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The side view of the Hyundai Tucson.Jeremy Sinek/The Globe and Mail

I drive a 2016 Honda HR-V, which I love for its compact size and excellent interior space. I am still a bit leery of electric-only vehicles, but I am considering a hybrid for my next vehicle. However, I am having a hard time finding one as small and practical as my Honda without being too basic. I wonder what you think of the Volvo XC40, or if you can recommend another hybrid SUV of a similar compact size. And what are your thoughts in general about hybrids? Jo

Petrina Gentile: I’m with Jo – I’m a little hesitant about driving an all-electric vehicle. For me, it doesn’t suit my lifestyle because I’m driving long distances several times a week. But a hybrid makes more sense – it’s the best of both worlds. Fuel efficiency and no range anxiety.

Mark Richardson: Well, hybrids make sense in the city, anyway. The battery kicks in for acceleration, and at lower speeds it replaces the gas engine, saving fuel. Out on the highway, at highway speed, they don’t save much gas at all.

Gentile: You’re right. If you do a lot of highway driving, you’re better off with a small gas engine. But there are different types of hybrids – mild, conventional and plug-in hybrids, which Jo might not be aware of.

Richardson: Mild hybrids have small batteries because they only assist the gas engine. That makes them the least expensive. Conventional hybrids charge their larger batteries from the running of the engine and the regeneration of used power, and can drive one or two kilometres at slow, gentle speeds on just their electric motors, like in stop-and-go traffic. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) can take power directly from a household socket and have the biggest batteries of the hybrids, capable of driving the car for a greater distance and higher speed with just the electric motor. But that also makes them the most expensive.

Gentile: But we don’t know if Jo has the ability to charge at home, so a PHEV might not work with her situation.

Richardson: Good point. All the extra technology and cost and weight of the PHEV is wasted if you don’t use it.

Gentile: And the fuel savings won’t necessarily add up either because most PHEVs only have an electric range between 30 to 70 kilometres.

Richardson: It all depends on the kind of driving you do, and sometimes, it doesn’t make sense to drive any kind of a hybrid at all. But we don’t know Jo’s driving needs.

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2023 Volvo XC40 hybrid.Courtesy of manufacturer

Gentile: That’s right. A small, fuel-efficient gas-powered vehicle might be all that’s needed.

Richardson: If you do a lot of highway driving, you’re better off with a mid-sized gas engine – one that won’t be revving too highly or too strained, but not using too much gas for power you don’t need. Four-cylinder engines these days are as good as six-cylinders were a decade ago, and you don’t need to spend the extra money on the hybrid technology. But it all depends on the kind of driving Jo does.

Gentile: Jo mentioned the Volvo XC40 as an option. What do you think of it?

Richardson: It’s a lovely car that’s expensive and has been around for a while. And it’s just a mild hybrid, not a full hybrid – it can’t drive for even a moment without running its gas engine. I wonder if Jo realizes that, and if it’s important to her.

Gentile: Jo may not understand the difference. But a full hybrid would be the way to go to get the best fuel savings, wouldn’t you agree?

Richardson: It would be if Jo does a lot of city driving or stop-and-go driving. That’s when you save gas by shutting off the engine and using only the electric motor. And that’s what helps keep our air clean, too.

Gentile: Toyota has several new hybrids – perhaps Jo should look at a Toyota Corolla Cross hybrid or a new Crown Signia hybrid?

Richardson: I think it’s fair to say that Toyota leads the way with hybrids, which is both good and bad. Some think the company put too much emphasis on hybrid development and not enough on pure-electric development. Jo would probably prefer the smaller Corolla Cross, which has been with us for a couple of years already.

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The 2023 Toyota Corolla Cross uses 5.6 litres of gas every 100 kilometres in combined city and highway driving.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

Gentile: I like the Corolla Cross hybrid – it’s a nice compact size, but spacious inside. It’s good on gas and starts around $37,000 for the base AWD hybrid model.

Richardson: It’s surprisingly roomy inside, that’s true. A few decades ago, you might even have called it a wagon. It’s raised higher from the ground though, so it’s classified as a crossover.

Gentile: Yes and that raised height makes it easy to enter and exit the front seats.

Richardson: That makes a lot of difference if you have creaky knees. Drivers also like to have their sightlines raised on the road. I don’t blame them – so do I. If Jo’s looking for a smaller SUV that’s available as a hybrid, she might want to also look at a Hyundai Tucson hybrid.

Gentile: I like the Tucson plug-in hybrid. And I just saw the refreshed 2025 Tucson at the New York auto show and it looks even better than the last generation. Plus, it gets more convenience and safety technology.

Richardson: Hyundai’s good at loading up its vehicles with standard features and cutting-edge technology. The Tucson is a size up from her HR-V, though. And don’t forget, Jo’s been looking at the Volvo and that’s a premium vehicle, so maybe she’s thinking she wants to upscale her car this time around. She won’t be disappointed with the XC40, but if she likes her luxuries, she might want to look at the Lexus UX 300h.

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2023 Lexus UX Hybrid.Courtesy of manufacturer

Gentile: That’s a very nice hybrid vehicle. It’s good on gas, luxurious and has pleasant road manners. The cargo and rear seat space is tight.

Richardson: I don’t think it’s tight for the size of the vehicle. It’s expensive, though, starting around $47,000, around the same as the Volvo, which brings us back to where we started. So to wrap it up, should she go for a mild hybrid, hybrid or plug-in hybrid?

Gentile: For Jo, I like the Corolla Cross conventional hybrid. Since we don’t know if she has the ability to charge a car at home, the Cross makes more sense. It offers a lot of technology and features for a fraction of the price of the other luxury options we’ve suggested..

Richardson: You’re right the Toyota is the better deal, but I think Jo really wants us to approve of the Volvo, which is undisputedly a premium vehicle. It may not be the latest and greatest, and I think the Lexus is more capable, but I wouldn’t dissuade her from buying the XC40 if she likes the feel of the cabin.

What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at and use ‘What car’ as as part of your subject line. Emails with different subject lines may not be answered.

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