If you’re after a more economical and greener car that will still fulfil its role as a practical family chariot, here’s our top picks among mild hybrids, regular hybrids and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles
We love hybrid technology and the difference it can make to the fuel consumption and performance of family cars.
We all want to use less fuel, especially families when life gets a lot more expensive and we want to help protect the world our children are going to inherit from us.
Which are the best mild-hybrid cars for families?
A mild-hybrid car can’t be powered by the battery alone like a regular hybrid or PHEV can. The battery is purely to improve the performance and efficiency of the vehicle. This can be for either petrol or diesel cars with an electric motor that gives a small amount of assistance, usually in the starting of the engine or cutting it off when coming to a stop instead of idling.
A mild-hybrid car can be a good first step for families wanting better fuel economy and lower emissions from their vehicle, but the effect is so subtle you’d hardly notice when driving.
These are my pick of some great MHEVs for families:
The five-seater Volvo XC40 is available as a mild-hybrid or fully electric (EV) vehicle. The ride in this small but practical luxury SUV is quiet and the interior minimal yet practical for families.
The XC40 has top tether anchorages in all three rear seats and ISOFIX in the outer two. Two Infasecure child seats fit very comfortably in the back and families with two infants will fit a twin pram in the boot.
The all-new Mazda CX-90 is a large luxury family SUV that’s available as a six- or seven-seater. The CX-90 has a premium feel with its quiet and smooth drive that provides comfort for rear passengers.
With top tether anchorages in all rear seats and ISOFIX in the two outer second-row seats, families can fit up to five Infasecure baby seats if they need to, with good third-row access too. Boot space is practical in the Mazda CX-90; you can fit a stroller in the boot when using all seven seats.
Toyota HiLux (coming soon)
Australia’s most popular new vehicle and a favourite among families is the Toyota HiLux dual-cab ute, which is soon going to be available with a mild-hybrid diesel powertrain. Toyota says this will improve fuel economy by 10 per cent and hopefully it will make the performance and drive a bit smoother too, such as a quieter start and idling which in many utes can be quite loud and disturbing for little passengers.
The HiLux dual-cab ute can only fit two Infasecure baby seats in the back and a compact stroller can be stowed in the rear footwell.
Which are the best hybrid cars for families?
Conventional hybrid powertrains, often referred to as series or parallel hybrids, have petrol or diesel engines plus a battery and electric motor. You do not have to plug the car in to charge the battery, it is charged by the car whilst driving and electricity works with the engine to power the car along.
Hybrids are a greater step towards electrification for those worried about charging, or live in areas or apartments where accessing a charging socket isn’t viable. Some hybrid cars can do a fair bit of low-speed driving and manoeuvring without the engine, which is great for families.
There are so many great hybrid family cars, and these are my pick of the best:
Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid
A firm favourite for families, the seven-seat Hyundai Santa Fe now comes with a hybrid powertrain option that gives you great fuel efficiency for a large SUV – and it’s the only way to get a petrol Santa Fe with all-wheel drive. It’s a popular choice with families that want a large boot for the dog and the flexibility of using the third-row seats when grandparents are visiting.
With ISOFIX in the two outer second-row seats and top tether anchorages in all three, you can fit three Infasecure baby seats across there. The third-row seats don’t have any child seat anchorages, so no baby seats can be installed. Boot space is enormous when using five seats, or a single pram will fit when using all seven seats.
Nissan X-TRAIL e-POWER
The Nissan X-TRAIL hybrid is known as the e-POWER and feels quite different to most hybrid cars to drive. It has instant acceleration like you would expect from a fully electric car, a silent start and smooth drive. This is because the electric motor directly powers the wheels, unlike a regular hybrid where the both the engine and electric motor are connected to the wheels.
Switching to e-pedal mode, the battery is charged more efficiently by what feels like strong engine braking. You use only the accelerator pedal; push it down to accelerate and when you lift your foot off the pedal the car begins to slow so you hardly need to use the brake pedal.
For families that need to three Infasecure baby seats, these fit comfortably in the second row of the X-TRAIL and a twin stroller will fit in the boot. Unlike the petrol X-TRAIL, there is no seven-seat e-POWER version available yet.
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid truly deserves its place as a popular five-seat SUV with families. The silent start and enjoyable smooth ride makes this a favourite. It also has great fuel efficiency and plenty of interior space for a family of four or five to live with comfortably.
Three Infasecure baby seats fit in the back and a double stroller in the boot, with room left for groceries.
It’s worth noting that no matter your family’s space requirements, most Toyotas from the Yaris to the Kluger are available as an hybrid.
Which are the best plug-in hybrid cars (PHEVs) for families?
Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) are the nearest thing to buying a full EV for families. They still have a conventional engine (usually petrol) but the electric motor is powered by a much bigger battery that can run the vehicle on electricity alone for, say, 40-80km (depending on the model) before the engine is required, which is enough for most daily usage.
You plug in the car externally to charge it, which can get you used to charging a car if you plan to buy an EV next time.
Buying a PHEV alleviates that fear of running out of battery on a long journey or arriving at a charger that is ‘out of order’. If you can’t charge your PHEV then it will run as a regular motor vehicle. Of course, that defeats the purpose a bit, because they are usually heavier and might also come with cargo space limitations due to the bigger battery.
One of the best benefits of PHEVs for families with young children is you can sit with the air-conditioning running when the kids fall asleep using the battery power alone, just like an EV.
I enjoy the knowledge of having the fuel for longer trips and holidays and using electricity alone for everyday family life.
There are so many great PHEVs, but here’s my pick of the best for families:
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
The seven-seat Mitsubishi Outlander mid-size SUV is available as a PHEV and offers a generous 84km battery range. The PHEV improves the drive with a quiet start and good fuel economy for families.
It has ISOFIX in the two outer second-row seats and three top tether anchorages. Three Infasecure child seats fit comfortably across the second row, and there’s a spacious boot.
For families needing all three rows of seats, there are no child seat anchors in the third row, so older children or smaller adults can sit back there and still have room in the boot for a double stroller.
Mazda CX-60 PHEV
The Mazda CX-60 PHEV is an all-new premium mid-size SUV that’s also available with a mild-hybrid powertrain option.
The PHEV has a 76km battery range, which will give most families a couple of days before needing to plug it in. Or plenty of power for infants’ in-car naps! It has a quiet drive that cocoons passengers from road noise but the ride is a little bumpy.
Three Infasecure child seats fit comfortably across the second row and the boot is practical for families fitting a double stroller.
MG HS PHEV