There's no question car manufacturers and the general public are more interested in vehicles that cause fewer greenhouse gas emissions. And while electric vehicles seem to be getting all the attention, hybrid cars also offer a great option for those who interested in sustainability but aren't ready to make the jump to a fully electric vehicle. For over 10 years, the mechanical engineers at the Good Housekeeping Institute have highlighted the best vehicles to buy, from the best compact cars to the best crossovers, with our Best Family Car Awards. This year we expanded our awards to include Best Electric Cars and Best Hybrid Cars to meet the growing demand of consumers looking to make the switch to an all-electric or hybrid car.
How we test cars
Hundreds of hours and thousands of miles go into car testing at Good Housekeeping. Our team of testers comprises engineers, automotive specialists and real drivers, both men and women. We take the cars out on multi-lane highways, tight city roads with frequent stops and long and windy country roads. When evaluating cars, we assess performance for handling, engine power and overall drivability. We are looking for vehicles that drive well and make the driving experience as awesome as possible for everyone in the car, no matter where you are seated! That means ample space for legs in all rows, good cargo space, easily accessible charging ports, clever storage solutions, comfy and roomy seating, and easy to access LATCH systems for car seat install. We look at exterior design features, including car size and shape, mirror size and placement, and the visual appeal when looking at the front and the back of the car. We dive deeper into cabin design and comfort as well as the infotainment system, with an eye to noteworthy convenience features like the size of center console or how easy it is to navigate the dashboard.
How we test hybrid cars
When assessing hybrid cars, we add on additional checks to evaluate battery efficiency, intuitiveness of eco-related dashboard metrics, fuel efficiency, the robustness of the warranty and how much of a price upgrade the hybrid is versus a regular combustion engine. If the car is equipped with plug-in capabilities, we check how easy it is to plug-in for recharging and the driving range. We also compare the price to the features to make sure the car is good value for money spent. Once we've narrowed down the top contenders, we turn to our colleagues at Car and Driver (also owned by Good Housekeeping parent company, Hearst) to compare notes on performance and various other checks to choose our winners. These are the best hybrid cars for 2021.
Best Overall Family-Friendly Hybrid: Honda Accord Hybrid
Best Hybrid Sedan: Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Best Luxury Sedan Hybrid: BMW 530e
Best Minivan Hybrid: Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
Best Compact Crossover Hybrid: Kia Niro
Best SUV Hybrid: Honda CR-V Hybrid
Best SUV Plug-In Hybrid: Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid
Best Hybrid Luxury SUV Plug-In: Audi Q5
What exactly is a hybrid vehicle?
A hybrid combines a gas engine with an electric motor. It is able to recapture energy using regenerative braking. A battery stores the energy captured when the car decelerates and then provides this electricity to power the vehicle. There are many variants of this basic definition, but the intent of a hybrid is to create more fuel efficient vehicles.
✔️ Parallel Hybrid In this configuration, the electric motor(s) and gas engine are connected via a transmission. Distinguishing one parallel hybrid from another is the transmission type (automatic, manual or continuously variable) and the engine size.
✔️ Series Hybrid In this design approach, there is no physical bridge between the engine and the wheels, and instead the electric motor provides all the thrust. The engine is instead used to recharge the battery, and the car drives more similarly to a purely electric vehicle.
✔️ Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) These types of vehicles can either be parallel or hybrid as listed above, but they utilize a larger battery to provide short-range entirely electric, and hybrid for longer-range.
Why buy a hybrid vehicle?
✔️ It's more fuel efficient. This will result in you saving money on gas, regardless of what gas prices might be at the moment! With hybrids, you can go for significantly more miles between fill ups.
✔️ There are a LOT of choices. Whether you're looking for a sporty two-seater or a spacious eight-seater SUV, there's something for everyone. The vast majority of hybrids are in the compact to midsize sedan and hatchback categories, with a growing number of crossovers and SUVs. While many hybrids are based on the architecture of popular conventional vehicles like the Honda Accord, there are also a growing number of vehicles designed from the ground up like the Toyota Prius. Soon, pretty much all vehicles will be some variant of a hybrid or electric vehicle.
✔️ They're not as cost prohibitive as some electrics. While there is still a premium for hybrids, they are considerably less than comparable full-electrics. Plus, some of the more expensive advanced hybrids are eligible for federal and state tax credits.
✔️They don't have the same worries as electrics. Electrics are viable options for those with discretionary income and live near a charging infrastructure. For some, this is not the case. If you plan to take long trips to areas where charging stations are limited, a hybrid is a great option.
So, is there anything I should consider when buying a hybrid?
While many tout the "green-ness" of hybrids and electrics, it's important to also consider the power source. While you're helping to reduce tailpipe emissions, one must not forget that sustainability as it relates to vehicles is not a single attribute, and must consider the entire life cycle of vehicles.
You often lose a little bit of room to accommodate the battery in the vehicle. Sometimes that comes from the trunk or storage space and often you sacrifice payload capacity due to the battery.
What’s the difference between an electric car and a hybrid?
A hybrid gets some power from a gas engine, whereas an electric solely gets it from electrical sources. For many, it comes down to what they can afford. Electrics still largely cost more upfront. If you're considering an electric, read more about our top picks for electric vehicles for 2021!
What hybrid vehicles are on the market?
Dozens of new makes and models of hybrids are introduced each year. Read on for more in-depth reviews of the best hybrid vehicles for families on the market this year.
Best Family-Friendly Hybrid
Honda Accord Hybrid
WHY WE LOVE IT It's a very satisfying drive. It offers a balanced, and dare we say joyful drive. It's just like the regular Accord, just with more economical fuel efficiency! So you still get the roomy interior, spacious trunk and lots of standard safety features.
STANDOUT FEATURES While there were limited updates to the new 2021 model, we are happy that the larger 8" infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is now standard, as well as more driver-assistance tech features.
GOOD TO KNOW Just like the nonhybrid Accord, the drive can be a bit noisy while cruising. And while here is ample space for passengers, there are less storage compartments for knick-knacks than competitors.
LAB RESULT When it comes to family sedans, you'll be hard-pressed to find a better contender with its confident yet smooth ride.
2021 Honda Accord Hybrid, from $26,570 (base price); EPA-estimated fuel economy: 48 mpg city/highway
Best Sedan Hybrid
Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
WHY WE LOVE IT It's a slick looking, affordably-priced hybrid sedan that doesn't scream eco-conscious. It offers very fuel-efficient powertrains in a body that's attractive and feature-rich.
STANDOUT FEATURES The Sonata offers impressive warranty coverage for a midsize family sedan. The highest level trim offers a solar panel to help charge the vehicle's battery.
GOOD TO KNOW It's not necessarily the most fun vehicle to drive, but you'll likely forgive that thanks to its upscale, comfy interior. We also wish the brake pedal felt more reassuring.
LAB RESULTS Inside the cabin is pretty quiet, offering a peaceful ride. It drives well and has extremely impressive fuel economy numbers.
2021 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, from $27,750 (base price); EPA-estimated fuel economy: 45/51 mpg (city/highway)
Best Luxury Sedan Hybrid
BMW 530e Hybrid
WHY WE LOVE IT The 530e was quick and luxurious and everything a hybrid BMW should be! With the current federal tax credit you can even buy it for less than the gas-only counterpart.
STANDOUT FEATURES As a plug-in hybrid, you can opt for electric-only for short jaunts (we were good for trips under 20 miles), and rely on the gas engine for longer hauls.
GOOD TO KNOW Standard tech is limited, so if you want features likes adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist you'll have to get additional packages.
LAB RESULTS This plug-in hybrid seamlessly transitions from gas engine to electric motor and the regenerative braking was equally smooth. It blends power, efficiency and luxury into a sporty chassis that made us sad when we had to turn the keys over when our week-long test drive wrapped.
2021 BMW 530e Plug-In Hybrid, from $57,200 (base price); EPA-estimated fuel economy: 64 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent), 26 mpg gas-only
Best Minivan Hybrid
Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
WHY WE LOVE IT It's so spacious! The entire family and all of the family's belongings can fit in this roomy three-row, 7 seater vehicle. Both powertrains are worthy of recommendation, so whether you opt for the V6 engine or plug-in hybrid you'll be happy with a composed, fuel-efficient ride. We love it so much, it's been a Good Housekeeping Best Family Car winner for three straight years!
STANDOUT FEATURES The updated infotainment system is intuitive and easy to navigate thanks to a 10" standard screen, Alexa integration and available Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. We also love the Stow 'n Go third row seating which means you can fold the seats into the floor for even more room, enough to fit in an impressive 53 carry-on suitcases! There is an abundance of driver assistance tech standard, including lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise control.
GOOD TO KNOW Acceleration isn't exactly a strong point for this vehicle, but that's not shocking for a hybrid minivan! We wish some of the interior cabin components were a bit more upscale.
LAB RESULTS The 2021 model may look slightly more SUV-y, but regardless our lab pros are BIG fans of minivans, particularly one that packs up to 12 USB ports, a camera system for keeping tabs on kids in the back easily, and lots of clever storage components. This is definitely not your grandma's minivan!
2021 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, from $39,995 (base price); EPA-estimated fuel economy: 82MPGe
Best Compact Crossover Hybrid
WHY WE LOVE IT It's an updated competitor to the category-defining Prius. The Niro hybrid offers a more modern aesthetic appeal and practicality in terms of features. It's available as a traditional hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicle.
STANDOUT FEATURES Kia's warranty is super comprehensive, including for hybrid and electric components. With 10 years / 100,000 miles on parts and drivetrain you get nice peace of mind.
GOOD TO KNOW The transitioning between gas and electric could use some refinement, and it's not overly exciting to drive.
LAB RESULTS With responsive steering and a controlled drive, this affordable and practical vehicle will comfortably transport a family about.
2021 Kia Niro Hybrid, from $24,690 (base price); EPA-estimated fuel economy: 53/48 MPG (city/highway)
Best SUV Hybrid
Honda CR-V Hybrid
WHY WE LOVE IT It's sporty, stylish looks and dynamic driving are tops, plus its roomy compared to is competitive set of compact SUVs.
STANDOUT FEATURES All-wheel drive is standard for the hybrid, helping tackle inclement weather easily. The center console is adjustable, so you can accomodate smaller items like a kids' tablet, or stow your purse in it. Standard features are abundant, including a moonroof, heated front seats and automated emergency braking.
GOOD TO KNOW We suggest opting for at least the EX trim so you get integrated Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as we found the built-in infotainment system lackluster. While the cargo space on the hybrid variants is less than the standard models, it's still impressive for its size and there are clever storage options.
LAB RESULTS Our test drives were energetic, yet composed, and we found even for a compact SUV it was able to seat five people comfortably. It's tough to find fault with its refined and airy ride.
2021 Honda CR-V Hybrid, from $30,560 (base price); EPA-estimated fuel economy: 40/35 mpg city/highway
Best SUV Plug-In Hybrid
Ford Escape Plug-In Hybrid
WHY WE LOVE IT This PHEV has a spacious interior which offers an engaging, comfortable ride for driver and passengers. Its handling is responsive and stable.
STANDOUT FEATURES The Ford Sync infotainment system, in its third version, is intuitive and there is an abundance of standard safety technology integrated like forward collision warning and lane keeping assist. You can get up to 37 miles on pure electric the manufacturer claims before it will switch into regular hybrid mode.
GOOD TO KNOW There are a lot of Ford Escape models, including another hybrid (not plug-in) and the fully gas standard model, so choose the one that's best suited for your family. The gas-only version has more cargo capacity and more space for rear passengers. One small quibble is with the less-than-refined interior detail materials.
LAB RESULTS The hybrid iterants of this family-friendly SUV continues to deliver good cargo, a composed driving experience and easy maneuverability, with added fuel economy benefits!
2021 Ford Escape SE Plug-In Hybrid, from $32,650 (base price); EPA-estimated range: TBD
Best Luxury SUV Plug-In Hybrid
Audi Q5 Plug-In Hybrid
WHY WE LOVE IT This compact crossover is responsive, yet quiet, even more so in electric operation. We like that the default mode when charged up is EV, which you can easily switch if preferred.
STANDOUT FEATURES All-wheel drive comes standard, and the battery for the PHEV doesn't eat into cargo space. The updated infotainment system is more intuitive than previous iterations, and we're fans of the optional Virtual Cockpit Plus and heads-up display for easier line-of-sight info.
GOOD TO KNOW The only time we saw a hiccup in the transition from electric to gas is if we were under very hard acceleration – otherwise it was buttery smooth when the powertrain switched.
LAB RESULTS We were impressed by the power and balance coupled with the obvious fuel efficiency the PHEV Q5 offered. It's a refined ride that not only looks, but feels luxurious.
2021 Audi Q5 PHEV, from $51,900 (base price); EPA-estimated range: 50 MPGe combined, 27mpg gas only
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