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Our Top Five Favorite Hybrids

Green  /   /  By Bradley Berman

When hybrid cars first appeared on U.S. roads in late 1999, they were seen as a temporary experiment. It was, after all, the SUV era, so the funky teardrop design of the Honda Insight and awkward shape of the first-generation Prius received derision—if they were noticed at all.

Twelve years and more than 2 million hybrids later, cars that run partly on gas and partly on electricity are commonplace in many markets. They have earned praise not only for their gas-sipping capabilities, but for their dependability, solid performance and attractive designs. Here are five gas-electric cars that should be put on any car shopper’s list—not just those trying to save money at the pumps or tread lightly on the planet.

Toyota Prius

2012 Toyota Prius C

The Toyota Prius is nearly synonymous with hybrid. The iconic hatchback has been the most fuel-efficient car on the market for six years running. Now, Prius is expanded from a single vehicle to an entire sub-brand—consisting of the liftback, the wagon-like Prius V, the cute Prius C compact (shown above), and a plug-in version. The Prius C is rated at a remarkable 53 miles per gallon in the city. The plug-in version takes it one step further, earning an EPA rating of 95 miles per gallon equivalent when running on electricity for the first 10 to 15 miles after a charge. Then, it reverts to a 50-mpg hybrid.

Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford Fusion Hybrid

The Ford Fusion Hybrid is credited as the smoothest hybrid on the road. The transitions from electric to gas and back are invisible to the driver. The current model is already efficient at 39 mpg in combined city/highway driving. But Ford engineers are expected to boost the 2013 model’s fuel economy to a whopping 47 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway. That becomes even more impressive when considering the Fusion’s spacious mid-size sedan platform. A plug-in version is expected in late 2012.

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is 30 percent more fuel-efficient than the award-winning conventional Sonata. It stands out among other hybrids for its use of a six-speed automatic transmission—rather than a continuously variable transmission (CVT). This approach provides a feeling of gear-oriented acceleration more familiar to non-hybrid drivers. Moreover, Hyundai offers the first only lifetime guarantee on the Sonata Hybrid’s lithium ion battery pack. The Sonata Hybrid’s raked windshield, sharp creases, and enlarged grilled results in aerodynamics that match the slippery design of the Toyota Prius (at just 0.25 drag coefficient). The EPA rates it at 35 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway.

Lexus RX 450h

Lexus RX 450h

When Ford discontinues the Escape Hybrid later this year, the Lexus RX 450h will become the most efficient hybrid SUV on the road. It’s already been the top-selling hybrid SUV for several years. The RX hybrid has an EPA designation of 32 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. The luxury SUV features a 3.5-liter V6 Atkinson-cycle 245-horsepower engine. Add two motor-generators for a total combined 295 horsepower rating. (A third, rear-mounted motor-generator is added on the AWD model to drive the rear wheels.) This gas-electric Lexus is loaded with sharp design features, luxury amenities and high-tech features including Remote Touch, a small touch-activated joystick to control dashboard functionality.

Honda CR-Z

Honda CR-Z
The small fun Honda CR-Z is the only two-seat hybrid on the market, and the only one available with a manual transmission. While not loaded with horsepower—just 122 ponies—you’d never guess that from behind the wheel of the CR-Z. The fun-to-drive quality is matched by a city-highway rating of 37 mpg. That combination provides a sporty fuel-efficient alternative to all other hybrids—or for that matter, anything else on the road.

Also: Keep an eye open for the upcoming 45-mpg 2013 Jetta Hybrid, the first gas-electric car from Volkswagen.

Check out the latest listings of Hybrid Cars at eBay’s Green Driving Center.

About the Author

Bradley Berman is a leading writer and researcher about electric cars and green transportation. He regularly contributes driving reviews and technology articles to The New York Times, Fortune, MIT Technology Review, Popular Mechanics, and other publications.

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  1. Michael Lihou June 10, 2012 at 10:50 am Reply

    I notice an absence of any SUV ,s in the Hybrids offered unlike the SATURN VUE (which we have ) and love , . We think GM should restart the SATURN line or at least sell it to the Pensky Corp.. so that he can reintroduce it the world .

  2. Bradley Berman June 13, 2012 at 11:12 am Reply

    @Michael – Actually, the Lexus RX450h is a SUV. You are absolutely correct that there aren’t enough hybrid (or otherwise super-efficient) crossover SUVs. With the cancellation of the Ford Escape Hybrid, it only leaves the Lexus hybrid SUV. The others are all full-size SUVs with hybrid drivetrains, which do save a lot of fuel compared to the pure gas versions. But they are very large vehicles. Saturn had the right idea with the VUE, but I don’t see GM bringing back that brand.

  3. Brian July 12, 2012 at 7:14 am Reply

    I think Ford would have a winner in the crossover/SUV market if they would consider putting the Fusion hybrid drive into the Flex. Not that I would even buy one. I love my Prius.

    • Derek Mau July 12, 2012 at 9:53 am Reply

      If the Flex had a hybrid option, I would guess that the cost would price it out of the market. The 2008 Yukon/Tahoe had a hybrid system, but it cost more than $50k. GM sales of the Yukon/Tahoe were dismal to say the least.

    • Jim Irwin July 12, 2012 at 11:06 am Reply

      Ford has a 2013 SUV that should be hitting showrooms soon called the CMax. I beleve there is a hybrid as well as an electric option.

  4. Tom Mallison July 12, 2012 at 7:18 am Reply

    What model is the Toyota in the top photo? did not see it identified.

    • Derek Mau July 12, 2012 at 9:43 am Reply

      The top photo is a concept car – the Toyota NS4 Plug-In Hybrid.

  5. Ken Wade July 12, 2012 at 7:20 am Reply

    I can guarantee you whith in 5 years the hy-bred is going to be Natural gas cars and trucks.People that buy battery powered cars are trying but I`m 66 and they,,,,,,some day come up with a battery,but not now.Brazil,Iran,India,etc all run CNG.They sell crude to us and China.China doesn`t have the CNG we have and there are so many good things with the CNG verse`s electric or any other types of fuel.We are going to go back to high compression engines,more power,you can put a pumping station at your home and pay with your home bill.You can`t commite suicide in the garage anymore.It`s about half the price to put at the pump,,,,,but the government will mess that up with tax`s.They are drilling hole all over North and south Dakota,also Penn.These farmers are becoming instant Millionairs and still milk their cows.I have to go but I think you get my point.Ken Wade,Had a engine rebuilding shop for 25 years.So I know engine`s even Jay Leno Called me.So if you think I`m pulling your leg ,,,,,,,,,I know what i`m talking about.

    • MidWestMike July 13, 2012 at 2:37 am Reply

      You may well be right but the Socialists will ruin it.

  6. Michel Kun July 12, 2012 at 7:24 am Reply

    for smaller hybrid vehicle
    what is BADLY needed is a small, 1 kw gasoline generator
    what is in the market are

    too expensive. Honda. and still too noisy and do NOT have electric starting.
    most economical are much to NOISY, by a big margen , a technological break has to be made.

    I will like to hear any news.

    • Derek Mau July 12, 2012 at 9:42 am Reply

      What’s wrong with a Volt? The Volt has a small onboard generator whose sole purpose is to recharge the batteries when a charging station or outlet is not available.

  7. D.L. July 12, 2012 at 9:33 am Reply

    What information can you provide on the Toyota above the prius. Is it one of the five hybrids to be consider.

    • Derek Mau July 12, 2012 at 9:41 am Reply

      The burgundy Toyota is the NS4 Plug-in Hybrid Concept. Since it is a concept, don’t expect it to be available at your local Toyota dealership.

  8. Dave Borrelli July 12, 2012 at 9:46 am Reply

    What would really be efficient would be a series hybrid with a small diesel generator. (For those who don’t know what a series hybrid is, it is a system where the engine has no mechanical connection to the wheels, only a generator). This is not new technology; locomotives have been using this for the past 80 plus years. Have the generator charge the battery, the engine drive the generator, and electric traction motors power the wheels. A diesel engine can be tuned to be extremely efficient if it only has to run at one specific RPM, so if the engine only runs when the battery gets to 25% charge, and shuts off when the battery reaches 85% charge, and the engine/generator runs at peak output during charging, it could easily obtain an average of 100 MPG or more in a Fusion/Camry/ Accord size car. It could even get 50-60 MPG in a Suburban. Also, these could be plug in hybrids as well, meaning most people could go several months between diesel fill ups. This would be real progress.

    • Derek Mau July 12, 2012 at 9:56 am Reply

      @Dave – excellent suggestion. I’ve heard similar suggestions passed onto VW many times. They may be working on something, but have not officially made any announcements.

      • Vincent d'Hahn July 12, 2012 at 1:51 pm Reply

        Yes I agree this is the most promising system. Chevy Volt is close, except it’s got a small gasoline generator. However, the shortcomings are still the batteries, which at the present do not have enough energy density, too heavy, expensive, and prone to catch fire.

    • Phil July 12, 2012 at 4:38 pm Reply

      Why can’t the auto makers come up with a reverse squirrel-cage attached to a generator that turns the generator and constantly charges the battery as the car moves forward? Taking air in through the large end of a funnel that blows through the reverse s-caga will spin it like crazy? With engineered gearing, it could really spin the generator!

      • Jessica July 13, 2012 at 8:05 am Reply

        @Phil, a “reverse squirrel-cage” is essentially a sail inside the car, so it would just create resistance. You can’t get something for nothing. The engine would power the car, the car would have additional resistance from the “generator”, lowering efficiency. It’s more efficient to not capture that wind with lowered drag.

  9. Ralph Kleeber July 12, 2012 at 10:32 am Reply

    I will keep my 2001 Honda Insight. It is fun to drive, has lots of room for a two seater and my average mileage for 100,000 miles is 63 mpg and I have gotten as high as 89 mpg on a tank full. These auto makers can do better now, they just won’t.

  10. Dean Jeans July 12, 2012 at 10:37 am Reply

    Whenever I read about hybrids trying to work their way up to 50 m.p.g., I am reminded of my 1989 Geo Metro, which consistently gave 50 mpg in all driving situations, and it cost about
    $9000 new. It was a renamed Suzuki Swift with a super efficient 3 cylinder engine. GM replaced it with a very average 4 cylinder which did not sell and killed the brand. So when they say GM killed the electric car (IMPACT!!), they also killed the 50 mpg Metro.

  11. Bradley Berman July 12, 2012 at 10:38 am Reply

    Good points all around. It’s curious to hear that GM is probably going to use a larger–rather than a smaller engine–in the next model year. Inside sources say the 2014 Chevrolet Volt will ditch its 83-horsepower 1.4-liter range-extending engine in favor of GM’s 2.0-liter turbocharged Ecotec four-cylinder engine.

    We’ve seen the engine size of hybrids grow over the year, and that’s all about combining good mpg with level of performance that the heart of the market desires. But with a Volt-style plug-in hybrid, the engine only sustains the battery charge. Performance is only from electric motors. Why not go with something more efficient? In terms of alternatives like diesel or CNG, I imagine that those engines are produced in smaller numbers–and GM desperately needs to drive cost out of the Volt.

    I, for one, have my eyes on Mitsubishi’s upcoming Outlander plug-in hybrid. SUV + 4WD + Plug in. I like.

  12. George kunudji July 12, 2012 at 11:54 am Reply

    Wow am in love with this cars,how I wish one could be my.

  13. GS July 12, 2012 at 12:00 pm Reply

    Hey, you ignored the super-star hybrid, the Volt. Even if you never plugged it in you get 40+ mpg.

    • Don July 12, 2012 at 12:36 pm Reply

      The title of the article is “Our Top Five Favorite Hybrids”. This is not to say that the Volt is not a hybrid, but that, subjectively, it does not rank among their five favorites.

      That’s my 2 cents, your mileage may vary.

  14. Linda July 12, 2012 at 12:17 pm Reply

    I recently bought a KIA Optima Hybrid and it has consistenetly gotten between 40 – 46 miles per gallon for the first 1800 miles. I am told it gets better MPG after a couple months. Love it, customer service has been terrific on my KiA sorento, it has 58,000 miles on it and all I’ve had to do is basic schedled maintenance and a couple warranty issues. The Optima is comfortable, lots of leg room, looks good, handles well and I really like it – in fact I like both my KIA’s.

  15. paul fusillo July 12, 2012 at 4:19 pm Reply

    I have a 2012 Lexus 450H with about 8000 miles. I traded a Lexus L460L. Neither car has needed even a bulb replaced. The Lexus will not get as much fuel mileage as stated. I am an older fellow and not a wild driver. Around town our mileage is about 26 mpg and on the road it has neverexceeded 29+ mpg. I am a retired automobile dealer having sold Chevrolet along with many other franchises. Of course gas mileage is important, but so is quality. I have not driven a Volt, but I have driven late model (since the Bankruptcy) Chevrolets and their quality is still not in the Toyota, Honda Nissan league. As a born and raised American, I cannot understand why we can’t compete with their vehicles

    • Ed Sprigman July 14, 2012 at 8:25 am Reply

      I agree with Paul, having worked on cars and driven plenty of brands we still havnt caught up with Japan. Our country has the best motorsports in the world, best drivers, technology to put a man on the moon but yet our cars have been cheap compared to over seas brands. Why dont we build the best cars. How can imports build a better car and still make money. And they dont need a Bail Out. GO FIGURE. Im a proud American and I know are engineers can do it so whos stopping us from building Qaulity cars. We should be setting the bar, not catching up. Im tired of working on junk cars that dont last.

  16. Doug July 12, 2012 at 4:21 pm Reply

    The ” first only lifetime guarantee on the Sonata Hybrid’s lithium ion battery pack”
    is quite interesting, especially after hearing how these batteries are only expected to last 5-8 years, and cost several thousands to replace.
    If there’s no fine print to that, it may be a good buy, plus the car looks sharp.

    Ken . . . There’s not enough Natural Gas to supply cars in the US at the rate we consume, attempting to will cause the supply to drop and the cost to skyrocket, plus setting us back a long time, as it takes thousands of years for it to renew.

    I’m converting bmw’s to run on hydrogen.

    – Water renews itself within days.
    – NO Emissions, one could drink the water from the exhaust pipe.
    – It can produce More Horse Power, than any other resource we have.
    – Significantly less expensive to refuel.
    – Refueling can be done at home, using water and electricity, and at any rate you wish.

    Next project will be a hydrogen car to make it from NY to LA on 1 tank of hydrogen.

    • Dustino July 13, 2012 at 7:25 am Reply


      More info please on your BMW hydrogen conversions.

  17. Rick Ambrose February 16, 2015 at 7:05 pm Reply

    When you think about the benfits in acceleration and mileage, why ALL cars are not some form of hybrid by now is the real mystery.

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