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Frequently asked questions about hybrid cars
The benefits of a hybrid include high fuel economy and low CO2 emissions compared with standard petrol and diesel engines – if used in the right way. Some can run on electric power alone for short distances, improving economy and emissions even further.
They tend to be cheaper to tax than conventionally powered cars and some are eligible for 100% discounts on London’s Congestion Charge.
Most hybrid cars are petrol-electric hybrids but there are also diesel-electric hybrids, although they are less common.
The Prius is perhaps the most well-known hybrid, launching more than 20 years ago, but these days many car companies make hybrid cars.
To find out if a hybrid car is for you, use the carwow Fuel Chooser.
If you’ve done any research you will have seen huge mpg figures for some hybrid vehicles – for example, the Volvo XC90 T8 SUV can achieve a claimed 134.5mpg. These figures are obtained under laboratory testing and you won’t get anywhere near this fuel economy in real-world driving.
Still, if you stick to town driving and keep the batteries charged then a hybrid will usually be more economical than a regular petrol or diesel car – we got 80mpg from a Toyota Prius in a mix of town and rural driving.
If you mostly do motorway driving, however, a hybrid might not be as economical as a diesel car because you’ll be using the combustion engine most of the time.
Another downside is that many hybrids use CVT automatic gearboxes, which can make a lot of noise when you put your foot down and blunt the feeling of acceleration.
Hybrid cars have packs of batteries that power the electric motor. These batteries are recharged by the combustion engine as you drive along. Braking also helps recharge the batteries as you drive.
Another disadvantage, for some people, is how it feels when you drive one. Hybrid cars recover kinetic energy when you brake, but in some hybrid cars, this can feel as though it’s slowing down a lot quicker than you expect, and it can take a little while to get used to. Also, brake pedal feel isn’t great.
Some people also don’t like the feeling you get when you press the accelerator hard in a hybrid car. Acceleration is not quite as instant as in a conventionally powered car (or even an electric car) and the engine can get noisy as you get up to speed.
A particular disadvantage for a plug-in hybrid car – sometimes called a PHEV – is that… well, you have to plug them in. These cars have almost unbelievably high average fuel economy figures but to achieve these figures you need to make sure the batteries are charged so the electric motor can help the engine out. You can drive them on petrol or diesel alone, but you won’t get anywhere near the published fuel economy figures if you do so regularly.
A traditional (or sometimes called full hybrid) is a system where to two power sources – the engines and the electric motor – which can work together to drive the vehicle or can each be used in isolation.
This system differs from the traditional hybrid because the electric motor can only be used to help assist the combustion engine, not power the car on its own.
Plug-in hybrids – also called PHEVs – have a much larger electric-only range than traditional hybrids. As the name suggests, you do have to plug them in to recharge the batteries, much as you would charge an (EV) electric vehicle, but with a full tank of fuel, plug-in hybrids can go much further than any electric car.
These are predominantly electric cars that have a small petrol engine that recharges the batteries. The engine doesn’t power the car.
As you might expect, traditional hybrids and plug-in hybrids do have quite a bit in common. For a start, they both pair a regular combustion engine (usually petrol-powered) with an electric motor. This means that you do still need to take them to the petrol station, but the electrical power will make your car more economical than without it.
There are two main differences between hybrids and plug-in hybrid cars. First is the price. Plug-ins cost a fair bit more than a normal hybrid car thanks to the expensive plug-in technology they have.
The second difference is how they get their electrical power. The batteries in hybrids that aren’t plug-ins get their electricity from regenerative braking (recouping the energy otherwise wasted as your car slows down or comes to a stop) or from the combustion engine itself. That’s why they are also sometimes called self-charging hybrids.
Plug-in hybrids (called PHEVs – Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles) get their power in a similar way to how pure electric cars do. As well as charging on the move, they also can be plugged into the mains to charge. At home you can plug the car directly into your mains or you can get a home charger installed. Out and about there is a network of charging stations. Check out our Electric Car Charging Points map to find your nearest ones.
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