For a Few Dollars Less: Hybrid Vehicles

by The Car Family

About ten years ago Honda brought an ungainly, impish vehicle to the market and became the first large manufacture to present 909 readers with a useable hybrid. Today, there are over a dozen sedans, light trucks, and even SUVs that carry hybrid status and that makes for some interesting choices for those wanting to spend a few dollars less on fuel costs. The latest data shows that the average person has about a 30 minutes commute to work and those in cities ofter spending an hour on the road. With cars and light trucks averaging under 17 mpg the purchase of a hybrid could pay for the additional cost over a similar non-hybrid in just a few years.

There are over 1.5 million hybrids on the road today ranging from the newest version of the Honda Insight priced under $20,000 to the $109,000 Lexus LS600hL. This year buyers are going to have a selection of nearly 40 hybrids to consider, including the highly anticipated Chevrolet Volt and sporty Honda CR-Z. In practical terms hybrids offer improved performance and fuel mileage. For example, the Ford Fusion hybrid can go 500 plus miles without having to be refilled. The use of electric motors also enables vehicles to use smaller engines and still deliver peppy performance.

The Car Family felt that an evaluation of the newer family oriented sedans would be in order and so we tested the Mercedes Benz S400 hybrid and the highly regarded Mercury Milan hybrid. Other significant available hybrids are the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry, and Nissan Altima.

This six cylinder Mercedes is a truly intriguing vehicle for many reasons. First, it costs less and yet is just as powerful as the V8 S550 and delivers 30 percent better fuel mileage. Furthermore, this Mercedes is the first sedan to use the more powerful lithium-ion battery. Small in size, the battery powers a 20 horsepower motor attached to the torque converter. This makes the Mercedes a “mild” hybrid, meaning it can not run on battery power alone. The plus side is that using the small battery means Mercedes didn’t have to sacrifice cargo space. We averaged 24 mpg in mixed driving, but those with a lighter touch on the accelerator can push that figure higher with a range of 450 miles possible on premium fuel. The S400 has an understated exterior with only a couple of Hybrid badges marking its uniqueness. It has a plethora of safety features, and a designer quality interior. Overall, this is true luxury sedan that is enjoyable to drive and a desire to please.

The Mercury Milan, and its sister, the Ford Fusion hybrid, are priced under $30,000 and have an amassing range of over 600 miles before needing refueling on unleaded. Ford’s optional Sync system unites the sound, phone, and computer together and is a noteworthy option. The Mercury is frisky to drive, handles quite well and has a fairly tight 37.5 ft. turning radius. We averaged about 36 mpg in mixed driving. The combination of four cylinder engine and electric motor assist make onramp merges easy even on the the 91 freeway. Should you be in heavy traffic this Mercury can frequently go up to 30 mph without the gas engine needing to be started. One morning we were able to travel from 60/57 interchange to Chino without using any fuel.

There are viable alternatives to hybrids. For example, the amazing gas four-cylinder Chevrolet Equinox gets better highway fuel mileage then the Ford Escape Hybrid and has significantly more interior space. And, the Volkswagen diesel Jetta sedan can achieve nearly identical mileage figures with the Toyota and Honda compact hybrid four-seaters. Recently, Nissan announced its Leaf, a battery powered vehicle with a range estimated at around 100 miles before charging adds yet another layer of decision making for the frugal buyer.

Family conference: There simply is no need to be afraid of purchasing a hybrid. We loved the Mercedes safety features, comfort and performance, and were surprised at the elegance and sportiness of the Mercury Milan as well. The only question is how much do you want to save?

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