Best hybrid family cars
Need a practical car with very low running costs? Read our guide to the best hybrid family cars
Every family is different so what each one needs from its car varies, but for this list we’ve concentrated on hybrid versions of the types of car most popular with families: SUVs, estates and so-called family hatchbacks - cars that are a similar size to a Volkswagen Golf and Ford Focus. MPVs, also known as ‘people carriers’, are becoming less popular with the rise of SUVs, so there aren’t many hybrid versions of them around.
There are plenty of hybrid family cars to choose from if you want something that’s economical but doesn’t run on diesel. Hybrids tend to be much cheaper than electric cars, too, so they occupy the middle ground and should be a good compromise between value-for-money and economy.
There are three types of hybrids: regular (sometimes called HEVs), mild hybrids (mHEVs) and plug-in hybrids (PHEVs). All use a combination of an engine (usually petrol), an electric motor and a battery to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. The first two types typically use the engine to recharge the battery, but plug-in hybrids have much bigger batteries and need to be charged from the grid. They will manage much further on electric power alone; current PHEVs manage between 30-60 miles of electric range, compared to just a couple of miles for standard hybrids. Plug-in hybrids offer incredible fuel economy figures, but you won’t achieve anywhere near these figures unless you keep the battery topped up and do most of your driving around town.
Family-car buyers don’t just look for wallet-friendly running costs, though. In-car technology can be a big motivator behind a purchase, and the sheer amount of competition within the car industry means that carmakers are often including ever more impressive gadgetry. All of these cars can be ordered with sat nav, smartphone connectivity and multi-zone climate control, plus driver assistance features like cruise control, parking sensors and hill-start assist.
New cars need lots of driver assistance tech to pass the stringent Euro NCAP safety tests, and all these have a full five-star score, which should particularly appeal to buyers with children.
Practicality is often a key consideration, too - a family car will be compromised if the boot isn't big enough for your requirements. Cars with flat-folding seats impress us, as these can create a large, flat area for bulky items when the seats are down. Sometimes, the batteries in a hybrid can reduce boot space, which is worth remembering if you’re looking at figures from a non-hybrid version.
If you want a smooth, powerful and economical estate, you’ll be well served by the Volvo V60 T8 Twin Engine PHEV. The Volvo has a 529-litre boot (unchanged from the non-hybrid models), which is bigger than the BMW 3 Series Touring and Audi A4 Avant - not to mention the larger Superb. The cabin is shared with more expensive Volvo models, and includes a crisp portrait touchscreen and lots of plush materials. With a total output of 385bhp, the V60 T8 hits 0-62mph in just 4.9 seconds and is capable of travelling for up to 30 miles on electric power alone. A fuel economy figure of 135mpg is quoted but you can expect to knock the ‘1’ off when you’re only using petrol power. Besides the V60’s price and it not being particularly compelling to drive, there are very few downsides.
There are very few cars better suited to families than the Skoda Superb Estate, thanks to its combination of a huge boot, a well-equipped spacious interior, handsome looks and great value-for-money. Its diesel engines are economical and it’s available with several powerful petrol engines, but the recently revealed Superb iV plug-in hybrid model might cater for those looking for a mix of efficiency and performance. It’s said to manage up to 148mpg and CO2 emissions of 37g/km, and can hit 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds. Recharging the 13kWh battery takes about five hours, and the charging port is cleanly hidden within the front grille. Hybrid models have 150 litres less boot space than the petrol and diesel cars, but the 510-litre boot is still generous.
All Toyota C-HRs are now hybrid, so the futuristic looks are backed up by suitably current powertrains. The 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre hybrid engines are familiar from the Prius and Corolla, but even in the C-HR they offer diesel-matching fuel economy at 58.9 and 54.3mpg respectively. We’d even say the 2.0-litre engine makes the car fairly nippy (0-62mph takes 8.2 seconds) and it’s surprisingly good to drive too. There’s more good news inside, where the C-HR is refined and well-equipped; the good-value entry-level model includes a reversing camera, LED headlights, auto wipers and cruise control. The 377-litre boot is a little small compared to its direct rivals, but is on par with family hatchbacks such as the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf.
For a long time, the best-selling BMW 3 Series has been the 320d diesel, thanks to its blend of performance and economy. But now that diesel sales are dropping, BMW expects a lot of buyers to convert to the 330e plug-in hybrid. It hasn’t rested on its laurels, though, as the latest 330e is much better than the previous model. When the battery’s fully charged, it’ll manage up to 41 miles of electric driving and so it has fantastically low running costs, which both business and private buyers will appreciate. Despite its tax-busting credentials, the 330e is just as good to drive as any other 3 Series, and the two forms of power come together to surpass 0-62mph in just six seconds. Like other cars on this list, the boot is smaller than standard because of where the batteries are placed, but BMW has now introduced a 330e Touring estate version if you need extra practicality.
Arguably the original and most well-known hybrid, the Toyota Prius is still one of the most economical cars that you don’t need to plug in. Up to 67.2mpg is claimed, and it’s no wonder it’s so popular with high-mileage drivers and those that want to keep a close eye on their spending. It’s not the most involving machine, instead majoring on quietness, comfort and refinement, not to mention reliability. In fact, the Prius came top of our 2019 Driver Power owner satisfaction survey, and Toyota as a brand was revered too. While sat nav isn’t standard, all cars feature adaptive cruise control, LED headlights and a rear-view camera. Rear-seat occupants have plenty of legroom, and the boot is a good size at 457 litres (loaded to the rear windscreen).
It’s by far the most expensive model on our list but you do get plenty of car if you’re in a position to buy the Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine. For one thing, it’s a seven-seater with enough room for adults to be comfortable in the third row. With all seven seats occupied, there’s still a 262-litre boot, which becomes a van-like 1,816 litres with the two rear rows of seats folded. You and six mates can all enjoy the beautiful, smart interior, including the crisp portrait Sensus touchscreen and touches like a crystal gearknob (on top models). The XC90 is no sports car - a BMW X5 will provide more driving thrills - but its 400bhp powertrain means 0-62mph takes just 5.6 seconds. It’s claimed to manage up to 113mpg, too, but like any PHEV you should take that with a pinch of salt. A 25-mile electric range is decent, however.
Plug-in hybrid cars are great for fleet buyers, as the low CO2 emissions result in an affordable Benefit-in-Kind (BiK) rate. VW estimates that up to 80% of Passat sales will be to fleet buyers but the economy, reliability and equipment levels mean it’s a good fit for private buyers too. The hybrid GTE shares its powertrain with the Superb iV, which means a range of 35 miles and the ability to save the battery power for later in your journey. Included in the price is sat nav, three-zone climate control, heated front seats and a three-year subscription to various online services. Better residual values make up for the higher initial cost, but the Passat GTE Estate suffers from a similar loss of boot space as the Superb iV - you get 483 litres instead of the 650 in two-wheel-drive petrol and diesel versions.
The first-ever MINI plug-in hybrid is one of the best hybrid SUVs you can buy right now. Practicality is down on the petrol and diesel versions (the rear bench no longer slides and the boot is slightly smaller) but the seats are mounted high for good visibility and their 40:20:40 split means they’re versatile. The MINI has plenty of kerb appeal, especially as you can have Cooper S badges fitted. Don’t think it’s not worthy of the sporty badge, though; it’s the fastest-accelerating model in the range, hitting 0-62mph in under seven seconds. The 1.5-litre petrol engine drives the front wheels and the electric motor drives the rears, meaning the Countryman is four-wheel drive. It’ll manage around 26 miles of electric range between charges.
The name may not be associated with excitement, but the Toyota Corolla is a genuine alternative to the Ford Focus, Kia Ceed and Vauxhall Astra. The Corolla is even more efficient than the C-HR (with which it shares its engines), and both 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre engines can return over 60mpg. You don’t have to plug it in - just fill up with petrol like a normal car. We’d expect the 1.8-litre engine to be sufficient for most buyers, getting from 0-62mph in under 11 seconds. The 2.0-litre is much faster, at 7.9 seconds, but does sacrifice the size of the boot slightly. It’s not particularly fun through corners, instead excelling at comfortable and relaxed driving. Inside is spacious, and the touchscreen now comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto so you can use your phone’s apps on the screen.
For a while, the Hyundai Ioniq was the only car on sale to only come with a choice of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric power. We’ve chosen the regular hybrid for this list because it has by far the biggest boot of the three, at an impressive 443 litres. In the real world, its 62.8mpg might be more achievable than the plug-in hybrid’s claimed figure of 257mpg, and is at least on a par with the most frugal diesels. We also like that it’s a little cheaper than the Toyota Prius, plus you’re less likely to be mistaken for a taxi driver. Hyundai’s five-year warranty and reasonable standard kit list - all versions come with Bluetooth, DAB radio, air con and alloy wheels - will also appeal to buyers.