The best hybrid cars for 2020

Hybrid technology is almost as old as the car itself.

Porsche — the man, not the company — fine-tuned a gasoline-electric drivetrain shortly after the turn of the 20th century, but the technology didn’t merge into the mainstream until Toyota released the first-generation Prius in 1997. Nearly a quarter of a century later, there are dozens of hybrids available new in the United States.

The original is still the best, though. If you’re in the market for a hybrid car, the Toyota Prius is the best one. It’s efficient, it’s spacious, and it’s relatively affordable. If you don’t want to see it in your driveway, however, there are other great options ranging from a rugged pickup truck to a luxury car that’s equally at home on the road and on the track.

At a glance

  • Best hybrid: Toyota Prius
  • Best hybrid sedan: Honda Insight
  • Best hybrid SUV: Land Rover Range Rover P400e
  • Best hybrid performance car: Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid
  • Best hybrid luxury car: BMW 530e
  • Best hybrid minivan: Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
  • Best AWD/4WD hybrid: Ford F-150 PowerBoost

The best hybrid: Toyota Prius

2016-toyota-prius_bestof

Why you should buy this: The Prius continues to define the hybrid category in almost every way.

Who’s it for: Anyone who hates visiting the gas station.

How much will it cost: $24,525+

Why we picked the Toyota Prius:

The name “Prius” is synonymous with “hybrid,” and for good reason. Toyota’s best-selling 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 — except maybe in the styling department.

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 a 40% thermal efficiency, which is much higher than 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 Toyota Prius is also appreciably more enjoyable to drive 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.

Read our Toyota Prius first-drive impressions

The best hybrid sedan: Honda Insight

2019 Honda Insight review
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

Why you should buy this: It’s a great daily driver that just happens to be a hybrid.

Who’s it for: The hybrid driver that likes to fly under the radar.

How much will it cost: $22,930+

Why we picked the Honda Insight:

Honda decided to build a great sedan that just happens to be a hybrid car. We think that’s the right move. The 2021 Insight is closely related to the Civic, a car we’re quite fond of, but Honda says that it made extensive modifications to the compact car’s body. The Insight uses a 1.5-liter, Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine paired with the hybrid system from the larger Accord Hybrid.

With an EPA-rated 52 mpg combined in LX and EX trims (the heavier Touring model is rated 48 mpg), the Honda Insight isn’t quite as fuel-efficient as the Prius. The Insight is more enjoyable to drive than the Prius, though, and its infotainment system is easier to use. Unlike Toyota, Honda offers both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, albeit not on the base level. The Prius may still be the best overall hybrid car, but the Insight tries to appeal to a broader array of drivers.

Read our 2019 Honda Insight first drive impressions

The best hybrid utility vehicle: Land Rover Range Rover P400e

2019 Land Rover Range Rover P400e

Why you should buy this: It’s a hybrid that can climb every mountain.

Who’s it for: People who don’t use roads.

How much will it cost: $97,000+

Why we picked the Land Rover Range Rover P400e:

Land Rover’s Range Rover helped define the modern SUV, and it’s still one of the best examples of the breed around. With a luxurious interior and impressive off-road capabilities, it’s hard to think of a vehicle that offers more in a single package. Now, the Range Rover is also available as a plug-in hybrid, part of a plan by Land Rover and sibling Jaguar to offer electrified powertrains in every new model.

The Range Rover P400e uses a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine assisted by an electric motor. Land Rover claims the P400e will do zero to 60mph in 6.4 seconds and reach a top speed of 137mph on pavement. But, as with other Range Rover variants, the P400e is set apart from other utility vehicles by genuine off-road capability.

Land Rover promises the plug-in hybrid powertrain doesn’t compromise off-road ability, and it even claims the Range Rover P400e‘s all-electric mode allows for greater control at low speeds on slippery surfaces (on the road, Land Rover estimates 19 miles of all-electric range). This plug-in hybrid SUV can wade into 35.4 inches of water, according to Land Rover, without sacrificing comfort. It also sports a luxurious, leather-lined interior and Land Rover’s latest InControl Touch Pro Duo infotainment system with two 10.0-inch touchscreens.

The best hybrid performance car: Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid

Porsche Panamera 4S Hybrid

Why you should buy this: It provides a rare blend of efficiency and all-around performance.

Who’s it for: People who want a high-end sports sedan without the high CO2 emissions.

How much will it cost: $103,800+

Why we picked the Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid:

Offered as a sedan and a wagon, Porsche’s Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is a multitasker. First, it’s positioned near the middle of the Panamera hierarchy. It’s more powerful than the base car and more affordable than either of the high-zoot Turbo models. Second, it’s also a plug-in hybrid capable of Porsche-like performance one minute and zero-emissions driving the next. Going from one mode to the other requires only a simple push of a button.

The E-Hybrid’s swoopy sheet metal hides a twin-turbocharged, 2.9-liter V6 engine that works with an electric motor linked to a 14.1kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The total output checks in at a V8-like 457 horsepower, but the motor can power the Panamera on its own for relatively short distances. You can run errands without burning gas.

Drivetrain aside, it’s still a Porsche. It looks like a Porsche, and, importantly, it handles like one. It accelerates like one, too, thanks in part to the instant torque provided by the electric motor. When we drove it in Germany, we were impressed with the quality of the materials in the cabin. The biggest downside to the Porsche Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is that the aforementioned battery pack eats up about 3 cubic feet of trunk space, reducing capacity to 14.3 cubes with four adults on board.

The best hybrid luxury car: BMW 530e

Why you should buy this: It’s a fantastic luxury sedan that just happens to be a plug-in hybrid.

Who’s it for: People who want to save the planet in style and luxury.

How much will it cost: $57,200+

Why we picked the BMW 530e:

The BMW 530e is a great hybrid, largely because the non-hybrid 5 Series was already a great luxury sedan. We like its styling, driving dynamics, and thoughtful integration of tech. It’s sharp to drive like any BMW should be, but not to the point where it’s punishing. It strikes the perfect balance between comfort and dynamism.

On top of that solid foundation, the 530e adds a more efficient powertrain that allows the driver to travel farther between fill-ups. With its 12kWh battery fully charged, the plug-in can travel for about 20 miles on electric power.

If you feel less like saving energy and more like getting somewhere in a hurry, the BMW 530e can muster 288 hp using a combination of an electric motor integrated into the eight-speed automatic transmission and a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine. It’s not an M5, but it has more than enough power to get out of its own way.

The best hybrid minivan: Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid

Why you should buy this: Comfortable, efficient, and handsome, the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is without fault.

Who’s it for: Bustling families with a need for maximum cargo and passenger volume.

How much will it cost: $39,995+

Why we picked the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid:

While the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid could earn a spot on this list simply for being the only hybrid minivan on the market, though one from Toyota is around the corner, that’s not the reason we’ve included it. Rather, we fell in love with this people-mover for its blend of handsome styling, innovative features, impressive versatility, comfortable ride, and driving dynamics (yes, we just said a minivan was fun to drive).

The Pacifica Hybrid does all the things customers demand of a minivan. It carries up to eight passengers, offers creative interior storage options, bundles front and rear entertainment systems, and rides smoothly. Beyond these check boxes, the Chrysler van uses its plug-in hybrid powertrain to deliver 32 miles of all-electric range and 500-plus miles of gas-electric range. And, it doesn’t bore you to death with its exterior styling, power, or handling.

While its price may seem high at first glance, when you break down all the features, it’s one heck of a deal. We wouldn’t just pick the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid over any other minivan — we’d seriously consider it over some of the better midsize SUVs.

The best all- or four-wheel-drive hybrid: Ford F-150 PowerBoost

2021 Ford F-150

Why you should buy this: It’s a hybrid that works hard and plays harder

Who’s it for: Adventurers, contractors, and anyone with bulky hobbies.

How much will it cost: $44,460+

Why we picked the Ford F-150:

On paper, four-wheel-drive pickup trucks and hybrid cars exist on opposite ends of the same spectrum. Ford bundled them into one vehicle when it released the F-150 PowerBoost. Positioned at the top of the range, the truck receives a gasoline-electric system built with a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6, a 10-speed automatic transmission, and a small electric motor. It puts 430 horsepower and a stout 570 pound-feet of torque under the driver’s right foot.

The PowerBoost can haul up to 2,120 pounds and tow up to 12,700 pounds. Its fuel economy checks in at 24 mpg in the city, 24 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined. These figures are impressive, but they’re not enough to allow it to claim the segment’s mileage crown. Its diesel-burning sibling returns 24 combined, too, and rival Ram offers a turbodiesel-powered 1500 that posts 21 city, 29 highway (!), and 24 combined with four-wheel drive.

The F-150 has more going for it than just its drivetrain. The truck’s generous amount of ground clearance lets owners take advantage of the available four-wheel drive system, and it’s smarter than ever when properly equipped.

Ford offers a wide range of powertrain options, ranging from a rather basic 2.7-liter V6 to a tried-and-true 5.0-liter V8. If it’s the PowerBoost hybrid you’re after, note that it’s available on four-door variants of the XL, the XLT, the Lariat, the King Ranch, the Platinum, and the Limited trim levels.

How we test

The Digital Trends car team tests vehicles through a comprehensive scrutinizing process. We closely examine every part of the car and judge it based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Infotainment and connectivity 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 and back roads, as well as off-road and on 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 a 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. They help save fuel and sometimes power accessories.
  • 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. The term through-the-road comes from the fact that there is no mechanical connection between the front and rear axles.
  • Plug-in hybrid: A hybrid that can charge its battery pack from an external electric power source, just like an electric car.

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