Hybrid Cars

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Hybrid Car buying guide

Whether you're looking for more fuel efficiency, an eco-friendly car that won't give you range anxiety, or maybe even the added oomph of a torquey electric motor, hybrid cars have a lot to offer. What started as a way to make economy cars even more economical has become so much more in recent years. While many vehicles are still chasing big mileage numbers, luxury brands have been figuring out how to use hybrid systems to add performance as well. Advances in battery technology also mean that new plug-in hybrids can go for miles on electricity before a gasoline engine is even turned on. There are a lot of hybrid options on the market right now, and many of them have different strengths, so we're going to run down our favorites to help you choose the right hybrid for your needs.

Category: Hybrid Cars | Hybrid SUV | Luxury Hybrid

Whether you're looking for more fuel efficiency, an eco-friendly car that won't give you range anxiety, or maybe even the added oomph of a torquey electric motor, hybrid cars have a lot to offer. What started as a way to make economy cars even more economical has become so much more in recent years. While many vehicles are still chasing big mileage numbers, luxury brands have been figuring out how to use hybrid systems to add performance as well. Advances in battery technology also mean that new plug-in hybrids can go for miles on electricity before a gasoline engine is even turned on. There are a lot of hybrid options on the market right now, and many of them have different strengths, so we're going to run down our favorites to help you choose the right hybrid for your needs.

Category: Hybrid Cars | Hybrid SUV | Luxury Hybrid

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Hybrid Car videos

2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman Plug-In Hybrid Review

Can a Mini still be fun if it's a plug-in hybrid? That's the question Edmunds Senior Writer Mark Takahashi seeks to answer in this video review of the 2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman.


[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER: What we have here is the all-new 2018 MINI Countryman SE Hybrid. It's a bit of a mouthful. So let's break it down. MINI-- it's got all the personality. It's got all the style that you expect from MINI. Countryman-- the Countryman is the biggest vehicle they make, and it's still actually a compact SUV. S-- that means it's slightly sportier. It's got a little more power than the base Countryman. And the E hybrid-- well, it's a plug-in hybrid. It has about 12 miles of EV range and goes up to highway speeds. Now, the average commute is about 15 miles, according to the DOT. So if you have a slightly shorter commute than average, you'll hardly ever have to fill it with gas. The question is, is it as fun as a regular MINI? There's only one way to find out. [MUSIC PLAYING] Up front under the hood, we have the base engine, which is a three cylinder that powers only the front wheels. The difference here is in the back is an electric motor that drives the rear wheels. And the battery pack is underneath the rear seats. The combined power output between the internal combustion engine and the electric motor is 221 horsepower. That's only seven horsepower less than the top-of-the-line performance focused John Cooper Works edition. More importantly is this actually has more torque than the John Cooper Works, but it's focused more towards efficiency. I'm in EV mode right now. And if I were to give it a lot more pedal, let's say, to pass slower traffic, it'd kick in with the internal combustion engine. So here we go. And I really didn't feel that engine start up. It just kind of provided this nice shove. Right down here I have a toggle switch with the E Drive logo on it. And what that does is-- well, I can switch between the normal, automatic mode where it automatically switches between electric and gasoline power, or I could switch to EV only mode, which will not activate the gas engine unless you really give it some pedal. And then there's a save mode here, which actually gives more priority to charging the battery. So the auto E Drive is the way to go. One thing that's different about this versus other hybrids, though, is I don't get the big readout or a good indication of what the drivetrain is doing. It's just a picture of the Countryman with an arrow in the front showing that you're moving, and it will light up with the rear wheels if you're using electric only, or if you're using the gas, it will light up with red lights in the front wheels. It's really subtle on the screen. So you have to look fairly closely. Additionally, there's not a whole lot of information on this particular screen as far as how much EV range you have left or how much power you're using. You have to go to a different screen for that in a different part of the menu. I feel like they could have combined those two screens to give you a better indication of what the hybrid system's doing. You do feel a subtle transition from brake region to using the actual brake pads, though. It's almost like it gets a little mushy at the top of the brake pedal stroke, and then as you slow down or as you give it more pedal pressure, there's a little more resistance. That's when you start feeling the pads start to grab. My colleagues have commented that there are more issues at low parking lot speeds where they can be a little grabby, a little abrupt. And on the flip side of that, when you're on the highway and you need to get on the brakes, they can feel somewhat disconcertingly light. And at our test track, this came to a stop from 60 miles an hour in 140 feet. That's actually a long distance nowadays. The typical car will brake under about 120 feet. So that 20 feet could be the difference between stopping in time or tapping the bumper of the car in front of you. In most aspects, the SE hybrid drives like any other MINI Cooper. It's compact. It's got a small footprint, which means it's really easy to maneuver into a tight spot. I am noticing a lot more road noise, but that might just be down to the fact that there's no internal combustion engine running right now to help drown that out. The suspension is a little stiff compared to its competition, and that gives you that connectedness, that sporty feel that kind of instills confidence for handling. And in many ways, it handles just like a regular MINI, which is tuned for more fun than comfort. That said, it is still very comfortable. [MUSIC PLAYING] The interior of the Countryman is exactly what you'd expect from MINI. It's got all the charm, but it has evolved with better, sturdier, and more attractive materials. These sport seats-- they're very, very comfortable and supportive. But the side bolsters, if I was wider, that might be a problem. Everything-- or almost everything falls into place perfectly-- all the switches on the steering wheel, for the window, and, of course, it's got toggle switches instead of buttons and knobs. I like it. It's functional, yet attractive. When I said almost everything falls to hand, the infotainment still serves to be a little bit of an annoyance for me. In order to use it, you have to push this center armrest down to its lowest point. And that means that it's not even with the door arm rest, but it is a good system overall. As big as this center ring is, I feel like they're not making use of all the available real estate here, but at least it's functional and easy to use. Visibility-wise, it's actually really good. I have an incredible view outward, even behind me. Now, if I were to turn around, you're blocked slightly by the thick rear roof pillar, but it's got a standard rearview camera. It takes all the guesswork out. Another thing that helps with visibility is it has a built-in head-up display. It's got this flip-up plastic bit that reflects back into you. And if you don't like them, just hit a switch, and it'll fold right back down into the dash. As far as interior storage, it's a little limiting. Under the center armrest is a very, very small bin that's pretty much made just for smartphones, but it does have a wireless charging bed there. Underneath, a little bit of a pocket, not that useful. The door pockets-- they're a little shallow, but there is a pocket especially made for water bottles. Cup holders, they're on the small side, and there's a small bin there as well. It should do fine for most people. Overall, it's a really nice, attractive cabin to spend time in. From the back seat, there's actually a decent amount of room. That feeling of spaciousness up front translates back here really nicely. I feel like I'm slightly elevated, which gives me a nice view right out the windshield as well. Maybe gets in the way a little bit, but that's a really minor complaint. I do wish that there was an armrest in the center, but nothing folds out of here. I have more than enough room under the seat for my knees. And if I sit all the way back, my hair's maybe brushing the headliner, but not a problem. I'd be fine back here for a road trip. These seats do recline slightly, even though I was just reclined. The more upright position is like this. And even this isn't objectionable, but obviously it's better if you can slide back a little. Normally, with crossovers this size you expect a pretty small and limiting cargo space. Not the case with the Countryman. That's actually a sizable space. One thing, though, this pack full of household charger, adapter cords-- there's no good place to store it. You have underfloor storage, but it doesn't fit there. The thing is you probably don't need it anyway because you have a gasoline engine, and it's a standard charge port anyway. I'd say leave it at home. [MUSIC PLAYING] To answer the question, is it fun, actually yes, it is fun, and not just because it's a hybrid. It has a lot of that personality that you expect from MINI with driver engagement and just enough power to have fun but not enough to get you in trouble. I would actually consider getting one of these for myself. It fits my lifestyle just fine. It compares well against other fun-to-drive SUVs like the Mazda CX3, as well as the BMW X1 and forthcoming X2. If you're looking for something a little more environmentally friendly, though, there are some options that include the Kia Niro as well as the Kia Soul EV. For more information on the Countryman SE hybrid as well as its competition, head over to edmunds.com. To see more videos like this, hit Subscribe. [MUSIC PLAYING]

2018 Mini Cooper S E Countryman Plug-In Hybrid Review
2019 Honda Insight Unveil

hybrid car buying info

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about hybrid cars

A hybrid vehicle provides low emissions and high fuel economy by combining a gasoline-powered engine with an electric motor. It's an idea that's been around for a long time, but until Toyota and Honda brought out production models at the turn of the century, the hybrid automobile had never been part of the mainstream automotive landscape.

Toyota's third-generation Prius, which debuted for 2004, is credited with kick-starting the hybrid movement by providing 45 to 50 mpg with the room of a midsize car in a relatively compact footprint. Other carmakers, including BMW, Ford, Hyundai, Lexus and even Porsche, soon jumped onto the hybrid bandwagon.

There are now also plug-in hybrids, whose more powerful battery packs allow them to run solely under electric power for much higher speeds and for distances from about 20 to 50 miles. As the name suggests, they can be plugged into a home or a commercial charger. If you have a short enough commute, a plug-in hybrid can function largely as an electric car for much of the workweek.

Electric vehicles are just that: purely electric. Unlike a hybrid, they have no gas engine to fall back on and are thus limited to their battery pack's driving range. Models such as the Ford Focus Electric and Nissan Leaf have driving ranges from about 75 to 107 miles; the much more expensive Tesla Model S can go nearly 300 miles. Chevrolet's recently introduced Bolt sits in the sweet spot, with a range of up to 238 miles and a price much closer to mainstream models.

what are hybrid cars and how do they work?

What You Need To Know Before You Buy

What could a Toyota Prius possibly have in common with a Porsche Cayenne, a Chevrolet Volt or a Ford Fusion? Each is available with a hybrid powertrain, a propulsion system made famous by the Prius.

While consumers benefit from the improved fuel economy, hybrids give automakers a way to meet ever-tightening Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) requirements and proposed limits on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Hybrids have been in the U.S. market since late 1999 and there's a growing used hybrid market that's attracting buyers in search of fuel-efficient cars without a higher price tag.

But what exactly is a hybrid, and how does it improve fuel economy? Are all hybrids laid out essentially the same under the hood? Do they all provide similar fuel savings? Read on.

Defining Hybrids

A vehicle is a hybrid if it utilizes more than one form of onboard energy to achieve propulsion. In practice, that means a hybrid will have a traditional internal-combustion engine and a fuel tank, as well as one or more electric motors and a battery pack.

Hybrid cars are sometimes mistakenly confused with electric vehicles. Hybrids are most often gasoline-burning machines that utilize their electric bits to collect and reuse energy that normally goes to waste in standard cars. Theoretically, diesel-electric hybrids would be even more fuel-efficient, but hybrid systems and diesel engines both represent extra cost. So far, installing both in the same vehicle has proven to be prohibitively expensive.

Hybrid Car Glossary

Below are the terms most often used when referring to hybrid vehicles.

Motor-generator: The more accurate term for the electric motor. It provides supplemental acceleration "oomph" when operating as a motor by drawing electricity from the battery. Several hybrids have two, and a few models employ three.

Stop-start: Present on all hybrids, the engine's traditional starter motor is absent because the motor-generator takes on that function, too. Hybrid-control software shuts the engine off while stopped at traffic signals and automatically restarts it again with the electric motor when the driver releases the brake pedal. Eliminating the fuel waste of an idling gas engine causes overall mpg to climb significantly and tailpipe emissions to drop, especially in town.

Regenerative braking: An important function of the motor-generator is to generate electricity to recharge the battery as it absorbs a portion of the vehicle's momentum when slowing or coasting downhill. Normal cars waste all of their excess momentum as heat in the brakes. Regenerative braking is insufficient to stop a car quickly, so conventional hydraulic brakes are still necessary.

Electric drive: Operating the vehicle on electric power alone is possible if the hybrid system has enough electrical capacity. The maximum speed and distance over which electric-only operation can be sustained varies from essentially zero to a handful of miles, and has everything to do with the weight and aerodynamics of the vehicle, the strength of the motor-generator and, more than anything else, the capacity of the battery.

Hybrid Layouts

Not all hybrids possess these attributes in equal measure, nor do they operate the same way. It all begins with the layout of the system.

Series hybrids: This is the oldest hybrid type. Diesel-electric locomotives and ships using this layout appeared in the last century. In a series hybrid car, electric motors alone turn the drive wheels, so the motors must be large and powerful. But a series hybrid is not a "pure" electric vehicle. It has a dedicated engine that burns fuel and expels emissions. The engine powers a generator to produce the electricity onboard the vehicle.

The 2014 BMW i3 and the out-of-production 2012 Fisker Karma use series hybrid systems. But these cars from BMW and Fisker are also plug-in hybrids. More about that flavor of hybrid a little later.

Nearly every carmaker also has a series hybrid demonstration vehicle that uses a hydrogen-powered fuel cell instead of a gasoline engine to generate the electricity. Those cars, usually called fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs), are expected to start entering the retail market in small numbers by 2015. Look for them initially in limited areas, such as the Los Angeles basin, where some sort of retail hydrogen fuel system is present.

Parallel hybrids: These are the simplest and least costly type in current automotive use. Here the output of the engine and the electric motor are blended together upstream of the transmission. The engine dominates, never doing anything except propelling the vehicle. An electric motor provides an extra boost, and if it's large enough, it may be the car's only source of propulsion for short distances. In conventional parallel hybrids, such as the Civic Hybrid from Honda, regenerative braking is the sole source of recharging power for the battery.

Series-parallel hybrids: As the name implies, these cars contain elements of both types. Conceptually, the engine and the electric motor feed into the transmission via separate paths, enabling fully independent propulsion via the engine or electricity. In parallel fashion, the motor-generator can either bolster the engine's output or provide battery charging via regenerative braking. Series-parallel motor-generators are sizable, so electric-only operation (at low speeds for a couple miles) is a standard feature. The engine can still power the car, but it can also be reassigned to battery charging duty while the electric motor drives the vehicle: the classic series operation.

In a series-parallel hybrid vehicle, a computer monitors driving conditions and the state of the battery to decide which mode is most efficient at any given moment. The seamless blending of these modes is then carried out by a unique continuously variable transmission (CVT) that uses a planetary gearset as opposed to a system of variable pulleys and belts. Series-parallel hardware is more expensive, but the payoff in efficiency is huge: To date, these hybrids offer the largest gains in mpg, the highest electric-only speeds and the longest electric-only run times. Ford's C-Max and Fusion hybrids and all Toyota and Lexus hybrids use series-parallel systems.

Plug-in hybrids: These are not really a fourth type of hybrid because a plug-in could conceivably be based on any of the above layouts. Plug-in hybrids (also called PHEVs) began appearing in the market with the Chevrolet Volt at the end of 2010. Their distinguishing characteristic is a significantly enlarged battery that permits the electric driving range to swell beyond the mile or two possible with regular hybrids. It also provides a way to plug the battery into an electrical outlet for recharging while parked. The benefit of the plug-in hybrid is its ability to travel in all-electric mode for most short trips, reserving the gasoline engine for longer drives. That's a feature that can boost fuel economy into 100 MPGe territory. In addition to the Volt, plug-in hybrids include the Ford Fusion Energi, Toyota Prius and a version of the Honda Accord.

Hybrids, by Degree

Some hybrids have more power than others. Automakers have developed terms to describe their various levels of electric oomph.

"Mini" hybrids: This is a class that adds a modicum of electric assist to the stop-start system. Because these cars don't offer full hybrid capabilities, they can be built using very small and relatively inexpensive nickel-metal hydride or lithium-ion batteries to help keep costs down. General Motors pioneered the system, which it calls eAssist, and first offered it in the four-cylinder version of the 2013 Buick LaCrosse. Buick intentionally avoided using the term "hybrid" with this system because it believes, as do most other automakers, that consumers have greater expectations for anything labeled "hybrid."

Mild hybrids: These usually are parallel hybrids without sufficient power to propel the vehicle in all-electric mode more than a handful of yards. The gasoline engine essentially operates all of the time and is augmented by the electric motor when more power is needed for accelerating or climbing hills, for instance. The 2013 Honda Civic Hybrid is an example.

Strong hybrids: These can be parallel, series or series-parallel vehicles. They have large enough electric motors and powerful enough batteries to provide some degree of all-electric mode, along with stop-start, regenerative braking and gas engine assist. The Toyota Prius was the first strong hybrid in the market and remains the best-selling of all the hybrids.

Vehicles with stop-start systems: This is another class of hybrid-inspired vehicles coming into the market, making use of the stop-start systems that were perfected for hybrids. They are not hybrids because they don't have two power systems (although some in the industry call them micro-hybrids). Instead, they use a beefed-up starter motor and battery or capacitor to provide the stop-start function but have no electric assist for acceleration and no other aspects of a conventional hybrid.

Still, stop-start systems can offer 3-10 percent increases in fuel efficiency and are expected to become almost universal as automakers strive to achieve rapid improvement in their fleets' overall fuel efficiency. The 2013 Ram 1500 HFE (high fuel-efficiency) pickup from Chrysler has a stop-start system. Ford offers auto stop-start as a stand-alone optional feature of the 2013 Fusion SE.

All About Batteries

Hybrids employ two battery types. Nickel-metal hydride batteries are used in almost all current hybrids, but they are not sufficiently efficient and compact for plug-in use.

Lithium-ion batteries that are durable enough for automotive use are the battery of choice for plug-ins and, increasingly, for newer conventional hybrid models. They are lighter and more energy-dense than nickel-metal hydride batteries. Battery engineers continue to seek the next-generation hybrid or electric vehicle battery that will offer even lighter weight, lower cost and greater range.

Whatever the type, hybrid batteries are considered part of the emissions system, and as such are covered under terms of the mandatory emissions warranty: eight years or 100,000 miles in federal emissions states, and 10 years or 150,000 miles in states that adhere to California emissions standards.

Other Hybrid Considerations

Because of its very different powertrain, automakers had to make changes to the basic accessory equipment of the hybrid car to allow the engine to shut off when cruising on electricity or waiting at stoplights.

Traditional hydraulic power steering needs a running engine to drive the required pump, so hybrid engineers employed electronic power steering (EPS) instead. Adopting EPS is easy because it's rapidly becoming the norm on regular family cars anyway. It's possible to retain hydraulic steering by using a remote electric pump, but so far only Porsche has experimented with this approach in the interest of maintaining excellent steering feel.

Air-conditioning systems also use an engine-driven compressor, so hybrids with enough battery capacity use an electrically driven compressor instead. Some lower-cost hybrids retain their engine-driven compressors, but their drivers must engage an "Eco A/C" mode to limit compressor function when stopped. If they forget, or choose not to, the engine can't shut down at stoplights and they'll miss out on much of the hybrid fuel savings.

Then there's the engine itself. Hybrids that employ a CVT can take advantage of the more efficient Atkinson cycle, a variation of the traditional four-stroke engine cycle that significantly modifies when air is let into the combustion chamber. The Atkinson cycle requires engine speed (rpm) to be relatively constant, and a CVT keeps the engine's rpm in the Atkinson "sweet spot" via its ever-changing stepless gear ratios.