Two decades have passed since the American launch of the first modern hybrid cars, yet the technology still seems new. Most Americans have still never even ridden in a hybrid car and, according to recent research by hybrid leader Toyota, many consumers still have giant misconceptions about them. The mistaken idea that they need to be plugged in, for example.
But conventional hybrids don't need to be plugged in. Their batteries are recharged by the onboard gasoline-fueled engine and by energy harnessed when the vehicle brakes or coasts. Their electric power doesn't drive the vehicle most of the time, but it does come into play in propitious moments — pulling away from a stop, at low speeds in a neighborhood, and when the gasoline engine could use an added boost. (You can opt instead, however, for a plug-in hybrid vehicle to achieve additional fuel savings.)
So 20 years in, not only have hybrids proven their worth, but we have also seen hybrid technology migrate into mainstream cars. And that's what we have here, a list of the best hybrid sedans available to mass-market buyers.
2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid
The Toyota Corolla compact Sedan is one of the most popular cars of all time. Its quality and reliability are the stuff of legend, and now there is a hybrid version. With the original Prius and then the expanded Prius line, Toyota has become synonymous with hybrids, but it was almost two decades before Toyota decided to offer a hybrid version of the Corolla. After driving it, we found it very much worth the wait. In fact, we would describe it as the best Corolla we've ever driven.
The Corolla Hybrid’s 121-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine is supplemented by a 71-horsepower electric motor, giving the sedan plenty of useful torque. The continuously variable automatic transmission works very well in this installation, delivering the power smoothly. Fuel economy ratings of 53 mpg city/52 mpg highway/52 mpg overall with a base price of around $23,000 makes the Corolla Hybrid a tremendous value.
2020 Honda Insight
The 2020 Honda Insight compact Sedan was designed to differentiate itself from the hybrid competition (read: Toyota Prius) by offering a more involving driving experience and a more luxurious cabin. Among its claims are best-in-class passenger space and city fuel economy rating. The five-seat Insight offers 151 total horsepower — 107 horsepower from its 1.5-liter Atkinson cycle 4-cylinder engine and 129 horsepower from its AC synchronous permanent-magnet electric motor. (Full engine and electric motor horsepower are not available simultaneously, which is the reason those numbers aren't additive.)
The Insight is a separate Honda model, rather than a gas-electric version of an existing vehicle, and it's available in LX, EX, and Touring trims. All have LED headlights, push-button start, and the Honda Sensing suite of safety and driver-assistive technologies. With pleasant acceleration and an interior that doesn't resemble a hairshirt, the Insight surpasses the Prius in people-pleasing categories. It offers up to 55 mpg city/49 mpg highway/52 mpg overall fuel economy, depending on the trim level, and starts at $24,000.
2020 Toyota Camry Hybrid
When it comes to mid-size sedans, the Toyota Camry frequently tops the list for quality, reliability, and dependability. These days, the Camry also offers a newfound stylishness both inside and out.
One unsung aspect of the roomy, five-passenger four-door is its available hybrid powertrain. The 176-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is given a boost by a 118-horsepower electric motor, all driving the front wheels via a Toyota-developed continuously variable transmission intended for hybrid use. From behind the wheel, you won’t always notice that you’re driving a hybrid, but the system gives added torque in key situations to improve drivability. On the fuel economy front, the LE trim level, equipped with lithium-ion battery pack, offers 51 mpg city/53 mpg highway/52 mpg overall. It has a base price of right around $26,000.
2020 Honda Accord Hybrid
The Honda Accord Hybrid brings the third generation of Honda's "two-motor" system to one of the most popular mid-size sedans in the country. The technologically fascinating hybrid-electric powertrain co-joins a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine to a 181-horsepower electric propulsion motor that delivers substantial low-end torque — 232 lb-ft to be exact. Total combined output is 212 horsepower. Honda’s unique system is designed to operate without the need for a conventional automatic transmission.
It all sounds complicated, but on the road, it’s seamless and transparent. Fuel economy doesn't quite climb to the lofty heights of the Camry Hybrid, but it is still laudable at 48 mpg city/47 mpg highway/48 mpg overall. The Honda Accord Hybrid has a starting price of slightly under $26,000.
2020 Kia Optima Hybrid
One of the most likable mid-size sedans on the market, the 2020 Kia Optima Hybrid cruises into its fourth model year with several new standard features. Among the niceties are wireless smartphone charging, an 8-inch rearview monitor with parking guidance, and the Kia Drive Wise safety/driver-assistance suite. The well-regarded UVO link telematics includes a "Find My Car" feature, remote lock/unlock, and remote vehicle climate control.
The vehicle’s hybrid powertrain is untouched from 2019. It includes a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline-fueled engine and 50.9-horsepower interior-permanent magnet synchronous electric motor working their magic through a largely conventional six-speed automatic transmission. All of this results in good but hardly lightning-fast acceleration. For those who want their hybrid to look and act like a conventional Sedan, the Kia Optima is right on the mark. It comes only as a well-equipped EX version with 40 mpg city/45 mpg highway/42 mpg overall fuel economy and a list price of $30,000.
2020 Toyota Avalon Hybrid
You might say the Toyota Avalon is a lot like the Camry, only more so. The larger four-door Sedan is even more comfortable and accommodating than the already comfortable and accommodating Camry. The fact that the Avalon is also the basis of the luxurious Lexus ES just gives you insight into the platform's sophistication.
The total horsepower for the hybrid drivetrain is 215. That's the combination of 176 horsepower from the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and 118 horsepower from the permanent magnet electric motor. The battery pack is nickel-metal hydride versus lithium-ion. The suspension uses McPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear to give both good road-holding and suave over-the-highway comfort. Fuel economy is 43 mpg city/44 mpg highway/44 mpg overall, and while those numbers are impressive, the Avalon's smoothness and silence are more impressive. The car has a base price of a bit over $33,000.
2020 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Ford has been the most aggressive of the American carmakers in going after the hybrid market. Despite the fact that Ford has trimmed many sedans from its U.S. portfolio, it still offers the mid-size Ford Fusion in hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants. Both Fusion hybrids use the same 188-horsepower drive system that employs a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine in combination with an 88-kW permanent-magnet AC synchronous motor.
The big difference is the size of the battery pack. The conventional hybrid is equipped with a 1.4-kWh lithium-ion battery, while the plug-in is fitted with a 9-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. The hybrid is available in several grades with equipment similar to the gasoline-only Fusion, while the plug-in is offered in the top Titanium trim only. Fuel economy for the conventional hybrid is 43 mpg city/41 mpg highway/42 mpg overall, and it has a base price of about $28,000.
2020 Lexus ES 300h
The Lexus ES sedan is one of the most popular luxury cars in the American market, and you can make a strong case that the ES 300h hybrid version is the best of the breed. Certainly, it offers the best fuel economy of the Lexus ES variants, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. The real benefits come in drivability, smoothness, and quiet — in short, everything a luxury sedan should be.
The ES 300h is powered by a tried-and-true Toyota-engineered hybrid system. It includes a 176-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine plus an electric motor driving the front wheels via an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission. The battery pack is nickel-metal hydride, which has a sterling record for longevity. In normal driving, the system is utterly transparent, though the added torque improves roadability versus the conventional sedan. Fuel economy is 43 mpg city/44 mpg highway/44 mpg overall, and it has a base price of about $42,000.
2020 Acura RLX Hybrid
The hybrid version Acura RLX luxury sedan is officially called the "RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD," and there is method in that. While many hybrids shoot for high fuel economy numbers at the expense of fun-to-drive aspects, the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid takes things in another direction. It uses its hybrid drive system to enhance performance driving characteristics. Right off the top, the car is powerful — the combined system produces 377 horsepower. Of that total, 310 horsepower is produced by the 3.5-liter V6 engine.
Things get significantly more complicated from there. The front wheels get power assist from a 47-horsepower electric motor, while twin 36-horsepower electric motors add torque to individual rear wheels. This enables the Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system to truly live up to its name. The RLX Hybrid's fuel economy is 28 mpg city/29 mpg highway/28 mpg overall, and it has a base price of about $63,000.
2020 Lexus LS 500h
The Lexus LS is a full-size luxury sedan that can satisfy the hedonist in you. Filled with safety, driver-assist, and convenience features, it is the Lexus brand's ultimate sedan. And the LS 500h hybrid version only adds to the feeling of effortless ability.
The well-styled sedan is equipped with the Lexus Multi Stage Hybrid System that combines a naturally aspirated Atkinson-cycle 3.5-liter V6 gasoline engine with two electric motor/generators powered by a compact, lightweight lithium-ion battery pack. The combined output system output of the gasoline-fueled engine and the electric traction system is 354 horsepower. Along with the electronically controlled planetary transmission coupled to an all-new four-speed gear set, this output enables the LS 500h to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.1 seconds. Fuel economy is 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway/28 mpg overall, and it has a base price of about $74,000.