Attention Young Families: The Best Hybrid SUVs for Your Needs (2023)

Attention Young Families: The Best Hybrid SUVs for Your Needs (1)

Many families are young, just starting out, realizing the enormity of raising children in this modern world. Not everyone’s like you, with a five-car-garage full of: one sports car, one hypercar, a sports sedan, a luxury sedan, and one practical family hauler that does everything else and which you use almost all the time for just about everything.

Many young families can only afford one car. And if so, why not make it fuel-efficient, too, to save on expenses? Why not make it a hybrid SUV? A hybrid combines an internal-combustion engine with an electric motor to boost mileage across the board. As the vehicle slows to a stop or coasts down a long hill, the electric motor switches to generator duty and converts the momentum of the vehicle into electricity, which is stored in the onboard battery for use when it launches from the next stop sign. It’s a practical solution to vehicle efficiency, in this case packaged in a highly practical crossover utility body.

We have purposely left out plug-in hybrids, the super-efficient crossovers with big batteries that can be recharged by plugging in to the wall socket and can drive 30 or more miles on electricity alone. Here, we’re focusing on just the standard hybrids. Hence, we present here a list of some of our favorite hybrid SUVs, mostly the more affordable ones, since this is a list for families. So start with the Hyundai and work your way up.


2024 Hyundai Tucson Hybrid

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Base Price: $34,645

MPG: 38 City/38 Highway/38 Combined

You can’t argue with 38 mpg, especially when you also get 137.8 cubic feet of interior space, seating for five, and a sticker price that’s within the budgets of most families.

The Blue is the least-expensive trim level of the practical Hyundai Tucson Hybrid, with a total system output of 226 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. It gets 59 hp from its permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor and 180 hp and 195 lb-ft from its 1.6-liter gasoline direct injection four-cylinder engine (with a hybrid, you can’t just add gas engine and electric motor outputs—it’s physics, argue it with Isaac Newton). That’s an appropriate amount of oomph to pull the 3692-pound crossover anywhere you want to go.

For even more efficiency, step up to the Hyundai Tucson plug-in hybrid, which increases weight by 423 pounds to accommodate a larger battery, but miles per gallon equivalent shoots up to 80, and you can go 33 miles on electricity alone. But this isn’t a PHEV!

While the Tucson was all-new in 2020, that smooth exterior styling treatment will likely be replaced for 2025 or soon after. Which means you may get a good deal, if you do your homework. Good luck.


2024 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid

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Base Price: $32,575

MPG: 41/38/40

The 2023 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has one gasoline-fed engine and two—count ‘em, two—electric motors. One is the typical Toyota pancake motor bolted between the gasoline engine and the (unfortunately for performance enthusiasts) CVT driving the front wheels, and the other sits at the rear, driving the rear wheels. This makes AWD a standard feature, and increases the RAV4 Hybrid’s appeal in the northeast, the upper Midwest, the Rocky Mountain states, or anywhere an owner might ever want to go skiing. All three power sources combine for an output of 219 hp.

Inside, Toyota's next-gen infotainment screen—better than the previous interface—includes standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as over-the-air update capability.

A total of 136.4 cubic feet of interior space for passengers and cargo makes it a practical people hauler for small families.

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2023 Honda CR-V Hybrid

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Base Price: $30,825

MPG: 43/36/40

It’s safe to say the Honda CR-V is a popular vehicle here in the US. Honda sold its 5 millionth example in the States in 2019 and is on its way to move over 200,000 units out showroom doors this year, half of those hybrids. The CR-V first launched in 1997 and is now in its sixth generation, so it still looks fresh. The hybrid was added in 2020, featuring Honda’s “award-winning” two-motor hybrid system. The system in this CR-V is the fourth-generation of Honda hybrid and the new CR-V is the first to get it.

There is a wealth of technical information available on the new hybrid: Its two electric motors are now side-by-side instead of right next to each other in line. The stronger propulsion motor now has more torque at 247 lb-ft (+15 lb-ft) while maintaining its 181 hp over a broader range of motor rpm, thereby improving response. There’s also a direct-drive gearset with a low-speed lockup clutch that allows the engine to drive at city speeds and means the CR-V can tow up to 1000 pounds, not a lot but a first for the two-motor hybrid system.

Yeah, yeah, but does it work for my small but growing family? Yes! Total system power from the 2.0-liter inline four combined with the “high-traction” electric motor and the lithium-ion battery is 204 hp, less than the RAV4 and Tucson hybrids but offering better mileage than the Hyundai and about the same as the Toyota.

Inside it’s loaded with comfort and control features, from Apple and Android compatibility to Bluetooth connectivity on a seven-inch touchscreen. There is 142.8 cubic feet of interior volume for all your worldly possessions. It features a CVT like its competition, so that’ll sap some fun, but they all do, so consider it a strong entrant on your list of possible family hybrid SUVs.


2023 Ford Explorer Hybrid

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Base Price: $55,595

MPG: 27/28

Truth be told, I’d buy a Ford just for that Easy Fuel® Capless Fuel Filler. Maybe you would, too. But there’s more going on here. Some of you may recall when Ford ruled the SUV class way back in 1990, the very early days of the SUV craze. The market wasn’t flooded with SUVs at that time, and there was Ford, with Explorers in every showroom and customers lined up to buy them. In the years since, Ford has kept the Explorer in its lineup without too much grandstanding or upgrading, and here sits this model with a hybrid drivetrain.

It’s powered by a 3.3-liter naturally aspirated V6, mated to a 10-speed “modular hybrid” automatic transmission sending power to the rear wheels or to all four if you wish. Output of the V6 is 318 hp, with 322 lb-ft of torque.

Inside, look for Ford Co-Pilot 360 Assist, second-row captain’s chairs, a somewhat less-than-roomy third-row with 50/50 PowerFold, and a 12-speaker Bang & Olufsen sound system. Explorer is still coasting on the faux-Land Rover exterior it got back when Ford owned JLR, but it has aged well and still looks rather fetching, even with all the SUV competition around now.

Interior volume—passenger and cargo—is a spacious 200.6 cubic feet, which will make it worth the step up to this size and price range for some buyers. Mileage isn’t gangbusters, at 27 city/28 highway, but it makes up for that with a 5000-pound tow rating.

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2023 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

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Base Price: $42,015

MPG: 35/35/35

Toyota invented the mass-produced hybrid when it brought out that crumpled-up first-generation science-experiment of a Prius back in 1997. It has been full-on into the hybridization of its fleet ever since. No other manufacturer offers as many hybrids as Toyota and none ever will.

That’s because the rest of the world is going electric, and Toyota’s still clinging to hybrids (while blathering on about fuel cells the rest of the time). So when you see a Highlander Hybrid on this list, you know that it comes with solid engineering credentials and more than 26 years of hybrid development.

This fairly largish—16+ feet long—crossover is powered by a 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder mated to three permanent-magnet synchronous electric motors, two front, one rear. Like the RAV4 above, that makes for a clever adaption of AWD.

Total system power of that engine and all those motors comes to 243 net hp. That’s mated, like so many of these setups, to a CVT. The best thing about the Highlander (and the Honda Passport) is they can seat eight. Most crossovers stop at seven, which could screw up your carpooling. This one will also tow 3500 pounds. So it’s all-around practical. But you do have a step up in sticker price compared to the SUVs one class down.


Toyota Corolla Cross Hybrid

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Base Price: $29,320

MPG: 45/38/42

If it seems there are a lot of Toyotas on this list, that’s because, as stated above, Toyota makes almost everything it offers in hybrid form, having built hybrids from the very beginning of the mass marketization of the drivetrain.

The Corolla Cross came out last year as a more practical, if less sexy looking take on the world-beater Corolla. We say world-beater because Corolla is the top-selling nameplate in all of automotive history. No, it is not the Model T, nor the Citroen 2CV, nor even the VW Beetle. They have sold 47.5 million Corollas since the name came out in 1966.

Compared to the non-hybrid Corolla Cross model, the hybrid boosts efficiency with 10 more miles per gallon EPA combined. If you keep it long enough, you will pay off the roughly $5000 price hike compared to the non-hybrid. The hybrid model gets unique front and rear treatments, too.

The Corolla Cross Hybrid shares the same wheelbase, width, and height as the conventional Corolla Cross, but adds length. The Corolla Cross is a little smaller than crossovers like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and its own big brother, the Toyota RAV4. Total EPA passenger volume in the Corolla Cross Hybrid is 88.4 cubic feet.

Power comes from a 2.0-liter transverse-mounted four-cylinder mated to a 152-lb-ft permanent-magnet synchronous electric motor. The drivetrain puts out 196 combined net horsepower, 27 more hp than the non-hybrid Corolla Cross and 52 hp more than the now-deceased Honda C-HR.

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2024 Mazda CX-90 Mild Hybrid

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Base Price: $40,970

MPG: 24/28/25

Even though this is only a mild hybrid, the 2024 Mazda CX-90 is so significant that it made the list. Looks alone make it stand out in the somewhat larger crossover class, a place where looks are few and far between, either from the vehicles themselves or those who see them on the road. Mazda managed to take the usual big, two-box look of the SUV and mold it into something… attractive. Especially inside, where some clever cross-stitching on the dash really makes you glad you moved up enough trim levels to get it.

The innovation stands out under the hood, too, where a turbocharged inline-six provides power. With a 48-volt mild hybrid system, the so-called M-Hybrid Boost, bolted to the end of those six cylinders, the powertrain makes 340 hp and 369 lb-ft of torque, enough to rival some of the sportier entries in the segment. And, being Mazda, this crossover does not have a CVT, sticking with a quick-shifting automatic. It’s actually fun to drive, for something this large.

There’s also a 2.5-liter four-cylinder hybrid available, which manages 323 hp and the exact same 369 lb-ft of torque as the six. The electric motor draws on a 17.8-kWh lithium-ion battery mounted under the second- and third-row seats.

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Mark Vaughn

Mark Vaughn grew up in a Ford family and spent many hours holding a trouble light over a straight-six miraculously fed by a single-barrel carburetor while his father cursed Ford, all its products and everyone who ever worked there. This was his introduction to objective automotive criticism. He started writing for City News Service in Los Angeles, then moved to Europe and became editor of a car magazine called, creatively, Auto. He decided Auto should cover Formula 1, sports prototypes and touring cars—no one stopped him! From there he interviewed with Autoweek at the 1989 Frankfurt motor show and has been with us ever since.

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