From novel curiosities to an integrated part of the automotive mainstream, hybrid cars have come a long way. That means there are more choices than ever, and that buyers don’t have to give up things like comfort, practicality, or even performance just to have the best fuel economy. There’s no need to buy a good hybrid that isn’t also a good car.
Why should you buy this: The Prius continues to define the hybrid category in most every way.
Who’s it for: Anyone who hates visiting the gas station
How much will it cost: $24,685+
Why we picked the Toyota Prius:
The name “Prius” is synonymous with “hybrid,” and for good reason. Toyota’s bestselling hybrid continues to prioritize fuel economy above all else, and though efficiency is its main goal, the Prius doesn’t ask buyers to make any major compromises.
The Prius is the most fuel-efficient hybrid around, getting an EPA-rated 56 mpg combined in Eco trim. That’s thanks to Toyota’s tried-and-true Hybrid Synergy Drive system, and a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that achieves 40-percent thermal efficiency, which is much higher than in most engines. The Prius also achieves a very low drag coefficient of 0.24, meaning it has fairly low aerodynamic drag, which helps improve efficiency. Toyota’s designers managed to do that while maintaining a roomy cabin and useful hatchback shape.
The current-generation Prius is also appreciably sportier than previous models, thanks to changes like a lower center of gravity and a more sophisticated double-wishbone independent rear suspension system. Like other Toyota models, the Prius also gets the Toyota Safety Sense suite of driver-assistance features—including adaptive cruise control and a pre-collision system with pedestrian detection—as standard equipment.
The Prius is still a fuel-economy champ, but the current version’s emphasis on sporty handling and technology make it a better all-around car than ever before.
The best hybrid sedan
Why should you buy this: It has more power and better fuel economy than any other hybrid midsize sedan.
Who’s it for: The hybrid driver that likes to fly under the radar.
How much will it cost: $29,605+
Why we picked the Honda Accord Hybrid:
If you want a hybrid that looks like any other car, many manufacturers offer hybrid versions of their popular midsize sedans. Among the best of that group is the Honda Accord Hybrid, which returns refreshed and reinvigorated for 2017 after a one-year hiatus.
The Accord achieves an EPA-rated 48 mpg combined, making it the most fuel-efficient hybrid midsize sedan available. It comes pretty close to Prius levels of efficiency, without the Toyota’s aerodynamic advantages. The Accord’s powertrain—based around a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine—is set up to emphasize electric driving. An electric motor is used to drive the wheels most of the time, with the engine acting as a generator. Total system output of 212 horsepower is also the best among hybrid midsize sedans.
The Accord Hybrid also benefits from the rest of the changes made to the Accord lineup for 2016, including an updated infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Based on our experience with the non-hybrid Accord, we’re confident that the updated hybrid sedan will provide a pleasing driving experience.
The best hybrid utility vehicle
Why should you buy this: It’s a hybrid that’s not afraid of a little bad weather.
Who’s it for: People in the Snow Belt
How much will it cost: $29,030+
Why we picked the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid:
The RAV4 offers a combination of features virtually no other model has: a hybrid powertrain, all-wheel drive, and a high-riding crossover body. Given the current popularity of crossovers, it’s a bit surprising more automakers haven’t followed Toyota’s lead.
The result is a vehicle that offers useful foul-weather capability and plenty of cargo space, but with a much less severe fuel-efficiency penalty than conventional SUVs (it gets an EPA-rated 32 mpg combined). The powertrain is based on Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive tech, with an added electric motor to drive the rear wheels. This eliminates the need for a driveshaft, saving weight and space.
The RAV4 itself also offers a refined driving experience that’s a far cry from the cheap feel of some early compact crossovers. As with buyers of conventional cars, the hybrid model provides added utility for people who need a little more room than the average sedan or hatchback.
The best hybrid luxury performance car
Why should you buy this: It’s fast, though it does have a price tag to match.
Who’s it for: People who like to go fast
How much will it cost: $167,700+
Why we picked the Acura NSX:
It may be expensive, but the Acura NSX sets a new standard for performance cars. The NSX aims to use hybrid technology to make cars both fast and efficient and, unlike the holy trinity of Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918 Spyder, you can actually buy one today.
The NSX uses a 3.5-liter twin-turbocharged V6, nine-speed dual-clutch transmission, and three electric motors, giving it a decidedly varied skill set. The powertrain’s combined output of 573 horsepower can get the NSX moving in a hurry, but this low-slung supercar can also glide along on electric power for short distances. On a track or twisty road, the electric motors can also modulate their power output to sharpen up handling, and make the car feel more responsive.
All of that hardware is wrapped in a body that looks like it came out of the future. Supercars have a reputation for making their drivers suffer, but Acura tried to make the NSX’s interior as comfortable and ergonomic as possible. Acura’s Dynamic TFT gauge cluster relays important information to the driver with minimal distraction.
Performance hybrids are admittedly a niche category, but the NSX shows what is possible with this concept. It also makes for a fairly civilized supercar.
How we test
The Digital Trends automotive team tests vehicles through a comprehensive scrutinizing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested as well as safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.
Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways, back roads, as well as off-road and race tracks when applicable.
Common hybrid words you may not know
Not all hybrid cars are created equal, and you might hear different terms used to describe different types of hybrid powertrains. Here’s quick overview.
- Mild Hybrid: The least aggressive application of hybrid technology. Mild hybrids have electric motors, but those motors usually aren’t powerful enough to drive a car entirely by themselves.
- Series-Parallel Hybrid/Full Hybrid: The most common type of hybrid. They can use an internal-combustion engine, an electric motor, or a combination of both to propel themselves.
- Through The Road Hybrid: All-wheel drive hybrids that use internal-combustion power for one set of wheels, and electric power for the other.
- Plug-In Hybrid: A hybrid that can charge its battery pack from an external electric power source, just like an electric car.