Currently reading: Top 10 best hybrid hatchbacks 2020
Not quite sold on electric power yet? These hybrids might convince you that going green needn't be a chore
10 mins read
30 March 2020

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’s become a less and less useful descriptive term. And yet, as 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 mean.

This top ten chart seeks to take in anything and everything you might want to consider under the umbrella term ‘affordable daily-use hybrid hatchback’. There are superminis, regular five-door family cars and fashionable premium crossovers in here, some of which need to be plugged into a wall socked to deliver their best running efficiency – and some of which may notional capital out of not needing to be.

The cars listed here all remain driven primarily by a petrol engine paired to an electric motor, of course. Hybrids provide drivers with the instant torque and pedal response of that electric motor but without the range anxiety that comes with EV ownership – but some offer significantly more zero-emissions assistance than others, also making for greater returns on driveability and real-world fuel economy.

1. Toyota Corolla

Having spent more than two decades introducing the world to the hybrid powertrain, Toyota is now well in advance with normalising it; and there isn’t a car on sale does that 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 these last 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 car’s powertrain can still 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 good about owning and driving as they do about their outgoings at the pump.

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Mini Countryman S E All4

Can this plug-in hybrid successfully meld capability, frugality and performance?

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2. Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid

When, in October 2018, the British government removed the £1500 tax incentive formerly applied to plug-in hybrids, the spotlight was shone more brightly than ever on the ones that best combine usability, real-world economy and value.

The Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid has always delivered on that combination better than its PHEV rivals; and that it’s currently just about the only BIK-tax-saving plug-in hybrid that comes with a sub-£30,000 pricetag, it climbs (almost) to the top of this list on rational appeal alone.

This car puts a practical, daily-usable and long-range-compliant source of ultra-low-emissions motoring within the reach of a broad spread of family car buyers. The Ioniq is roomy and pleasant, and while the car’s driving experience isn’t as slick and well resolved as we’ve seen from manufacturers more practised with the technology, it’s entirely passable and mixes combustion power with electric pretty seamlessly most of the time.

The car has an electric-only range of 32 miles on the WLTP cycle and runs economically enough the rest of the time. Not quite with the frugality of a Toyota Prius, and certainly not with the performance of a Mini Countryman Cooper S E, admittedly; but well enough, and with competent ride and handling, to deserve close consideration for value-for-money fans.

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3. Volkswagen Golf mk.VIII

It’s a sign of the proliferation of hybrid technology that in the eighth-generation VW Golf – the latest version of what is, by many estimates, the best-selling car in the world – you can choose between several petrol-electric powertrains. The car - which is based on a widely updated version of the seventh-gen car’s ‘MQB’ model platform, chassis and suspension – is available with 48-volt mild hybrid 1.0-litre and 1.5-litre petrol engines branded ‘eTSI’, as well as in a couple of more powerfully electrified plug-in hybrid derivatives only one of which (the 241bhp upper-level GTE) is due to go on sale in the UK. So whether you want a little bit of electrification in your family hatchback or quite a lot, the new Golf has got you covered.

Partly for that reason, and partly because it emulates the apparently quality, impressive technology and dynamic accomplishment of its various predecessors, the car has to be a high-ranking act here. So far we have only driven the ‘Golf VIII’ in Europe, in 148bhp 1.5 eTSI and 148bhp 2.0 TDI forms – but both greatly impressed for their materially refined and technology-rich interiors, their precise and linear handling (which has some newfound directness and agility in certain key vehicle specifications) and their VW-brand-typical emphasis on functionality.

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The 1.5-litre eTSI delivered a slightly more convincing blend of drivability and refinement than the new-generation 2.0-litre TDI, the latter proving a little noisy under load though settling down to a fairly quiet cruise. That said, the long-range efficiency and torque-laden tractability of the diesel shouldn’t be overlooked.

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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 ever 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 that that can plug in for the night and still want a car designed for really distinguishing efficiency, the ‘PHV’ version will be well worth considering.

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5. Mini Countryman Cooper S E All4

Mini is growing and maturing as a car brand, and that’s evident in this second-generation Countryman – a car that is more practical and multi-faceted than before, and is also available as an impressive, if expensive, plug-in hybrid with around 27 miles of electric range on the WLTP cycle.

Like all Minis, the Countryman Cooper S E is characterful, desirable, quite firmly sprung and spirited to drive – but it also offers decent space for passengers and luggage, four-wheel drive, a combined 221bhp of peak petrol-electric power, 284lb ft of torque and the potential for sub-7.0sec 0-62mph sprinting.

The car’s off-road ability is to be taken with a large pinch of salt, but if its value for money is considered in light of everything it offers, Mini-brand desirability included, it’s an appealing option – and one fully deserving of a top-half place in this chart.

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6. Lexus UX

Lexus’ 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 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 compliment the alternative styling of its exterior. Lexus’ 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.

Right now, the UX is hybrid-only, although an all-electric UX300e version to due to complement the 2.0-litre UX250h later in 2020. 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.

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7. Suzuki Ignis 1.2 SHVS

There are few parts of the car market that hybrid powertrain still has left to reach in one form or another. The cheap, cheery, compact and versatile Suzuki Ignis shows you how lightly it can be worn by a new car, and yet how much it can do even in its mildest forms to enhance a car’s driving experience.

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Suzuku’s latest ‘SHVS’ hybrid system is one of the market’s simplest, lightest, smallest and cleverest: a 12-volt system incorporating a belt-driven starter-generator motor in place of a regular starter motor, and a secondary lithium-ion battery. As well and starting and stopping the engine in traffic, it assists the car’s 1.2-litre engine under acceleration (filling in the low-rpm torque that normally aspirated motors struggle to produce) and captures energy under light deceleration.

It works through a normal five-speed manual gearbox in the Ignis, which gets perceptible gains on drivability and efficiency as a result of the mild hybridisation. The Ignis’ incredible compactness, its excellent four-seater packaging and its disarmingly pugnacious character are convincing selling points for it, too; as it is price; right now, this modern hybrid can be yours for less than £13,000.

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8. Kia Niro

Just as is the case with the Hyundai Ioniq, the Kia Niro SUV is available in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric forms. Both hybrid and PHEV mate a 1.6-litre petrol engine with a 43bhp electric motor for a peak 139bhp and 191lb ft of torque, and both are front-wheel drive, using a six-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

The only meaningful difference the plug-in hybrid offers, besides a socket via which to plug it in, is a bigger drive battery (8.9kWh vs 1.6) – so there’s no extra electric performance associated with the PHEV here.

Being a crossover SUV, the Niro offers good practicality and convenience compared with a regular five-door hatchback, although its driveability and handling aren’t as polished as other hybrids we’ve tested, and its real-world economy isn’t a match for the best, either.

The fully electric e-Niro, by contrast, is one of the most compelling and convincing affordable electric family cars on the market – so if you were considering any Niro, the full EV is the one we’d recommend.

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9. BMW 225xe iPerformance 

This rare plug-in hybrid compact MPV offers its owners plenty of flexible passenger and carrying space. Using the same electric rear axle arrangement as the Mini Countryman above, it brings four-wheel drive to the table as well, and because it matches the Mini’s power and torque outputs precisely, it’s also no slouch in performance terms. BMW claims a 6.7sec 0-62mph dash and a 126mph top speed.

That BMW charges more than £35,000 for the entry-level version takes the edge off the car’s allure a little bit, but it does at least offer standard equipment that includes 17in alloy wheels, sports seats, navigation with real-time traffic information and more.

The packaging of the car’s hybrid tech means you get slightly less boot space (400 litres) than in other Active Tourers (but still plenty overall) and you don’t get a sliding rear bench. Handling is surprisingly taut, balanced and grippy for a car that’s relatively upright and heavy.

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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 reengineering, and to allow them to maintain the offroad 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 setup adds only limited electric-only running and low-rpm 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 offroading and towing is more telling.

The XV was an unusual and unconventional crossover hatchback before this hybrid powertrain came along, and anyone hoping that it 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 offroad 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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