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10 best hybrid vehicles in Australia

Hybrids make sense, and not just for the environmentally conscious.

The sale of hybrid electric vehicles continues to climb as automakers prepare to phase out vehicles powered solely by internal combustion engines and buyers around the world embrace more efficient, eco-friendlier options.

Research by JP Morgan suggests that by 2025 hybrid cars will represent 30 per cent of all vehicles sold, that’s 8.4 million cars for an almost eight per cent market share.

The power of hybrids lies not just in the combination of their conventional engine and electric motor, but their ability to provide that perfect safety net for those buyers still anxious about the range offered by purely electric alternatives.

They are like that pair of flats you carry in your bag for when your heels start to pinch on a night out.

So, how do hybrid electric vehicles work?

Basically, Hybrid Electrical Vehicles (HEV) use a conventional internal combustion engine together with an electric motor to drive the vehicle.

For the driver, there is very little difference, as the systems tend to work independently of attention, the car drives like other vehicles and still uses either petrol or diesel.

The wheels can be powered by the engine, the electric motor alone or by a combination of the two.  The electric motor is charged by capturing energy generated during braking and by the combustion engine.

Generally, the electric motor helps acceleration from standstill, powers the car at idle and provides an extra boost when needed, which means a smaller combustion engine can be used.

This engine can also be tuned for efficiency rather than power or torque improving fuel consumption and saving money.

Many hybrids can be driven on electric power alone (30-50km) but mostly at lower speeds. While hybrid electric vehicles are among the most fuel-efficient cars on our roads, they are less advantageous at highway speeds where the additional weight of the vehicle and the reduced need for regenerative braking impact overall efficiency.

What about plug-in hybrids?

Plug-in Electric Hybrid Vehicles (PHEV) work in much the same fashion as regular hybrid vehicles with the additional feature of recharging through a plug-in electricity connection.

They have larger batteries than HEVs and can be driven further in electric mode. They are the middle ground between conventional hybrids and full electric vehicles.

Recharging is usually through a household powerpoint (four to eight hours), special faster wall boxes (two to four hours) or the super-fast public recharging network.

PHEVs are quiet, efficient, and in electric mode produce reduced emissions.

Oh, there’s one more…

You can also have a range extender hybrid car. The combustion engine never really propels the car. It is used to power a generator that in turn recharges the batteries that power the car. The BMW i3 with range extender is an example of this.

Choosing a hybrid vehicle

Hybrids make sense, and not just for the environmentally conscious. They allow you the best of both the combustion and electric vehicle worlds in packages that rival their more conventional counterparts.

Range anxiety is no longer an issue as they can charge their own batteries and you can also choose between maximum efficiency and performance depending on your purpose and driving conditions.

The up-front costs are usually greater but electric motors are efficient converters of energy, offer excellent torque and zero tailpipe emissions which means efficiency without compromising performance.

EHVs and PHEVs are best over shorter distances or for drivers that make multiple stops over short distances, like dropping the kids at school, then going to work, then the shops and activities and back home. This allows the best use of the regenerative braking technology, increasing efficiency and overall benefits.

Boot space is reduced because batteries need to be accommodated, so make sure you account for your needs. Owners of plug-in hybrids will need access to parking in order to recharge although you could use a public charging station if you don’t have a garage at home.

Best hybrid cars in Australia

The increasing uptake of hybrid vehicles by Australian buyers has encouraged car manufacturers to improve choice by making more models available.

While the Toyota Prius and Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, among the first hybrid cars in Australia, are probably the most well-known hybrids on offer, there is actually a wide selection of HEVs and PHEVs from which to shop with a bevy of exciting variants on their way.

Toyota Corolla SX Hybrid

PriceFrom $28,370, plus on-road costs
Engine1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol/twin electric motors
Power72kW at 5200rpm (petrol) 53kW (electric)
Torque142Nm at 3600rpm (petrol) 163Nm (electric)
TransmissionCVT auto, front-wheel drive
Fuel use4.2L/100km
CO297g/km (ADR combined)

Toyota expects that nine out of 10 Corolla buyers will opt for one of the two Toyota hybrids offered in the range. Affordable, practical, user-friendly and with almost the same punch as the combustion engine models, it is easy to see why this small hybrid car is serving to further enhance Toyota’s popularity.

The latest edition Corolla has some of the sharpest styling we have seen from the brand in forever, it is well equipped and offers a more refined ride.

The Corolla is probably one of the cheapest hybrid cars in Australia with the SX Hybrid just $1500 more than its conventional counterpart.

The 1.8-litre petrol unit is good for 72kW of power and 142Nm of torque with the twin electric motors generating 53kW/163Nm. The transition from electric to petrol is almost seamless with the Corolla able to run in full electric mode for short journeys up to speeds of 80kmh.

Regenerative braking is used to charge the 6.5Ah nickel-metal hydride battery pack with the petrol engine picking up the slack.

The Toyota Corolla. The Toyota Corolla.

Toyota Camry Ascent Sport Hybrid

PriceFrom $31,990, plus on-road costs
Engine2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol / twin electric motors
Power131kW at 5700rpm (petrol) 88kW (electric)
Torque221Nm at 5200rpm (petrol) 163Nm (electric)
TransmissionCVT auto, front-wheel drive
Fuel use4.2L/100km (ADR combined)

There are three Toyota Camry hybrids from which to choose. The Ascent Sport Hybrid powertrain pairs a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol unit, featuring the Atkinson Cycle combustion set-up, with an 88kW/202Nm electric motor to help it out from standstill, at idle or low speeds (under 40km/h) over short distances.

It is the perfect family hauler - large enough, super comfortable and extremely frugal. Creature comforts include dual-zone climate control, keyless entry and an 8.0-inch multimedia system screen but unfortunately still not smartphone mirroring.

Toyota offers a five year/unlimited km warranty with an eight year/160,000km warranty on the battery.

The Toyota Camry Ascent Sport. The Toyota Camry Ascent Sport.

Toyota Prius

PriceFrom $36,440, plus on-road costs
Engine1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol electric
Power72kW (petrol) 53kW (electric)
Torque142Nm (petrol) 163Nm (electric)
TransmissionCVT auto, front-wheel drive
Fuel use3.4L/100km
CO278g/km (ADR combined)

No hybrid cars list in Australia is complete without the Toyota Prius, with almost 6.5 million vehicles sold around the world since it was launched in Japan in 1997.

It is not the only eco car on offer anymore and its looks continue to polarise audiences, but it remains one of the most frugal exponents around.

It is geared for urban comfort with great manoeuvrability, silent travel and powerful regenerative braking. The Prius is accommodating but not very powerful with an oldish nickel-metal hydride battery and a less than impressive highway performance.

The Toyota Prius. The Toyota Prius.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

PriceFrom $45,990 plus on-road costs
Engine2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol/ with twin electric motors
Power87kW at 4500rpm (petrol) 120kW (electric)
Torque186Nm at 4500rpm (petrol) 332Nm (electric)
TransmissionDirect-drive automatic, all-wheel drive
Fuel use1.7L/100km/54km EV range
CO246g/km (ADR combined)

Mitsubishi was one of the earliest adopters of plug-in hybrid technology with the Outlander PHEV the most well-known example of the technology in Australia. The company has now dramatically dropped entry prices by almost $5000 making the PHEV accessible to more buyers.

The Outlander’s PHEV system uses an electric motor on each axle with the front producing 60kW/137Nm and the rear 60kW/195Nm. This is paired with a 2.0-litre petrol engine (87kW/186Nm) which drives the front wheels at speeds above 70km/h and acts to top-up the charge on the 12kWh Lithium-ion battery.

The latter has a range of 54km on purely electric charge which is great for those drivers with average commuting distances.

The Oultander PHEV has good inclusions and smartphone mirroring through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but you will have to hand over another $1500 for an 'Advanced Driver Assistance Package'.

You can plug the PHEV into a household socket to charge overnight (six hours) or opt for a dedicated 16A charger (three hours).

The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. The Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV.

Hyundai Ioniq

PriceFrom $40,990, plus on-road costs
Engine1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol-electric hybrid
Power77kW (petrol), 44kW (electric)
Torque147Nm (petrol), 170Nm (electric)
TransmissionSix-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Fuel use3.2L/100km (claimed), 63km EV range

Hyundai has stirred the market in Australia with the arrival of its super-stylish Ioniq. It is offered as a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid and a purely electric vehicle and the interest alone has made it a resounding success.

The Ioniq PHEV has an electric-only range of 63km, depending on how you drive it of course, after which the petrol engine kicks in to propel the car and power up the 360-volt 8.9kWh Lithium-ion battery.

The Ioniq’s hybrid set-up features a 77kW/147Nm 1.6-litre petrol engine and a single electric motor (44.5kW/170Nm) up front.

The combination delivers the power needed for a decently sporty drive with Australian-tuned suspension and low centre-of-gravity weighing in for an enjoyable time behind the wheel.

You can opt for a three-phase wall box ($2000) which will give you a fully charged Ioniq in just over two hours, but you can also recharge through a conventional household socket (six hours) or a public DC charger in under 30 minutes.

And let’s not forget that if the plug-in hybrid is a touch too adventurous for your needs, there is also the the conventional Ioniq hybrid which allows you to do a little bit for the environment without changing any of your driving patterns.

It uses the same 1.6-litre petrol engine and six-speed dual-clutch transmission as the PHEV but has a smaller 32kW/170Nm electric motor.

The Hyundai Ionic. The Hyundai Ionic.

BMW X5 xDrive40e PHEV

PriceFrom $124,990, plus on-road costs 
Engine2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol / twin electric motors
Power180kW (petrol) 83kW (electric)
Torque350Nm (petrol) 250Nm (electric)
TransmissionEight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Fuel use3.3L/100km/31km EV range

The xDrive40e arrived here in 2016 as part of BMW’s X5 range with the charging port the only real visible difference. Like the rest of the X5 range it was versatile and luxurious with practically every modern convenience on board.

Drivers of the 40e can choose from three drive modes – 'Max' which locks out the petrol engine until 120km/h, 'Auto' which leverages both systems according to driving conditions and can run on the electric motor alone up to 70km/h, and 'Save' mode which runs on petrol only allowing you to recharge the battery and conserve it for later use.

Behind the wheel we found it almost impossible to replicate the 31km EV range, even in the slipstream of a larger vehicle. While the battery is a boost to power on demand, once it is depleted the 40e is left with a rather small engine to do the heavy lifting which is borne out in the escalating fuel consumption figures.

Charging takes around five hours via a regular household plug or half that if you have a wall box charger installed.

Given the speed at which renewable energy technology surges, the xDrive40e may well be showing its age and is as not as exciting as it once was.

The stage then is perfectly set for the next-generation X5 xDrive45e, which fingers crossed, will land here sooner rather than later. It is powered by a 3.0-litre in-line six and combines with the 82kW electric motor for a total output of 290kW of power and 600Nm of torque. Zero-100km/h in 5.6 seconds isn’t shabby either.

The BMW X5 xDrive40e. The BMW X5 xDrive40e.

Lexus RX 450h

PriceFrom $108,610, plus on-road costs
Engine3.5-litre V6 petrol with twin electric motors
TransmissionCVT auto, all-wheel drive
Fuel use5.7/100km

While the flagship coupe, the LC 500h, with its 10-ratio 'Multi Stage Hybrid System' places Lexus at the forefront of hybrid technology, it is the RX 450h that takes our fancy. Lexus was the first brand to introduce hybrids in luxury vehicles here and has already sold more than 20,000 hybrid vehicles in Australia.

The RX 450h sports a 193kW 3.5-litre petrol V6/CVT auto combo paired with a 123kW electric motor. That drives the front wheels, while a 50kW electric motor powers the rear.

The RX 450h is a luxuriously comfortable machine, not sporty mind you, but powerful enough to shepherd the family without fuss. The hybrid drivetrain is a refined unit, switching silently and efficiently between power sources with the electric motors providing a zing from standstill and that extra boost when needed.

The Lexus RX 450h. The Lexus RX 450h.

Audi Q7 e-Tron

PriceFrom $139,900, plus on-road costs
Engine3.0-litre V6 diesel-electric
Power190kW (diesel) 94kW (electric)
Torque600Nm (diesel) 350Nm (electric)
TransmissionSix-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Fuel use1.9L/100km/56km EV range

The Audi Q7 e-Tron is indeed a clever hybrid proposal. The already impressive diesel V6 is further enhanced by a cracking 94kW electric motor which helps deliver a whopping system output of 275kW of power and 700Nm of torque.

It is barely discernible from the rest of the Q7 range, which is how Audi wants it, preferring the e-Tron to be judged on its overall merit rather than an eye-catching green hue.

It is beautifully put together, generously specified and a dream to travel in. Pity the battery under the boot floor prevents a seven-seater hybrid car option, that would have been a real drawcard.

Nevertheless, the systems work well together with excellent verve off the mark and great road manners with the extra weight only noticeable when you are trying to push through a corner quickly.

Audi claims a EV-only range of 56km before the diesel is forced to kick in but we found that figure a tad evasive.

The Q7 e-Tron will take around 10 hours to charge on a household plug with that figure dropping to around 2.5 hours on a 400-volt charging outlet.

Audi also unveiled plug-in hybrid versions of the A6, A7, A8 and Q5 at the Geneva Motor Show this year but it is still to be determined which of those will be sold in Australia.

Audi Q7 e-tron. Audi Q7 e-tron.

Volvo XC90 T8 Twin Engine Hybrid

PriceFrom $124,900, plus on-road costs
Engine2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged and supercharged petrol-electric
Power235kW (petrol) 65kW (electric)
Torque400Nm (diesel) 240Nm (electric)
TransmissionEight-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Fuel use2.1L/100km/30km EV range

Not only is the Volvo XC90 hybrid the only plug-in hybrid that offers seating for seven, it is also the quickest XC90 around, too.

It is truly versatile, packed to the rafters with Volvo’s life-saving active and passive safety technology and boast amazing levels of luxury. It is not a sports SUV like some in the BMW stable for example, but on the road it is supremely comfortable and effortless to drive.

The switch between motors is unobtrusive, the car itself is smooth and quiet and remains agile despite the added weight of its batteries.

The 9.2kW Lithium-ion battery takes around 3.5 hours to charge at home, an hour less if you have a more powerful 16-amp charger installed.

Volvo XC90 Hybrid. Volvo XC90 Hybrid.

Mercedes-Benz C 350e PHEV

PriceFrom $75,814, plus on-road costs
Engine2.0-litre four-cylinder turbocharged petrol-electric
Power155kW (petrol) 90kW (electric)
Torque3500Nm (petrol) 440Nm (electric)
TransmissionSeven-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
Fuel use2.1L/100km/50km EV range

Hybrid technology adds optimum efficiency to the C-Class’s impressive dynamics and everyday practicality. It is the most economical C-Class to date with the 90kW electric motor boosting performance during acceleration and the 13.5kWh capacity Lithium-ion battery good for 50km on purely electric power.

This is stylish, comfortable and superbly equipped sedan which one of the best chassis on the road. With a 7.2kWh on-board charger, the C 350e can be recharged inside two hours using a Mercedes wallbox and about seven hours at a domestic power socket.

If you want something a bit larger than the C 350e, Mercedes also offers the E 350e and GLE 500e SUV and S 500e as plug-in hybrids.

Mercedes-Benz C350e. Mercedes-Benz C350e.

In the wings

BMW 330e iPerformance PHEV

We are unlikely to see the new BMW plug-in hybrid in Australia before year’s end but if the rest of the rejuvenated 3 Series range is anything to go by, then you can expect to be well impressed.

The 330e sports a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine (135kW) and a 50 kW – 80kW Xtraboost electric motor for a combined 185kW of power and 420Nm of torque.

A 12kWh Lithium-ion battery gives the 330e an electric-only range of 60 kilometres, double that of the car it replaces. BMW claims an overall fuel economy of 1.7L/100km

Mini Cooper S E AII4

The Countryman PHEV is expected here before the end of 2019 with a $57,200 price tag.

The 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine (100kW/220Nm) which also powers the base model Cooper, will drive the front axle with a 65kW/165Nm electric motor at the rear.

A 7.6kWh Lithium-ion battery will afford the new Countryman up to 40km of EV driving before the engine kicks in.

Three drive modes will allow you to choose the best combination for your purpose striving for the official fuel economy of 2.1L/100km.

Like other models in the range, the PHEV comes with a decent bit of kit and can be individualised to your tastes. Mini suggests you will need just over three hours to charge the PHEV on a standard household socket with that time dropping by an hour if you install the Mini Wallbox.

Subaru Forester e-Boxer Hybrid

Expect the Forester Hybrid at your local dealer either late this year or early in 2020. Subaru will pair its 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine (110kW/188Nm) with a 10kW/65Nm electric motor powered by a 13.5kWh Lithium-ion battery pack.

No surprises that it will use the brand’s famed all-wheel drive system and 'Lineartronic' CVT auto. Fuel economy is rated at 5.3L/100km.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

When the fifth-generation RAV4 range arrives in Australia in May this year, it will boast a petrol-electric model for the first time. Like the Camry Hybrid, the RAV4 Hybrid SUV it will use a 2.5-litre four-cylinder with an electric motor on the rear axle with expected combined outputs of 155kW of power and 221Nm of torque. Toyota expects the hybrid to account for 40 per cent of RAV4 sales.

Ford Escape Hybrid

Ford is expected to introduce the Escape Hybrid to Australia in 2020. It will be the manufacturer’s first plug-in hybrid in this country and will feature a 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine paired with a 165kW electric motor. The 14.4kWh Lithium-ion battery that powers the latter will offer 50km of pure EV driving.

BMW i8 Roadster

Okay, so the i8 may not be in your budget but the petrol-electric supercar does show that hybrids can be fun.

BMW has recently added the Roadster to the i8 Coupe it already offers and it really is a sight to behold. It features the same 170kW/320Nm 1.5-litre three-cylinder turbo-petrol engine as the Coupe but is paired with an electric motor capable of 105kW/250Nm.

The electric motor drives the front axle and is powered by a new 34Ah high-voltage Lithium-ion battery that allows for a 53km electric-only range.

BMW claims the Roadster can sprint from 0-100km/h in just 4.6 seconds. With a price-tag in excess of $303,000 it’s a good thing dreams are free.

The future of hybrids

While there is a concerted effort by manufacturers and governments around the world to increase the uptake of purely electric vehicles, there is the recognition that hybrids and plug-in hybrids are a useful stepping stone.

Most manufacturers are already starting to adopt what they call mild-hybrid technology by incorporating very small electric motors in the car’s make-up to provide power during start-up and during idle. Odds are that most drivers don’t even realise it is there.

Most of us are just trying to get from one place to another without it costing too much. Research tells us that more than 52 per cent of Australian drivers would seriously consider a hybrid purchase and given the growing range of offerings, perhaps the future, for now at least, is hybrid.

Are you a hybrid driver? Tell us in the comments below.

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