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? If so, these are the top 10 cars for you. We also name the models that look good on paper but are actually best avoided...
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.
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 engine, you never have to plug them in.
The thing is, though, knowing which model 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.
The 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 PHEV car, but without the faff of dealing with cables when it's time to charge it. Elsewhere, the model impresses with an interior that's well put together and easy to get comfy in, plus you shouldn't have any concerns about things going wrong – Toyota is consistently a top performer in our annual Reliability Survey.
- Very efficient
- Lofty driving position
- Uncluttered dashboard is easy to use
- Could be more spacious in the back seats
- Vocal engine when accelerating
- Not as fun to drive as the Ford Puma
Think of the Niro as being three cars in one – you see, it's available 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 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.
- Generously equipped and competitively priced
- Seven-year warranty
- Smart, spacious interior
- Petrol engine sounds strained when worked hard
- Not particularly quick in either form
- Handling could be sharper
It's best to think of the 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. Its 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.
- Plenty of standard equipment
- Option of third row of seats
- Good predicted resale values
- Smaller boot and third-row seat space than rivals
- Not much fun to drive
- Not particularly efficient considering the E-Power system
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 rivals can manage. It can also use electric power alone for short bursts, helping to take the edge off your fuel bills. 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.
- Frugal hybrid is a worthy alternative to diesel
- Well-made interior
- Spacious for passengers and luggage
- So-so handling
- Ride can get choppy at times
- No sliding rear seats
Like every car on this list, the Sorento large SUV 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 will pose no trouble. Hybrid power should help to lower your fuel bills – the hybrid Sorento managed a respectable 37.1mpg in our real-world fuel tests.
- Seven seats fit for adults
- A massive boot
- Well equipped
- Cheaper trims no longer available
- Hybrid engine isn't as fuel efficient as a Honda CR-V's
- Interior quality not as good as similarly priced premium rivals
This version of the five-star Sportage 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. It also has enough space for your family and all the luggage they might want to take with them. We think the Sportage is so good that we named it Best Family SUV at our 2023 Car of the Year Awards.
- Lower spec models are great value
- Smart interior
- Generous rear leg room and boot space
- Hybrid petrol engine sounds strained
- Rear head room compromised with panoramic roof
- No clever rear seat functions
Toyota clearly knows a thing or two about building great hybrids, because the Corolla is the second model from the car maker to appear on this list. It 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 and its standard spec generous, while even the cheaper, 138bhp 1.8-litre version offers all the performance you need. If you want hybrid power with more space, take a look at the estate car version, the Toyota Corolla Touring Sports.
- Low CO2 emissions and great fuel economy
- Comfortable ride
- Loads of standard kit
- Cramped in the back
- So-so infotainment system
- 12.3in digital instrument cluster could be easier to use
The latest 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) or 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.
- Very spacious with great seating flexibility
- Lots of standard equipment
- Slow depreciation
- Pricey by small car standards
- Not the quietest cruiser
- Disappointing infotainment system
The 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 most 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.
- Outstanding seven-seat practicality
- Plush interior
- Long warranty
- Pricing yet to be confirmed
- Hybrid engine not particularly inspiring
- Styling might be divisive
Welcome to not only the best hybrid car you can buy, but also our Family Car of the Year. The Civic's 181bhp hybrid setup 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 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, and the Civic is a clear winner.
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- Impressive fuel economy
- Big boot
- Lots of luxury and safety kit
- Quite pricey
- Rear head room isn't great
- Road noise intrudes
And the traditional hybrids to avoid...
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