The best hybrid cars for 2021 in the UK

  • The Parkers Top 10 hybrid cars to buy in 2021
  • Wide range of budgets covered
  • Self-charging and plug-in hybrids reviewed

Hybrid cars are big business for car manufacturers and are becoming more and more popular with buyers each month. Many see them as the ideal alternative to a diesel car, or a perfect step towards buying a fully electric car – some coming with many of the benefits of an EV but without the associated downsides.

There are several compelling benefits in opting for a hybrid car, from the promise of lower tax bills to the ability to run silently and frugally on electricity for some of the time. While early models were compromised in several ways, modern hybrids slot effortlessly into most lifestyles, requiring very little change in driving style. Drivers can simply relax, with a lot of incredibly clever systems shuffling power where it’s needed to optimise fuel economy and emissions.

As with any vehicle, though, it’s important to choose your hybrid carefully. Not only are there some stinkers on the market that we don’t recommend, but the different kinds of hybrid systems suit different driving behaviours.

Jump to: Different types of hybrid cars explained

We’ve tested and chosen the top 10 hybrids on sale today, ranging from practical family crossovers to superpowered supercars. Read on for our thoughts on each of them, or click the quick links below to be taken straight to your favourite.

Best hybrid cars 2021

1. Toyota Corolla Hybrid

Sensible doesn't always mean dull

Comfortable and refined
Low running costs

Lacks rear room
Not involving to drive

2019 Toyota Corolla hybrid front

Toyota’s revival of the Corolla name replaced the Auris on these shores – a car that was competent and reliable, but far from exciting. However, the newly stylish Corolla has rather more going for it – a great chassis, improved interior, and a choice of two hybrid powertrains as well as a conventional petrol.

Both 1.8-litre and high-performance 2.0-litre hybrid powertrains are superbly efficient, and even the CVT gearbox – typically an annoyance to be tolerated, rather than a feature to be coveted – is improved over previous models. If you want an attractive, well-thought-out and cheap to run family hatchback, the Corolla has to be on your shortlist – just make sure that the rather tight rear cabin will accommodate all you need it to.

New price: £21,305 - £28,310
Leasing price: from £205 per month
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2. Mercedes-Benz E 300 de

Perfect hybrid for long-distance drivers

Quality design inside and out
Good battery range, diesel economy

Expensive when optioned-up
Infotainment system takes some getting used to

2020 Mercedes-Benz E-Class hybrid

Typically, hybrid cars aren’t particularly efficient on longer journeys – their electric motors aren’t effective at higher motorway speeds, turning them into a primarily petrol-powered vehicle. So why not combine the efficient round-town running of a hybrid with the long-distance efficiency of diesel for the best of both worlds?

That’s the route Mercedes has taken with the E 300 de, and it works brilliantly. The capability to run for up to 34 miles on electric power alone should take care of most journeys around town, and the diesel engine will easily return more than 50mpg in solo driving.

New price: £47,700 - £50,195
Leasing price: from per month
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3. Hyundai Ioniq

Cut-price Prius covers all bases

Standard and plug-in hybrid versions
Generously equipped, high quality interior

Not as economical as some rivals
Infotainment system takes some getting used to

2020 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

Hyundai aimed to offer as much choice as possible with the Ioniq line-up. So in addition to an all-electric model, there’s a choice of standard and plug-in hybrid models – both of which are good choices in their class. The Ioniq offers many of the benefits of a purpose-designed hybrid such as the Toyota Prius, but is far more conventional and as a result, far more easy to live with.

A great feature of the Ioniq is its dual-clutch gearbox, which is less offensive than the CVT transmissions in many rivals. And while ultimate efficiency is still down on the Toyota Prius, the Ioniq hits back with lower pricing across the board.

New price: £21,795 - £30,410
Leasing price: from £217 per month
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4. Honda CR-V Hybrid

Smooth SUV for cruising

Smooth engine and transmission
Refined and luxurious

Infotainment isn't that good
Lacks driver involvement

2020 Honda CR-V hybrid

The Honda CR-V is already a great family crossover, and there’s plenty of appeal in the hybrid model too. For starters, it’s by far the most efficient CR-V you can buy, as Honda discontinued the option for a diesel engine when it introduced the latest generation.

It’s also superbly smooth and quiet, mainly because the petrol engine only directly drives the wheels when cruising at high speed – most of the time, the CR-V is an electric car with a petrol generator. Add in a really practical interior, trademark Honda solidity and a surprising degree of handling finesse and the CR-V Hybrid makes quite the case for itself.

New price: £30,130 - £38,280
Leasing price: from £359 per month
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5. Volvo XC90 T8

There's substance as well as style here

Luxurious and user-friendly interior
✅ Easy to drive, feels smaller than it is

Battery-only range lags behnd rivals 
Expensive options

2020 Volvo XC90 T8 plug-in hybrid

We love the Volvo XC90 here at Parkers, and there’s good reason for that; it’s an excellent luxury SUV. The T8 Twin Engine is the range-topping powertrain – a plug-in hybrid with impressive performance and even more impressive potential efficiency.

We love the XC90’s interior, which combines practicality with Scandinavian style in a way no other manufacturer can. And while certain items, such as the brand’s Pilot Assist semi-autonomous driving functions aren’t quite at the head of the class any more, the XC90 is still a great choice for the big family with discerning taste.

New price: £66,645 - £71,945
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6. Volkswagen Passat GTE Estate

The go-to PHEV for those who enjoy comfort

Vast interior with bags of luggage space
✅ Good to drive, especially comfortable

Poor fuel consumption on petrol only 
Competent to the point of tedium

2020 VW Passat GTE plug-in hybrid

When it comes to safe, comfortable and efficient family transport, the Volkswagen Passat is the default choice for many – and by default, they’ll usually pick one with a diesel engine. But an alternative does exist in the shape of the Passat GTE, which pairs a plug-in battery pack with a 1.4-litre petrol engine.

Don’t be fooled by the ‘GT’ part of its name – this car is fast but not exciting. It slips well under the radar, though, so if you’d rather not shout about your hybrid vehicle this could be a great choice. It also retains all of the Passat’s great features, from the practical boot and rear seat to the solidly-built interior.

New price: £27,185
Leasing price: from £449 per month
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7. Honda NSX

The supercar with a conscience

Fast, capable and stunning to look at
✅ Electric motors mean four-wheel drive

Interior quality not up to the price 
Too clever for its own good?

2019 Honda NSX hybrid front driving

Think hybrid cars have to be dull econoboxes? The Honda NSX would like a word, please. With electric motors added not for efficiency, but for performance, this hybrid hero is simultaneously one of the most advanced and accessible supercars you can buy.

It uses three electric motors – one on the rear axle, sharing duties with a 3.5-litre V6 engine, and two on the front, which give the NSX a semblance of four-wheel drive and the ability to use sophisticated torque vectoring in corners. This isn’t a hybrid that’ll get you admiring glances at Greenpeace HQ, then – but it’s certainly one that’ll raise a smile on a twisting road.

New price: £142,355

8. Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E Hybrid

A Porsche you needn't be embarrassed to own

Hugely fast
✅ Interior oozes quality

We'd like more battery-only range 
Feels less agile than standard Cayenne

2019 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid rear charging

More and more manufacturers are turning to hybridisation for their large SUVs – a type of car that’s still typically dominated by diesel engines. Since Porsche ditched diesel in its SUVs a little while ago, it’s been focusing on pure petrol and hybrid models. The latter are seriously impressive machines.

What you’re left with in the Cayenne E-Hybrid is a V8, twin-turbocharged SUV that’s capable of hitting 60mph from rest faster than a BMW M3, yet will run silently on electric power for up to 25 miles and returns an official combined fuel economy figure of nearly 60mpg. The added weight means it doesn’t handle quite as sweetly as its purely petrol-powered cousin, but an SUV this size was never going to be particularly nimble anyway.

New price: £123,349
Leasing price: from per month
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9. Toyota RAV4

Family SUV, now available as a PHEV

Refined and easy to drive
✅ Tax-friendly PHEV is surprisingly quick

Infotainment is ghastly
Boring to drive

2019 Toyota RAV4 hybrid

Some credit the Toyota RAV4 with creating the massive demand for family-sized SUVs when it launched back in the 1990s. It’s a far cry from that original car now, though – it’s bigger, more practical, and nowadays is available exclusively with a hybrid powertrain in the UK.

Impressive fuel economy and super-low carbon dioxide emissions makes the RAV4 a good choice whether you’re buying privately or driving it as a company car. Its only real setbacks are a lack of infotainment technology, particularly for high-tech buyers who covet smartphone connectivity, and a somewhat remote driving experience.

New price: £29,940 - £34,705
Leasing price: from £255 per month
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10. BMW 330e

Company car drivers, step this way

✅ Still so good to drive
✅ Performance and dynamics

Not quite as good as non-hybrid model
Doesn't stand out from the crowd

2020 BMW 330e plug-in hybrid

Think ‘compact executive car’ and chances are the BMW 3 Series is at the forefront of your imagination – probably in 320d form, with a diesel engine. The 330e plug-in hybrid is worth serious consideration, and despite a strong rival in the form of a Mercedes C 300 e, it manages to top the class for simply being fantastically competent.

Capable of impressive performance when you hoof it and equally impressive economy when you don’t, this is still a practical and comfortable cruiser – with BMW’s trademark handling prowess. Definitely one that ticks a large number of boxes.

New price: £37,875 - £39,980

Types of hybrid car

There are four main types of hybrid powertrain on the market. These are:

Mild hybrid
Self-charging hybrid
Plug-in hybrid
Range-extender hybrid

We’re concentrating this list on self-charging and plug-in hybrids. Mild hybrids are typically traditional combustion engines with integrated starter/generators, capable of providing a small boost to power and efficiency. This means they don’t offer as many benefits found with hybrid cars - they don't have the ability to drive on electric power alone, for example - and as such can simply be treated as a slightly more efficient petrol or diesel car.

Range extenders are more intriguing, taking the form of a pure electric vehicle that carries its own backup generator. The only reason none of these vehicles feature in this list is that no manufacturer currently sells one in the UK. The last vehicle offered as such was the BMW i3 REx and this was phased out as battery technology continuously improved, leading to better ranges per charge and negating the need for a back-up generator.

Both self-charging and plug-in hybrids carry two forms of propulsion, a combustion engine and an electric motor, and are able to switch between them depending on need. Different manufacturers have their own means of connecting the two, but most require little input from the driver.

The difference is in their batteries. Self-charging hybrids charge the batteries exclusively from energy taken from the combustion engine, or regained while braking or coasting. They can typically only be driven a very short distance on electric power alone, preferring instead to switch between the engine, the electric motor, or a combination of both many times throughout a journey.

Plug-in hybrids, meanwhile, have a larger battery which can be plugged in at a charge point, wall box or even a three-pin socket. Like self-charging hybrids, they can still alternate between being driven by the battery and engine, but are capable of far greater distances on battery power alone – typically between 20-30 miles – allowing many short journeys to be completed without using the engine at all. They tend to be more expensive than their self-charging alternatives for this benefit, though, and must be plugged in regularly to access their full potential, otherwise relying on the engine to charge the battery will see your high fuel economy figures tumble.

Further reading

>> Used hybrid and electric cars for sale

>> Best electric family cars

>> The best hybrid SUVs to buy

>> The best hybrid cars to lease