Best hybrid cars you don't have to plug in

Like the idea of a hybrid, but don't want to faff around with power cables? Then these are the top 10 cars for you – and the models that look good on paper but are actually best avoided...


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What Car? team

Best hybrids you don't have to plug in

If you do mostly short journeys – and have a wall charger at home – then driving a plug-in hybrid can save you a fortune in fuel. But what if you don't have a front drive or would just rather not wrestle with a dirty, ungainly cable at the end of each journey? Well, in that case, traditional hybrids still make plenty of sense.

No they can't go as far on electric-only power, but they still promise diesel-rivalling fuel economy without the environmental concerns. And because their batteries are small enough to be charged by the petrol engine, you never have to plug them in.

The thing is, though, knowing which to consider and which to avoid can make the difference between a fuel-sipping investment and a costly mistake. So, here we count down the top 10 – and reveal the traditional hybrids that are best to steer clear of.

10

Lexus ES 300h

Modern luxury saloons tend to use diesel engines, but the ES is different, combining a 2.5-litre petrol unit with an electric motor. This approach makes for a car that's whisper-quiet around town and when cruising on the motorway but a bit noisy under acceleration. The ride is comfortable and company car tax bills are comparatively low.

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Pros

  • Low running costs, especially for company car drivers
  • Excellent rear leg room
  • Surprisingly agile handling

Cons

  • Hybrid powertrain can be noisy and frustrating if you’re in a rush
  • Small boot with no folding rear seats
  • Frustrating trackpad controlled infotainment system
9

Toyota Prius 1.8 VVTi

The latest Prius represents a significant step forward for the world’s best-selling hybrid car, both in terms of practicality and the way it drives, allowing it to compete directly with conventional rivals such as the Ford Focus and Vauxhall Astra. What's more, it's even more fuel-efficient than its already frugal predecessor.

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Pros

  • Excellent fuel economy
  • Urban refinement
  • Low company car tax

Cons

  • Sluggish on the open road
  • Grabby brakes
  • Poor rear head room
8

Toyota Yaris 1.5 Hybrid

Hybrid cars don't come any cheaper than the Toyota Yaris, yet it's well equipped and offers perky performance in town. It also has the best average fuel economy figure of any car we've put through our True MPG test. Just bear in mind that it's quite cramped in the back and the infotainment system is fiddly.

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Pros

  • Excellent real-world fuel economy
  • Toyota's reliability record
  • Slow predicted depreciation

Cons

  • Below-par infotainment system
  • Firm ride – especially on models with 17in alloys
  • Cramped in the back
7

Toyota RAV4 2.5 VVTi Hybrid

Despite being a large and practical SUV, the RAV4 is the most efficient town car we've ever tested, managing an incredible 91.9mpg during the low-speed, stop-start section of our True MPG test. Plenty of rivals are better to drive and the infotainment system is fiddly to use, but that sensational fuel economy makes the RAV4's shortcomings easier to forgive.

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Pros

  • Exceedingly frugal
  • Regular hybrid has slow predicted depreciation
  • Strong reliability record

Cons

  • Terrible infotainment system
  • Rivals are better to drive
  • No seven-seat option
6

Hyundai Ioniq 1.6 GDi Hybrid

The Hyundai Ioniq is an excellent entry point into electrified motoring, combining low running costs and a relatively low price with a reassuringly normal driving experience. It's also available as a plug-in hybrid, if you fancy a better electric range, or even as a fully electric car.

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Pros

  • Good-quality interior
  • Low running costs
  • Hybrid is good to drive

Cons

  • Limited rear-seat head room
  • Unsettled ride around town
  • EV model expensive
5

Honda CR-V 2.0 I-MMD Hybrid

There's no diesel version of the latest CR-V, so it's fortunate that its 2.0-litre petrol engine and electric motor combine to deliver diesel-like fuel economy. Add in steering that lets you place the car accurately on the road, a comfortable driving position and plenty of space in the rear, and the CR-V Hybrid is a seriously attractive proposition.

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Pros

  • Vast passenger and boot space
  • Economical hybrid system
  • Comfortable ride

Cons

  • CVT gearbox sends the engine racing
  • Poor infotainment system
  • Seven-seat versions hard to justify over rivals
4

Toyota Corolla 1.8 VVT-i Hybrid

Toyota clearly knows a thing or two about building great hybrid cars, because the Corolla is the fourth model from its maker to appear on this list (the fifth if you count the ES from its premium Lexus division). It offers super-low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions that make it an excellent choice for both private and company drivers. What's more, the Corolla's ride is cosseting and its standard spec generous, while even the cheaper, 1.8-litre version offers all the performance you need.

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Pros

  • Seriously low CO2 emissions
  • Comfortable ride
  • Loads of standard kit

Cons

  • Cramped in the back
  • Below-par infotainment system
  • Lots of road noise
3

Honda Jazz 1.5 i-MMD Hybrid

Honda's latest Jazz is the small car to beat for passenger and luggage space, and its unique and incredibly flexible rear seating only adds to its practicality. It’s not the most fun car in the class (that’s the Ford Fiesta) or the most comfortable riding (that’s the Peugeot 208), but excellent visibility helps make it easy to drive, while the economy, resale values and equipment levels also impress.

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Pros

  • Very spacious with great seating flexibility
  • Lots of standard equipment
  • Slow depreciation

Cons

  • Pricey by small car standards
  • Not the quietest cruiser
  • Disappointing infotainment system
2

Hyundai Santa Fe 1.6 T-GDi Hybrid

The Santa Fe might even take the number one spot once we've tried cheaper versions, but for now it's just edged into second place. That still means it has plenty of strengths, though, including a comfortable ride, a huge boot, seven-seat practicality and a long warranty.

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Pros

  • Seven seats fit for adults
  • Loads of standard kit
  • Long warranty

Cons

  • Closely related Kia Sorento available for slightly less
  • So-so performance
  • Some wind noise
1

Kia Sorento 1.6 T-GDI Hybrid

Closely related to the Sanata Fe, the Sorento combines good real-world fuel economy with comparatively low CO2 emissions, while its ride is comfortable and the steering accurate. Throw in a nicely made and well equipped interior, a driving position that’s lofty enough to make HGV drivers jealous and Kia’s unmatched seven-year warranty, and the Sorento is our number one hybrid that you don't have to plug in.

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Pros

  • Seven seats fit for adults
  • A massive boot
  • Well equipped

Cons

  • High trim levels are pricey
  • Hybrid engine isn't as fuel efficient as a Honda CR-V's
  • No lumbar adjustment with '2' trim

And the traditional hybrids to avoid...

Ford Mondeo 2.0 Hybrid

In most forms, the Mondeo is a joy to drive, but the hybrid disappoints, because its petrol and electric motors struggle to work smoothly together and the ride is poorly controlled. It's also the least practical Mondeo, being a saloon rather than a hatchback. Read our review

Lexus UX 250h

On the upside, the UX offers good fuel economy, cheap company car tax bills and the promise of Lexus's excellent reliability. Unfortunately, the driving experience is so-so and the infotainment system poor, while practicality is shocking for a family SUV. Read our review