This article was last updated by Digital Trends contributor Kristen Hall-Geisler on 5/7/2020.
Toyota created the hybrid car segment way back in 1997 with the debut of the original Prius. Over the last two decades, incremental changes and competitors unable to reach the same kind of mass adoption have meant the original hybrid car is still the best one. Even today, the Toyota Prius has more rivals than ever before, but it remains the model to beat thanks to its blend of technology, efficiency, and usability. It’s relatively affordable, too, but its design is admittedly not for everyone.
Our reviewers travel all around the world to evaluate new cars. In 2018, we published nearly 90 reviews. The time we’ve spent behind the wheel of over a dozen hybrid cars has taught us there are no shortage of competent and compelling cars in this growing segment of the market. Buyers don’t have to give up things like comfort, practicality, or even performance just to have the best fuel economy. If the Prius isn’t for you, we’ve picked other great options ranging from the best hybrid SUV to the best hybrid sports car.
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: RAM 1550
The best hybrid: Toyota Prius
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: $24,325+
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 percent 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 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: Honda Insight
Why should you 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 2020 Insight is based on 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. Total system output is 151 hp and 197 lb-ft of torque.
With an EPA-rated 52 mpg combined in LX and EX trims (the heavier Touring model is rated 48 mpg) the Insight isn’t quite as fuel efficient as the Prius. But the Insight is more enjoyable to drive than the Prius, 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.
The best hybrid utility vehicle: Land Rover Range Rover P400e
Why should you 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: $95,950+
Why we picked the Land Rover Range Rover P400e:
The 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. Together they produce 398 hp and 472 lb-ft of torque, which is enough to get this big SUV moving with some haste. Land Rover claims the P400e will do 0 to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, and reach a top speed of 137 mph 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 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
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:
Porsche’s Panamera 4 E-Hybrid is a multi-tasker. 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 makes 330 horsepower and 327 pound-feet of torque on its own. It works with a 134-hp electric motor linked to a 14.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The total output checks in at a V8-like 457 hp, but the drivetrain also provides up to 14 miles of electric range at no more than 90 mph.
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 E-Hybrid is that the aforementioned battery pack eats up about three cubic feet of trunk space, reducing capacity to 14.3 cubes with four adults on board.
The best hybrid luxury car: BMW 530e
Why should you 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: $53,900+
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 further between fill-ups. With its 12-kWh battery pack fully charged, the plug-in 5 can travel for about 20 miles on electric power alone, or achieve an EPA-estimated 69 mpge in hybrid mode. That’s with rear-wheel drive; selecting all-wheel drive lowers that figure to 65 mpge.
If you feel less like saving energy and more like getting somewhere in a hurry, the 530e can muster 248 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque using a combination of electric power 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
Why should you 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, that’s not the reason we’ve included it (nor is that the reason we chose it as our best daily driver car of 2017). Rather, we fell in love with this people-mover for its blend of handsome styling, innovative features, 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 rider entertainment, and rides smoothly. Beyond these check boxes, the Chrysler van uses its plug-in hybrid powertrain to deliver 33 miles of all-electric range and 500-plus total miles of gas-electric range. Furthermore, the Pacifica doesn’t bore you to death with its exterior styling, power, or handling.
While its price tag may seem high at first glance, when you break down all the features, it’s one heck of a deal. Let’s not forget the federal tax credit of $7,500 and any applicable state credits that pull the sticker price down. We wouldn’t just pick the 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: Ram 1500
Why should you buy this: It has the hauling capacity and off-road prowess of a truck without the bad fuel economy of one.
Who’s it for: Adventurers, contractors, and anyone with bulky hobbies.
How much will it cost: $31,840+
Why we picked the Ram 1500:
On paper, four-wheel drive pickup trucks and hybrid cars exist on opposite ends of the same spectrum. Ram bundled them into one vehicle when it released the 1500 eTorque, however. The technology consists of a 48-volt, 0.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack and a DC-DC converter used to charge the truck’s 12-volt electrical system. The belt-driven unit also powers the automatic stop/start system, and sends electricity back to the battery pack under braking. The eTorque system can’t power the truck on its own, but it makes it smoother and more efficient in virtually all driving conditions.
Ram offers the eTorque system on V6- and V8-powered trucks, so customers aren’t locked into a single configuration. V6 models boast 305 horsepower, while adding a pair of cylinders bumps that figure up to 395. The EPA rates the eTorque-equipped, V6-powered model at 20 mpg in the city, 26 mpg on the highway, and 23 mpg combined, which are impressive numbers for such a big, heavy truck. Towing capacity checks in at 7,730 pounds with the V6, and 12,750 pounds with the V8.
The 1500 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 even the basic trim levels are equipped with Ram’s excellent Uconnect infotainment system. Upmarket variants also gain a massive, 12-inch screen positioned right in the middle of the dashboard. We praised its sharp graphics, quick input response, and smart menus.
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, 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 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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