► Traditional hybrid cars rated
► More than mild, don’t need a plug
► A good compromise?
Whether a self-charging hybrid is one of the best hybrid cars for you probably depends on the kind of driving you do. As the cleverly tweaked marketing term for a conventional or full hybrid suggests, a self-charging hybrid car is one that never needs to be plugged into the mains.
This makes them more affordable than plug-in hybrids, but also means they have much smaller batteries and no extended electric-only driving range. If you’ve got the facilities to plug-in a PHEV and typically drive distances that are shorter than the car’s electric range, then seriously consider one of those. But the smaller batteries fitted to self-charging cars not only lower costs they also reduce weight, improving everything.
And as the latest models switch over to electric power at every opportunity, they run their internal combustion engines a remarkably small percentage of the time. Put all this together, and self-charging hybrids can deliver impressive real-world efficiency over a range of different driving scenarios. They’re also much more efficient than mild-hybrid cars, which offer little more than fancy stop-start technology and typically cannot run on electric-power alone at all.
EDITOR’S PICK: the road-testing team at CAR magazine has been ranking self-charging hybrid cars for decades – way before they even came to be known by this name. And the current crop are magnificently good at achieving impressive mpg. Top of the pile right now, however, is the latest Honda Civic, which has a hybrid system that’s not only fuel efficient but also feels like a performance upgrade.
Keep reading to for our full selection of the top 10 self-charging hybrids on sale in the UK.
The best self-charging hybrids
Outstanding in almost every area
Pros: e:HEV hybrid system works like a range extender, delivers great performance
Cons: Almost no-one will believe you about how good it is
While the latest Honda Civic may not look big news from the outside, its clever e:HEV hybrid system uses a bespoke 2.0-litre petrol that spends most of its time simply fuelling the electric motor. Making it refined and efficient yet capable of delivering a convincing 181bhp when required.
Add to that a delightfully well-crafted cabin and sophisticated ride quality with decent handling, which speaks of hundreds of honing test miles, and for us it’s the total package. Price: from £30,495
Read our Honda Civic review
Five generations of self-charging refinement at work – and it shows
Pros: seriously optimised hybrid system now more natural to drive
Cons: never manages to trouble the concept of fun
The Toyota Corolla now sports a fifth-generation hybrid system – which is intended to be better to drive and more efficient. Target met as far as we’re concerned. It’s more responsive under your right foot but also so eager to opt for electric propulsion it’ll have the engine switched off something like 70 per cent of the time in urban driving.
This is great news for fuel economy, while other tweaks make the entire driving experience feel more natural. A thoroughly-well engineered and inexpensive to run car built right here in the UK. Price: from £30,210
Read our Toyota Corolla review
Lexus NX 350h
The best self-charging all-rounder from Lexus
Pros: Lexus’s unique brand of luxury
Cons: Still some confusing controls inside
Toyota’s premium brand makes a lot of hybrids, but the Lexus NX mid-size SUV is the one we’d pick. It’s just a really well-rounded package – nice enough to drive, compact enough to not be a pain around town, spacious enough for adults, comfortable enough for lengthy journeys.
It’ll top 40mpg without too much effort, and the heavily revised infotainment system no longer makes you want to murder. Which is a bonus. Price: from £42,760
Read our Lexus NX review
Best for self-charging family car life without jumping on the SUV bandwagon
Pros: lots of useful space, Ford still made it fun to drive
Cons: more conventional MPVs are still more practical
Bet you thought the Ford S-Max was already dead. But no, you can still buy the blue oval’s funkiest of people carriers, and it is now exclusively available as a 2.5-litre petrol hybrid. The combination offers plenty of passenger space and a real depth to the driving experience that you won’t find among the few remaining MPV rivals.
Need something more on-trend? The Ford Kuga SUV is available with the same self-charging tech. But we’ve got a real soft-spot for this unnecessarily involving bus. Price: from £38,540
Read our Ford S-Max review
Toyota Yaris Cross
Best self-charging compact SUV
Pros: spacious for its size, 50mpg+ easily
Cons: Favours function over thrills
Rather that pretending to be a dinky SUV, as per others in the small car plastic-cladding brigade, the Toyota Yaris Cross actually is one – meaning its relationship to the regular Yaris is more like that of the Ford Puma to the Ford Fiesta than the Fiesta Titanium to the Fiesta Active.
You still probably won’t buy one for thrills, but the size-to-interior-space ratio is very positive and the hybrid powertrain can top 50mpg in the real world without any effort from the driver. Price: from £24,840
Read our Toyota Yaris Cross review
Best for blending in at the bowls club
Pros: Magic Seats, magic e:HEV system
Cons: people will ask if it came with a free bus pass
If you need a small car with a lot of space inside, the Honda Jazz is a great place to start. Clever Magic Seats and a 1.5-litre e:HEV hybrid engine give you practicality and efficiency in a very compact package, and we promise you’ll be pleasantly surprised about how perky it is to drive.
Need a little more personality? Then there’s always Crosstar version that pretends to be a dinky SUV The Yaris Cross stole that versions lunch money, though. Price: from £21,295
Read our Honda Jazz review
Kia Sorento Hybrid
Best big self-charging SUV
Pros: seven useable seats, stacks of standard kit
Cons: badge snobs not getting over themselves
Looking for a large self-charging SUV that won’t break the bank – or break down? Then the closely related Hyundai Sante Fe and Kia Sorento could be just the ticket.
We’ve opted for this rather handsome Kia, since it offers plenty of space for up to seven occupants, four-wheel drive as standard and a huge roster of fitted equipment – but if you want to down-spec you can get a Santa Fe considerably cheaper. Price: from £50,995
Read our Kia Sorento review
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Hyundai Tucson Hybrid
Best for occupying the middle ground
Pros: plenty of power, plenty of mpg
Cons: plenty of yawns behind the wheel
You can get a Hyundai Tucson with any flavour of hybrid system you prefer, as the firm offers not only this self-charging model but also mild hybrid and plug-in hybrid technology as well.
All come with those eye-catching looks, some clever tech and a handy five-year unlimited mileage warranty, but the self-charger occupies some excellent middle ground thanks to its punchy 227bhp. Price: from £34,620
Read our Hyundai Tucson review
Mazda 2 Hybrid
Best self-charging Toyota that isn’t a Toyota
Pros: fantastic real-world mpg, cheaper than a Yaris
Cons: no 10-year Toyota warranty
Looking at one of these is a little uncanny valley: an unfamiliar badge on a very familiar nose. This is because the hybrid version of the Mazda 2 isn’t a slinky homegrown Skyactiv number but a slightly cheaper Toyota Yaris with a Mazda logo on its honker.
Cross-shop both brands for the best deal (keeping Toyota’s 10-year warranty in mind) and expect properly impressive real-world mpg, either way. These are neat and effective small cars. Price: from £21,820
Read our Mazda 2 Hybrid info
Proof that Renault’s ultra-complex hybrid system actually works
Pros: useful 196bhp and potential 60.1mpg
Cons: big wheels = bumpy ride
Anyone who’s experienced a Renault Arkana hybrid might be shocked to see its big brother make it onto this list, but in the Renault Austral, the French firm’s full hybrid system has finally come of age.
While it’s still a terrifically complicated arrangement, changing the wheezy old 1.6 for a modern 1.2-litre turbo has made a world of difference, delivering impressive power (196bhp) and 60+mpg. Price: from £34,695.
Read our Renault Austral review
Self-charging hybrids to avoid
Subaru is yet to show us a self-charging hybrid we could love. And the Suzuki Vitara hybrid isn’t a barrel of laughs, either – which is a shame as the Vitara is otherwise quite a likable machine. The Suzuki Swace, meanwhile is a Toyota Corolla in disguise, and therefore a much more recommendable hybrid option.
How do self-charging hybrids work?
Unlike plug-in hybrid cars, self-charging hybrids use more compact batteries, and can’t be topped up from an external source.
Instead, they recycle energy usually lost in braking and coasting. This energy then assists the ICE under acceleration, with an uptick efficiency and fuel economy. It’s also used in low-speed, stop-start traffic.
Are self-charging hybrids any good?
Plenty of people object to the term self-charging hybrid, and many others complain that these cars don’t take a big enough step towards the goal of full electrification. Compared with plug-in hybrids they have no big on-paper electric-only driving range figures to point to.
However, they can still deliver dramatically impressive fuel economy without the need to be plugged into an electric car charger, which makes them a very fuss-free way to reduce your running costs. Especially as they cost less than plug-in hybrid tech at the equivalent level.
We’ve more in-depth information about the difference between hybrid car types, if you need it.
Which manufacturers make self-charging cars?
Self-charging hybrids are offered by several brands. Toyota and Lexus are probably the best known proponents of self-charging models, but Hyundai, Kia, Honda, Mazda, Suzuki, Renault and Ford sell them, too.