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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-friendly options.

Research by JP Morgan suggests that by 2025 hybrid cars will represent a whopping 23 per cent of all vehicles sold worldwide.

The power of hybrids lies not just in the combination of their conventional engines with an 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, so the car drives like other vehicles and still uses either petrol or diesel (although hopefully significantly smaller amounts).

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, thus improving fuel consumption and saving money.

Many hybrids can be driven on electric power alone (for a distance of around 30 to 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 option of recharging the batteries through a plug-in electricity connection.

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

Recharging is usually through a household powerpoint ( for four to eight hours for a full charge), 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, and there's one more option...

You can also have a range-extender hybrid. In this case, the combustion engine never really propels the car. Instead, it is used to power a generator, which in turn recharges the batteries that power the electric motor that drives the wheels, like an EV. The BMW i3 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 preference 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.

HEVs and PHEVs are best over shorter distances or for drivers that make multiple stops, 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. Here are the best on the market.

Toyota Corolla

Protruding aggressively from the nose, a pronounced grille intake features a racy mesh insert.

At one point, the Toyota Corolla was Australia’s most-popular model, but the shift away from passenger vehicles into SUVs and utes means it has now lost its crown.

However, the Corolla still maintains its position as the best-selling passenger vehicle, ahead of the Mazda3 and Hyundai i30, and the availability of a hybrid powertrain has done nothing but boost its popularity.

As one of the only small cars available in Australia with a hybrid, the Corolla ticks a lot of boxes – s practical, affordable and now extra efficient.

With a fuel economy rating of just 4.2 litres per 100km thanks to a combination of a 1.8-litre petrol engine and electric motor, the Corolla Hybrid – available in hatch and sedan form – handily beats out rivals at the bowser, and is also one of the cheapest hybrid cars in Australia.

PriceFrom $27,395
Engine1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power72kW
Torque142Nm
TransmissionCVT
Fuel use4.2L/100km
CO297g/km 

Toyota RAV4

Toyota’s RAV4 has long-struggled against its arch-rival, the Mazda CX-5, but the introduction of a hybrid powertrain in the current-generation has flipped the script.

In fact, so popular is the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid that wait times have blown out to as long as 12 months on some grades, and if the electrified SUV was a standalone model, it would still outsell the CX-5, as well as the Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and Ford Escape.

And the RAV4 did win CarsGuide's car of the year award in 2019, making it one of the best hybrid SUVs, and best value hybrids, on the market.

Prices start from $36,900 before on-road costs for the GX Hybrid 2WD, with fuel economy pegged from as little as 4.7L/100km, while a dual-motor, all-wheel-drive version is also available for those wanting a bit more punch.

PriceFrom $36,900
Engine2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power131kW
Torque221Nm
TransmissionCVT
Fuel use4.7L/100km
CO2107g/km

Toyota RAV4

Toyota RAV4
3.8
From
$34,400
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Toyota Kluger

The Toyota Kluger has the shortest average delivery wait time of any new model on sale in Australia, according to Price My Car.

Want a hybrid seven-seater? Your choices are actually severely limited, and one of the options is Toyota’s new-generation Kluger.

The Prius V had to die for the Kluger Hybrid to live, and Toyota offers up its family-friendly SUV with a 2.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor combo, returning 5.6L/100km.

Safety and equipment levels are also high with the Kluger, keeping family buyers happy and safe, while styling adheres to Toyota’s current design language.

PriceFrom $54,150
Engine2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power142kW
Torque242Nm
TransmissionCVT
Fuel use5.6L/100km
CO2128g/km

Kia Niro

Niro or zero? What it's like to live with Kia's little SUV PHEV (Image: Tom White).

Not content to offer its Niro small SUV with just a hybrid powertrain, Kia’s crossover is also available in a plug-in and full-electric form.

The base version though, combines a 1.6-litre petrol engine with an electric motor for a fuel economy rating of 3.8L/100km – making it more frugal than most small SUV rivals that still rely solely on petrol propulsion.

Not skimping on the equipment, the Niro is still equipped with 16-inch wheels, an 8.0-inch multimedia screen, dual-zone climate control and partial leather interior trim, while the higher-spec Sport variant adds a larger 10.25-inch multimedia screen, faux-leather trim and more.

PriceFrom $43,890
Engine1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power104kW
Torque265Nm
TransmissionSix-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel use3.8L/100km
CO288g/km

Kia Niro

Kia Niro
3.9
From
$39,990
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Hyundai Ioniq

The Hyundai Ioniq hybird PHEV.

Like the Kia Niro, Hyundai’s Ioniq small car is available with three powertrains, the base version of which pairs a 1.6-litre petrol engine with an electric motor.

Priced at just $41,390, the Ioniq Hybrid could be a great alternative for those not wanting a high-riding SUV like the Kia Niro or Toyota C-HR, while returning a frugal economy rating of just 3.9L/100km, making it one of the best small hybrid cars in Australia.

Equipment highlights include adaptive cruise control, a 10.25-inch multimedia touchscreen, in-built satellite navigation and a driver attention warning system.

PriceFrom $41,390
Engine1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power77kW
Torque147Nm
TransmissionSix-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel use3.9L/100km
CO292g/km

Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross PHEV

Not Mitsubishi’s first hybrid SUV, that would be the Outlander, but the Eclipse Cross PHEV could be the brand’s most exciting.

With futuristic styling and a forward-thinking powertrain, the Eclipse Cross represents the future of Mitsubishi, one that can return a fuel economy rating as little 1.9L/100km - making it one of the most fuel-efficient hybrids.

This is thanks to a 13.8kWh battery that can propel the Eclipse Cross on electric power only for up to 55km, if you remember to plug it in, of course.

And for those that are worried about long recharge times, the Eclipse Cross’ relatively small battery means it needs just 3.5 hours using a Type 2 plug.

PriceFrom $46,990
Engine2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power130kW
Torque332Nm
TransmissionCVT
Fuel use1.9L/100km
CO243g/km

Lexus NX

 

Don’t call it a spruced-up Toyota RAV4, because the Lexus NX Hybrid adds more than just premium appointments and a higher pricetag.

For starters, the NX is part of Lexus’ new wave of products and features styling that will filter over to new models going forward.

The 2.5-litre petrol engine and electric motor combo also allows the NX Hybrid to return a fuel economy rating as little as 5.0L/100km, while its circa-$65,000 starting price makes it one the most affordable luxury hybrid SUVs on the market.

 

PriceFrom $65,600
Engine2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power140kW
Torque239Nm
TransmissionCVT
Fuel use5.0/100km
CO2113g/km

Honda HR-V

Honda has committed to bringing in electrified versions of its of its new-generation models, and the first will be the HR-V small SUV.

Priced at $45,000 driveaway, the HR-V e:HEV L is actually positioned below the petrol-powered Civic hatchback, and pairs a 1.5-litre petrol engine with two electric motors.

With drive sent to the front-wheels via continuously variable transmission, the HR-V hybrid will return a fuel economy rating of 4.3L/100km, while also sporting the latest design and in-cabin technologies from Honda.

Price$45,000 driveaway
Engine1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power96kW
Torque253Nm
TransmissionCVT
Fuel use4.3L/100km
CO298g/km

Honda HR-V

Honda HR-V
3.8
From
$26,900
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Kia Sorento

Remember when we said there were few choices for those after a hybrid seven-seater? Well aside from the Toyota Kluger, the Kia Sorento represents the other option available for Aussie buyers, and happens to be one of the best hybrid family cars.

Available as a plug-in hybrid or a ‘self-charging’ hybrid, the electrified Sorento is available in the sole GT-Line trim that offers all the equipment, safety and technology demanded by buyers in 2022.

The Sorento hybrid is even more frugal than the Toyota Kluger, sipping just 5.5L/100km in its front-drive form that pairs a 1.6-litre petrol engine with an electric motor.

PriceFrom $66,750
Engine1.6-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder
Power195kW
Torque350Nm
TransmissionSix-speed automatic
Fuel use5.5L/100km
CO2121g/km

Ferrari 296 GTB

Think hybrid cars are all about fuel economy and hypermiling? Think again, because the Ferrari 296 GTB proves that hybrids can also be a bit of fun.

With a potent 2.9-litre twin-turbo petrol V6 and a 123kW electric motor in play, the Ferrari 296 GTB outputs a staggering 610kW/740Nm for a blisteringly quick 2.9-second zero-to-100km/h acceleration time.

The 7.45kWh lithium-ion battery is also good for around 25km of tailpipe emissions-free driving, but this level of performance from a hybrid doesn’t come cheap, with the Ferrari 296 GTB wearing a local pricetag of $551,800 before on-road costs.

PriceFrom $551,800
Engine2.9-litre twin-turbo V6
Power610kW
Torque740Nm
TransmissionEight-speed dual-clutch automatic
Fuel use6.4L/100km
CO2149g/km

BMW 330e

BMW 330e
3.7
From
$69,900
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)

Coming soon

Ford Escape PHEV

Ford is expected to introduce the Escape PHEV to Australia in 2022. 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.

Cupra Leon PHEV

As a new brand entering Australian showrooms for the first time, Cupra will need to put its best for forward, and with its Leon PHEV, it looks like it will. As a small hatchback with a plug-in hybrid powertrain the Cupra Leon has no rivals in the Australian market, ensuring it will stand out in an ever-growing crowded hybrid market.

Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid

Like the Toyota Kluger and Kia Sorento, the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid will be an electrified, seven-seat SUV when it lands in local showrooms later this year. Using the same powertrain as the Kia Sorento Hybrid, the Santa Fe promises to be a competent steer, while also expanding Hyundai's electrified footprint.

Haval H6 Hybrid

If the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid is not you thing, Haval's H6 Hybrid might be a little more your speed. Taking the value-packed H6 and adding a more frugal powertrain could be a winning formula for the burgeoning Chinese brand, and if Haval can keep wait times short, this could very well eat into the RAV4 Hybrid's share.

 

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 also a 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 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.