Best Hybrid Cars From 2021: Sedans, Pickups, Hatchbacks and SUVs
Hanna Kielar7-Minute Read
February 24, 2022
If you’re looking for the best hybrid cars, you’re not alone. Hybrid sales climbed nearly 76% year-over-year in 2021. There are more models spanning more classes of vehicle than ever before.
That shouldn’t be a surprise. Hybrid vehicles offer a huge advantage over conventional models in gas mileage and carbon emissions. The options are numerous for drivers who want to reduce the pinch of rising gas prices.
Let’s take a look at some of the best hybrid vehicles available on the used market today, along with some information about the types of hybrid vehicles and their advantages.
Are Hybrid Cars Good?
Hybrid cars are good for fuel efficiency and the eco-conscious driver. They offer a way for drivers to spend less on gas and reduce their emissions compared to similar conventional vehicles. The current generation of plug-in hybrids can allow drivers who only commute short distances to use their gas motor far less often, resulting in even lower operating costs and emissions.
Besides saving on fuel costs and emissions, hybrid cars place less wear and tear on the brakes due to a unique regenerative braking system. Regenerative braking has two principal benefits: First, when the driver removes their foot from the accelerator pedal and coasts or applies the brakes, the electric motor spins in reverse and actually acts as a generator to recharge the batteries, thus prolonging the battery charge. This is captured energy that is lost as heat in conventional braking. Second, that energy is also applied as resistance on the wheels to slow the vehicle without using the conventional brakes (the pads and rotors at each wheel). While hybrid vehicles still employ conventional braking, especially in emergency situations, they endure far less wear and tear and thus last longer before requiring replacement.
One detraction for hybrid vehicles is they’re often more expensive – up to 20% more – and interior cabin space might be lost due to bulky batteries and electric motors not required on conventional vehicles. Otherwise, they’re not that different from conventional cars for safety, standard equipment and handling.
Understanding Different Types of Hybrid Vehicles
When most people think of hybrids, the Toyota Prius might be the first that comes to mind. It brought hybrid vehicles to the mainstream by integrating a gas motor with an electric motor that offered a boost when the car accelerated and recharged the battery by braking. Since then, automakers have introduced other types of hybrid configurations. Here’s a quick overview.
The Mild Hybrid: Electricity Provides A Boost
A mild hybrid, like the earlier model Honda Insight, has an electric motor and battery that supplement the gas motor when it accelerates. It uses regenerative braking, which captures energy normally lost to braking to recharge the battery. Nearly any type of vehicle with a stop-start system can be considered a mild hybrid due to this characteristic.
The Full Hybrid Can Mix It Up
A full hybrid, which you may see called a power-split hybrid, comes in two types. The series hybrid uses a fossil-fueled motor to charge a battery that drives the wheels. That allows them to take advantage of the instant torque of an electric motor. The 2018 Chevrolet Volt – not to be mistaken for the Bolt EV – is an example.
Other types of full hybrid split between driving the wheels with electricity, gas or a combination of the two. That’s called a parallel hybrid. The Toyota Prius, not including the Prius Prime plug-in hybrid, is the most recognizable example of this type.
The Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV): A Step Forward In Electrification
The plug-in hybrid takes electrification a step further. This type, which includes the Ford C-Max Energi, can operate solely on electric power for a good distance and can also be plugged into a wall outlet or charging station to recharge. These cars are known as Plug-In Electric Vehicles (PHEVs). It’s theoretically possible to own and drive a plug-in hybrid without ever using its gas motor, which takes over when the battery charge runs out. You would just need to charge the vehicle at every opportunity and use it for shorter distances so the gas motor never engages.
How Do PHEVs Compare To A Battery-Electric Vehicle (BEV)?
Plug-in hybrids may require more maintenance than battery-electric vehicles (BEV, or more commonly known as EV), which are purely electric cars that do not have a supplemental gas-powered engine. Even if you are diligent about recharging the battery and rarely ever use the gas motor, you’ll still have oil changes, hoses and belts to deal with on a PHEV.
PHEVs may also get less efficiency from their battery and electric motor because they’re also carrying the extra weight of the gas motor. Experts believe that hybrids in general – and PHEVs especially – are a bridge to EVs, which will likely become more prominent in the near future as battery technology advances.
On the other hand, with current technology PHEVs have far greater range than EVs before requiring a charge. And while there are more charging stations available today, particularly in urban areas, EV owners run the risk of losing battery power a long way from any available charge.
What Matters Most For Hybrid Cars
We evaluated “best of” candidates based on efficiency and factors relevant to the body type (for instance, towing capacity for pickups). Data about each vehicle comes from a variety of authoritative sources, including U.S. News and World Report, Motor Trend and Kelley Blue Book.
The combined mileage figures are based on an assumption of 55% city miles and 45% highway miles. MPGe measures how far a vehicle using electricity can travel on the equivalent of one gallon of gasoline, which contains about 37kWh of energy.
The Best Hybrid Cars Of 2021
This is a great time to shop for a hybrid car. You can find hybrids in more categories than ever, meaning you’re more likely to find a fuel-saving option that fits your lifestyle and budget.
Even if you’re not buying new, you have plenty of used options. Buying a one-year-old hybrid can have some great benefits. For example, buying pre-owned can save you plenty of money with lower prices and improved financing options.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at our selections for the best hybrid cars.
Best Hybrid Sedan: Honda Accord Hybrid
Best for: Easy-driving versatility
MPG: 44 – 48 city | 41 – 48 highway
Cargo space: 16.7 cubic feet
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
Hybrid type: Parallel hybrid
The Honda Accord Hybrid is a top midsize sedan pick because it checks the boxes for fuel economy, technology and internal space.
In certain trims, the Accord hybrid sedan can get nearly 50 mpg. It’s packed full of infotainment and safety features with the Honda Sensing system providing an easy interface. Lane-keeping assist and departure warning, road sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, forward collision avoidance and a rearview camera will give you the tools to be a safe driver.
There’s also 16.7 cubic feet of trunk space to make errands and road trips easy.
Browse the Honda Accord hybrid for sale nationwide.
Best Hybrid Pickup: Ford F-150 PowerBoost
Best for: A day on the job
MPG: 24 city | 24 highway
Towing capacity: 12,700 lbs
Payload: 2,120 lbs
Seating: 2 – 6 seats
Hybrid type: Full hybrid
In a nutshell, you won’t likely realize the F-150 is a hybrid until you notice how slowly the gas gauge moves. It can do everything a conventional F-150 can do (picture all the power and tie-down locations you’ll ever need), but with a 20% improvement in fuel efficiency.
The PowerBoost can also act as a mobile generator, with the Pro Power Onboard option. Capacity ranges from 2 – 7.2 kW that can power a home in a blackout or equipment at a construction site. It also benefits from Ford’s many custom options, including towing packages, cab configurations and interior upgrades. It can go up to an impressive 700 miles without refueling.
The Ford F-150 PowerBoost hybrid can also function as a rolling office with an optional gear shift lever that folds down to provide a completely flat work area. You can also get a tailgate that holds rulers, pens, cups and mobile devices.
Browse the Ford F-150 PowerBoost hybrid for sale nationwide.
Best Hybrid Hatchback: Toyota Prius Prime
Best for: Getting a taste of electric vehicle life
MPG: 54 combined
MPGe: 133 combined
Cargo space: 19.8 cubic feet
Drivetrain: Front-wheel drive
Hybrid type: Plug-in hybrid
Electric-only range: 25 miles
The Prius Prime plug-in hybrid won’t win many races. If you want to slash your number of visits to the gas station, though, it’s hard to beat. The battery will charge fully overnight when plugged into a standard 120-volt outlet – you might even find an outlet in your parking garage at work to top off before heading home. That means the average American, who commutes less than 40 miles per day, could go all-electric most of the time.
Other than the ability to drive on electric power alone, the Prius Prime differs from the mild hybrid version in cargo space. Accommodating the battery cost the Prime nearly 8 cubic feet of space.
The Prius Prime is equipped with the Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 system, which provides forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning with steering assist, automatic high-beams, road sign assist, and adaptive cruise control. Trim levels of LE and higher also get blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alerts standard.
Browse the Toyota Prius Prime for sale nationwide.
Best Hybrid SUV: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Best for: Adventurous road trips
MPG: 41 city | 38 highway
Cargo space: 37.6 cubic feet
Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
Hybrid type: Parallel hybrid
The Toyota RAV4 hybrid was rated top hybrid SUV by U.S. News & World Report. It offers an excellent blend of attributes that ensure that it delivers utility – plenty of interior room, all-wheel drive, a decent amount of ground clearance and solid gas mileage. Competing conventional SUVs are rated around 10 mpg lower.
The RAV4 hybrid SUV will fit many buyers’ budgets, especially when buying used, since it comes in well under the average price of a new car in the U.S.
The RAV4 earned praise from Forbes for its standard safety technology and AWD drivetrain that allows you to choose from various drive modes. This should give drivers confidence to take the RAV4 off road and into nasty weather.
Browse the Toyota RAV4 hybrid for sale nationwide.
The Bottom Line: You Can Shop More Hybrids Than Ever Before
It wasn’t long ago that hybrids were confined to the compact and hatchback segments. Now, you can find hybrid technology in virtually every category. You’ll likely see more of them at job sites as work trucks too.
Whether you want to do your part for the environment or just reduce your pain at the gas pump, there are more options than ever to fit your needs. If fuel efficiency is the greatest lure about hybrids for you, be sure to consider other best gas milage cars.
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