UK's best hybrid cars rated

We've delved face-first into the world of hybrid cars, dug out the essential facts and figures and laid them bare. How do these eco-wagons compare? We help you decide which is the best for you.

With fuel prices rising almost as quickly as greenhouse gas emissions, more and more drivers are looking for ways to reduce their fuel usage and the amount of CO2 they poison Mother Nature with. Some have turned to electric cars but many more, concerned by the limited cruising range and charge times of EVs, are turning to hybrid cars.

We've driven a number of hybrids for ourselves and if one thing's clear it's that they're not all created equally. Some offer better fuel economy than others, some are greener than others, and some are more affordable.

With that in mind, we've delved face-first into the world of hybrids, dug out the essential facts and figures and laid them bare to help you see how these eco-wagons compare and decide which is the best for you.

We'll compare their relative looks, fuel economy and emissions, performance, the amount of tech they have, how practical they are and examine how cheap they are to run using fuel-economy.co.uk, assuming 10,000 miles driven and fuel prices of £1.20 per litre. 

Let's start, of course, with the longest running hybrid car, the Toyota Prius.

Toyota Prius

The Prius is the world's first mass-produced hybrid vehicle. Since it went on sale in 1997, it's flown the flag for hybrid technology and been sold in more than 70 countries across the world, selling 2 million units.

Design

The Prius has come a long way. It's gone from being relatively nondescript in its earlier incarnations to almost stylish in its latest iteration. Toyota's had to model it on a fairly generic wedge shape in order to maximise aerodynamic efficiency, but there's no arguing the Prius is the most distinctive, well-known car of its ilk and -- in the right light and at the right angle -- it's actually a looker.

Fuel economy and emissions

The Prius achieves a whopping 72.43mpg on the combined fuel economy cycle -- a figure bested among hybrids only by its Auris sibling. It has class-leading CO2 emissions too, chucking a mere 89g of carbon dioxide per kilometre driven -- the lowest we've seen to on any vehicle other than a Smart fortwo CDi.

Performance

The Prius delivers fairly average performance. It'll hit 60mph from a standstill in 10.4 seconds and reach just shy of 112mph on a long enough straight. It feels nippier than those numbers suggest, though and it's an entertainig challenge trying to eke out ever higher mpg figures from its onboard trip computer.

Technology

There are very few cars that can match the Prius' equipment. Its intelligent parking assist feature allows the car to reverse parallel-park virtually by itself; there's a head-up display showing vehicle speed and mapping data directly on the windscreen; it features a built in 40GB hard drive on to which users can RIP audio CDs for easy playback and there's a solar panel on the roof that can power the climate-control system, keeping the cabin cool or warm while you're away from the car.

Practicality

Hybrid cars tend to have very limited boot and rear cabin space due to the presence of their enormous batteries and additional electric drivetrain components. The Prius doesn't do too badly in this regard, however. There's enough room at the rear for three passengers and the boot offers a very respectable 408 litres of space -- close to the average of a standard, non-hybrid passenger car.

Price

The Prius doesn't come cheap at £20,265. That said, it offers sensationally low running costs. Driving 10,000 miles over the course of a year will set you back a mere £753.18 -- a figure bested here only by the Auris.

Should I buy one?

Absolutely. It may be a little pricey up front, but the Prius offers tonnes of equipment, super-low emissions and low running costs. We'd argue it's the best hybrid car in the UK to date.

Hybrid rating: 5/5

Click 'Next' below to see how the Hybrid compares to its nearest rivals.

Toyota Auris

Unlike the Prius, which was created from the ground up to be a hybrid car, the Auris range was designed specifically to use internal combustion engines. Plenty changes over a car's lifespan, however, and the Auris range now includes a hybrid model that uses the same powertrain as the all-conquering Prius.

Design

The Auris is about as vanilla as cars come. It doesn't look interesting enough to provoke even a raised eyebrow, but neither is it particularly ugly. If you're after a small, four-door hatchback that won't offend (or thrill) you really need look no further.

Fuel economy and emissions

The Auris uses the same underlying technology and is exactly the same weight as the Prius, but manages to achieve slightly better fuel economy than its big brother thanks to more modern tyres with a lower rolling resistance. It'll do 74.3mpg on the combined cycle -- more than 2mpg more than its stablemate. It can only match its sibling where CO2 emissions are concerned, but 89g/km is still excellent.

Performance

The Auris may weigh the same as the Prius and use the same components, but it's actually a little slower thanks, most likely, to it not being as slippery through the air. It reaches 0-60mph in 11.4 seconds and has a top speed of 112mph. It feels pretty nippy around town though, and feels surprisingly sporty when zipping around corners.

Technology

The Auris doesn't have all the bells and whistles that adorn the Prius. There's no intelligent parking assist and no fancy head-up display. There is some decent cabin tech, though. The Auris lets you stream audio to its stereo over Bluetooth and there's a hard disk-based sat-nav system on to which you can rip CDs.

Practicality

The Auris has very comfortable rear seats that are big enough to accomodate three adults -- just. Unfortunately, it has the second smallest boot in our roundup. Its 354-litre capacity is only just big enough to fit one large suitcase.

Price

£19,138 will buy you an Auris Hybrid, which is about £1,000 less money than you'd pay for an entry-level Prius. The Auris will also save you a tiny bit of cash on fuel every year. Over 10,000 miles, based on fuel prices of £1.20 per litre, it'll set you back £734.23 -- that's £18.95 less than its big brother.

Should I buy one?

Personally, we'd opt for the Prius given its extra boot space, wider variety of gadgets and slightly better looks, but it's clear the Auris hybrid is right up there with the very best.

Hybrid rating: 4/5

Honda Insight Hybrid SE

The Honda Insight SE was designed to be a more affordable, more practical, less geeky challenger to the Prius. Honda bestowed the car with a comparable aesthetic design, good fuel economy, low emissions and -- more importantly -- a price tag that wouldn't be out of place on ordinary, non-hybrid cars.

Design

The Insight hybrid appears to draw some aesthetic inspiration from the Prius, thanks to its wedge-shaped profile, which is fine, but we're not fans of the elongated rear end. It makes the car look as if it's about to do an impromptu wheelie at any given moment. It also looks a bit like a hearse.

Fuel economy and emissions

The hybrid powertrain in the Insight helps it achieve better fuel economy and lower emissions than most standard cars of its size. Unfortunately the 64.2mpg and 101g of CO2 per kilometre driven doesn't quite match up to the figures achieved by its Toyota rivals.

Performance

The Insight's 113mph top speed is comparable to the Prius and Auris, but it's noticeably slower around town. It takes a rather pedestrian 12.5 seconds to go from a standstill to 60mph, which means you may find yourself getting left behind at traffic lights.

Technology

The Insight's cabin technology is pretty run of the mill. It comes with steering-wheel mounted audio controls, a CD player that reads MP3 disks and a USB socket for playing media directly from an external storage device, plus voice recognition, but that's about it for fancy gizmos.

Practicality

No problems here. The Insight has room for five adults and has the same 408-litre boot capacity as the Prius.

Price

This is where the Insight beats its rivals hands down. The entry-level car is currently on offer for a hugely reasonable £14,995 -- that's a whopping £5,270 saving on the cheapest Toyota Prius. It gobbles £849.74 worth of fuel per year, which is £96.56 more than a Prius does, but if you're an average- to short-distance driver, the Insight is better value for money.

Should I buy one?

If you can stomach the comparative lack of cabin tech, the bum-heavy looks and the fact it has higher emissions than a Prius, then absolutely. The Insight hybrid range is excellent value for money.

Hybrid rating: 4/5

Lexus GS 450h

The Lexus GS 450h isn't like the other hybrids in our list. It's a fire-breathing, tarmac-shredding luxury saloon that's less concerned by low emissions and fuel economy and more bothered with leaving other road users for dead at the traffic lights.

Design

The GS 450h is a smart-looking car. Something about its front grille doesn't quite sit right with us, but we love the low-slung, aggressive stance and the hint of extreme performance provided by the twin exhausts at the rear.

Fuel economy and emissions

The Lexus GS 450h is the dirtiest hybrid in our roundup. It dumps a whopping 179g/km of CO2 per kilometre driven and achieves a mere 37.2mpg. That actually compares quite favourably with its most direct competition, however. The BMW 5 Series 535i SE (Auto), for example, emits 195g/km, while the Mercedes-Benz E350 CGI Avantgarde (Auto) dumps 201g/km.

Performance

The Lexus GS 450h is cleaner than its aforementioned rivals and, remarkably, is also faster in a straight line. It'll do 0-60mph in 5.9 seconds -- half the time it takes the Honda Insight, and reach a quite terrifying top speed of 155mph.

Technology

The Lexus GS 450h may not be the cleanest car in the world, but it still does its bit to protect its occupants from dirty air. The car has a built-in smog sensor that stops it letting in especially polluted air in favour of automatically recirculating the clean air already inside the car. It also comes with a DAB radio and voice recognition, and its steering wheel automatically retracts to make it easier to get in and out of the car.

Practicality

The GS 450h has room for two fat execs to sprawl in the rear, but it really doesn't have a lot of storage space. The boot offers a mere 280 litres, which is even worse than the 354 litres offered in the considerably smaller Toyota Auris.

Price

At £43,677, the Lexus GS 450h is competitively priced against its direct rivals from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. It's cheaper to run, too. A year of refuelling, sufficient for 1,000 miles of driving will cost £1,466.48. That's nearly twice as much as a Prius costs to run, but considerably cheaper than the £1,623 it would cost to fuel a BMW 5 Series SE 535i SE.

Should I buy one?

If you're after a fast, luxury saloon that can outrun the tax man and is relatively green, then yes. Its lack of storage space in the boot really does hurt its desirability, though -- you'll be lucky if you can get more than one suitcase at a time in the boot.

Hybrid rating: 3/5

Honda Civic ES

The Civic first appeared in the early 1970s and is one of the most popular cars on the planet. It's unsurprising, therefore, that Honda would choose to spruce it up a tad by installing the same hybrid technology found inside the Insight, in order to provide its customers with a cleaner, more efficient Civic.

Design

It's a relatively attractive car. Its design isn't in any way adventurous, but that's the point. The Civic has always appealed to a broad church, so it's the ideal candidate if you don't want to be seen in the slightly unbalanced wedge that is the Insight.

Fuel economy and emissions

Its numbers are pretty average for a hybrid. The Civic ES returns 61.4mpg and spits out 109g/m of CO2. Bearing in mind the Insight gets 64.2mpg and spews 101g/km -- and the offerings from Toyota do even better -- you'd better be serious about wanting normal looks to even consider this.

Performance

Average, again. 0-60mph takes 12.1 seconds and its top speed is 115mph.

Technology

The Civic never was a technological tour de force and this hybrid version does little to change that. You do get an optional 8-disc CD changer and an optional Bluetooth kit, though.

Practicality

We can't say we're particularly impressed by the 350 litres of boot space (the Insight offers 408 litres) but there is room in the car for five adults.

Price

You'll need to dig deep, as the Civic ES costs £18,975 and isn't particularly cheap to run. Travelling 10,000 miles in this thing will cost you £965 -- £115 more than it'd cost in the considerably cheaper Insight Hybrid.

Should I buy one?

The Civic ES is comparatively expensive, more impractical and less efficient than its rivals. We'd only recommend it if you really can't stand the looks of its closest rivals.

Hybrid rating: 2/5

Honda CR-Z

The words 'sporty' and 'hybrid' aren't often used in the same sentence, but Honda's set to change that with the CR-Z -- a throwback to the seminal CRX hatchback of the 1980s.

Design

The CR-Z looks like a more modern, muscular version of the iconic CRX hot hatch. It sports the same shallow roof line, split-level rear glass hatch, and distinctive wedge-shaped profile, all of which give it the look of a performance-focused coupé.

Fuel economy and emissions

The CR-Z emits 117g/km of CO2 and achieves a mere 56mpg. That's not very good at first glance, but its lacklustre eco credentials are a consequence of its sprightly performance.

Performance

Barring the two Lexus cars in our list, the CR-Z is the fastest car in the group. It'll do 0-60mph in a nippy 9.9 seconds and trot all the way up to 124mph. The car handles pretty well, too. It acquits itself well in the corners and its six-speed gearbox is an absolute joy to use.

Technology

The less said about this, the better. Its sat-nav is a complete waste of time, auxiliary connectivity on its stereo uses the decades out-of-date PC Card format and there's no Bluetooth streaming audio. Meh.

Practicality

The CR-Z doesn't score well here, either. It has the smallest boot of the group with just 225 litres of storage and its rear seats are only large enough to transport children or large rodents.

Price

The CR-Z's £16,999 price tag is pretty reasonable, we think, given its excellent looks and the fact it's so much fun to drive. It's not particularly cheap to run, though. 10,000 miles-worth of fuel will set you back £965.54, which makes it £115.80 more expensive to refuel than its closest rival in this list, the Toyota Auris.

Should I buy one?

It's not cheap to run and it's not particularly green, but the CR-Z is still a tempting car. Don't buy it if you want to save money, but do check it out if you fancy a small, sporty hatchback that'll impress your mates.

Hybrid rating: 3/5

Lexus RX 450h

Large four-wheel-drive vehicles tend to get a lot of bad press for being expensive, dirty tractors. However, Lexus has shown with the RX 450h that the addition of a hybrid powertrain can actually make them more efficient than many smaller cars.

Design

The RX 450h's size makes it an imposing vehicle. We wouldn't go as far as to say it's attractive, though. The front end looks a bit too weak for a large, chunky 4x4 and in profile it has the look of an estate car with a slightly higher roofline. Call us old-fashioned, but we prefer our SUVs big, mean and purposeful -- like the BMW X5.

Fuel economy and emissions

If you thought the RX 450h would get the worst fuel economy in this group then you'd be wrong. Its 44.8mpg is significantly better than the 37.2mpg achieved by the sporty Lexus GS and it isn't a million miles away from the 56.5mpg achieved by the considerably smaller Honda CR-Z. Its emissions are pretty good for a vehicle of its stature. It ejects a mere 145g/km of CO2 into the atmosphere, which is a hell of a lot less filth than rival SUVs.

Performance

The RX 450H may be big, but it's fast -- faster than most hybrids, in fact. It'll do the 0-60mph sprint in a blistering 7.8 seconds, meaning it'll beat everything else in this list, barring the Lexus GS in a drag race.

Technology

Climb aboard the RX 450h and you'll find plenty of toys to play with. The interface for its entertainment system is controlled using a mouse, it features a sensational Mark Levinson surround-sound audio setup, there's a built-in 40GB hard drive for ripping CDs to and it even packs a head-up display that shows vehicle speed and navigation information on the windscreen directly in your line of sight.

Practicality

The RX 450h has a 446-litre boot -- the biggest of all the hybrids in this roundup. It also has bags of room for lounging in the rear. If space is your number one priority in a hybrid, this is the car for you.

Price

Luxury SUVs don't come cheap and the RX450h is no different. It'll set you back a cool £43,600. It's not particularly thirsty, though. Fuel to run it for 10,000 miles costs £1,217.70. Fuelling a BMW X5 xDrive50i SE for the same distance would cost you £2,413.85.

Should I buy one?

We're not so keen on the looks (it's not quite macho enough, for our tastes) but the RX 450h is far cheaper to run and kinder to the environment than its most direct rivals. If you absolutely, positively need a 4x4, then you could do worse than opt for this one.

Hybrid rating: 3/5

 

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