Up until recently, hybrid powertrains in vehicles were the province of the parsimonious and sanctimonious, featured in small commuter cars like the Toyota Prius, and mainly purchased by people who were truly passionate about saving the planet and/or gas money.
But in the past few years, the number of hybrid vehicle models on the market has expanded wildly. This is a means for rejoicing, as gasoline prices have increased significantly, as has awareness of the devastating effects of burning fossil fuels. Now, there are hybrid and plug-in hybrid offerings in nearly every vehicle category — including those favored by your family, whether that's an SUV, a hatchback, a minivan, a sedan or a pickup. And not only are there myriad fuel-efficient choices across vehicle categories, there are also a variety of options within those categories.
That's all to say that while it was just two years ago that we rounded up a list of the best hybrid cars, that compendium needed updating. So we decided to make a whole new list of top picks.
Prices and fuel economy for base car are listed.
WHY WE LOVE IT: The Prius has been working its hybrid game so long — since 2001! — it has nearly become synonymous with the gas/electric platform. But now that the rest of the industry has caught up, the Prius has had to pivot. Witness this all-new model, which has an extremely handsome new shape inside and out, plus more power and more efficiency, as well as optional all-wheel drive.
STANDOUT FEATURES: In addition to its new appearance and features, we’re extremely impressed with the Prius’ fuel economy. The ability to squeeze nearly 60 miles of travel from a gallon of gasoline is nothing short of astounding.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Prius will also soon be offered in a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) model, the Prius Prime. Though it will cost more than its cousin — likely three or four thousand dollars more — it will deliver even more power plus the ability to travel 35 miles or more on battery power alone.
WHY WE LOVE IT: We’ve said it many times: There is no better family vehicle than a minivan, there is no better minivan than the Pacifica and there is no better Pacifica than this hybrid model. It is simply superlative in accomplishing its core tasks: the safe, refined, reliable and effortless transportation of families and their stuff.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Anyone who has experienced the power-operated rear sliding doors and disappearing Stow-‘n-Go rear seats in the Pacifica will attest to their magical and life-changing operation. Ditto the onboard vacuum.
GOOD TO KNOW: The battery pack for the plug-in hybrid, which allows it to travel 32 miles on a charge, takes up the space in the floor where the second row of Stow-‘n-Go seats would be stored, so they don’t disappear, sadly. The third row still folds into the floor.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Kia is on a roll, both in terms of its design and its advanced powertrains, and the Niro exemplifies both of these triumphs. Its exterior looks like something birthed by an intergalactic transport. Under the hood it features a fuel-sipping gas/electric hybrid that allows it to eke 50 miles from a gallon of gas (in combined city/highway driving). And it does this at a base price that undercuts the competition.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Check out the “Green Zone” drive mode, which automatically switches the car into a quiet and non-polluting electric-only mode when you drive near schools, hospitals and around your neighborhood.
GOOD TO KNOW: A plug-in hybrid is also available. Though it costs about $2,300 more than the comparatively equipped parallel hybrid model, it can travel 33 miles on battery power alone.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Lexus privileges comfort above all else, cocooning passengers in a bubble of cushy luxury. The NX accomplishes this in a smaller SUV package than the brand’s best-selling RX. We appreciate the way that it sticks to its mission, soothing our nerves during carpool runs, errands and on our commute. A plush cabin, with more space for passengers and cargo than most rivals, complements this sensibility.
STANDOUT FEATURES: The central touchscreen is angled toward the driver to diminish the amount of time spent looking away from the road. And the brand’s updated safety suite hosts a pedestrian detection system that looks out for walkers, runners and cyclists around you when you’re turning, and alerts you to their presence.
GOOD TO KNOW: A plug-in hybrid option exists for the NX. It offers far more power and enhanced performance, which may, or may not, be your thing.
Grand Cherokee 4Xe
WHY WE LOVE IT: The Jeep Grand Cherokee combines an unassuming but handsome appearance with a rugged 4WD system and delights with luxurious interior appointments (especially on higher-priced, optioned-up models). It feels casually assured in all circumstances, while — like a great pair of jeans — maintaining the ability to move effortlessly from chauffeuring duties, to meetings with clients, to vacation, to date night.
STANDOUT FEATURES: We love that the base Grand Cherokee hybrid — the Limited model — has remote start and heated rear seats, so we can get the cabin warmed up for our precious passengers on those chilly (or downright freezing) mornings. We also delight in the optional stereo from famed audio component-maker McIntosh.
GOOD TO KNOW: Though the Grand Cherokee offers plenty of space, if your brood is larger, or you consistently carry more junk in your trunk, check out the new three-row SUV Grand Cherokee L.
Range Rover P550e Autobiography
WHY WE LOVE IT: The all-new Range Rover continues its Pharaonic reign atop the SUV pyramid, combining sybaritic luxury, potent performance and class-leading all-season/all-terrain sure-footedness. Range Rovers are also among the small coterie of luxury vehicles that actually feel worth the price — everything you touch feels expensive and carefully considered. And with an estimated 48 miles of electric-only range, the plug-in hybrid provides a plethora of emissions-free driving.
STANDOUT FEATURES: Though the leather that covers the seating surfaces, door panels and dashboard is flawless, we are smitten with the wool and fabric options, which draw on England’s history in textile production. The four-wheel steering system makes the Range drive smaller than it is.
GOOD TO KNOW: For now, the plug-in hybrid system is only available on the short wheelbase Range Rover, not in the extended wheelbase version, so if you want a three-row hybrid, you’re out of luck.
WHY WE LOVE IT: The Accord continues to triumph because it does everything so well. It is comfortable, stylish, commodious for passengers and cargo, safe and — particularly in its hybrid form — economical. What other mid-size sedan can achieve over 50 mpg around town, and nearly that much overall?
STANDOUT FEATURES: The Accord feels so carefully considered and ambitious in its mission, it seems it could readily be compared to an overachieving high school student. But it's also somehow, surprisingly, humble. It never shouts, or showboats for attention. It just puts its head down and succeeds.
GOOD TO KNOW: Though the base Sport Hybrid is a bit cheaper, those in the know will go for the slightly pricier ($34,085) EX-L. For just $1,600 more, you get a more potent engine, wireless phone mirroring (Android Auto/Apple CarPlay), a sunroof, leather seats, parking sensors and a larger infotainment display screen.
WHY WE LOVE IT: The S-Class has been the pinnacle of automotive achievement for over 50 years, and though many competitors have attempted to knock it off its perch, none ever triumph (for long, at least). This is because it is monomaniacal and relentless in its pursuit of vehicular perfection, not just in terms of performance and luxury, but cutting-edge tech, advanced driver assistance, safety and even delightful gizmos.
STANDOUT FEATURES: The new plug-in hybrid costs less than its range-topping brother, the S580, but offers more power and achieves better fuel economy. It can even travel 40+ miles on a charge, obviating the need for gas on most local trips.
GOOD TO KNOW: All-wheel-drive is standard on this model, as it is on all S-Classes, but a power-operated calf massager for the rear seats is optional.
WHY WE LOVE IT: In this era of 21-foot-long full-size pickups, the Maverick is, well, a maverick: a more compact truck. In fact, it’s just a couple inches longer than a contemporary Honda Accord. That means that while it offers the features we love in trucks — room for five passengers, a bed for hauling big stuff, go-anywhere capability— it can still be parked in the driveway, at work or out running errands without a nerve-wracking three-point turn.
STANDOUT FEATURES: The Maverick hybrid’s flexibility, cargo-carrying capacity and frugality — both in terms of base price, and in terms of fuel economy — still startles us. For a generation of parents scared off trucks due to their massive size and foreboding step-up height, the Maverick feels just right.
GOOD TO KNOW: The hybrid powertrain option is only available in the base, front-wheel drive Maverick for now. So if you want all-wheel drive, you’ll have to opt for a traditional, peppier and thirstier regular gas engine.
How we test cars
Each year, Good Housekeeping's team of engineers, analysts and testers drive thousands of miles on highways and streets to ensure we're finding the best vehicles for your family that deliver a good mix of power and handling, comfort and convenience — not to mention enjoyment when driving!
When evaluating cars, we consider the vehicle's handling, engine power and overall drivability. We assess the roominess of the vehicle, including if there's comfy seating for everyone and whether or not there is ample cargo and storage compartments. We prioritize cars with accessible and abundant charging ports, intuitive infotainment systems and easy to access LATCH systems for car seat install. We also look at exterior design features, including the car's size and shape, as well as mirror size and placement.
Specific to hybrid vehicle evaluations, we take into account battery efficiency, intuitiveness of eco-related dashboard tools and fuel efficiency. Our experts also price compare to the regular combustion engine counterpart where applicable. If there are plug-in capabilities, we assess how easy the system is to use, the speed with which it can charge and the driving range.
And for our final check, we speak with our colleagues at Car and Driver (owned by Hearst, as is Good Housekeeping) to glean insights from their regimented and long-term test protocols.
What is a hybrid vehicle?
While EVs seem to be getting all the attention, hybrid cars are a great option for families interested in sustainability and fuel efficiency, but who aren't ready to make the jump to a fully electric vehicle.
A hybrid combines a gas engine with an electric motor. It is thus able to recapture energy that would otherwise be lost to the friction of braking or coasting, and store it in a battery as electricity. This electricity can then be fed back, from the battery, into the propulsion system in order to power the vehicle. The intent of a hybrid is generally to enhance fuel efficiency.
There are three key forms of hybridization:
✔️ Parallel Hybrid: In this configuration, the electric motor(s) and gas engine are connected via a transmission. The battery is constantly being recharged and discharged while driving.
✔️ Series Hybrid: In this design, there is no physical bridge between the engine and the wheels. The engine is used only to recharge the battery, and the electric power provides all the thrust needed to move the vehicle. As in a parallel hybrid, the battery is constantly being recharged and discharged while driving.
✔️ Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV): These types of vehicles can either be parallel or hybrid, but they utilize a larger battery. This allows them to power themselves solely on electric energy for longer stretches — typically between 15 and 60 miles, depending on battery size — and to function in hybrid gas-electric range over longer distances. The larger capacity in the battery is generally recharged by being plugged in at home, at work or at a public charging station, though some vehicles can use the gas engine to recharge while driving.
Are there tax credits available for hybrid vehicles?
With the new, expanded and/or extended tax incentives available from the recent infrastructure and inflation reduction bills, you may find federal rebates available on some hybrids. Some states, and even municipalities, offer additional tax credits as well, so be sure to look into the deals available where you live.
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
For over a decade, the mechanical engineers at the Good Housekeeping Institute have highlighted the top vehicles to buy, from the best compact cars to the best crossovers, with our Best Family Car Awards.
Rachel Rothman, who leads GH's auto testing, has been reviewing vehicles for over a decade. She often partners with the car-enthusiasts at Car and Driver to complement the real life testing she and other GH Institute analysts, staffers and testers perform year-round. She utilizes her degree in mechanical engineering and her extensive experience in conducting category-wide auto evaluations to inform the best picks. When it comes to family-friendly vehicles, her three young kids often assist her in determining what are deal-breakers or serious bonuses.
To devise this list of the best hybrids for families, contributing writer Brett Berk worked closely with Rothman. He's been test driving vehicles for over a decade and writes reviews for Car and Driver and Road & Track, where he is contributing editor.
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