Which Small Hybrid Car is the Best

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► Worried about the environment, but don’t want range anxiety as well?
► Urban-friendly low-emission cars that can roam anywhere
► Superminis, hatchbacks and small SUVs

EVs are happening whether we like it or not, but in 2022 hybrid cars still represent a viable stepping stone between conventional cars and full-blown electric ones. There are many situations where a hybrid makes more sense than either an electric vehicle or a combustion-engined car.  

Take the popular Renault Zoe. The EV claims over 250 miles of range – and if all you do is drive around town at 30-40mph, it’ll deliver it too. But in smaller electric cars in particular, you’ll find that if you want to travel at motorway speeds the range plummets. The 250-mile Zoe becomes a 150-mile exercise in charger roulette. 

With that in mind, a small hybrid could work best for many people. Here are the best in 2022:

Best small hybrid cars

Toyota Yaris Hybrid

The original small hybrid car, the Toyota Yaris is now in its second generation and continues to be very good as both a small car and a hybrid. The current Yaris is sportier, more spacious and less ‘upright’ than its predecessor, and although you’re limited to five doors it’s still got some of the wide-arched look of the GR Yaris hot hatch. That’s where the similarity ends, though, with 114bhp squeezing through the front wheels and a focus on economy.

In town, the revised hybrid powertrain gets away from the lights smartly on electric power from an 80bhp motor. The new battery pack is small and light, tucked under the back seats, so the Yaris still feels nimble.

At least up to 30mph, it’s more than capable of surprising drivers complacently relying on diesel torque.

The aim of the Yaris Hybrid is to reduce local emissions by running in EV mode for slow, short trips, and to improve economy elsewhere, with the hybrid taking some of the strain off the petrol engine; with more than two decades of experience, Toyota’s got that bit sorted.

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Renault Clio E-Tech

Renault’s latest Clio is already impressive, with enjoyable handling and significant improvements in fit, finish and material quality throughout. The addition of an electrified model seems unusual given Renault’s investment into pure EVs, but it’s a very welcome development. It’s got 140bhp and a lot of F1-style technology crammed under the bonnet, and a modest 1.2kWh battery in the boot, adding just 10kg to the Clio’s weight compared with the equivalent non-hybrid.

1.2kWh is enough for typical short urban drives, but the real focus is bringing the emissions down. CO2 is less than 100g/km and economy is approaching the 70mpg levels often associated with super-efficient diesels. It’s quick, it’s clever, and it’s reasonably priced.

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The definitive hatchback hybrid

Audi A3 e-Tron and Volkswagen Golf GTE

Two for the price of one? The hybrid technology is fundamentally the same; 200bhp from a 1.4-litre turbo petrol and an electric motor, 30+ mile range and an engaging hot hatch experience with lower benefit-in-kind tax and running costs. The Golf’s just been updated, and the Audi A3 e-Tron will follow suit (at the time of writing, you can still buy the older generation).

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The chief differences between them are badge prestige and interior style. They’re equally competent, refined and impressive hybrid hatchbacks. The prestigious A3 e-Tron has been something of a bargain from lease brokers and large dealers as stocks are cleared for the new model, so it may even prove to be the more affordable option in the short term.

VW Golf GTE review

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Small hybrid SUVs

Jeep Renegade 4xe

Yes, it’s a Jeep, but it’s a small one – the Renegade shares its platform with the Fiat 500X and L. Short dimensions, high driving position and squared-off ruggedness make it really appealing for cities even without the batteries, but it’s also one of the smallest plug-in hybrid SUVs on the market. A decent electric-only range should reduce benefit-in-kind tax liability and allow the majority of urban trips to be free of local emissions, but it’s still a Jeep – so there’s a grippy four-wheel drive system that leverages the instant, controllable torque of the electric motor.

Combining both turbo petrol and electric motors for 240bhp means the Renegade 4xe is also fairly rapid, reaching 60mph in less than 7.0 seconds. It might be square, but it’s also pretty cool.

Jeep Renegade 4XE

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Kia Niro PHEV

Seven-year warranty, engaging handling and proven electric powertrain tech marks the Niro PHEV out, but the subtle marketing may mean it’s easily overlooked next to the Sportage or XCeed, or the attention-getting e-Niro. It may be the better choice, though, as it blends the best of both worlds and offers solid, traditional Kia value with cutting-edge tech. Its weakest aspect may be that for the budget, there are a lot of cars with more flair.

We’re running one on our long-term test fleet, so you can get more real-world experiences of the Kia Niro PHEV here.

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Mini Countryman PHEV

This Mini isn’t exactly tiny, but it’s still one of the smaller SUVs with a plug-in powertrain. The overly cute styling hides serious engineering, as the PHEV’s 218bhp-combined petrol and electric motors propel the all-wheel-drive Countryman to 60mph in 6.8 seconds. In a 30 limit? It can achieve up 26 miles of pure-EV driving if you’re in less of a rush, recharging with energy recovered during braking or by self-charging – so in common with the other hybrids here, you don’t need to worry about having a wallbox or plug when you’re limited to on-street parking.

Pleasing, tactile materials and interesting shapes meet high-tech displays in the Countryman’s interior, for a futuristic but still welcoming ambience. It’s easy and fun to drive, a good size for growing families, and it’s got that classic British badge (and flag hidden in the lights).

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The different types of hybrid

Hybrid is the 21st-centry buzzword that started out meaning one thing, and now encompasses a whole load of range-extending to emission-reducing solutions. Series hybrids, like the original Prius, deliver lower emissions by being able to run the engine as a generator at optimal load; only the shortest electric-only drives are possible.

Mild hybrid cars achieve a similar goal by using small, lightweight extras batteries to trim off the most inefficient stages of driving, but they can’t move on electric power alone – look for 48V or MHEV in the name or specs to spot these.

Plug-in hybrid systems use larger batteries to greater effect, and are able to make short trips without producing local emissions. They usually operate as a series hybrid as well, reducing emissions and fuel consumption in more situations and topping up the battery with power that would otherwise be wasted.

However, the large batteries needed add weight and reduce space, so they’re not ideal for the smallest cars, and they’re often less economical than a diesel for high-mileage use.

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Is A small Hybrid Car A Good Buy In 2022?

For many drivers, it’s a great option – particularly a plug-in model, if you’ve access to a socket for recharging. Reduced commuting, uncertainty around schools and offices, an overall improvement in air quality and the desire to avoid petrol stations and other places of cross contamination all support running a good hybrid, as any change in circumstances that means longer distances or more frequent driving won’t cause the same stresses that running a pure electric car might involve.

Reliability and longevity are also improved as many hybrid cars spend little time using their fossil-fuel engine, too, and can usually use regenerative braking in town to save wear on pads and discs as well. No solution is perfect, but small hybrid cars really can offer the best of both worlds for zero-emission town drives and freedom to escape the urban jungle.

These days, the term ‘hybrid’ gets bandied about to describe everything from a £150,000 super-GT with a plug socket to a £13,000 supermini with stop-start.

As electrification technologies in new cars have diversified, it has become an increasingly less useful descriptive term. And yet, because diesel engines have been vilified by the court of public opinion and the goal of moving to full-electric mobility is moved ever closer, more and more of us have decided we want a hybrid now – whatever that term should happen to encompass.

This top 10 chart seeks to take in anything that you might consider to be a hybrid car in the ‘traditional’ sense. That is, it has a small-capacity petrol engine that’s supplemented by an electric motor and a small battery and so can run for only very short distances without emitting anything from its tailpipe. Plug-in hybrids with their bigger batteries and greater electric ranges aren’t included, and neither is the latest generation of so-called mild hybrids with their integrated starter-generators.

That said, we are being a bit flexible in what we deem to be a hatchback in this list. The cars here come in a range of shapes and sizes, with everything from humble superminis to larger crossovers making an appearance. All of these cars have two important things in common, though: none comes with a plug socket and all have the potential to offer impressive fuel savings in the sorts of stop-start urban driving environments in which they were designed to flourish.

1. Toyota Corolla

Having spent more than two decades introducing the world to the hybrid powertrain, Toyota is now well advanced with normalising it – and no car on sale does this better than the current Corolla hatchback.

Ushered in to replace the ageing Auris in 2019, the Corolla is a game-changer for Toyota in what remains one of the most important market segments of them all. It combines a healthy dose of visual style with tangible perceived cabin quality and, like one or two other of its showroom siblings introduced over the past few years, it’s based on a new global model platform and has been dynamically developed and tuned – quite successfully – for distinguishing ride and handling sophistication.

In its range-topping 2.0-litre hybrid form, it even performs with a bit of sporting edge. The free-spinning, elastic-band-effect acceleration feel of the powertrain can be found if you go looking for it under wide throttle applications, but generally the car’s part-throttle responsiveness is much better than you might expect, and its outright performance level a lot more assured.

That the Corolla is also one of Toyota’s self-proclaimed ‘self-charging’ hybrids will appeal to people who prefer their motoring lives to be kept simple – but not as much as the all-round ownership credentials of a car that they can feel equally as good about owning and driving as they do about their outgoings at the pump.


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2. Toyota Yaris

It’s been a long while since we’ve had a Yaris that’s as likeable and accomplished as this new fourth-generation model.

Not only does it look better than ever, but it’s sweeter to drive, too. Although it may not be quite as engaging as some of its conventional supermini rivals, it’s nonetheless proof that opting for a hybrid doesn’t have to mean giving up on the dynamism and sense of character that always mark out the best compact cars.

Gripes? Well, it could be a bit more practical and its 1.5-litre engine can feel a bit lacking in hard acceleration. But it more than makes up for this with easy drivability around town and an impressively frugal rate of fuel consumption. Job well done, Toyota.

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3. Renault Clio E-Tech

Hybrid superminis are rarer than hens’ teeth, and for a long while, the Toyota Yaris and the Honda Jazz were about the only ones out there. Now, however, Renault has joined the party with a hybridised version of its excellent little Clio.

It’s called the Clio E-Tech, and it’s powered by a complex powertrain that combines a 1.6-litre petrol engine with two, smaller electric motors and a tiny 1.2kWh battery. As complicated as its workings are, though, the fact of the matter is that it’s incredibly easy to get along with out in the real world. It juggles its two power sources pretty seamlessly most of the time, and it feels a good degree punchier than the Yaris and Jazz.

Best of all, it retains the regular Clio’s excellent ride and handling balance, and it looks as snazzy and alluring as you’d expect a small, French supermini to be. We have no qualms recommending one.

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4. Toyota Prius

The granddaddy of petrol-electric hybrids further refines the formula Toyota developed back in 1997. The latest, fourth-generation version is built on a new platform and its tweaked 1.8-litre petrol engine has improved efficiency and performance.

Overall, the Prius is even more usable than before and genuinely frugal. Although it doesn’t look like it ought to be so, the car’s greatest asset has become how normal it is to drive: more responsive on part throttle, well within its comfort zone at high speeds and genuinely pretty rounded in daily use.

A sub-£25k price seals the deal for the best-selling hybrid car the world has known. In this class, particularly for those who want to save money at the pump and who don’t have the opportunity to charge at home, it still takes some serious beating. Meanwhile, for those who can plug in for the night and still want a car designed for really distinguishing efficiency, the PHEV version will be well worth considering.

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5. Kia Sportage

Now in its fifth generation, the Sportage crossover – the car that has done more to change Kia’s European image than any other – is available with hybrid power. The choices range from unobtrusive mild hybrids to a full hybrid and a powerful plug-in hybrid. All are based around Kia’s 1.6-litre turbo petrol engine, which means they all feel similar in character.

We’ve driven the full hybrid, which never seems quite as quick as its 227bhp output suggests but otherwise cuts a serene and likeable figure. It has an interesting exterior design and an amenity-rich cabin with plenty of premium appeal beyond some obvious hard plastics and, most important, the dynamics are nicely sorted, so the car is more quietly satisfying to drive than you might expect. The Corolla at the top of this list achieves something similar.

Of course, the Sportage is a larger car than your average hatch, and it feels its size at times. However, the payback is a car with copious passenger space, despite its ability to manage fuel economy in the mid-40s out in the real world.

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6. Toyota C-HR

If you want evidence of Toyota’s expertise in the field of hybrid powertrains, consider the fact that four of the top six cars in this list are made by the Japanese firm.

The C-HR was updated in 2019, with suspension tweaks and a larger, 2.0-litre hybrid powertrain related to that in the Corolla and RAV4 being introduced. The pay-off is a healthy, and much-needed lift in performance, and handling that is a bit more engaging than it was before.

Of course, its usability hasn’t suffered in the process. Around town, it’s still a suitably polished and refined crossover, with good ride comfort and decent enough practicality. Its sloping roofline does eat into rear head space a bit, but at least it can’t be accused of looking like just another derivative, identikit crossover.

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7. Honda Jazz

The latest Jazz might be small in stature, but its ingenious design makes it one of the most practical and flexible superminis out there. Not only does it offer the sort of interior space that many larger crossovers struggle to muster, but its exceptionally frugal 1.5-litre hybrid powertrain also delivers gains in fuel efficiency that those larger, heavier cars can’t hope to match. When we put it through the full Autocar road test, it managed to average 60mpg over 500 miles of mixed-environment driving without even trying. It’s hard not to be impressed by numbers like that. Back to top 

It’s not the most interesting hybrid to drive or look at, but as an ownership prospect, it would be inoffensive to live with. Ride quality is mostly comfortable, and its build quality is as typically robust as you’d expect.

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8. Lexus UX

Lexus’s first crack at a crossover SUV is a slightly confusing one to contemplate, because the UX was also intended as an indirect replacement for the hybrid-only Lexus CT hatchback. That’s perhaps why it wears its SUV design cues particularly lightly, and why you could be forgiven for thinking, when you see one, that you’re looking at a slightly higher-riding, premium-branded family hatchback.

Needless to say, the UX isn’t quite as spacious or accessible as a typical compact SUV, but it does counter with plenty of material quality and rich luxury ambience to complement the alternative styling of its exterior. Lexus’s infotainment technology and its control regimes are less intuitive to use than some, but the car lacks little functionality once you get used to how it’s accessed.

The hybrid offers a pretty effective blend of real-world efficiency, drivability and refinement – not the long-range efficiency that a diesel might, but better low-speed fuel economy and good urban cruising manners. Back to top 

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9. Hyundai Ioniq HEV

The Hyundai Ioniq was the first car to be offered in three different electrified states: hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric. The hybrid mates a 1.6-litre petrol engine with a smaller electric motor for a combined 139bhp and 195lb ft, which is sent through the front wheels. However, whereas the vast majority of hybrids rely on some form of eCVT gearbox, the Ioniq has a six-speed dual-clutch automatic set-up.

Although it’s impressively frugal, the Hyundai’s petrol motor can be a bit vocal at times. Still, it drives smoothly enough, with sedate but tidy handling and a suitably comfortable ride. Practicality is pretty good, too, but the cabin does feel exceptionally plasticky in places. There are certainly hybrid hatchbacks that are easier to get excited about, but the Ioniq is nonetheless a competent and capable example of the breed. It’s an impressively affordable one, too.

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10. Subaru XV eBoxer

Subaru is not a company you’d expect to make a typical hybrid powertrain, and its new eBoxer system doesn’t disappoint on that score. Intended to be lightweight and compact, to slot into its existing boxer-engined cars without major re-engineering and to allow them to maintain the off-road capability and towing and carrying capacity for which Subaru has built a reputation, the eBoxer system is currently available in both this XV and the larger Forester SUV.

In both cars, the eBoxer set-up adds only limited electric-only running and low-rev torque into the mix of the driving experience. It’s quite a challenge to be gentle enough with the car’s accelerator pedal in order to keep the combustion engine switched off at low speeds. However, the system’s contribution of mid-range torque during intensive off-roading and towing is more telling.

The XV was an unusual and unconventional crossover hatchback before its hybrid powertrain came along, and anyone hoping that this would make it more suitable to everyday motoring, or that it might transform the car’s fuel efficiency, will be disappointed by the reality of running one. But if you really do need a dose of ruggedness and true off-road capability in your petrol-electric hatchback (rather than an entirely electrically driven rear axle like rivals offer, which becomes pretty useless once the car’s drive battery is flat) the XV might just have been made for you.

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