► The best hybrid cars on sale in 2020
► Our pick of the best petrol-electric buys
► PHEVs, plug-ins, 'self-charging' hybrids
After an electrified car but not sure if a full electric vehicle (EV) suits you just yet? A hybrid should be at the top of your list. Hybrid cars offer an appealing blend of efficiency, range, power and low emissions – they’re an ideal halfway house between fossil fuel vehicles and a fully electric car.
Hybrids give you much of the effciency without the sour taste of charging or range-related concerns - and as such are a great halfway house for those striving for cleaner motoring but also wanting less inconvenience. There are different types of hybrid car: some are called 'self-charging' and never need plugging in, while other, newer models are often branded as plug-in hybrids (often shortened to PHEV for Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle). We've a full tech explainer here.
What they have in common is that a hybrid's electric motor will typically do a lot of the work driving the car – giving you clean and quiet running around town. Head further afield, though, and the hybrid’s petrol or diesel engine will kick in, allowing you to drive for as long as you’ve got fuel in the easily refilled tank.
Hybrid cars: further reading
There are financial advantages to hybrid cars: you’ll avoid the high purchase price of a pure battery electric vehicle (BEV) and potentially benefit from less expensive company car tax, VED, ultra-low emissions zone (LEZ) charges and Congestion Charge tolls – especially if you live in London, where these taxes are being pioneered.
Sadly, the government's Plug In Car Grant is no longer applicable to hybrid cars; only full electric models now qualify for the grant, which can lop up to £3500 off the sticker price of an EV.
The best hybrid cars to buy in 2020
If you already know which type of UK hybrid you’re interested in, click on the links below to jump to our pick of the cars on sale in each sector:
Otherwise read on as we cluster different models together, naming our favourite picks in each segment. Just remember, different driving styles and environments will suit different powertrains: if you regularly do long-distance journeys, you may be better off sticking with an efficient modern diesel or downsized petrol engine, rather than lugging around a heavy battery in a hybrid.
If you mostly drive around town, why not consider a pure electric car? But if your typical driving falls somewhere between these extremes - as it does for many UK motorists - a hybrid may be just the answer you're looking for.
Best small hybrid cars
1. Toyota Corolla Hybrid
Toyota has given its mid-sized five door hatchback and estate a substantial reworking – including a new 2.0-litre, performance-focused engine – so much so that it’s dug up the most popular badge in the world to affix to its bootlid. So farewell Toyota Auris – and hello (again) Toyota Corolla. It's another in the company's growing band of self-charging hybrids that you'll never have to plug in; the battery is topped up by the engine and energy wasted during braking or coasting downhill. It's clever stuff and this is a decent car to drive that's beautifully built and a sensible choice for many.
Read our Toyota Corolla review here
2. Mini Countryman Plug In Hybrid
The Mini Countryman small crossover is available as a plug-in hybrid, meaning you can charge up at home and start every day with a full battery for around 26 miles of silent, zero-emissions progress. Yet performance is eager, too, with a punchy three-cylinder petrol engine working in tandem with the electric motor to create combined power output of 224bhp. Prices for the Mini hybrid start at around £32,000 in the UK. It's not the most spacious of cars, but it's small and easy to drive around town.
Mini Countryman PHEV review
3. Toyota Yaris Hybrid
The smallest hybrid currently on UK sale is, perhaps inevitably, a Toyota. With the longest experience of developing petrol-electric cars, the Japanese have slotted everything they know about self-charging hybrid tech into the small Yaris supermini, which is priced from around £20,300 in petrol-electric form. Toyota quotes up to 56mpg fuel economy and CO2 emissions stand at 112g/km on the latest, tougher EU standards. Just remember the new one arrives in autumn 2020 - and we've already tested it.
Toyota Yaris Hybrid review
4. VW Golf GTE
One step up in size from the Yaris is the VW Golf GTE, which adds electric drive to one of our favourite mid-sized hatchbacks. This is a proper PHEV, so you’ll need to charge up every day to get the most from the plug-in Golf, otherwise you’ll be lugging around heavy batteries and motors without harvesting their benefit. You have been warned. When fully charged, VW claims a 31-mile range. Just remember that the VW Golf GTE is being replaced by the new Golf Mk8 family around about now - and we've yet to test the new plug-in.
CAR magazine lives with a VW Golf GTE plug-in hybrid
5. Volvo XC40 Recharge PHEV
We're big fans of the chunky Volvo XC40 small car - so adding a plug-in powertrain should only extend the appeal. It's pricey, but the regular attributes of the XC40 remain - and the Recharge gives around 20 miles of zero-emissions running before the battery runs out and the 1.5 petrol kicks in.
Volvo XC40 Recharge review
Best hybrid family cars
1. BMW 330e
A classic of the breed, the BMW 3-series hybrid adds an 87bhp electric motor to the familiar 2.0-litre engine, bringing a theoretical 25-mile electric range and some attractive tax breaks, saving company car drivers a good couple of hundred pounds a month. It’s only available as a four-door saloon, but remember that the new 3-series has just been unveiled and we expect the new G20 generation to extend hybridisation even further across the range.
BMW 330e hybrid review
2. BMW 530e
Like the 3-series hybrid, the 5-series is only available in electrified form as a four-door saloon. Blame the greater popularity of the sedan globally - and the complications of a raised boot floor, whose batteries can eat up precious cargo space required in a load-lugging estate. Regardless, the 530e iPerformance model shares the Three’s similar technology, with a mode for performance, efficiency or to charge up the battery so you can enter a city centre on whisper-quiet electric power.
We drive the BMW 530e hybrid
3. Ford Mondeo Hybrid
One of the most familiar car shapes in Britain is now available with hybrid power - and the price of entry starts at around £26,000. There’s little show-offy about the Mondeo Hybrid; it looks to all intents and purposes like a cooking or garden Mondeo, yet the electrified powertrain cuts CO2 emissions to 108g/km while claimed fuel economy stands at 59mpg.
Ford Mondeo Hybrid review
4. Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
The Ioniq is that rare thing: a car that’s available in three different electrified forms - as a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid or a pure electric car. It’s a nice size; a little smaller than the Prius but roomy enough for daily life. The Ioniq Hybrid costs from around £22,000, whereas the Ioniq Plug In balloons to around £26,000, thanks to its bigger battery packs and 39-mile electric range. And when that battery depletes, the petrol engine kicks in to charge it back up - providing the best of both worlds.
Driven: the Hyundai Ioniq in Hybrid and Electric specs
5. Mercedes-Benz C-Class C350 E Saloon and Estate
Available in both four-door saloon and five-door estate bodystyles, the plug-in C-Class has a commendably low CO2 rating of just 49g/km for plenty of tax breaks. With a 6.2kWh lithium-ion battery pack, Merc quotes a 19-mile EV range and thereafter the four-cylinder petrol engine kicks in. On paper, it's a compelling mix - it just doesn't work quite so well on the open road, in our experience. But it shows the direction of travel at Mercedes-Benz, as it prepares to launch the full electric EQC.
6. Toyota Prius
The big daddy of the hybrid car scene, the Prius is the original and - some would argue - the best. Look past its wilfully divisive, Marmitey styling and you’re left with an extremely clever family car. Pick from the regular (self-charging) Prius Hybrid model or the separately badged Prius Plug-In, which is a PHEV. It’s all very Ronseal: the former doesn’t require plugging in, whereas the latter does - if you want to experience its maximum electric range around town. Toyota quotes a 235mpg fuel economy figure and just 28g/km CO2 emissions for the Plug-In.
Toyota Prius review
Best hybrid estate cars
1. Toyota Corolla Touring Sports Hybrid
Priced from around £28,000, you can pick up the wagon bodystyle in the Corolla Hybrid to electrify your family lugging duties. Toyota claims up to 55mpg and CO2 emissions stand at 112g/km to trim your running costs. Toyota's hybrid car knowledge, specs and experience all wrapped up in a surprisingly practical bodyshell. The icing on the cake? It's made in the United Kingdom, so you'll be doing your bit to support local manufacturing.
On test: the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports Hybrid
2. Volvo V90 T8 Twin Engine
Volvo offers most of its big cars with Twin Engine hybrid spec, and one of our favourite is the big V90 estate. This is a good-looking car - and quick to boot, with a combined power output of 400bhp from the petrol and electric motors. If the V90 is too big, don’t forget you can pick any of the 90- or 60-series models with the same Twin Engine hybrid tech.
Volvo V90 hybrid on test
3. VW Passat Estate GTE
The familiar Volkswagen Passat Estate bodystyle lends itself well to a hybrid application. Unfortunately, like the Golf GTE plug-in, the Passat is currently delisted on VW’s UK website ‘owing to high demand.’
Volkswagen Passast GTE plug-in hybrid reviewed
Best hybrid sports cars
1. BMW i8
Most stylish, head-turning hybrid car on sale today? Possibly. The i8’s been around for a good four years or so now and BMW has perfected its plug-in hybrid sports car. The latest edition is available as a coupe or roadster, and with a combined 369bhp, it’s no slouch: 0-62mph takes just 4.6 seconds (although high-speed acceleration runs will dent the EV range of 33 miles). A shame it's about to be axed, thought there will be a new hybrid supercar on the way, this time from BMW's M-division..
Read our BMW i8 review here
2. Honda NSX
A Japanese foil to the German saber, the NSX goes about its business in a much more high-tech fashion. There’s a twin-turbo V6, three electric motors and all wheel drive - bringing a very serious indeed 565bhp, 0-62mph in three seconds and a punchy £144,000 price tag. Where do we sign?
Honda NSX hybrid supercar review
3. Lexus LC500h
Good-looking? Check. Rare and exclusive? You betcha. The Lexus LC is available with pure V8 power, or as a hybrid - and you can’t go far wrong with the petrol-electric version. You forego a pair of cylinders, but the 3.5-litre V6 still has decent performance and Lexus quotes a 0-62mph time of less than five seconds while top speed is pegged to 155mph. Lexus quotes 44mpg, but you’ll more likely find your average starting with the digit ‘3.’
Lexus LC review
Do you agree with our choice of best hybrid cars? Are hybrids worth it? Are you running a plug-in hybrid or PHEV? Which hybrid car is the best? Do be sure to sound off in the comments below and tell us how you've got on with your petrol-electric or diesel hybrid.
Further electric reading: