In recent years, hybrid SUVs have begun to take up more and more of the market share. While just a decade ago your options were pretty limited, now you have dozens of different choices from many manufacturers. Hybrids use both a traditional internal combustion engine supplemented by electric motor-generators, and are both fuel efficient and good for the environment when compared with non-hybrids. Today, we’re going to look at the best hybrid SUVs on the market for 2023. We’ll compare their specs, price, fuel economy, comfort, aesthetic appeal, interior, and performance, to determine which one is the top dog.
*Previously, we looked at the full electric vehicles the Tesla Model S vs the Lucid Air. If you’re in the market for a high powered EV Sedan, make sure to check out that article.
The different types of best hybrid SUV power trains
The term hybrid SUV vehicle refers to an SUV that uses both a traditional internal combustion engine (ICE), as well as one or more electric motor-generators (MGs), to deliver power to drive the vehicle. There are several different power train options for hybrid vehicles that determine how the electric and internal combustion motors work together. Let’s look at the three most common hybrid power trains, keeping in mind that every manufacturer has their own small proprietary tweaks on each design to make them unique.
First, however, let’s get the terminology out of the way. Hybrids usually consist of three things; a battery, an electric motor-generator, and an internal combustion engine. The electric motor-generator can be used as both a generator (converts mechanical power to electrical power) or as a motor (creating power), so its best to refer to it as a singular motor-generator (MG). Internal combustion engines (ICE) refer to traditional 4-stroke gasoline engines, and the battery packs are usually lithium and designed specifically to power the MG(s).
Series Hybrid SUVs
The first type of hybrid drive train is known as a series or extended-range hybrid. On these kinds of hybrids, an internal combustion engine (ICE), also referred to as a range extender, connects to the first of two electric motor-generators (MG). The MG charges a battery, and also powers a second MG that drives the wheels. The battery stores energy and is used to deliver extra power to the second MG when needed.
The term series indicates the ICE and MGs work “in series” which each other, meaning the ICE works first to power the MGs. In series hybrids, the engine does not and cannot power the wheels by itself. In series hybrids, the gas engine (range extender) only powers the MGs, and never actually drives the wheels. Generally, series hybrids are most efficient at lower speeds, like stop-and-go traffic. The most common examples include the Cadillac ELR and Chevy Volt.
Parallel Hybrid SUVs
Next up are what are known as parallel hybrid drive trains. In parallel hybrids, both an ICE and an electric MG work together to deliver power to the wheels. The ICE is connected to a traditional transmission, which itself is connected to a reduction gear. The MG is powered by a battery which is also connected to the reduction gear. Both the ICE and MG can then be used to drive the wheels together.
In some parallel hybrids, the ICE can be disconnected to allow the MG to drive the wheels by itself for an all electric range. The term “parallel” means that both the ICE and MG work at the same time, in parallel of each other.
Generally, parallel hybrids are most efficient while driving at faster speeds, like on the highway. Some of the most common examples of parallel hybrids are the Chevy Malibu and Honda Accord.
Series-Parallel or Power-Split Hybrid SUVs
The third type of hybrid drive train is known as the series-parallel or power-split hybrid. In a series-parallel hybrid, there is not a traditional transmission. Instead, both the ICE and MG are connected to a power-split device, which acts as a three-way transmission. The power-split device can either combine both the ICE and MG together, or it can allow either to power the wheels by themselves.
Series-parallel hybrid drive trains combine both the advantages and disadvantages of series and parallel hybrids. The power-split device essentially acts as a continuously variable transmission, always working for peak efficiency. The most common series-parallel hybrid is the Toyota Prius.
One of the most common terms for hybrid SUVs is the term regenerative braking, but what does it mean? Regenerative braking is a hybrid braking system that actually either replaces or supplements the traditional disc or drum brakes that SUVs normally use. Regenerative brakes use electric motors instead of friction to stop vehicles. This allows them to capture the kinetic energy from stopping, and transfer it to recharge the battery. They are commonly used on all of the above hybrid drive trains.
The different types of hybrid SUVs
Now that we’ve talked about the different drive trains for the best hybrid SUVs, let’s talk about the different types of hybrid SUVs out there. These hybrids use a combination of the above drive trains.
Mild Hybrids (MHEV)
Mild hybrid electric vehicles (MHEV) are hybrid SUVs that cannot be powered solely by the MG and require an ICE to power the wheels. These hybrids use parallel hybrid drive trains that do not have a big enough battery to power the MG to power the wheels alone. The MG is used when the SUV is stopped, braking, or coasting slowly, and allow for the ICE to be turned off for fuel savings. They can also be used to add supplemental power to the ICE for more horsepower.
The MG is capable of powering all of the vehicle’s electrical components, allowing the car to function normally while the ICE is off. As soon as the driver hits the throttle to begin driving again, the ICE turns back on.
Full Hybrids (HEV)
Full hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) are hybrid SUVs that use either parallel or series-parallel drive trains. The term “full” indicates that the SUV can use either the ICE, MG, or both together to power the wheels. Typically, the battery pack on a full hybrid non-PHEV is not large enough to power the MG to operate in pure electric mode, making them function essentially as mild hybrids.
Plug-in Hybrids (PHEV)
Plug-in hybrids (PHEV) are full hybrids that have a larger battery that can be charged through an external power source, which is large enough to power an all electric range. Whereas full hybrids use regenerative braking and sometimes the ICE to charge the battery, PHEVs also use an external power source that can be plugged in to the car to charge the battery. PHEVs usually have a 25+ mile all electric range where the can can drive without the use of the ICE.
They also have much better gas mileage and horsepower than traditional HEVs, because the larger battery helps power the engine. However, they suffer from more complex systems and are heavier due to the weight of the larger battery. PHEVs can use either series, parallel, or series-parallel hybrid drive trains.
The top 5 Best Hybrid SUVs for 2023
The top 5 best hybrid SUVs for 2023 are:
- Honda CR-V Hybrid SUV
- Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SUV
- KIA Sportage Hybrid SUV
- Volvo XC60 Hybrid SUV
- BMW X5 xDrive45e Hybrid SUV
For our list we have a combination of both mild, full, and plug-in hybrid SUVs. We based our choices on a combination of aesthetic appeal, performance, interior, and price.
1) Honda CR-V Hybrid SUV
First on the list is the 2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid SUV. For many years, Honda has made the CR-V one of the most reliable SUVs on the market, and in 2017 they introduced a hybrid version. For 2023, Honda has two hybrid versions available, the Sport Hybrid and the Sport Touring Hybrid. They both use a 2.0 liter direct injected Atkinson four-cylinder engine, combined with an electric MG and electronic continuously-variable transmission (e-CVT).
The Honda CR-V hybrids use parallel hybrid drive trains and are considered mild hybrids. They have no all-electric range, and the MG is used to supplement the 2.0 liter ICE. Together, they combine to produce a max output of 204 horsepower. This allows the Sport Touring Hybrid to go from zero to 60 mph in just under 8 seconds. They are relatively fuel efficient for an SUV, and both have a combined fuel economy of 37 mpg. Honda prices the Sport Hybrid at $33,695, while they price the more expensive Sport Touring at just under $40,000 (MSRP).
Buyers like the interior of the CR-V hybrid, as the Sport has a 7 inch touchscreen and the Sport Touring a 9 inch screen. Honda made Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available for both, and both also offer wireless connectivity. The Honda CR-V is one of the tried and truly reliable SUVs on the market today, and the newest hybrids offer a great balance of performance and style.
2) Toyota RAV4 and RAV4 Prime Hybrid SUVs
Next on our list is the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid SUV. Like the CR-V, the RAV4 has long been a staple of the small SUV market. Toyota originally introduced the hybrid variant for the 2019 model year. For 2023, Toyota has two hybrid versions of the RAV4, the RAV4 Hybrid and the RAV4 Prime. The RAV4 is a mild hybrid, whereas the Prime is a PHEV. Both the RAV4 Hybrid and RAV4 Prime use a 2.5 liter Atkinson cycle four-cylinder engine combined with two electric MGs. The ICE and first MG power the front wheels, while the second MG powers the rear wheels.
Toyota rates the RAV4 Hybrid at 219 horsepower, and the RAV4 Prime at 302 horsepower. The RAV4 Prime actually lays down a faster five to 60 mph time than the four-cylinder Toyota Supra GR. As we mentioned, the RAV4 Hybrid is a mild hybrid, while the Prime is a PHEV. The RAV4 hybrid does not have an all-electric range, but the RAV4 Prime has a 42 mile all-electric range. The standard Hybrid uses a parallel hybrid drive train, but the Prime uses Toyota’s series-parallel hybrid drive train. Fuel economy wise, the standard hybrid rates for 40 mpg combined, while the Prime jumps up to 94 mpge, combined.
RAV4 Pricing and Interior
Pricing wise, Toyota made the Prime a steep step up from the standard Hybrid. The lowest priced trim of the RAV4 Hybrid MSRP starts at $32,000 for the LE. This goes up to $37,720 for the XSE. Comparatively, Toyota starts the Prime SE at $43,675 and makes the Prime XSE $47,545. For both, all trim-levels from the XLE and below (including the SE) have an 8 inch infotainment system. The XSE and Limited trims have a larger 10.5 inch infotainment system. The rest of the interior is practical and nice, fitting in well for this price point, and making both the RAV4 and Prime hybrids excellent choices.
3) KIA Sportage Hybrid SUV
Coming in third on our list is the KIA Sportage Hybrid SUV. KIA is offering a hybrid version of the Sportage for the first time in 2023. Like the RAV4, KIA has two versions of their Sportage Hybrid, a mild hybrid and PHEV. KIA uses a parallel hybrid power train, utilizing a 1.6 liter turbocharged engine connected with an electric MG. The mild hybrid Sportage makes 226 horsepower, while the PHEV bumps that up to 261 horsepower.
The KIA Sportage PHEV has an all electric range of 31 miles, and can go from zero to 60 mph in less than seven seconds. The Hybrid has a combined fuel economy of 38 mpg combined, while the PHEV skyrockets up to 84 mpge combined. Pricing wise, KIA starts the Sportage Hybrid out at just under $28,000, and they start the Sportage PHEV at $38,480 (MSRP). This makes the Sportage the most affordable hybrid SUV on our list
Buyers consider the interior of the KIA Sportage to be spacious and refined. KIA makes an 8 inch touch screen standard, but has a much larger 12.3 inch touchscreen optional. Both have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay standard and an optional Harmon/Kardon audio unit. Though it starts out the cheapest, it certainly does not feel that way. We would happily pilot a KIA Sportage Hybrid or PHEV any day of the week.
4) Volvo XC60 Hybrid SUV
Fourth on our list is the Volvo XC60. Like the previous two entries, the RAV4 and Sportage, Volvo offers the XC60 as both a mild hybrid and a PHEV. For their mild hybrid, Volvo offers two power train options, but we’d opt for the twin-charged 295 horsepower and 310 lb-ft AWD B6 option. Both power trains use regenerative braking to power a 48V battery that reduces emissions and improves fuel economy. Volvo’s PHEV hybrid, which they brand as the XC60 Recharge T8 AWD, has the same twin-charged four-cylinder engine. However, it has an added “e-boost” via dual electric motors, that makes 455 horsepower and 523 lb-ft of torque.
The standard XC60 mild hybrid has a combined mpg of 25, which is pretty poor compared with the other entries on our list. However, the XC60 Recharge PHEV makes a more respectable 63 mpge, and also has an all-electric range of 35 miles. Both versions use a parallel hybrid drive train. Pricing wise, the XC60 is not cheap. The mild hybrid starts at $44,545 and goes to $54,595, while the PHEV starts at a whopping $58,295 and tops out all the way up at $75,245 (MSRP).
Interior wise, the XC60 is absolutely phenomenal. It is very luxurious and the 9 inch touchscreen is outstanding using Volvo’s proprietary Google-based interface. The price of the XC60 is definitely off-putting for many, as is the subpar fuel economy of the mild hybrid. With the XC60, you’re paying for performance and luxury, and less for the hybrid drive train. It delivers an exhilarating ride, but you are definitely paying a premium for it.
5) BMW X5 xDrive45e Hybrid SUV
The final entry on our list is the BMW X5 xDrive45e Hybrid SUV. The xDrive45e is the electrified hybrid PHEV version of the standard X5, and it offers a lot of goodies. Powering the X5 hybrid is a turbocharged 3 liter inline-six engine that pumps out 389 horsepower and 443 lb-ft of torque, when combined with its integrated single electric MG. Using a parallel hybrid AWD drive train, the X5 xDrive45e blasts from zero to 60 mph in just 4.7 seconds.
The PHEV X5 has an all-electric range of 31 miles, and a combined 50 mpge rating. While these aren’t standout numbers, they are significant improvements over earlier models. The X5 can go all the way up to 84 mph on the electric range only, meaning it can make short highway trips without engaging the ICE. BMW starts the pricing out on the xDrive45e at $66,695 MSRP, putting right around the XC60 in terms of value.
Interior wise, the BMW is just like the XC60 – incredible. It is very spacious and luxurious, but the options are also very expensive, though they can turn the X5 into a serious luxury SUV. Like the XC60, you are paying for luxury and performance above the hybrid drive train.
Best Hybrid SUVs Summary
While we didn’t cover every option on the market today, we feel confident in our picks for the best hybrid SUVs for 2023. All of them have pros and cons, and they certainly run the gamut in terms of pricing and performance. We looked at three entry level options for the hybrid SUV market, as well as two lower end luxury hybrid SUVs.
On the less expensive end of the hybrid SUV market, we compared the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and KIA Sportage. The KIA Sportage is the cheapest of the bunch, and still delivers excellent performance and fuel economy, even in the mild hybrid. Toyota’s real gem is the RAV4 Prime, but even the standard hybrid is a good choice – and much less expensive. Our top pick is still the Honda CR-V, as it offers a great balance of options, performance, and price.
On the lower end of the luxury hybrid SUV market, we compared the Volvo XC60 with the BMW X5 xDrive45e. With both of these, you are definitely paying for performance and comfort over the hybrid drive train, but they are both fantastic drives. The interiors are immensely improved over the above three entries, and they also offer much more in terms of performance. Still, for PHEV hybrids they offer marginal gas mileage, making the Honda, Toyota, and KIA the real options for those wanting true fuel efficiency from their hybrid SUV.
Do you have one of the above hybrid vehicles or are you thinking about purchasing them? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!