing else.

There is a variation on the company’s hybrid theme however, with a couple of new models that can also be plugged in to a mains power socket. This recharges a larger on-board battery, extending the car’s electric-only range. The Toyota Prius Plug-in was first, and can be read about further down on the list, and the Toyota RAV4 Plug-in is now also available.

Toyota has been producing hybrid vehicles for many years and is a leader in the field. Its first hybrid was the Prius (still going strong), launched in 1997. It has since expanded its hybrid range to eight models, most of them fully replacing conventional petrol and diesel-powered versions in Toyota’s line-up.

Toyota doesn’t have the hybrid market all to itself, though. Honda, Ford, Hyundai and Kia all sell hybrid models, too, while many plug-in hybrid models are on sale as well.

Like all other Toyota models, hybrid versions have a generous ten-year/100,000-mile warranty (as long as you have it serviced at a Toyota dealer), and their batteries are long-lasting.

However, before we take you through each of them, a word or two about Toyota’s hybrid technology.

How does Toyota’s hybrid system work?

If you could take a Toyota Hybrid apart you’d find a petrol engine, an electric motor, a transmission system that connects both power sources enabling them to drive the wheels, a generator that makes electricity and a battery pack to store the electricity in. You’d also find a clever system that recovers heat generated when braking and converts it into electricity.

Here’s how they work together.

When pulling away from a stop – This is one of the main reasons hybrids are more efficient for city driving. The electric motor powers the car, drawing on the battery for the power. Up to 15mph (for most Toyotas), the vehicle uses only the electric motor for power.

During normal cruising – This is when the normal petrol engine is used as it is most efficient. The engine can also power the generator while cruising, which produces electricity and stores it in the batteries for later use.

During heavy acceleration – Both the conventional engine and electric motor work together to increase power to the wheels. At the same time, the petrol engine powers the generator while the electric motor uses electricity from the battery and generator as needed.

During braking and cruising – When you brake or you take your foot off the accelerator, Toyota Hybrids use a system called ‘regenerative braking’. As the car no longer needs to apply power to the wheels, it allows the spinning wheels to power the vehicle’s generator, which produces electricity and stores it in the battery for later use.

When reaching a complete stop – Both the conventional engine and electric motor turn off and the car switches to battery power to run the radio, air conditioning and lights.

Strengths and weaknesses of Toyota hybrid cars

Strengths of Toyota hybrid cars

✔  Very low CO2 emissions mean some versions have low company car tax rates as well as having slightly cheaper road tax
✔  Some models are exempt from the London congestion charge
✔  They are very quiet when running in electric-only mode

Weaknesses of Toyota hybrid cars

In the real world, some are no more economical than their diesel counterparts
They’re paired with an unpleasant type of automatic gearbox
Not as efficient as plug-in hybrid or electric rivals

Toyota hybrid cars model range

Toyota Yaris Hybrid

Best Toyota hybrid for city drivers

Toyota Yaris Hybrid front three quarters view

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Not surprisingly, the smallest model in Toyota’s hybrid range is great around town, where its nippy but quiet performance, light steering and low CO2 emissions come into their own. Out on the open road it’s much better than its predecessor, and we’re pleased to report that the CVT gearbox has been improved, although there’s still very little steering feel.

Inside, it looks and feels good, and there’s sufficient room for four adults. The boot space is only a whisker shy of the Nissan Micra and Ford Fiesta, which is impressive given the extra space needed for the hybrid bits.


Toyota Yaris Cross Hybrid

Best Toyota hybrid for high-up driving position

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Based on the Yaris hatchback, the Yaris Cross adds the higher driving position that many drivers seek. Interior space is better than many rivals such as the Renault Captur and Ford Puma, but unlike many small crossovers, it will also be available with four-wheel drive

The 1.5-litre petrol hybrid setup promises to be almost as economical as the smaller Yaris, but don't expect to be able to travel for long distances on electric power alone. While the Yaris Cross is best suited to city driving, it's just as competent on twisting country roads.


Toyota Corolla Hybrid

Best Toyota hybrid for undemanding drivers

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Another Toyota hybrid that is more at home in the city than anywhere else. The Corolla will do almost 60mpg here, while it’ll be cheaper for company car drivers than something like a Vauxhall Astra or Volkswagen Golf.

Again it’s nippy and quiet around town but on the open road, it’s noisy due to the revvy auto gearbox, uncomfortable and not much fun to drive. The interior feels well made and is reasonably roomy. It’s quite practical, too, the battery pack requiring no boot space to accommodate.


Toyota Prius

Best Toyota Hybrid for city drivers

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The daddy of hybrid cars is now in its fourth generation and it shows, this latest model being the most efficient, refined and spacious so far. It’ll do up to 36mph on electric power alone, making it a quiet, urban-friendly tool.

Some versions have CO2 emissions of under 100g/km, and up to 67mpg. The suspension masks urban potholes and irregularities very well, while on the open road the Prius is soft riding but generally very refined, the fly in the ointment being that automatic gearbox which can make the engine sound revvy.

The interior is impressively space age and well made. Space all round is generally good, although headroom is at a premium in the back.


Toyota Prius Plug-in

Best Toyota hybrid for electric-only driving

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This version of the Prius goes one better than the standard model by having a larger battery that gives an extended electric-only driving range of 30 miles.

These plug-in versions can be plugged into a remote charging socket and recharged in two hours. It’s the reason Toyota can claim CO2 emissions of just 49g/km, useful for low emission zones and company-car users. While it’s more efficient than the regular Prius, it’s also more expensive and has a rather small boot.


Toyota Camry Hybrid

Best Toyota hybrid for a grown-up family

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The largest in Toyota's hybrid range - besides high-riding crossovers and SUVs - the Camry faces competition from the Skoda Superb and Volkswagen Passat. Entry-level models come with LED headlights and front and rear parking sensors, while top-spec models come with wireless phone charging, keyless entry, and some additional safety equipment.

The Camry uses the largest hybrid setup that Toyota uses - a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine along with some electric assistance from a motor and battery. Expect 40-50mpg in day-to-day driving.

Toyota C-HR

Best Toyota Hybrid for eye-catching looks

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Toyota’s new entry in the fast-growing compact crossover market, dominated by the Nissan Qashqai, is dressed to impress. In fact, striking-looking though it is, there’s real substance to the C-HR thanks to a reasonably roomy cabin, and a good ride and handling set-up that makes it pleasurable to drive in most conditions.

But that’s only half the story because under the skin is a hybrid powertrain lifted straight from the Prius. Unfortunately, it emits rather more CO2 (86g/km compared with 70g/km) and suffers from the same annoyingly rev-inducing automatic gearbox. It’s not as practical as some rivals such as the Seat Ateca, either, but it certainly cuts a dash.


Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

Best Toyota Hybrid for active families

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Toyota’s mid-size SUV is a long-established model, so this hybrid version should have little trouble winning new friends. Bold new styling makes the RAV4 look far more distinctive than the car it replaced. Unfortunately, it doesn’t really do the hybrid argument many favours by being noisy on occasion.

At fault is a combination of things: the vehicle’s highish kerb weight, that noisy and revvy automatic gearbox once again and a fidgety ride on anything but the smoothest roads. The two-wheel-drive version’s towing allowance is a measly 800kg, but that’s why the four-wheel-drive model is offered - it doubles the towing capacity.

However, the RAV4 is generously proportioned, with lots of space inside and a big 580-lite boot. Now it’s not even the largest hybrid Toyota makes, as the Toyota Highlander sits above it.


Toyota RAV4 Plug-in

Best Toyota Hybrid for electric-only active families

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The RAV4 Plug-in benefits from a larger battery in order to provide an electric-only range of up to 47 miles, although somewhere around 30 miles is more realistic. Toyota claims well over 200mpg, and while this has been calculated using the WLTP test, which was designed to simulated more realistic driving patterns, it is still not representative of the figures you could expect from a plug-in hybrid vehicle of any type.

Charge the batteries regularly, and you could see close to 100mpg, but fail to do so and the economy could drop to less than half of that.


Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Best Toyota Hybrid for the whole family

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This is the only seven-seat model that Toyota currently sells with a hybrid setup - the Prius+ has been discontinued with fewer drivers opting for MPVs in favour of more rugged-looking SUVs. With all seven seats in place, the boot measures 658 litres, putting it up against some more premium and pricier rivals like the Land Rover Discovery.

While the RX 450hL from Toyota's sister brand Lexus uses a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine in its hybrid setup, allowing it to achieve around 30-35mph, the Highlander Hybrid uses the same 2.5-litre engine as the Camry, allowing it to achieve around 5mpg more.



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