The best hybrid cars in Australia 2021

KATIE RODWELL
Finance Writer · 23 April 2021
Greener (or cleaner) options are becoming increasingly popular in the Australian vehicle market. Sales for hybrid and electric cars continue to grow steadily in 2021. So, what exactly are hybrid cars and what options are available in Australia?

Sales of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fully electric cars in Australia almost doubled from December 2019 to December 2020, according to the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI). In 2020, 63,871 of these low emission vehicles were sold, compared to 34,140 in 2019. Of these sales, the overwhelming majority were hybrid cars, representing 93.7% of sales, a clear sign of their increasing popularity.

FCAI chief executive Tony Weber told Which Car, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles are the natural stepping stones for many to the adoption of fully electric vehicles. “These figures send a clear message that low emissions vehicles are on the way and are part of the future,” he said.

CEO of Australia’s Electric Vehicle Council, Behyad Jafari, told Car Advice that the continued rise of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles could be mainly attributed to an increase in availability of new models. “We’re still only talking about a few hundred cars and we’d like to see a few more zeros added to that number,” Mr Jafari said. “But the good news is that we were talking about 2019 as a breakthrough year for electric vehicles because then we tripled sales, and now we’re beating that… [again].”

While not included in the FCAI sales figures  Tesla has also sold around 10,000 cars since it arrived in Australia in 2014, 3,000 of which were in the last year, with the Model 3 increasingly popular.

If you are looking for an eco-friendly way to travel on the road and potentially cut down on fuel costs, we will drive through some of your options when it comes to hybrid vehicles in Australia and some key things to consider before plugging in to this green vehicle market.

What is a hybrid car?

A hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) is a car that uses a combination of electricity and petrol to power the motor. Most HEVs sold in Australia use a petrol engine as the main source of power to drive the wheels and a small battery-driven electric motor to offer a helping hand in driving short distances or when the car is running idle, according to the Comparisons Editor of automotive publication Car Expert, Mike Costello.

He said the small battery in a hybrid car is kept charged by a system that captures energy created when the vehicle accelerates and brakes.

What is a plug-in hybrid car?

A plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is a car that is run primarily using a large battery-powered electric motor that can be charged by plugging it into an electrical source (e.g. electricity grid), national secretary of the Australian Electric Vehicle Association (AEVA), Chris Jones, told Canstar.

PHEVs do have a petrol engine, but Mr Jones said it is only used when the battery power in the electric motor is depleted. The larger battery and plug-in feature of a PHEV means that, unlike a HEV, it can operate solely on the power of the electric engine for up to 50 – 60kms in some instances, according to Drive.com.au. With less dependence on the petrol engine, Drive said a PHEV does not consume as much petrol or emit as much CO2 as a HEV. However, due to its larger and more expensive battery, a PHEV will typically cost more to purchase than a HEV.


Hybrid vs electric vehicles: what’s the difference?

Unlike a HEV or PHEV, a pure electric vehicle (EV) has no petrol engine and is powered solely by a battery-powered electric engine that can be charged by plugging into an electrical source.

Because there is no petrol engine, Motorama Australia said an EV emits no CO2 from the vehicle, and can help a driver save on fuel costs. However, with no petrol engine to fall back on, an EV may be more limited in how far it can be driven before needing to be recharged, and is typically more expensive to purchase than a HEV or PHEV car, according to Motorama.

What are the top hybrid electric vehicle cars Australia in 2021?

There is a wide selection of HEVs available in Australia, including a number of popular Toyota models, which were among the first hybrids to be introduced in the country.

Below is a snapshot of some of the top hybrid cars available in Australia, according to Mr Costello. These cars have been sorted into four categories – most popular, most affordable, when cost is no barrier, and best technology.

The pricing and specifications in this list have been gathered from carsguide.com.au and caradvice.com.au. This is not an exhaustive list and should be used as a general guide only. The ‘CO2’ number is the vehicle’s emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in grams per kilometre travelled (g/km). According to energy.gov.au, a ‘green’ vehicle is defined as one with emissions that do not exceed 120 grams of CO2 emissions per km.

Most popular hybrid electric vehicles

Mr Costello told Canstar that Toyota’s range of hybrid cars were among the most well-known in the market, including the Prius, which took the notion of a petrol/electric car into the mainstream in Australia in 2001. While the Prius is still one of Toyota’s best-recognised hybrid vehicles, Mr Costello said there are now a number of other Toyota hybrid models that have also proved popular with Australian buyers.

Below is a list of the most popular HEVs on the Australian market according to Mr Costello:

Toyota Corolla Sedan Hybrid

toyota corolla hybrid
Source: otomobil/Shutterstock.com

Price from: $30,613 plus on-road costs (e.g. stamp duty and registration)

Engine: 1.8-litre, four-cylinder petrol/twin electric motors

Fuel consumption: 4.2L/100km

CO2: 97g/km

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

toyota rav4 hybrid
Source: Milos Vucicevic/Shutterstock.com

Price from: $41,537 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol/twin electric motors

Fuel consumption: 4.7L/100km

CO2: 109g/km

Toyota Camry Hybrid

Toyota Camry Hybrid
Source: Teddy Leung/Shutterstock.com

Price from: $35,765 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol/twin electric motors

Fuel consumption: 4.2L/100km

CO2: 96g/km

Honda Accord VTi-LX Hybrid

Honda Accord Hybrid
Source: Kridsada Krataipet/Shutterstock.com

Price from: $59,391 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2-litre, 2 Motor i-MMD Hybrid System

Fuel consumption: 4.3L/100km

CO2: 98g/km

Subaru Forester Hybrid L

Subaru Forester Hybrid
Source: Teddy Leung/Shutterstock.com

Price from: $45,297 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder petrol/ electric motor

Fuel consumption: 6.7L/100km

CO2: 152g/km

When cost is no barrier HEV

Mr Costello said the Lexus LS was his pick as the best of the luxury hybrid vehicles on the Australian market. Car Advice said the LS 500h Hybrid ranks highly among the hierarchy of alternative fuel vehicles in Australia, particularly for its solid performance, comfort and low fuel usage.

Lexus LS 500h Hybrid (2020)

Lexus LS 500h Hybrid
Source: Grzegorz Czapski/Shutterstock.com

Price from: $208,305 plus on-road costs

Engine: 3.5-litre, V6 petrol engine/twin electric motors and lithium-ion battery

Fuel consumption: 6.6L/100km

CO2: 150g/km

Best tech HEV

For the HEV with the best technology, Mr Costello chose the Toyota Rav4 Hybrid (as detailed above).

Mr Costello said the Toyota Rav4 allows you to drive 40km/hr on the electric motor alone for those city streets and school zones, and added that when both petrol and electric motors are used in conjunction with each other, it is a “subtle and cohesive experience” with impressive power and performance. He also said the Rav4 is extremely fuel-efficient, using half the amount of petrol in comparison to a regular petrol-powered SUV in another brand.

Top plug-in hybrid (PHEV) cars Australia

While there are not as many plug-in hybrid vehicles in Australia as there are regular hybrid cars, there are many manufacturers around the globe rolling out new models each year.

Below is a snapshot of some of the top plug-in hybrid cars available in Australia, as chosen by Chris Jones from the AEVA and Tim Washington, director of EV charging infrastructure and accessories supplier JET Charge. Like the lists of regular hybrids, these cars have been sorted into four categories – most popular, most affordable, when cost is no barrier, and best technology.

The pricing and specifications in this list have been gathered from carsguide.com.au and caradvice.com.au. This is not an exhaustive list and should be used as a general guide only. The ‘CO2’ is vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) in grams per kilometre (g/km). According to energy.gov.au, a ‘green’ vehicle is defined as one with emissions that do not exceed 120 grams of CO2 emissions per km. The ‘electricity-only range’ is the maximum distance a PHEV can travel on a fully charged, electric-battery alone before the petrol engine kicks in.

Most popular PHEV

Mr Jones told Canstar the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV was by far the most popular option in Australia for this type of vehicle.

“An SUV which can tow is a desirable car, and the option of powering it mostly on electricity means money and emissions saved,” he said.

However, Mr Jones said some PHEVs like the Mitsubishi Outlander did not employ active thermal management in their battery packs, so they may begin to deteriorate faster than a liquid-cooled option like the Holden Volt. When a battery begins to deteriorate it can lead to performance issues with the car, and eventually will mean a new battery will need to be fitted.

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV

Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Source: VanderWolf Images/Shutterstock.com

Price from: $51,990 plus on-road costs

Engine: 2-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine/twin electric motors

Fuel consumption: 1.7L/100km

Electricity-only range: 54km

CO2: 46g/km

Most affordable PHEV

According to Mr Jones, the Hyundai Ioniq PHEV offered the most affordable option for consumers who wanted a sedan with an electric-only range of over 60 km, while keeping open the option of longer trips using the car’s petrol motor (which kicks in once the electric component runs out of juice).

Hyundai Ioniq PHEV (2020)

Hyundai Ioniq PHEV
Source: Monir Abderrazzak/Shutterstock.com

Price from: $46,650 plus on-road costs

Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder petrol-electric engine

Fuel consumption: 3.7L/100km

Electricity-only range: 63km

CO2: 84g/km

When cost is no barrier PHEV

At the other end of the spectrum, Mr Jones said there were premium plug-in hybrids such as the Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid that could cost over $400,000. It produces 420kW from its 4.0-litre biturbo V8 petrol engine, and 100kW from an electric motor integrated into the eight-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Porsche Panamera Turbo S E-Hybrid

Porsche Panamera PHEV
Source: blaskor/Shutterstock.com

Price from: $420,000 plus on-road costs

Engine: 4-litre, biturbo V8 petrol engine/electric motor

Fuel consumption: 2.9L/100km

Electricity-only range: 49km

CO2: 66g/km

Best tech PHEV

Mr Washington from JET Charge named the Porsche Cayenne PHEV and Panamera PHEV as two of the best tech plug-in hybrids on the Australian market.

The Cayenne uses an E-Hybrid system, where the electric motor is positioned between the petrol engine and automatic transmission. According to Which Car, this positioning allows power to be sent to all four wheels exactly as it does in a V6 engine (six-cylinder engine arranged in a V configuration) car. The result is a compact transmission that provides consistent performance and requires no adjustment in driving style when the drive mode