In today's used car market, it can be challenging to find any reliable vehicle for under $5,000 on a dealership lot. And if you are looking for a fuel-efficient gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle, it can be even more difficult to find one that also doesn't have lots of worrying marks on a Carfax vehicle history report.
If you are on a budget and want to avoid an old gas guzzler, there are several compelling options. Luckily, the current trend away from hatchbacks and sedans means there are many hybrid cars under the $5,000 mark.
Keep in mind that, at this price point, you will probably be looking at cars that are about 10 years old, with mileage well into the triple digits, so a professional inspection or at least a thorough test drive of the individual vehicle is a good idea. We have curated the market's best options for a low-emissions, fuel-efficient, pre-owned ride, under $5,000.
2010 Toyota Prius
The Toyota Prius is the original hybrid most people are familiar with, though the Honda Insight beat it to the US by a few months. The Prius is also one of the best values on the used market. Its shape is highly fuel-efficient but allows for a reasonable amount of cargo space with a hatchback design. The Prius seats up to five people in more comfort than the Corolla sedan of the era, though the rear seat's headroom can be a little short for taller people. A 2010 model year, third-generation Prius is about the newest you can expect to find under the $5,000 limit. That low price will also likely mean higher mileage; expect to be browsing cars with just under 200,000 miles at this price point. But that's not a big problem because the Prius has a long reputation for reliability, and the battery pack should still have a reasonable capacity left.
The 2010 Prius was newly redesigned and included a new hybrid powertrain. Total system output was upped to 134 horsepower, still paired with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) powering the front wheels. The refresh also provided more interior space and better-quality materials, making the 2010 through 2015 models worth seeking out over older Priuses.
Models equipped with optional 17-inch alloy wheels also received an upgraded steering rack, translating into an improved ride and better steering feel. Highly-equipped models can feature LED headlights, Bluetooth connectivity, a glass moonroof with a solar fan to cool the cabin, and a navigation system. EPA-estimated gas mileage for the 2010 Toyota Prius was 51 city and 48 highway mpg
2011 Honda CR-Z
The sportiest-looking car on the list, the Honda CR-Z is a two-seat coupe and the spiritual successor to the beloved Honda CRX sport coupe of the 1980s. Though it is not as agile as that featherweight CRX, it's certainly more fun to drive than the typical hybrid of a decade ago.
The CR-Z is a good buy for those concerned with looks over ultimate economy. It certainly stands out compared to most of the hybrid crowd. Still, those sporty looks don't entirely translate into a thrilling driving experience, and most cars on this list return better fuel economy or offer far more interior space. That said, the interior space is excellent for a two-seater, and there is a good combination of a compliant ride and respectable handling. Hybrid buyers looking for something different should consider the stylish Honda CR-Z.
While the Honda CR-Z came standard with a six-speed manual transmission (a rarity among hybrids), most were equipped with the optional CVT. All CR-Z's are front-wheel drive. With a combined power output of 122 horsepower, the CR-Z is far from a sports car, emphasizing a sportier drive than straight-line speed. When new, the CR-Z earned EPA estimated fuel economy of 35 mpg city and 39 highway. Look for a better-equipped EX trim to get features like Bluetooth, premium sound system, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and high-intensity discharge headlights.
2007 Toyota Camry Hybrid
The seventh-generation Toyota Camry sedan arrived for 2007 and was the first to be offered with a hybrid powertrain. The styling at the time was lauded as much improved, and it has aged well. Interior room, materials, and tech were also vastly improved over the outgoing Camry. Though it is not the most efficient on this list, the Camry Hybrid offers somewhat incognito looks, effortlessly passing as just another example of a popular and long-running sedan.
The Camry Hybrid offers what all Camrys do: It provides essential comfort and safety levels for up to five people and comes with a history of excellent reliability.
The Toyota Camry Hybrid's four-cylinder gasoline engine and electric motor offer a maximum combined output of 188 horsepower and also received EPA fuel economy estimates of 43 mpg city and 37 highway when new. Diligent shoppers may be able to find a Camry Hybrid with around 150,000 miles for under $5,000.
2011 Chevrolet Volt
Even though its powertrain operates with gasoline and electricity, the Chevrolet Volt isn't a hybrid in the same sense as the other vehicles on this list. As an "extended-range electric vehicle," the Volt can operate at all speeds using electric power. The gasoline engine works as a generator to power the electric motor when the battery runs out of charge, making more use of the electric power than most hybrids.
The electric motor in the Chevy Volt generates 149 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. With an all-electric range of around 35 miles when new, short commutes can be accomplished without gasoline. For all-electric use, charging takes about 10 hours on a standard 120-volt household outlet and 4 hours when plugged into a 240-volt Level 2 charger. The car boasts an impressive range of over 500 miles between fill-ups with a full battery and gas tank.
Volts came well equipped from the factory, with only a few options, meaning any example on the used market will have plenty of bells and whistles. However, this generation of the Volt is a strict four-seater due to the battery taking up space where a fifth seat would go. And space inside isn't as generous as a Toyota Prius, even though the cars are a similar size externally. At least the Volt's hatchback design and folding rear seats lend some practicality to what is a very efficient vehicle.
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
The Fusion Hybrid was labeled one of the best hybrid sedans upon its debut in 2010, and now it is one of the best used hybrid bargains. The refresh of the entire Fusion line for 2010 included better interior appointments and less polarizing styling, and it introduced a hybrid powertrain to the car's engine offerings.
Ford's hybrid system offered smoother operation than competitors at the time. The Fusion Hybrid also kept many of the same qualities that made the standard Fusions strong competitors among midsize sedan competitors. Well-equipped used models can be found with a built-in navigation system, heated seats, and a moonroof under the $5,000 mark. Expected mileage at this price level is about 150,000, depending on equipment.
The Ford Fusion Hybrid combines a 2.5-liter four-cylinder and an electric motor to produce 191 horsepower. The front-wheel-drive Fusion uses a CVT to spin the wheels in combination with those electric motors. The EPA rated the Fusion Hybrid at 39 mpg city and 37 highway when new. As a relatively efficient and cost-effective way to get a midsize sedan, the Fusion Hybrid is worth seeking out.
2013 Ford C-Max
Based on the same platform as the 2012-2018 Ford Focus, the C-Max delivers a surprisingly agile and comfortable ride. The C-Max's body style is taller than most other hybrids, making for a much roomier interior and more storage space. The interior is well designed with above-average materials for the time. Even base models get standard features like cruise control and stability control.
The C-Max is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder combined and electric motor paired with a CVT. The powertrain produces a total output of 188 horsepower, which was higher than any Prius at the time. The EPA rated the C-Max at 47 mpg for both city and highway cycles, making it an excellent fuel sipper. The C-Max's space, power, and driving dynamics make it a compelling option in the under-$5,000 hybrid category.
2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
The Toyota Highlander is maybe the most surprising vehicle on this list. It is one of the fastest, with a sub-seven second zero to sixty time thanks to its powertrain borrowed from the high-end Lexus RX 400h. With a minuscule third-row seat, it also has the highest seating capacity on the list (hybrid minivans have only recently become a thing). It's also one of just two vehicles on the list with AWD, another rarity even today. It will probably be a while before cars like the Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid sink to this resale price, so those looking for an adventurous hybrid should consider the Highlander Hybrid.
The Highlander Hybrid's 3.3-liter V6 and electric motors make a combined 269 horsepower, paired with a CVT driving the front wheels as standard, though all-wheel-drive was optional. The Highlander's AWD system operates via a 68 horsepower electric motor driving the rear wheels. This system offers extra traction for slippery conditions but is not intended for hardcore off-roading. Most Highlander Hybrids will sit slightly above the $5,000 price limit, but models with over 200,000 miles on the odometer are available under the cap. At that high amount of mileage, reliability may become an issue, but if AWD and a larger seating capacity are a must, this is the sub-$5,000 hybrid for you.
2005 Ford Escape Hybrid
The Ford Escape Hybrid was the first SUV with a hybrid powertrain introduced to the North American market, and it is now an excellent choice for those in the market for a hybrid SUV for less than $5,000. Though it is no Jeep, the Escape Hybrid still offers enough off-road capability and ground clearance for mild adventuring. The Escape Hybrid also has a modest but useable 1,000-pound towing capacity. The Escape Hybrid is capable of all-electric operation of up to 25 mph. Its blocky shape does cause more wind noise at higher speeds than most aerodynamically slippery hybrid cars.
As rated by the EPA, fuel economy is estimated at 36 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, still impressive for an SUV. This mileage is achieved by a 2.3-liter four-cylinder and electric motor, sharing a CVT to drive the front wheels. Four-wheel drive models can be found, but with a significant fuel mileage penalty. With the resale value of trucks and SUVs remaining high, Escape Hybrids under the $5,000 price point will likely have over 200,000 miles.
2006 Honda Civic Hybrid
The second generation of Civic Hybrid has now slipped below the $5,000 threshold. Though its styling was somewhat controversial when it debuted, the Civic Hybrid has aged well and looks pleasingly normal. For those wanting a hybrid that looks like a typical car, the Civic Hybrid is one of the best options. The cabin has a spacious feel for a compact car of its vintage, thanks to the large, raked windshield. Those needing even more interior space can step up the Honda Accord Hybrid, but it isn't easy to find under the $5,000 price cap.
A 1.3-liter four-cylinder provides power for the Civic Hybrid with a small electric motor mounted between it and the continuously variable transmission. This shared arrangement, rather than the electric and gas engines having separate inputs, means the Civic does not have an all-electric mode. The powertrain's combined output is 110 horsepower and propels the Civic Hybrid to 60 mph in about 10 seconds. Fuel economy is estimated at 40 mpg city and 45 highway mpg.
2011 Kia Optima Hybrid
The Kia Optima Hybrid is essentially the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid but in a better-looking package. Kia's hybrid powertrain, however, lacks the refinement of more experienced competitors. Acceleration can be both hesitant and harsh, while the tuning of the regenerative brakes makes smooth stops difficult. Steering feel and ride quality are much better sorted than the powertrain, delivering stability and comfort, but not sporty dynamics.
The Optima Hybrid is powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine combined with an electric motor, turning the front wheels via a traditional six-speed automatic transmission. The combined power output of this powertrain is a respectable 206 horsepower. The EPA estimated fuel economy at 35 mpg city and 28 highway mpg back in 2011. Keep an eye out for Optima's equipped with the Hybrid Premium Technology Package, including a premium stereo, backup camera, sunroof, and HID headlights.