Best small hybrid cars
If you're after an economical car that doesn't take up much space and doesn't have a diesel engine, you'll want to read our guide to the best small hybrid cars available now
Small electric cars are rolling off production lines pretty rapidly these days, as manufacturers continue the gradual phase-out of the internal combustion engine by 2030. But many of them are still too expensive for most car buyers. If an electric car remains out of reach, it’s worth bearing in mind that an increasing number of manufacturers are offering hybrid models that are very economical but more affordable.
As you’d expect, the best small hybrid cars are cheap to run and are capable of better fuel economy than the same car with a conventional engine. This is especially true given that many small cars aren’t available with diesel engines anymore, which return better fuel economy than their petrol equivalents.
Small cars tend not to be bought to cover tens of thousands of miles in a year; in most cases they’re mainly used for shorter journeys and trips around town, which makes a diesel engine less worthwhile. This is why small hybrid cars are becoming more popular and more available; they offer better fuel economy than petrol engines on their own thanks to electrical assistance from a battery and motor.
There is a mix of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and standard hybrids. The latter are sometimes referred to as ‘self-charging hybrids’ by manufacturers because they don’t need plugging in. Plug-in hybrids offer a much longer electric range than a conventional hybrid; you’ll be able to drive around 30-50 miles on electric power in a plug-in hybrid, while ‘self-charging’ hybrids manage a couple of miles at most.
One thing to mention is that you may get a smaller boot in a hybrid than a petrol car because the battery is often mounted under the boot floor, but the best small hybrid cars are packaged to offer plenty of practicality.
There aren’t too many small hybrids on the market yet, so we’ve included small SUVs and some family hatchbacks as well. Read on for our guide to the best small hybrid cars currently available.
The Hyundai Ioniq almost lives in the shadow of the Toyota Prius, but it’s still worth considering if you’re after a car that’s incredibly economical and has space for your family. It’s considerably cheaper than the Prius and there’s the added bonus that you’re less likely to be mistaken for a taxi driver. Hyundai claims up to 257mpg and 39 miles of range from the Ioniq Plug-in, and there’s a mode for electric power only. That’ll be useful in towns and cities, where you’ll also find the Ioniq very relaxing to drive.
The Ioniq was the first car to be offered with hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric options; the hybrid is cheaper but slightly less economical, and the electric car has a decent range but a higher price tag. All come with Hyundai’s generous five-year/unlimited-mileage warranty.
In the 1990s, the Ford Puma was a sleek two-door coupe but now Ford has reused the name for its latest crossover. It shares a lot of parts with the best-selling Ford Fiesta, but it’s actually more practical than the larger Ford Focus - and more appealing than the EcoSport.
Three petrol engines are offered from launch, two of which have mild-hybrid technology to reduce fuel consumption. Despite cracking 0-62mph in under nine seconds, the more powerful of the two can return over 50mpg and offer low company-car tax. The Puma is one of the best-driving small crossovers and has a lengthy standard equipment list.
When it was launched, the Toyota Corolla came with a choice of hybrid and petrol engines but now it’s hybrid-only. We can’t say that the Corolla has the most exciting nameplate, but it has eye-catching styling, a good reliability record and diesel-beating efficiency.
Both the 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre hybrid powertrains return over 60mpg, and the Corolla will be around £1,500 cheaper for company-car drivers than a Focus or Astra. Even the entry-level model includes LED headlights and a reversing camera, and you get a five-year warranty like the one offered by Hyundai.
There are few more luxurious cars than the latest Mercedes A-Class; it’s almost like sitting in the far more expensive Mercedes S-Class. Its twin-screen setup really moved the game on for interiors in this class, and now rivals like the Volkswagen Golf have followed suit. The A-Class may look similar to its predecessor but offers much more space in the rear seats and the boot.
There are a wide range of engines available, and these have now been joined by an A250e plug-in hybrid model, capable of 42 miles of range and a claimed 201mpg. When you need to get somewhere quickly, it’ll hit 0-62mph in a hot hatch-like 6.6 seconds, so it strikes a great balance between performance and economy.
Like the Hyundai Ioniq, the Kia Niro is offered as a hybrid, plug-in hybrid and a purely electric car. The latter is among our favourite EVs but it’s expensive and has a long waiting list, and the hybrids are impressively economical too. At 58.9mpg, the standard hybrid model offers similar efficiency to a diesel, while the plug-in is said to manage 202mpg if you regularly keep the battery topped up.
It’s not a car that will excite enthusiasts but it’s easy and relaxing to drive, and features a long kit list, including two-zone climate control, a touchscreen infotainment system and DAB radio. With a shape somewhere between a hatchback and an SUV, the Niro is very practical.
Volvo’s small SUV is a boxy rival to the BMW X1 and Audi Q3, and has an upmarket interior mostly borrowed from Volvo’s larger XC60 and XC90 SUVs. The Sensus portrait touchscreen looks super stylish and is great to use, while it’s also loaded with standard safety features. Other equipment included on all models includes cruise control, a digital instrument cluster and sat nav.
A T5 Twin Engine plug-in hybrid is now available, promising up to 141mpg in perfect conditions, while an XC40 Recharge P8 electric model has also joined the range. The introduction of the XC40 plug-in means all Volvos now come with hybrid options.
The original Renault Captur, like the Nissan Juke, helped popularise the crossover class. Its spacious cabin coupled with generous boot space tempted families out of their hatchbacks and into SUVs with a taller ride height and better practicality. Now in its second generation, the Captur has grown in size, features a striking new design and benefits from even lower running costs, thanks to the hybrid E-Tech version.
The plug-in hybrid powertrain combines a 1.6-litre petrol engine with an electric motor and a 9.8kWh battery. It’s actually the most powerful Captur you can buy, with a power output of 158bhp, but as it weighs 400kg more than the standard Captur, it still takes 10.1 seconds to sprint from 0-62mph. The Captur’s six-speed automatic gearbox shifts through gears smoothly but there is a notable transition between petrol and electric power.
We awarded the Captur our Best Small Family Car of the Year accolade for its low running costs, modern styling and class-leading practicality.
For a long time, the Toyota Yaris was the only supermini to come with a hybrid option, which also made it one of the cheapest ways to get a ‘hybrid’ badge. A Fiesta will excite keen drivers much more than the Yaris but the hybrid is easy to drive and feels perfectly comfortable on a long motorway trip.
Around 50mpg is promised, which is starting to look a little low seeing as the Fiesta’s turbo petrol engines can manage this figure. The Yaris has an excellent reputation for reliability and a host of safety features, such as autonomous emergency braking, fitted as standard.
In its latest form, the SEAT Leon is a strong rival to the Volkswagen Golf. It’s no longer marketed just as a sporty hatchback for younger drivers; it’s now a sophisticated and practical family car with a high-quality interior and plenty of in-car tech.
Like many other family hatchbacks, the Leon is now available with a plug-in hybrid powertrain. It has a power output of 201bhp, thanks to its 1.4-litre petrol engine and 13kWh battery, and can manage a pure-electric range of up to 38 miles while emitting no more than 27g/km of CO2. A 3.6kW supply can recharge its battery pack in around 3.5 hours. The Leon e-Hybrid still performs well and can accelerate from 0-62mph in an impressive 7.5 seconds. The PHEV powertrain does have a notable impact on boot space, which shrinks from 380 litres in the standard combustion-powered model to 270 litres in the e-hybrid.
Renault has added a hybrid model to the Clio range which, like the larger Captur that shares the same underpinnings, bears an E-Tech badge. It’s powered by a 1.6-litre petrol engine which is linked to two electric motors and a 1.2kWh lithium-ion battery. The energy the car harvests when slowing down (known as regenerative braking) is stored in the battery and used to drive the car on pure electric power at speeds up to 40mph.
It has quite a complicated powertrain that can feel rather restless when power is shuffled between the petrol engine and electric motor but on our test drive, the car spent most of its time in electric mode, which is promising for fuel consumption - it certainly runs on electric power more often than the Yaris Hybrid. We awarded the Renault Clio our Best Small Car of the Year 2021 award for its mature driving experience and hi-tech interior, which continues to impress.
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