► Seven-seater hybrid cars, MPVs and SUVs
► How many options are there for large families?
► Is a hybrid the right choice for people carriers
When it comes to shifting lots of people packaging is everything, and we’re not talking about bubble wrap. The additional bulk of hybrid technology comes with a cost, and if you’ve got a shortlist of familiar seven-seater SUVs and MPVs, but want CO2-slashing electrified tech, you may find you’ve got to leave someone behind.
That doesn’t mean you’re out of options, and buyers of new hybrid family cars can even look to models such as the Dacia Jogger 140, which gets a battery boost without losing the third-row seats (and its low price means it could be the best value for anyone buying on finance).
Used hybrid car buyers have fewer options for seven-seater space.
We’ve taken a look at the options you’ll find when searching sites such as Parkers for a used seven-seater hybrid, and chosen the best of the bunch. Given many of these have high list prices and strong residuals, and the increased choice of both hybrid and electric larger family cars available new, it’s crucial to look at the finance costs in detail.
Want low local emissions, but need to carry people and buying secondhand? You’ll be surprised to find there are more six-and-up seat options if you go for a battery electric vehicle than a PHEV, in part because of the proliferation of Stellantis passenger vans, and of course the jump seats in the Tesla Model S.
Plug-in hybrids do offer advantages for urban dwellers doing big school runs or ferrying people around town, but for long drives, family trips and the general ‘do everything’ demands of a large family car or MPV the self-charging route is probably the lowest cost overall, both in purchase and running cost terms.
If you’re financing a used seven-seater hybrid car, MPV or SUV, check out the best new ones as well. Lower-rate finance and full manufacturer warranty may mean it costs less per month to be the first owner.
The best used hybrid seven-seaters for 2023
Toyota Highlander (2021-)
- From £42,000
- Highlander offers RAV4 self-charging tech, with more seats
Closely related to the Toyota RAV4, but nevertheless quite different in character, the Toyota Highlander represents both the most sensible way of delivering a seven-seater upmarket car in an SUV-obsessed world, and the many reasons why this is a niche that few manufacturers have cared to fill.
Currently not available to order new, the few used Highlanders start at plug-in hybrid five-seater money, but you can only have the 2.5-litre, self-charging setup which in the RAV4, shows how much a PHEV can boost refinement. Like the RAV4, the Highlander has intelligent all-wheel drive, and while it does rev hard when working hard it is remarkably refined and economical at motorway speeds.
Like many newer used cars, the saving over the list price is small and the main benefit is being able to get one at all. For a pragmatic buyer, the economy, space, 10-year warranty potential and Toyota’s continued reliability track record, the cost will be forgotten long before the appeal of the Highlander has worn off.
CAR verdict: ‘It seems that for Toyota’s seven-seater hybrid buyers, there can be only one option in the range at any given time – the Highlander has SUV appeal, but it’s out of reach for many working families as a new or used buy and lacks kerb appeal for luxury buyers’
Toyota Prius+ (2012-2020)
- Used price from £15,000
- Inflated Prius genuinely offers space for seven, looks smaller
If you drive to the woods today, you probably won’t find a Picnic – Toyota’s oddly-named MPV of the ‘90s. But its spirit lives on in the Prius+, which offers seven seats, flat-floor capability without removing any bulky benches, and the safe, gentle handling of the Prius hybrid.
The flat floor and third row seating of the Toyota Prius+ are possible thanks to a centre-console battery and Toyota’s proven self-charging hybrid tech, which needs less bulk than a plug-in. A sliding centre row means seven adults will fit, and fit and finish meets the standard you would expect of Toyota. Performance is adequate, but the CVT plus a full load of passengers will be heavy going, and the handling is very biased towards comfort.
The oldest examples are, at the time of writing, 11 years old, beyond the scope of Toyota’s extended warranty, and the last models are more than 50% more expensive meaning a 2019 Prius+ costs as much as a new Dacia Jogger hybrid.
Demand for hybrids is high pushing valuations up across the board, and an older Prius+ is often cheaper than the valuation provided by sites such as Parkers – which probably tells you how appealing it is to customers spending five figures on a decade-old car. Appeal is skin-deep though, and it’s a sensible purchase if you’re paying cash and just want long-term predictability.
CAR verdict: ‘The Verso/Prius blend lacks the bulk of many MPVs of the era, but it’s very anonymous and not very exciting to drive. Affordability and reliability make up for the beigeness’
Kia Sorento HEV (2020-on)
- Used prices from £33,000
- Stylish new Sorento is reasonable value as a nearly-new hybrid
Launched shortly before the pandemic took hold, the 2020 Kia Sorento still stands out on the road, with crisp, bold lines compared with the rather anonymous previous generation. What matters, however, is the 1.6 T-GDI HEV powertrain, which it shares with the Hyundai Santa Fe. It’s good around town, but weak when fully laden or at higher motorway speeds, and the big draw of the Sorento as a strong tow car is all but lost by the 1650kg limit.
As a seven-seater it’s a very nice package, with touches such as electric tilt-slide for third row access and air vents for the rearmost passengers, but access is still tight through a fairly normally-sized rear door. This is where the shift from SUVs to MPVs has impacted the people carrier market the most. Fuel economy is lower than the diesel in the real world, but it’s also a cheaper fuel with cleaner emissions and of course, cheaper tax.
Like the Santa Fe, there is also a PHEV version. The Sorento PHEV is a little cheaper than the Santa Fe (though, still around £40,000 at two years old and 16,000 miles) and it’s the one to have if you live and drive in urban areas, achieving 80mpg equivalent in real-world tests when charged and covering 50 miles (30 of which can be EV mode). Kia’s seven-year warranty is also a strong selling point, most cars will have more warranty remaining than some new cars get when leaving the showroom.
CAR verdict: ‘Better-looking and better made than before, the Sorento’s small engine struggles without the PHEV’s bigger motor and battery to help – but passengers will appreciate the thoughtful, practical interior design’
Lexus RX L 450h (2018-)
- Used prices from £31,000
- Luxurious alternative to the Highlander is cheaper, too
You may not see many on the road, but the Lexus RX-L has a lot to offer larger families looking for space and hybrid economy. Tim Pollard’s long-term test suggests that economy might not be part of the equation, though, so this big hybrid might be better suited for urban families and slow average speeds, rather than the long-distance A-road workout offered across most of the UK.
The 450h name implies power comparable to a 4.5-litre engine, but under the bonnet you’ll find a 3.5-litre, 259bhp V6 petrol – the electric motor provides an extra 59bhp, for a total of 308bhp and all-wheel drive. Compared with the Highlander the power delivery is calmer and smoother, with more in reserve for overtaking, but our long-term test suggested fuel bills will be a worry even compared with conventionally-powered seven-seater SUVs.
While it features a third row, it’s not the most spacious of arrangements and older adults or anyone with restricted mobility won’t appreciate the gymnastics required for access. Great for older kids and occasional use, and as a five-seater family SUV it offers a massive amount of luggage and clutter space.
CAR verdict: ‘Good value and well made, the spacious RX-L falls down on fuel economy – if you’re already prepared for V6 petrol running costs it’s fine, but anyone acclimated to diesel will question the benefit of hybrid complexity’
Volvo XC90 T8 (2015-on)
- Used prices from £28,000
- Arguably the best used seven-seater hybrid in the UK
Search for a Volvo XC90 T8 and you’ll find a wild variety of trims, but may baulk at the £28,000 it takes to get a 100,000 mile early example – a car almost eight years old. And yet, it’s one of the best options in this rather small market, because it’s a plug-in hybrid.
It’s a good one, too. Almost 400bhp, all-wheel drive and over 20 miles EV range ticks many boxes and being a Volvo, it’s well-made and family-friendly, safe and full of clever touches for storage and ease of use. Depreciation should be low, with few cars on the market and strong demand, but watch out for high parts prices as the car ages. CAR’s contemporary long-term test V60 hybrid did not leave a good impression.
But the V60 is not an XC90, and that model remains on sale, upgraded for 2023. We’d put this at the top of the list if you want high-end, SUV prestige as much as seven-seater space.
CAR verdict: ‘Expensive new, expensive used – the XC90 at least makes some sense second hand. It’s a capable, impressive all rounder but the financial risk is high as the vehicles get older and out of Volvo’s Selekt warranty’
The wildcard: Toyota Estima or Alphard (JDM import, from 2007 on)
- Used prices from £10,000
- A personal import, RHD, and ‘the seven seater hybrid you really want’
Remember the Toyota Previa? A space-age, mid-engined, optionally four-wheel drive MPV at the height of the MPV craze in Europe, it left UK showrooms in 2005, before a hybrid model joined the range, Many of the first generation were old and tired enough for 2008’s first scrappage round to clear them off the streets. But in Japan and Australia, the Estima (the domestic name for Previas) continued until 2019, and the related Alphard (below), Lexus LM and Vellfire are still available new.
Second-generation XR30 Estimas offer a 2.4-litre self-charging design similar to the Lexus HS250h and contemporary Camry, whereas the later AH30 Toyota Alphard (a boxier, more van-like version of the theme that shares a platform with the previous generation RAV4 and NX) from 2015-on has the 2.5-litre tech found in the UK’s RAV4 and Highlander. Those start at around £30,000, but offer incredible space and luxury for the budget.
All-wheel drive models are easy to find, and they fully deliver the seven-seater MPV experience that in current, European cars only the Volkswagen Multivan comes close to offering. Safety credentials are good and the same technology you take for granted on European vehicles is present, such as lane-keeping, adaptive cruise and autonomous emergency braking.
Be warned, though, that not all JDM cars will be ULEZ-compliant even if they are low emissions. Check the individual model you are looking at for tax rates and compliance with zones and fuel type exemptions.
We’ve seen examples as low as £3,000 (with small faults), but reputable importers with 60,000-mile ballpark high-quality models generally offer them from £9,000 upwards. You won’t get much service history with them, so buy with your eyes and ears, budget to have it properly rustproofed, and enjoy all the quirky tech JDM cars get. Executive models may only have six seats (above) but they’re extremely luxurious seats…
Toyota UK dealers are generally supportive when it comes to getting parts, and servicing older cars, as well.
CAR verdict: ‘Big families across the UK have already embraced the greater variety of cars offered in Japan as Europe lost love for the MPV, and these modern, well-equipped hybrids are easy to find – and the best experience for passengers’
Should I buy a used hybrid car in 2023?
Most drivers will have bought enough used conventional cars to have an idea of what they’re comfortable with, in terms of checking things are as they should be and trusting the seller. Hybrid technology raises a few questions still, as it’s harder to see what’s going on – better OBD-II diagnostic cables can help but don’t reveal all the manufacturer-specific secrets.
Thankfully, it turns out that hybrids – like their EV counterparts – can be kinder on consumable items than conventional vehicles, and most will display very obvious warnings if there’s an issue with the electronics.
CVT gearboxes, optimised and reduced engine running, and regenerative braking mean component wear is slower than on conventional cars. Specialists can repair battery packs, and firms like Toyota and Lexus are looking after their self-charging hybrid buyers with transferable extended warranties (up to ten years) and fixed-price repairs, keen to ensure the next generation of hybrid owners aren’t scared off.
Plug-in hybrid, or self-charging?
Self-charging rules the older big hybrid market, partly because of the small variety of models but also because many traditional seven-seater options simply didn’t get electrified, or lost their rear seats when offered as a PHEV.
Battery packs need room, eating the space to hide seats, but they also add weight – when a seven-seater already needs a high GVW to accommodate a full set of passengers.
That means the obvious candidates of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV or BMW 2-series ActiveTourer (in Grand Tourer form) never ticked the box – the former only has five seats, the latter’s larger body was never offered with hybrid despite the early availability of the 225xe.
The same applies to Peugeot’s 3008/5008 duo – the larger car is petrol or diesel only, and even VW/Skoda/SEAT left the seven-seat Kodiaq and clones un-electrified – the Skoda Vision 7S shows their future plans, but for now the only hybrid VW Group seven-seater MPV is the VW Caravelle and it’s too new for this article.
We’re not including mild hybrid options here as they’re relatively recent, and primarily offer benefits for new buyers with CO2-based company car tax to worry about. For used buyers, it’s all about avoiding the black pump – self-charging hybrid models deliver consistent fuel economy improvements over petrol, often yielding running costs close to the once-popular diesel options.
New hybrid seven-seater cars are better value than used
Thanks to the small selection available, and a parade of new models launched after manufacturers regrouped post-pandemic, you may find it’s more affordable to get a new seven-seater hybrid family car. Luxury, bulky and 4×4 models have been around a while, but the crucial combination of mainstream brand and affordable tech has been left well alone – despite the obvious benefits for families with lots of children regardless of demographic.
2023’s launches include the excellent Dacia Jogger 140, which has a self-charging hybrid from Renault and uncompromised, generous three-row seats in a basic-but-well-made package that is very hard to argue against – and costs less new than most of the selection above with a few years and miles on.
Related, distantly, to the Jogger are Nissan’s X-Trail and Renault’s Espace, which may come to the UK. Skoda’s next-generation seven-seater will either be electric or hybrid, and of course there’s a hybrid option for Volkswagen’s Multivan (which despite the trendy image, is one of the closest things in spirit to the original Espace yet).
Check out CAR’s guide to the best hybrid seven-seaters and look for pre-registered examples as supply and manufacturing return to pre-pandemic levels through 2023/24. You’ll also find the Ford S-Max and Galaxy there, which are too recent (and expensive on finance) as hybrids to make this list.