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In the early days of hybrid cars, Toyota dominated the market with the Prius but soon turned to hybridizing SUVs, beginning with the Highlander in 2005 and the premium Lexus RX. Today there are more alternatives for drivers who want fuel-sipping hybrids but need the extra space and convenience of a crossover or small SUV. There are about a dozen models to choose from and we didn’t include any EV nor plug-in hybrid SUVs, which provide different kinds of efficiencies.
Still, for people who want 40 mpg out of an SUV, the conventional hybrids on this list are still the tried-and-true go-to. We’ve sorted both premium and popular brand models here by their fuel economy numbers. These are the best hybrid SUVs that you’ll never plug in for 2023 and include a mix of current and 2022 model-year vehicles.
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What is a Hybrid SUV?
There are several kinds of hybrid SUVs: Mild hybrids use an electric motor to assist their gasoline engine but never to actually drive the vehicle, while stop-start hybrids deactivate the engine when a vehicle is stationary to save fuel. These passive hybrid systems do offer some fuel savings over a regular gas-powered car, but only a little.
The most common and familiar type of hybrid is a series-parallel hybrid, and all of the SUVs showcased in this list use this system. Its design automatically sends power to a vehicle’s internal combustion and electric drives for the best blend of fuel efficiency and power delivery. The internal combustion engine also serves as a generator to provide additional juice to the electric motor. Series-parallel hybrids can run in electric mode, internal combustion mode or any combination of the two as the power management system determines.
A plug-in hybrid, or PHEV, offers additional battery capacity, allowing a limited range of fully electric operation at speed, typically anywhere from 15 to 40 miles.
How do Hybrid Cars Work?
Hybrid vehicles are powered by an internal combustion engine that works in concert with an electric motor. In the most familiar hybrid vehicles, like the Toyota Highlander hybrid, the vehicle operates on its electric motor at low speeds or in city traffic, but switches to gasoline or combined operation when power is needed or at higher speeds. In contrast to pure gas or diesel vehicles, which operate most efficiently on the highway at high speed, hybrids return their best mileage around town, where they can take full advantage of the electric assistance. For more information, see our hybrid guide.
What are the Pros and Cons of Hybrid SUVs?
Series-parallel hybrid SUVs like the ones on this list offer considerably better gas mileage than any gas-only SUV, and they also tend to run on regular-grade gas, rather than premium. In the long run, that adds up to significant fuel savings, typically at no additional maintenance cost versus a less-complex gas or diesel-powered SUV. They’re generally quieter than gas or diesel vehicles as well.
The downside is that there aren’t many choices of this type of hybrid, and virtually all of them are small or compact-sized crossovers with limited off-road ability and less room than larger SUVs. There are also tradeoffs in performance. Hybrid options tend to be more expensive or require a higher trim level.
Are Hybrid SUVs Powerful?
The classic series-parallel hybrids on this list tend not to be. On-road performance and acceleration are usually a little less exciting in such vehicles than in non-hybrid or fully electric SUVs, since these hybrids tend to be optimized for economy, not power or speed.
Are Hybrid SUVs expensive to maintain?
Not really. Hybrid SUVs have been around for decades so there’s very good data on their maintenance costs. Happily, most hybrid models don’t seem to require any additional maintenance relative to their gas-only counterparts. In fact a 2020 Consumer Reports study found that maintenance and repair costs for hybrid and fully electric vehicles were actually lower than those of conventional gas vehicles in the first 100,000 miles.
We sorted our hybrid SUVs on EPA-rated gas mileage and overall performance, safety and tech features, battery capability, range, style and space for passengers and stuff. To qualify for the list, each car had to be a true hybrid (no plug-ins), measure as an SUV and start under $65,000.
Our overall rating methodology is based on seven categories for 2022 and 2023 for a total of 100 points.
For 2022 and 20223, our ratings categories are:
- Range, Energy Use & Charging
- Comfort & Room
- Cargo Space & Storage
- Style & Design
Overall: 100 points
- Performance (15 points) The Performance score is a subjective assessment of a vehicle’s handling, braking, acceleration, ride quality and other qualitative performance measures such as horsepower, torque, zero-to-60 time and top speed. Towing capability for trucks and SUVs also is considered. Performance of the vehicles is compared against the identified competitive set. While driving, reviewers look for attributes relative to the expectations set by the manufacturer and by consumer expectations.
- Fuel Economy (15 points) The Fuel Economy score is based on the combined mpg estimate for the entire model lineup and how that figure measures against the identified competitive set. The mpg estimates are based on EPA data or the manufacturer if no EPA data is available. Scoring for pure electric vehicles will be based on kilowatts consumed per 100 miles and the comparative mile per gallon equivalent, or MPGe.
- Safety (15 points) The Safety score is based on crash test results from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Vehicles not yet rated by either agency receive zero points. Also included in the safety rating are points awarded for certain advanced driver-assistance safety features offered as standard equipment on the base trim. There are nine safety features Forbes Wheels considers mandatory for the standard offering: forward emergency automatic braking, forward collision warning, automatic high beams, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic warning, adaptive cruise control and lane departure warning or one its higher-level variants, lane keeping assistance or lane centering. Vehicles must have at least four of these in their standard offering to receive points. Vehicles that offer a Level 2 self-driving system, (a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane centering) are eligible for a bonus point.
- Infotainment (15 points) The Infotainment score is based on points awarded for certain features offered as standard equipment on the base trim. Forbes Wheels identifies certain features that are growing in popularity and therefore have been adopted by both premium and mainstream automakers. Some of these features include a minimum 7-inch touchscreen, wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a customizable, digital driver information display or instrument panel and at least two USB ports. Additional points are awarded for popular features that haven’t been widely adopted in mainstream vehicles such as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and wireless charging capabilities.
- Comfort & Room (15 points) The Comfort & Room score is based on points awarded for the reviewer’s assessment of the vehicle’s comfort, ergonomics and overall interior feel as well as effective use of space. Points also are awarded for the measurement of rear-seat legroom and how it compares with the identified competitive set. Vehicles that offer a segment-best legroom in either rear seat or optional third row are eligible for a bonus point.
- Cargo Space & Storage (15 points) The Cargo Space & Storage score is based on points awarded for the reviewer’s assessment of the vehicle’s large and small cargo spaces (as well as small-item storage) and how well they serve their purpose and effective use of space. Reviewers also consider innovative storage solutions and flexible loading features. Points also are awarded for the cargo space measurements for rear cargo hold or trunk and how it compares with the identified competitive set. Vehicles that offer segment-best cargo or trunk space are eligible for a bonus point.
- Styling (10 points) The Style score is a subjective assessment of a vehicle’s overall styling and design, inside and out. Reviewers also consider the configuration of the interior and how well the design plays into the function. Build quality also is a consideration.