Currently reading: Top 10 best hybrid hatchbacks 2023
Not quite sold on electric power yet? These hybrids might convince you that going green needn't be a chore

The ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel engined cars is looming large (we’re less than seven years away), but ICE cars with electrical assistance have a stay of execution until 2035 at least. While the Government's assertion that these models should be able to travel a ‘significant distance’ on battery power alone is a little vague, its proposed wording does include room for both traditional, or 'self-charging’, and plug-in machines.

Both of these types of hybrid feature an electric motor (sometimes more than one) and a decently sized drive battery that can propel the car without the aid of the ICE. However, how they arrange and use these energy sources and propulsion units can be very different, with some relying on the electric motor at low speeds, while others use the petrol engine (diesels are rare, with only Mercedes offering such a set-up) purely as a generator that keeps the battery topped-up so the electric motor can do its thing full time.

Depending on your use and needs each will have its benefits and limitations, with ‘normal’ hybrids usually feeling the most normal to drive and giving you little option on how it juggles its various motive forces. Plug-ins feature larger batteries that mean they’re heavier, pricier and need to be plugged in to charge like a pure EV, yet some can also travel more than 40 miles on electricity which means many commutes and daily chores can be completed without emitting anything from the tailpipe. And of course for business users they often offer some healthy benefit-in-kind tax relief.

What we won’t cover in this list are the increasingly prolific ‘mild’ hybrids, which essentially feature a powerful starter/generator that delivers a little extra accelerative urge but can’t carry the car on its own. However, we’re more flexible when it comes to the definition of hatchback, not least because expectations of what a traditional family car should be, with many wanting their wheels to exude just a hint of SUV swagger.

1. Volkswagen Golf eHybrid

Until recently the plug-in Skoda Octavia iV was our top pick, but high demand and supply chain challenges mean the Czech firm has temporarily withdrawn the car from sale. As a result, the responsibility for our top spot now falls on the evergreen shoulders of the VW Golf eHybrid. Why? Well, because under the skin, these two machines are largely identical, with both using the same excellent MQB-derived platform and a versatile 1.4-litre petrol and electric motor powertrain.

It’s been around for a while now, but while the 201bhp power output remains the same, tweaks here and there have boosted the claimed EV range to 43 miles. That figure will be a struggle to match in day-to-day use (35 miles is a more reasonable target), but it does drop the Golf’s benefit-in-kind burden to just 8%, which is good news for company car drivers. Even better is the fact that it’s well calibrated set-up, the transition between petrol and electric power is unobtrusive, helped by the slick twin-clutch transmission.

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Elsewhere it’s essentially an eighth generation Golf, which means it drives well with slick steering, assured handling and a reasonably supple ride. And while it’s not a car that’ll having you grabbing the keys for an elicit late night run (even the 242bhp GTE lacks the cutting edge to make it as a true hot hatch), it’s ability to effortlessly tackle any task is endearing, as is a chameleon-like quality to fit into any surroundings - it’s as comfortable outside Selfridges as it is on the school run. It’s roomy enough for a family of four too, with plenty of places to dump life’s odds and ends. 

Niggles? Well, while the interior looks and feels fairly upmarket, cost-cutting means it doesn’t have the rich material finish of its predecessor, while the touchscreen infotainment is a little frustrating to use. Oh, and accommodating the hybrid gubbins reduces the boot capacity to 273-litres. But that’s about it - in all other regards this a is a hybrid high point.

Vw golf gte top 10

2. 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, is based on a new global model platform and has been dynamically developed and tuned – quite successfully – for distinguishing ride and handling sophistication.

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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.

Toyota corolla hydrid top 10

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3. Honda Civic

Like Toyota with its Corolla, Honda has stuck to the traditional family hatchback template for its latest Civic - and it’s all the better for it. Incredibly, the Japanese machine is in its 11th generation, but it shows no signs of slowing down or resting on its laurels. Bigger, more accommodating and easier to live with than ever, this is the family car honed to as near perfection as possible.

Ignore the wild Type-R fast flagship (tricky when you consider its pugnacious looks) and the Civic is essentially hybrid only these days. Like the HR-V crossover and Jazz supermini, it uses the brand’s clever e:HEV drivetrain, which in most situations uses the 2.0-litre petrol four-pot as a generator for a 1.05 kWh battery that powers a 181bhp electric drive motor. It sounds convoluted, but in partnership with the CVT transmission it makes for surprisingly swift and smooth progress, while throttle response is keener than you’d expect. There’s even a Sport mode that allows the ICE to get in on the action more often and adds a pleasingly rorty engine note.

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More importantly, the chassis is even better. Here’s a fairly humble hatchback that’s genuinely stimulating to hustle, with quick steering, strong grip and impressive body control that also manifests itself in a composed and comfortable ride. Yet it’s relaxing when you just want to mooch, with low noise levels and easy-going controls that make for hassle-free progress whether you’re slicing through town or pounding along motorways.

Elsewhere, the Honda has all the family car bases covered, with a roomy interior, big boot and more standard kit than you can shake a BMW optional extras brochure at. It even has a user-friendly dashboard that includes physical controls for the most commonly used infotainment and ventilation functions. It earns its top three placing almost based on this fact alone.

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4. Peugeot 308

It’s been a while since Peugeot has a credible challenger in the compact family hatchback class, but the latest 308 is one of the French firm's finest efforts so far. More to the point, because it's based on the same EMP2 V3 platform (also used on the Citroen C4, DS 4 and Vauxhall Astra) it packs a plug-in hybrid powertrain for the first time, broadening its appeal.

Featuring a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol, a 108bhp motor and 12.4kWh battery, the 308 is available with either 222 or 178bhp, but given there's little to separate the two on performance the less costly lower powered model is our pick. Overall, it's a smooth and well-integrated powertrain that serves-up brisk performance and can run in near-silent EV mode for a claimed 40 miles, allowing it to qualify for the 8% BiK rate. It also benefits from the sort of fluid and engaging handling that used to be a Peugeot calling card, its blend of agility and easy-going comfort making it genuinely rewarding to drive.

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Elsewhere, the interior trails many in the class when it comes to rear seat space and boot capacity, but it should cope with the demands of most growing families. And while the trademark i-Cockpit dashboard layout can be frustrating for some drivers, the overall fit and finish of the cabin is impressive, plus it's well-equipped and packed with tech. Thoroughly recommended.

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5. Kia Niro PHEV

Like its predecessor, the latest Kia Niro is available as either a full EV, a 'self-charging' hybrid or a plug-in model - so you're spoiled for choice when it comes to electrified motive power. However, while the original version was just a bit bland, the newcomer has turned on the style. Well sort of, because while the car's angular exterior and distinctive LED lighting treatment certainly attracts attention, this isn't what you'd call a handsome machine.

Yet while the exterior is all-new, under the skin the Kia features updated versions of the old car's mechanicals, which in the case of the PHEV means a 1.6-litre petrol that's mated to an electric motor that drives the front wheels through a twin-clutch gearbox. With a combined might of 178bhp and a kerbweight of just over 1600kg performance is brisk rather than sprightly, but the 11.1kWh battery does claim a useful 40 miles of EV driving, helping it to just scrape into the 8% BiK bracket.

Refinements to the chassis mean the latest Niro handles with more assurance, thanks to its naturally geared steering and decent grip, but this still isn't a car to go seeking out your favourite back roads in. Still, the interior is smartly designed, spacious and packed with kit, while decent refinement and light controls make it easy to get along with when all you need to do is get from here to there.

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Kia niro top 10

6. BMW 225e Active Tourer

The MPV is pretty much extinct as an automotive sub-genre, although it appears nobody has informed BMW about this turn of events. In fact, only this year the brand launched an all-new 2 Series Active Tourer, a car that aims to squeeze the people carrier practicality into the footprint of a compact family car. In a sea of SUV-inspired crossovers, this thoroughly sensible machine is a welcome addition. especially for those who value versatility over kerbside posturing of pseudo off-roaders.

More importantly, this new-from-the-ground-up model comes with BMW's fifth generation eDrive electrified technology, which in this case pairs an efficient 108bhp electric motor (mounted on the back axle, so the 225e is effectively four-wheel drive) with a 14.2kWh battery for an impressive claimed EV range of 56 miles and a BiK rating of just 8%. Paired with a three-cylinder 1.5-litre petrol it delivers a useful 243bhp (there's also a 321bhp 230e) for a decent turn of speed, and while it's not the most thrilling to drive, the BMW handles accurately with decent grip and body control. Crucially, it rides smoothly and quietly, which is arguably more important for a family machine.

Speaking of which, while this isn't the most cleverly packaged MPV, it gets more space than most traditional hatchbacks, particularly in the back, plus it's packed with handy storage. And of course it feels a cut above the mainstream, its tight construction and high grade materials helping to exude class and sophistication. It’s also got BMW’s latest infotainment, which is better looking and easier to use than most.

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Bmw 225xe top 10

7. Vauxhall Astra Plug-in Hybrid

It would be rude to drop the Peugeot 308 into this list and not mention the Vauxhall Astra, what with them essentially being the same car. Following the formation of the giant Stellantis group, Vauxhall (or Opel on the Continent) has been forced to borrow platforms and drivetrains from Citroen and Peugeot, which means the firm's long serving family hatch is now underpinned by the same EMP2 V3 platform.

In PHEV guise this allows the installation of a 12.4kWh lithium ion battery and 108bhp electric motor, both of which combine with a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol for a total of 178bhp and 43 miles of EV range, popping the Astra into the 8% BiK banding. There’s also a GSe version that packs the same powertrain that’s been boosted to 222bhp, but despite its go-faster visuals and marketing material peppered with hot hatch hints it offers very little extra urge or driver appeal, yet costs quite a bit more.

Vauxhall's 'Vizor' design language means the Astra looks sharp, while its interior is smartly designed, reasonably well-built and crammed with all the kit you're likely to need. Like the Peugeot it's roomy enough, but it can't quite match the best for rear seat room and boot space. It's also not quite as accomplished to drive as its French cousin, just lacking the same blend of nimble handling and cushioned ride, but it's still a composed and capable choice. That said, there's little in it on price between the Peugeot and Vauxhall, so if the style of one sways you over the other then you won’t be making a duff choice.

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Vauxhall astra top 10

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8. Toyota C-HR

If you want evidence of Toyota's expertise in the field of hybrid powertrains, consider the fact that it’s been making petrol-electric machines for the best part of a quarter of a century now. When the original Prius made its debut at the turn of the century it was seen as something of an oddity, but it turns out it was actually a trend-setter.

Spreading of trends, the C-HR was designed to tap into the ongoing buyer demand for crossovers. Launched in 2016, the eye-catching hatch 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.

Toyota ch r top 10

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9. Kia XCeed PHEV

Kia used to offer a plug-in hybrid powertrain in the Ceed Sportswagon, the estate version of the Ceed hatchback. Sadly, that is no more, and if you want a hybrid Ceed, you’ve no choice but to go for the Ceed on stilts, the Xceed. Recently revised (although the facelift is of the 'blink and you'll miss it' variety), the not-quite-a-crossover model is a surprisingly appealing proposition.

Because it’s based on the range-topping 3 specification, the level of standard equipment is very generous, with everything from heated seats and part-leather upholstery, to satellite navigation and a comprehensive suite of active safety systems included right out of the box. It rides and handles very tidily indeed – better than the Ceed hatchback in fact, flowing down the road with similar poise but greater comfort. 

That said, its electrified powertrain isn’t the most impressive system we’ve encountered. It juggles both power sources sufficiently smoothly, but its electric motor isn’t particularly punchy at low speeds and its normally aspirated petrol engine is prone to feeling strained under higher throttle loads.

Its 30-mile range isn’t anything to write home about and results in a 12% BIK band, which is higher than the 8% offered by many rivals. In combination with the slightly disappointing performance afforded by its powertrain it means the otherwise capable Kia can’t finish any higher in this list.

Kia xceed top 10

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10. Cupra Formentor

The Cupra Formentor is a crossover rather than a true hatchback, but with its hunkered-down driving position, rakish looks and surprisingly engaging handling, we’ll allow it a pass into this category.

Like the closely related VW Group siblings (the brand’s own Leon, VW’s Golf and Audi’s A3 to name but a few), it’s available with 201bhp or 242bhp, but unlike the Golf, the faster version is worth having. When the full 295lb ft hits the front wheels, it can be a raucous experience, but it’s somehow fitting. The ride is remarkably compliant and our photographers had no issues carting their considerable gear around in our long-term test Formentor.

While the brand's Ateca and Leon still feel like go-faster Seats, the Formentor finally allows the Cupra brand to express itself and mark it out as an entity in its own right. The fact that this distinctive-looking machine is arguably its best offering therefore seems fitting.

Cupra formentor top 10


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What is a self charging hybrid car?

A self-charging hybrid is a car which uses an engine – usually petrol-powered – alongside an electric motor and a battery. Unlike plug-in hybrids, they don’t need to be recharged via a plug; the battery is topped up by the car’s regenerative braking system which feeds power back into the battery. Some consider the term self-driving to be misleading because the power provided to the battery is not ‘free’, rather it is ultimately sourced via fossil fuels burned in the engine. But the term remains an easy way for consumers to distinguish between these types of ‘full’ hybrid vehicles, and plug-in hybrids.

Are hybrid cars worth it?

Many drivers consider a hybrid as a reassuring stepping stone towards an electric vehicle. But unlike EVs, there are no concerns about running out of charge, and there are relatively few differences between a hybrid’s driving experience and that of a petrol or diesel car. The main draw for a lot of motorists is the promise of low emissions, comparatively low company car tax bills and impressive fuel economy. Indeed their regenerative braking systems means that some can be more efficient in stop-start urban traffic than they are at a motorway cruise.

Are hybrid cars reliable?

As with any car, some models are considered more reliable than others, but despite their complexity they are generally very dependable. In 2022, our sister title What Car?’s reliability survey found that the likes of the Lexus CT, Toyota Auris hybrid, Lexus IS and Hyundai Tucson hybrid were among the most reliable cars in their respective classes. 

Are hybrid cars fuel efficient?

Hybrids typically return very impressive fuel economy thanks to the support the electric motor provides to the combustion engine. According to economy data from our sister title What Car?, the best hybrids can return more than 50mpg over a mix of roads. It found the Toyota Yaris Cross can manage an average of 60.1mpg, 45.5mpg on the motorway, 70.5mpg on rural roads and a staggering 103.3mpg around town.

How environmentally friendly are hybrid cars?

While hybrid cars still burn fossil fuels, they do so at a far reduced rate over more conventional combustion engined cars. Indeed, it’s not hard to find a car that emits around 80g/km of CO2 per kilometre. To emit less CO2, you’ll need to look to a plug-in hybrid – and charge it regularly – or go fully electric.

Are hybrid cars expensive to repair?

Routine maintenance of a hybrid car shouldn’t cost significantly more than a petrol or diesel-powered car. The electrical assistance the motor provides to the engine is regarded as causing less wear and tear, while the regenerative braking system means brake pads and discs should last longer. However, your friendly local garage may not be willing or able to touch the car’s high-voltage system due to the specialist equipment required, meaning you’ll have to seek out a specialist or take your car to a franchised dealer for some jobs – which could be pricey.

James Disdale

James Disdale
Title: Special correspondent

James is a special correspondent for Autocar, which means he turns his hand to pretty much anything, including delivering first drive verdicts, gathering together group tests, formulating features and keeping topped-up with the latest news and reviews. He also co-hosts the odd podcast and occasional video with Autocar’s esteemed Editor-at-large, Matt Prior.

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For more than a decade and a half James has been writing about cars, in which time he has driven pretty much everything from humble hatchbacks to the highest of high performance machines. Having started his automotive career on, ahem, another weekly automotive magazine, he rose through the ranks and spent many years running that title’s road test desk. This was followed by a stint doing the same job for monthly title, evo, before starting a freelance career in 2019. The less said about his wilderness, post-university years selling mobile phones and insurance, the better.

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RogSpa 26 January 2023

It must be time to add the Honda Civic e-hev to this top 10 Hatchback Hybrid list considering all press reviews including Autocar have been very complimentary.