Top 10 hybrid cars you can now import from Japan after rule change

Motorists in Australia now have a broader choice of vehicles that can be privately imported. Here are our Top 10 fuel-miser picks.

Sweeping changes to Australia’s road vehicle legislation – rolled out in various stages since July 2021 – means motorists can privately import a broader choice of new, near-new and used cars.

It’s not open slather – and there are restrictions on the type of cars that are eligible – but if you’re in the market for a fuel-miser, you could be in luck.

While private vehicle importing was previously restricted to niche models, new regulations have opened the doors to more than 400 hybrid, electric, performance or special mobility vehicles. And the number of cars on the eligibility list keeps growing.

One notable restriction: vehicles on the eligibility list cannot be the same make and model as examples sold as new in Australia at the time of the vehicle’s manufacture.

Nevertheless, there is a vast range of fuel-miser cars that could help some buyers in Australia skip the queue.

Here are our Top 10 picks.

The Toyota Prius was the original weird and wonderful hybrid – but look at it now.

The latest fifth-generation 2023 Toyota Prius is stylish as well as futuristic.

Riding on Toyota’s new-generation ‘TNGA-C’ platform, the 2023 Prius range comes in both front-wheel and all-wheel drive and with combined power outputs of up to 146kW (or 164kW in the plug-in hybrid).

Toyota Australia says, for now, it has no plans to introduce the latest Prius locally. So a private import is the only way to go for the time being.

Although the Honda Jazz vacated Australian showrooms in 2020, the humble small hatch continued in other markets – including in Japan as the Honda ‘Fit’.

The Honda Fit was updated in 2020 with a model that’s never come to Australia – until now.

As part of the update, Honda introduced its e:HEV hybrid powertrain, but retained its folding ‘magic seats’ that make the cabin extremely versatile.

We tested the 2023 Honda Civic e:HEV hybrid earlier this year. Read our review of it here.

The 2023 Suzuki Swift is sold overseas with mild-hybrid technology.

Indeed, New Zealand currently offers the Swift mild-hybrid in three trim levels.

Now Australia can parallel-import these fun-to-drive and affordable Suzuki mild-hybrids that use even less fuel than their petrol-only stablemates.

The Suzuki Swift mild-hybrid uses a 48-volt electrical architecture to run an integrated start motor / alternator / e-motor attached to the side of the engine to reduce fuel economy by about half a litre for every 100km travelled.

Another benefit of a beefed-up 48-volt starter motor: it can operate the vehicle’s stop-start function more efficiently and effectively.

Everything else seems identical to the regular pure petrol-powered versions.

Suzuki Spacia Gear hybrid

Suzuki might be a niche small-car specialist in Australia, but in its home market of Japan it is huge when it comes to tiny cars.

The Suzuki Spacia Gear mild-hybrid is a fuel-efficient micro car sold exclusively in Japan. It forms part of Suzuki’s ‘kei’ class of micro cars – read more about the tiny-car class here – and takes the shape of a small and unusual wagon with sliding side doors.

Part MPV, part wagon the hybrid version packs a perky 660cc turbocharged three-cylinder engine with a 48-volt integrated starter motor generator similar to the Suzuki Swift mild-hybrid.

The Toyota Harrier is an upmarket and slightly larger version of the Toyota RAV4.

It’s currently sold in Asian markets, as well as in North America badged as the Toyota Venza.

As with the Toyota RAV4 sold in Australia, the 2023 Toyota Harrier is offered with petrol and petrol-hybrid engine options.

Although larger, it ironically has a smaller boot than the more compact Toyota RAV4.

Instead, the 2023 Toyota Harrier has extra cabin space and a luxuriously-large second row.

The Nissan Note has an interesting backstory.

Launched in Japan as a petrol-only model, the compact and boxy small hatchback is designed to rival cars such as the Honda Jazz.

This body type was all the rage in Japan, and Nissan expected huge sales. But it is not as popular as Nissan had hoped, even into its second generation.

Nissan then introduced its e-Power hybrid technology to the range, and sales took off – so much so, the brand even got in-house motorsport division Nismo to make its own version.

Another sign of its success was the fact it was continued for a third generation in 2020. The current-generation Nissan Note has moved upmarket with styling, and shares its underpinnings with the latest Renault Clio hatch.

Power in the new 2023 Nissan Note comes from a small 100kW electric motor that’s powered by an on-board 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine.

The 2023 Toyota Raize mild-hybrid is a badge-engineered version of the Japanese-market Daihatsu Rocky.

Essentially a light-segment SUV – akin to a Toyota Yaris Cross – it has a 78kW electric motor powered by a small on-board 1.1-litre petrol engine that acts as a generator.

This hybrid system works in the same way as Nissan’s e-Power hybrid. The petrol engine does not drive the wheels, but instead is used to charge a small battery pack that feeds power to an electric motor via an inverter.

It’s an interesting solution that gives you the ‘feel’ of instant power from an electric vehicle, but with the convenience of refuelling it with petrol.

Mercedes-AMG E53 4Matic+ wagon

Globally, Mercedes-AMG offers its high-performance E53 – the “entry-level” AMG version of the E-Class – in various body styles.

One version not offered in Australia new – but which you can now import – is the wagon.

It is powered by a 3.0-litre V6 (320kW/520Nm) with twin turbos – one electric, one exhaust-gas driven – and a 48-volt mild-hybrid system.

It has the same performance as the sedan, but you can now share the fun with family, friends and fido.

The Toyota Probox is a passenger-car based multi-purpose vehicle popular across Asia.

Aimed at small business and delivery drivers, it’s essentially a small van built on a car-like chassis (similar to a regular hatchback or sedan).

That means it drives with the comfort of a regular car, but also benefits from Toyota’s hybrid technology.

Power comes from Toyota’s familiar range of petrol four-cylinder engines from the Toyota Corolla hybrid – and uses many of the same components.

Toyota Alphard/Vellfire hybrid

The Toyota Alphard and Vellfire pair are the preferred means of luxury transport in parts of Asia.

Used as VIP shuttles for the rich and famous, they are dedicated seven-seat people movers made on a passenger-car platform.

The difference between the Alphard and the Vellfire is that the latter claims to be a “sporty” hybrid people mover.

However, be warned: these are very expensive cars. Buying one new and sending it to Australia will cost you in excess of $100,000, and good, near-new examples aren’t much cheaper.

After more than a decade working in the product planning and marketing departments of brands like Kia, Subaru and Peugeot, Justin Narayan returned to being a motoring writer – the very first job he held in the industry.

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