Best hybrid cars 2023
The best hybrid cars in the UK offer low running costs and practicality, with bargains among used and nearly new models
Hybrid cars are very popular at the moment, partly because they offer some of the benefits of an electric car - with lower fuel costs than conventional petrol or diesel alternatives - but with the backup of a decent fuel tank, so long journeys aren't an issue, even if you want to drive to the other side of the country.
There are various different types of hybrid: we’ve gone into detail about the differences elsewhere, but all you need to know for now is that there are mild hybrids (MHEVs), full hybrids and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs).
A mild hybrid boosts its engine with electrical energy, and isn’t noticeably different from a normal petrol or diesel car, but may offer slightly improved fuel economy. A full hybrid, meanwhile, has a small battery that’s charged by the car’s engine and when braking, and can cover very short distances using electric power only. Thanks to the addition of a battery pack, full hybrids are typically more economical than mild hybrids.
Then there are plug-in hybrids. These feature a much larger battery that’s charged with a cable, and most can drive between 20 and 40 miles under electric power with no input from the engine. Charge the battery regularly and you can cover a large proportion of your journeys on electric power alone, drastically cutting your fuel bills. Fail to charge the car, meanwhile, and PHEVs can be far less economical than the claimed figures, as you're carrying around heavy batteries and an electric motor that you're not getting much benefit from.
The crux of these different systems is that the more you can drive with electric power, the cleaner your car will be and the lower your fuel bills will become.
The only trouble is that hybrid technology makes new cars more expensive; off-puttingly so for a lot of people. However, used and nearly new models take the sting out of the purchase price, which is where BuyaCar comes in. The best hybrid cars in the UK can be acquired in a handful of clicks, with big savings to be had. We’ve listed our favourites below.
Best hybrid cars on sale in the UK
- Toyota Prius
- Volkswagen Golf GTE
- Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid
- Mercedes C-Class
- Kia Niro
- Mini Countryman S E ALL4
- BMW 3 Series
- Volvo XC90 T8
The Toyota Prius hybrid is just about as economical as cars get these days, with its low fuel consumption being the main reason it's so popular with Uber drivers. In its most efficient guise using the smallest wheels available - 15-inch wheels in this case - the Prius returns fuel economy of up to 68.4mpg, with the smaller, lighter wheels helping to maximise fuel economy. On 17-inch wheels this figure falls to 59.6mpg, so it’s worth checking exactly what’s fitted to any used examples you're considering. CO2 emissions are 78g/km and 82g/km respectively.
On the latest version of the Prius, 123hp is generated by the electric motor and 1.2-litre petrol engine combo. This means 0-62mph takes 10.6 seconds, and while this isn’t fast, it’s perfectly reasonable for everyday driving. The engine is very smooth, while the automatic gearbox does a good job of providing the best blend of acceleration and refinement.
The boot measures 502 litres, which is large for a car of this size. On BuyaCar low-mileage Prius models are available for around £22,000, although you can get 2017 examples for roughly half that.
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The Golf GTE hatchback is the dark horse of the Volkswagen range, with this plug-in hybrid version offering all of the strengths of a standard Golf plus the prospect of significant electric range, which is handy for covering short journeys on electric power alone - provided you charge the car up beforehand. The GTE was so popular at one stage that VW had to stop selling it for fear of making customers wait months and months for it to be delivered.
There’s a new Golf GTE on its way, but the outgoing version was fitted with an 8.8kWh battery: this is below average for plug-in hybrids these days, but it meant the car could travel as far as 31 miles on a full battery, with no assistance from the engine at all. So if you rarely drive more than 30 miles in a day, you could spend most of your time in electric-only mode and rack up huge long-term fuel savings. Just remember to charge the car regularly, so as much of your driving as possible is using cheap electric charge rather than pricey petrol.
The Golf GTE is comfortable and quiet, although you do lose some boot space to that battery pack, with boot size falling from 380 litres to 272 litres. You can pick up a 2015 example for less than £15,000 on BuyaCar, with 2020 models on sale for £26,000 or so.
It might not be the most exciting car you’ve ever driven, but the plug-in hybrid version of the Hyundai Ioniq is a solid piece of machinery that goes about its business very well. Introduced in 2017, its 8.9kWh battery offers 32 miles of range on paper. Charging it via an everyday plug socket will take some six hours, but you can reduce this to less than two hours by installing a dedicated home-charging device outside your house.
The Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid comes with an official fuel economy figure of 257mpg, although this is an inflated figure that assumes you’ll start every journey with a full battery - as with all plug-in hybrids. In reality, you’re more likely to see 80 or 90mpg depending on how often you charge it up. The standard (non-plug-in) version of the Ioniq achieves around 60mpg, which is roughly what you can expect with the plug-in model when the battery is flat.
The earliest examples of the Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid can be found on BuyaCar from £11,000, although these will have travelled 35,000 miles or so. You can get 2019 examples for not much more - approximately £14,000 - while a bang-up-to-date 2020 model could cost in the region of £19,000. Given the price new today is almost £30,000, that’s quite a saving.
Mercedes is unique at the moment in that it offers both petrol- and diesel-engined plug-in hybrids. Most manufacturers see PHEVs as an alternative to increasingly unpopular diesels, although Mercedes is the only one so far that has thought to combine the two. On paper it makes perfect sense: the battery and electric motor can give you the lowest possible running costs when you do short journeys, and when it comes to traveling long distances a diesel engine is usually more efficient than a petrol one when cruising on the motorway.
The C-Class diesel PHEV was launched at the end of 2019, with a 13.5kWh battery allowing up to 35 miles of electric-only range. The electric motor works in tandem with a 2.0-litre, diesel engine to produce 306hp, which translates into 0-62mph in just 5.6 seconds.
Fuel economy is a claimed 234.5mpg, although as mentioned above, you need to be wary of ‘official’ fuel economy figures when plug-in hybrids are concerned. To get the most from a PHEV you need to charge regularly. If you don't, you'll use far more fuel than the official economy figure suggests.
This diesel-electric saloon can be acquired on BuyaCar for less than £30,000 in some cases, but if this is a bit steep then the petrol C-Class PHEV has been around for a few more years. The cheapest examples of this from 2016 are a more palatable £15,000 or so.
Like the Hyundai Ioniq (which is a close relative of this car as Hyundai and Kia are sister companies), the Kia Niro SUV is available as a full hybrid and a plug-in hybrid. We’re focusing on the standard hybrid here, which is more like a conventional car and requires no plugging in, though as a result, it offers a much reduced electric range.
A 1.6-litre petrol engine is combined with an electric motor to generate 141hp, and the setup will deliver fuel economy of almost 60mpg in our experience. There are no compromises made to accommodate the PHEV’s battery either, which means passenger space is unaffected and boot space stays at a very useful 382 litres.
The interior of the Niro isn’t the most stylish, but it feels built to last and there’s plenty of equipment provided as standard. LED daytime running lights, dual-zone, automatic air-conditioning and a digital radio are all included in the most basic ‘2’ trim, while Bluetooth allows for Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone connectivity too. ‘3’ trim Niros add a larger eight-inch touchscreen media system, while ‘4’ trim introduces adaptive cruise control and various safety features.
Go for a 2017 edition of the Niro and you’ll pay around £14,000. More recent 2020 examples with only a few thousand miles on the clock aren’t that much more expensive at less than £19,000 typically.
Don’t go thinking that hybrid cars can’t be fun to drive, because in some cases they can be very exciting indeed. Take the plug-in hybrid version of the Mini Countryman crossover: its 1.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor developed 227hp when it was launched (updates mean 2020 models onwards develop slightly less), enabling it to cover 0-62mph in a brisk 6.8 seconds. It handles well too, easily providing the most pleasing drive of any plug-in hybrid SUV in its price bracket.
Its 7.6kWh battery takes less than four hours to charge using a household three-pin plug, so like most PHEVs you can leave it plugged in overnight and wake up to a full battery, in this case one that offers around 30 miles of range. On an average tariff this should cost you little more than £1, so the more you can run the car on the battery alone, the more money you’ll save compared with letting the battery run out and having to use the petrol engine.
The Countryman isn’t the most practical car of this type, but there’s enough passenger space for a small family and room in the boot for a couple of suitcases. Prices on BuyaCar start from around £19,000, but be sure to keep an eye on the equipment list for used examples as you don't get as much standard kit as with some rivals.
The plug-in hybrid version of the BMW 3 Series - called the 330e - is now into its second generation, with the first having been built between 2015 and 2018. That car could achieve 25 miles of range in pure electric mode at speeds of up to 50mph, but the latest model can now do 37 miles to a single charge of the battery. It can also hit 68mph - very nearly the national speed limit - with no assistance from the engine.
The 330e uses a 2.0-litre petrol engine with an electric motor upping power to 252hp. In Sport mode there’s an 'XtraBoost' function that ups this momentarily to 292hp, which is useful when you need to make an overtake happen in a hurry.
But more than pure performance, the 330e is just as good as any other 3 Series to drive, with agile handling likely to put a smile on keen drivers' faces on a fast country road. The fact that you could save yourself a pretty penny while doing so is a bonus.
Early versions of the 330e begin at £14,000 on BuyaCar, almost a third of what a new model would cost you today. If it’s the second-generation car you’re after then you’re looking at more than £30,000 typically.
The Volvo XC90 plug-in hybrid SUV might not look like much, but it’s actually extremely powerful; more so than most high-performance hot hatchbacks. When it was launched in 2016 it came with a sophisticated 2.0-litre petrol engine and an electric motor that combined for a substantial 381hp. As such, 0-62mph took just 5.3 seconds; pretty rapid for such a large family car.
The XC90 T8's 6.5kWh battery was said to deliver 25 miles of electric range, although 15-20 miles is more realistic with everyday driving. An updated model arrived in 2019 that almost doubled the battery capacity, and Volvo claims this can do as much as 30 miles without help from the engine.
While the acceleration is certainly impressive, it’s comfort that the XC90 T8 majors in. Passengers will be extremely comfortable wherever they sit, and the luxurious interior makes every journey a relaxing experience.
As a high-tech large SUV, the XC90 T8 isn’t cheap, but you do get a substantial car for your money. On BuyaCar we’re starting to see XC90 T8s for around £30,000, and while this looks steep on paper, it's a lot less than the £70,000 upwards that you'd need for a new one.
*Representative PCP finance - Ford Fiesta:
48 monthly payments of £192
Mileage limit: 8,000 per year
Optional final payment to buy car: £2,923
Total amount payable to buy car: £11,926
Total cost of credit: £2,426
Amount borrowed: £9,500
BuyaCar is a credit broker, not a lender. Our rates start from 6.9% APR. The rate you are offered will depend on your individual circumstances.