Best self-charging hybrid cars you don't have to plug in 2024

Like the idea of a hybrid, but don't want to faff around with power cables? If so, these are the top 10 cars for you. We also name the model that looks good on paper but is actually best avoided...

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by
Darren Moss
Updated11 May 2023

If you do mostly short journeys and have a wall charger at home, driving a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) or electric car can save you a fortune in fuel. But what if you don't have a driveway or would rather not wrestle with a mucky charging cable at the end of each journey? Well, in that case, many traditional non-PHEV hybrid cars make plenty of sense.

They can't go as far on electric-only power, but the best still promise impressive fuel economy without the environmental concerns of pure combustion power. And because their batteries are small enough to be charged by the engine, you never have to plug them in.

Best hybrids you don't have to plug in

These cars are often referred to by manufacturers as self-driving hybrids, but it’s a somewhat misleading term because they don’t really charge themselves. In reality, the batteries are charged by burning petrol in the engine, with a little extra added through regenerative braking.

But that doesn’t detract from the prospect of slashing your fuel bills. But which is the best hybrid car? Here we count down the top 10 – and reveal the traditional hybrid that's best to steer clear of. The results of our comprehensive road testing, which covers every single hybrid car on sale, have shown that the Honda Civic e:HEV is a cut above the rest.

Our list also features everything from small cars to spacious seven-seaters, with links to read our full reviews, or see the latest hybrid car deals

Our pick: 2.0 eHEV Sport 5dr CVT

0-62mph: 7.9 sec
MPG/range: 56.5mpg
CO2 emissions: 113g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 415 litres
Insurance group: 28E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Impressive fuel economy
  • Big boot
  • Lots of luxury and safety kit

Weaknesses

  • Quite pricey
  • Rear head room isn't great
  • Road noise intrudes

Welcome to not only the best hybrid car you can buy, but also our 2023 Family Car of the Year. The 181bhp hybrid setup in the Honda Civic allows for brisk performance – it managed 0-60mph in 6.8sec in our tests – while you should see upwards of 49mpg without needing to try too hard to drive gently.

Around town, the electric motor does most of the work, while the 2.0-litre petrol engine is pleasantly hushed when joins in on faster roads. Add to that lots of equipment even on entry-level models, a smart interior and space enough for a growing family – you can fit more into it than you can in the rival Vauxhall Astra, for example – and the Civic is a clear winner.

See our full Honda Civic review 

Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Outstanding seven-seat practicality
  • Plush interior
  • Long warranty

Weaknesses

  • Pricing yet to be confirmed
  • Hybrid engine not particularly inspiring
  • Styling might be divisive

The Hyundai Santa Fe once played second fiddle to the Kia Sorento in the large SUV stakes, but now it's our reigning champion – in fact, we named it the best seven-seater at the 2023 recent What Car? Awards.

Helping to seal that win is the fact that there's generous space in the third row for adults, as well as in the second row, and that, in five-seat mode, you can fit 10 carry-on suitcases into the boot. Throw in the efficiency of hybrid power, plus a decent turn of speed if you put your foot down, and the Santa Fe is easy to recommend.

Be aware, however, that the Santa Fe's transition from petrol to electric power isn't the best around. In this regard, the rival Nissan X-Trail feels smoother.

See our full Hyundai Santa Fe review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Spacious interior with flexible rear seats
  • Lots of standard equipment
  • Slow depreciation

Weaknesses

  • Very pricey by small car standards
  • Not the quietest cruiser
  • Some rivals are more fun

The latest Honda Jazz is the small car to beat for passenger and luggage space, and its unique and incredibly flexible rear seating adds to its practicality.

It's not the most fun car in the class to drive (that’s the Ford Fiesta), nor the one with the nicest interior (that's the Mini Electric), but its excellent visibility helps make it easy to drive, while its economy, resale values and equipment levels are impressive. Its 1.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor produce a combined 96bhp, and it managed 0-60mph in a respectable 8.6sec in our tests.

See our full Honda Jazz review

Our pick: 1.8 Hybrid Icon 5dr CVT

0-62mph: 9.1 sec
MPG/range: 64.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 100g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 361 litres
Insurance group: 17E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Low CO2 emissions and great fuel economy
  • Comfortable ride
  • Loads of standard kit

Weaknesses

  • Cramped in the back
  • So-so infotainment system
  • 12.3in digital instrument cluster could be easier to use

Toyota clearly knows a thing or two about building great hybrids, because the Toyota Corolla is the first of two models from the Japanese manufacturer to appear on this list.

The Corolla offers super-low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions that make it an excellent choice as a private buy or as a company car. The ride is cosseting, while even the cheaper, 138bhp 1.8-litre version offers all the performance you need. The interior feels well screwed together, but the Ford Focus offers more adjustability for its driving position, and the Seat Leon places you lower down inside the car for a sportier feel. The Corolla strikes back with a long list of standard equipment.

If you want hybrid power with more space, take a look at the estate car version, the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports.

See our full Toyota Corolla review

Our pick: 1.6T GDi 157 48V ISG 3 5dr

0-62mph: 9.9 sec
MPG/range: 42.8mpg
CO2 emissions: 149g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 562 litres
Insurance group: 20E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Lower-spec models are great value
  • Smart interior
  • Generous rear leg room and boot space

Weaknesses

  • Hybrid petrol engine sounds strained
  • Rear head room compromised with panoramic roof
  • No clever rear seat functions

This version of the five-star Kia Sportage – our favourite family SUV – combines a 1.6-litre petrol engine with an electric motor, and can run on electricity for short distances. It works so well that it's our pick of the Sportage range, and offers all the performance you could want. Indeed, it can hit 60mph in as little as 7.2sec – that's faster than hybrid versions of the rival Ford Kuga can manage.

It also has enough space for your family and all the luggage they might want to take with them. Indeed, you can fit more into the boot of the Sportage than you can into a Nissan Qashqai. We think the Sportage is so good that we named it Best Family SUV at our 2023 Car of the Year Awards.

See our full Kia Sportage review

Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • One of the more spacious seven seaters at this price
  • A massive boot
  • Well equipped

Weaknesses

  • Priced above mainstream rivals
  • Hybrid engine isn't as fuel efficient as a Honda CR-V's
  • Interior quality not as good as similarly priced premium rivals

Like every car on this list, the Kia Sorento is powered by a combination of a regular combustion engine – in this case a 1.6-litre petrol – and an electric motor, which assists the engine and allows the car to run for short distances on electric power alone.

It's nippy enough, reaching 60mph in 8.7sec, and can tow up to 1650kg behind it, so pulling a caravan should pose little trouble. Hybrid power should help to lower your fuel bills – the hybrid Sorento managed a respectable 37.1mpg in our real MPG tests.

What sets the Sorento apart from some large SUV rivals, such as the Land Rover Discovery Sport, is that all versions come with seven seats as standard, and adults will fit just fine, even in the Sorento's third-row seats.

See our full Kia Sorento review

Our pick: 1.6 TGDi Hybrid 230 SE Connect 5dr 2WD Auto

0-62mph: 8 sec
MPG/range: 50.4mpg
CO2 emissions: 127g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 616 litres
Insurance group: 18E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Frugal hybrid is a worthy alternative to diesel
  • Well-made interior
  • Spacious for passengers and luggage

Weaknesses

  • So-so handling
  • Ride can get choppy at times
  • No sliding rear seats

With 227bhp, this hybrid version of the Hyundai Tucson family SUV is no slouch; it can hit 60mph in just 6.8sec, and that's faster than the rival Ford Kuga or Kia Sportage can manage.

The Tucson is especially good if you need to carry tall passengers in the rear regularly: two six-footers will be comfortable on its rear bench, even with the front seats slid well back. Elsewhere, the Tucson's interior features quality materials that should stand up well to the rigours of family life, and every version comes loaded with kit.

See our full Hyundai Tucson review

Our pick: 1.5 E-Power 204 N-Connecta 5dr Xtronic

0-62mph: 8 sec
MPG/range: 49.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 130g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 575 litres
Insurance group: 25E
Reliability
Safety
Costs
Quality
Performance

Strengths

  • Plenty of standard equipment
  • Option of third row of seats
  • Good predicted resale values

Weaknesses

  • Smaller boot and third-row seat space than rivals
  • Not much fun to drive
  • Not particularly efficient considering the E-Power system

It's best to think of the Nissan X-Trail as being like the big-selling Nissan Qashqai family SUV but with a bit more space for passengers and luggage. That's because while mild hybrid versions of the X-Trail are available with seven seats, the regular hybrid version gets the same five-seat layout as the Qashqai, but with more room across the board.

The X-Trail's hybrid setup is rather special too. The 1.5-litre petrol engine never directly powers the wheels – instead, it charges the battery that feeds the 201bhp electric motor driving the wheels. If you value a softly sprung ride, then the X-Trail will suit you well, being more supple than the Mazda CX-60 and fidgeting less on the motorway than the Hyundai Santa Fe.

See our full Nissan X-Trail review

Our pick: 1.6 GDi 127 Hybrid 2 Nav 5dr DCT

0-62mph: 11.3 sec
MPG/range: 64.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 100g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 451 litres
Insurance group: 29A
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Most versions are competitively priced
  • Seven-year warranty
  • Smart, spacious interior

Weaknesses

  • Not particularly quick
  • Boot isn't the biggest
  • Handling could be sharper

You can get the Kia Niro as a hybrid, as a plug-in hybrid and even as a fully electric car. It's the regular hybrid we think will tempt most buyers, though, because it feels reassuringly 'normal' to drive, and the 1.6-litre petrol engine and electric motor work together to maximise your fuel economy. With a combined 139bhp, the hybrid model isn't sports-car fast, but it's plenty quick enough for most situations. It's also smart: its sat-nav can recognise low-emission zones in city centres and save its battery power for when you're driving through them.

Space on board the Niro compares well with its family SUV rivals, and you can fit more into its boot than you can in the Honda HR-V or Lexus UX.

See our full Kia Niro review

Our pick: 1.5 Hybrid Icon 5dr CVT

0-62mph: 11.2 sec
MPG/range: 64.2mpg
CO2 emissions: 100g/km
Seats: 5
Boot: 460 litres
Insurance group: 11E
Driving
Interior
Practicality
Buying & Owning

Strengths

  • Very efficient
  • Lofty driving position
  • Uncluttered dashboard is easy to use

Weaknesses

  • Could be more spacious in the back seats
  • Vocal engine when accelerating
  • Not as fun to drive as the Ford Puma

The Toyota Yaris Cross is outstandingly efficient, returning an average of 60.1mpg in our real-world tests and an incredible 103.3mpg on our urban route. That's the kind of figure you'd expect to see from a plug-in hybrid car, achieved without the faff of dealing with cables when it's time to charge it.

Elsewhere, the Yaris Cross impresses with an interior that's well put together and easy to get comfy in – and which places you higher above the road than the rival Ford Puma and Skoda Kamiq – plus you shouldn't have any concerns about things going wrong, because Toyota is consistently a top performer in our annual Reliability Survey.

See our full Toyota Yaris Cross review

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And the traditional hybrid to avoid...

Lexus UX 250h

On the upside, the UX offers good fuel economy, low company car tax bills and the promise of Lexus's excellent reliability. Unfortunately, it's not very practical by class standards, the driving experience is so-so and the infotainment system is poor. Read our review

How we choose the best self-charging hybrids

As the number of self-charging or full hybrids has grown, we ensure we drive every new model to find out how it performs against the competition.

As with all our reviews, we consider what buyers are looking for in a self-charging hybrid in particular and a new car in general. That’s informed by the 20,000-plus responses to our annual reader survey, which tells us what people want from their new car. In hybrid models, these factors are:

Reliability

Reliability consistently comes high up on car buyers’ lists of priorities, and it’s no different for people shopping for a car with hybrid engine tech. The What Car? Reliability Survey is compiled using responses from more than 20,000 car owners, allowing us to give you a clear picture of how each model and manufacturer performs for dependability. We’re able to rank models, and determine the nature of common faults to give you the clearest picture possible.

Efficiency

Hybrid cars are often bought on the strength of their fuel economy. We compare the official economy figures with our own to give you a fair picture of what you can expect in the real world. Crucially, we compare these figures with those of rival models, helping you make the most frugal choice.

Comfortable driving position

Whatever class of car you’re seeking, you’re likely to be looking for a model you can do long journeys in without having to call in a chiropractor afterwards. Our road testers consider how adjustable the seats are, whether there’s enough head and leg room for the tallest of drivers, and what lumbar support, if any, is included. We take comprehensive measurements, and compare these with rival models.

The comprehensive What Car? vehicle assessment regime for self-charging hybrids doesn’t end with those factors. To find out more about the tests we carry out as we rate and rank new car models see our how we test page.

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