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 need to read our guide to the best small hybrid cars available now
The last few years have seen a huge increase in the number of small electric cars available but many of them are still too expensive for a lot of buyers. If an electric car remains out of reach, bear in mind that 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 are a mix of plug-in hybrid 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 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 electric model will join the range soon. The introduction of the XC40 plug-in means all Volvos now come with hybrid options.
Small SUVs are everywhere at the moment and it looks like the sharp-styled UX is better suited to buyers than the ageing CT hatchback. Like the Toyota Corolla, the UX is only offered with a ‘self-charging’ hybrid powertrain consisting of a petrol engine and an electric motor. Around 50mpg is easily achievable. The Lexus UX lives up to its premium billing with a classy and refined interior but practicality is a slight compromise. Still, buyers who responded to our latest Driver Power ownership survey barely had a bad word to say about the brand, which topped the charts for reliability and dealership experience.
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.
If you like the Hyundai Kona’s funky looks and can’t stretch to the Kona Electric, the hybrid is a good and economical halfway house. You can manage up to 56.5mpg and the car can drive on electric power for short distances - in a car park and in stop-start traffic, for example. The Kona Hybrid shares its mechanical parts with the Hyundai Ioniq and Kia Niro, so the driving experience is more relaxed than sporty. With 0-62mph taking around 11 seconds, it’s best to keep the acceleration gentle and enjoy the excellent fuel economy. Choosing the hybrid doesn’t mean a smaller boot, either, and most models feature a hi-res touchscreen that’s wide enough to have two displays side-by-side.
Renault has added a hybrid model to the Clio range, which will be available to buy from spring 2020. 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 (admittedly short) 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 Clio our Car of the Year 2020 for its mature driving experience and hi-tech interior, which continues to impress.