Are Hybrids Hype?

By The Car Family

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You can’t judge a car by its gas mileage especially considering driving is the leading cause of accidental death. Add to fact that area residents spend an average of 33 minutes commuting and the need to make an informed decision about purchasing a highly hyped hybrid becomes even more time worthy.

Hybrids started when the legendary Ferdinand Porsche developed a car that used gas and electric power in 1899. This petrol-electric or Elektromobil was short-lived but the technology is still used today in many forms such the diesel electric locomotives. With this proven technology and over one million on the road already issues such as reliability, and battery replacement costs should not be a concern, especially since most have a limited warranty of eight to ten years. Crash ratings have been excellent, too, with hybrid providing essentially the same ratings as gasoline only versions.

The main question is whether or not you need a hybrid. For example, if you don’t spend at least 50 percent of your time in heavy traffic you can do as well with a diesel powered vehicle. The reason is that hybrids give the best results in driven at speeds under 30 mph. Diesels do better on the highway. For example, the Mercedes Benz E-Class Bluetec* can go over 600 miles before refueling thanks to its 21 gallon tank and 31 mpg average. However, there are other reasons to consider a hybrid such as the tax incentives, reduced air pollution, and some hybrids qualify for the coveted high occupancy lanes.

We tested all the hybrids except those from General Motors due to unavailability. They were remarkably competent and polite vehicles with a few idiosyncrasies, but nothing emotional troubling outside of the fat that the lack of engine noise prevented the dog from hearing us and he was caught on the couch several times. You might consider a silent dog whistle to warn them and suave their pride.

Today’s hybrids are not plug in vehicles. The engine recharges the battery pack. To help with gas mileage the engines turn off at stoplights until the accelerator is pressed when they immediately stop. If the air-conditioning is left at its highest level the engine stays running at intersections to promote cooling.

The Players

Pricing for the tested models starts at just over $22,000 for the Civic and Prius to over $40,000 for the Lexus 400h. With many models being well loaded with features it is difficult to compare costs with a non-hybrid model. Another consideration is that some hybrids are commanding premiums over the sticker price.
Toyota’s Prius is the big seller and it is the only sedan model where you can fold down the rear seats for larger packages. It is our favorite, being The Car Family vehicle of the year in 2001 and 2003. Handy, easy to park, and with just enough power to make Ventura Freeway traffic merges simple, this is the benchmark for hybrids.

Honda’s Civic isn’t quite as efficient as the Prius, but is more dynamic to drive. The Honda doesn’t have the useable interior space and sits lower. The Civic is magic in traffic with plenty of perk and only reduced rear vision making parking a bit tender.

Nissan’s Altima Hybrid doesn’t offer the otherworldly mileage of the Honda and Toyota, but it has a lot more passenger room and provides a ride that more people will identify with. There are some superior deals on this model as it gets 10 mpg less than the smaller sedans. This Nissan is as good as the Camry for families,

The Ford Escape/ Mercury Mariner are the best SUVish vehicle if you need the room. Stick with the two-wheel drive version and you are going to be getting better fuel mileage than nearly every other sedan in the world. Good seating, excellent visibility, and very easy to live with these Ford products are highly recommended if you need the extra cargo space they offer.

Toyota Camry and Highlander hybrids use the extra electric energy as much for performance as improved gas mileage. The result is slightly improved gas mileage and acceleration. The non-hybrid Camry and Highlander get nearly the same highway mileage as the hybrid version, but in town the latter averages over 10 mpg more.

Finally, the queen of the hybrids, the Lexus RX 400 h. It is smooth, sporty, and perky while providing a cavernous rear cargo area. An exceptional shopping car with a power lift rear tailgate and enough electronics to occupy a teenager, but with the lowest fuel mileage figures of all the hybrids we tested.

Family conference: In a community so close to Hollywood it is difficult to sometimes believe anything that has been as hyped as the hybrids. But in this case Palisades drivers should hop onboard and save on fuel and reap such subtle benefits as being able to monopolize family gathering with talk of gas mileage figures. With high resale values and many more hybrids coming online soon, even one ironically from Porsche, this is a great time to drive the future.

A quick guide to fuel mileage for hybrids

Vehicle commute mileage highway mileage Yearly gas cost @ $4.75 for 15,000 miles

Toyota Prius 48 45 $1550

Honda Civic Hybrid 40 45 $1700

Nissan Altima Hybrid 35 33 $2100

Escape/Mariner 34 30 $2230

Toyota Camry Hybrd 33 33 $2100

Toyota Highlander Hybrid 27 25 $2740

Lexus RX 400h (two wheel drive) 27 24 $2600

For Comparison Small Cars

Toyota Yaris 29 36 $2344

MINI Cooper/Clubman (premium) 28 37 $2020

Toyota Corolla 28 37 $2420

Honda Fit 28 34 $2430

Diesels

Volkswagen Jetta Diesel * 30 41 $2100

Mercedes Bluetec* 23 32 $2706

* Available in California as a 2009 model.

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