Top 10 Hybrids

Toyota Prius

prius-610g.gallerySince the debut of the second-generation Toyota Prius in 2003, the quintessential gas-electric hybrid has risen from a niche product to become Toyota’s third-best-selling model in the United States. While many companies are introducing their first gas-electric models, Toyota began selling the third-generation of the Toyota Prius in spring 2009.

The third edition of the Prius is bigger and more powerful than the model it replaced. The four-cylinder engine grew in displacement from 1.5 liters to 1.8 liters and, combined with a 36 kW electric motor, boosts horsepower from 110 to 134. The result is a reduction in zero-to-60 time by a full second. Additionally, the body is about four inches longer and about an inch wider. Despite the added power and size, the 2011 Toyota Prius is the only gas-powered vehicle available today to offer 50 miles per gallon in combined city/highway driving.

Base MSRP: $22,800
MPG: 51 city / 48 highway

Honda Insight

insight-610g.galleryWhen the current Honda Insight was introduced in March 2009 as a 2010 model, it was hailed as the “Toyota Prius fighter.” Making the best use of the most cost-effective Honda hybrid technology, the Insight was touted as a 40-mpg+ compact car for less than $20,000—a figure designed to undercut the least expensive Toyota Prius by about $2,000.

The differences between the 2011 Honda Insight and the 2011 Toyota Prius can be easily summarized: The Insight is thousands of dollars cheaper, gets comparable fuel economy, has a crisper look, and provides a more agile and enjoyable ride. But the Insight is noticeably smaller, especially for passengers in the backseat. You need to sit in both vehicles before deciding if the Insight is the right size for your passengers, not just your pocketbook.

Price: $18,200
MPG: 40 city / 43 highway

Ford Fusion Hybrid

fusion-610g.galleryThe Ford Fusion Hybrid establishes a new benchmark in hybrid technology. It marries a seamless, sophisticated hybrid powertrain to the outstanding Fusion platform—positioned solidly in the middle of the mainstream market. It’s fun to drive and speaks of refinement all around, from handling and braking through comfort and convenience.

The Ford Fusion Hybrid’s 41 city / 36 highway mileage ratings handily beat the mid-size sedan competitors: Camry Hybrid at 31/35 and Altima Hybrid at 33/33. Ford engineers did a remarkable job of eliminating the flutter-rumble that many hybrids make when transitioning from gas engine to electric mode. In the Fusion Hybrid, the gasoline engine seamlessly starts up and shuts down with only the slightest shudder.

The 2011 Fusion Hybrid, with a base MSRP of $28,825 is more than $2,000 over the Camry Hybrid or Altima Hybrid. And it’s several thousand dollars more than the base-level Fusion S trim, which has a fuel efficiency rating of 23/33.

Base MSRP: $28,825
MPG: 41 city / 36 highway

Honda CR-Z

cr-z-610g.galleryHonda says that the CR-Z combines fun, small and efficient in a sporty package. Critics say the $20,000 price tag is too much for a two-seater that lacks the size and practicality of the more affordable Honda Fit. They say the CR-Z’s 122 horsepower make it anything but sporty. And worst of all, the fuel economy of such a small hybrid should be far more than its average of about 37 mpg.

The CR-Z borrows much of the hybrid system from the Honda Insight—but its engine has 16 valves instead of the Insight’s eight. This is to help increase power at higher rpm and improve efficiency at lower speeds. The Honda CR-Z’s 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine—compared to the Insight’s 1.3—is also mated to a six-speed manual gearbox—making it the only hybrid on the market available with a manual transmission.

The wedge design features an oversized front grille with small openings on each side of the front panel. The CR-Z clearly borrows its overall shape from the Honda CRX sports car, a version of the Civic that was produced from 1984 to 1991.

Base MSRP: $20,000
MPG: 38 city / 36 highway

Lexus RX 450H

rx450h-610g.galleryBy most standards, Lexus’s luxury SUV hybrid has been a smash success since its introduction in 2005. A significant number of Lexus SUV buyers opted for the “hybrid upgrade,” making the Lexus RX 400h, as it was previously known, the most popular hybrid SUV for most of 2009, and all of 2010. The model is now called the RX 450h.

What’s the significance of the shift in the vehicle’s name-number from 400h to 450h? In the gas-powered versions, the number is a code for the engine displacement—so the RX 350 means the vehicle carries a 3.5-liter engine. Lexus nudges those numbers up on the hybrids, because RX 450h’s combination of a 3.5-liter V6 engine and rear-mounted electric motor-generator gives it the performance of a 4.5-liter engine.

Combined, this larger powerplant produces 295 horsepower—27 horses more than did the RX 400h. But despite the added power and the fact that the vehicle is slightly larger than its predecessor, the 450h actually nets 5 mpg more in fuel economy—delivering 32/28 for the FWD version, and 30/28 for 4WD. That makes it the most fuel-efficient all-wheel drive SUV on the North American market.

Base MSRP: $43,935
MPG: 32 city / 28 highway FWD

Toyota Camry Hybrid

camry-610g.galleryYou’ll never get accused of recklessness for buying a Toyota Camry. It’s safe, comfortable, dependable, relatively attractive and altogether predictable. And based on the overwhelming sales numbers, Americans are happy with a reliable and affordable set of wheels for the family. The Camry has been America’s top-selling passenger vehicle for nine of the past 10 years.

As long as you’re being practical, then why not invest a few extra dollars for the Camry with a hybrid drive that offers an EPA combined highway/city rating of 33 miles to the gallon, and gives you around 700 miles between visits to the gas station?

Consumers who care about fuel economy can choose between the standard Camry’s four-cylinder combined highway/city mpg rating of 25 mpg; the V6’s mpg rating of 23; or the hybrid’s 33 mpg. The Camry Hybrid underwent a mid-cycle update in 2010 and received new styling cues. To better differentiate the hybrid version from the gasoline-powered lineup, the Camry Hybrid now has a somewhat aggressive looking face with a single-blade grille, a large center air dam and outboard vertical fog-lamps.

Price: $26,575
MPG: 33 city / 34 highway

Ford Escape Hybrid

escape-610g.galleryonsider one simple fact: The Ford Escape Hybrid is the most efficient hybrid SUV on the market. The front-drive Escape Hybrid has government fuel economy ratings of 34 city and 31 on the highway, while the all-wheel drive version offers 30 city/27 highway. What else do you need to know, except that the Ford Escape Hybrid offers plenty of space, comfort, and versatility?

The Escape Hybrid was the first SUV to use a gas-electric drivetrain, and has been on the market since 2004. In 2009, the Ford Escape Hybrid replaced a 2.3-liter engine with a 2.5—boosting net horsepower from 155 to 177. According to Ford, the system delivers zero-to-60-mph acceleration equivalent to that of a 240-horsepower V6—eliminating any existing complaints about sluggishness.

New features in 2010 set the Escape Hybrid apart from competitors. The 2010 model includes “MyKey,” a system that allows owners to limit a vehicle’s top speed and audio volume—a big plus for parents. In addition, the Escape gets a rearview camera system and optional Active Park Assist to aid in parallel parking. Perhaps the most important change is an electric air conditioning unit, which means drivers can now use the A/C without having to turn on the gasoline engine.

Price: $30,045 FWD
MPG: 34 city / 31 highway FWD

Toyota Highlander Hybrid

highlander-610g.galleryFor the 2011 model year, the Highlander Hybrid has been overhauled—outside, inside and under the hood. It has no real competition in its class—an SUV suited to “large families who love hybrids.”

The new gas-electric Highlander is outfitted with a brand-new 3.5-liter V6 engine, replacing the 3.3-liter six of its predecessors. The dual-overhead cam Atkinson-cycle engine is rated at 231-horsepower, an increase of 22-hp over the 2010 edition. In addition, two electric motors join this powertrain, one in the front and one in the rear, boosting the overall horsepower to a very respectable 280.

The result is an EPA fuel mileage rating of 28 miles per gallon city and highway. That’s up from last year’s numbers of 27 mpg and 25 mpg respectively. It’s only available as a four-wheel drive vehicle. The HH’s most desirable features: family-friendly seating. A third row comes standard. And this vehicle offers a wonderful 40/20/40-split second-row bench seat. It reclines, slides fore and aft and the center section can be removed and stowed away, leaving an open center aisle.

Price: $37,490
MPG: 28 city / 28 highway

Honda Civic Hybrid

civic-610g.galleryThe Civic Hybrid is not quite as fuel-efficient, not quite as comfortable and roomy, and not quite as powerful as the Prius. But the gas-electric Civic deserves more respect than it receives. In fact, it’s the Civic Hybrid’s un-hybrid-like looks and sticker price that makes it such a compelling proposition.

Prius buyers usually spend at least a couple thousand more dollars to buy Toyota’s celebrity hybrid than those who drive off with a Civic. And yet the Civic’s 40-mpg in the city and 43-mpg on the highway places it right next to the Toyota Prius as two of the three vehicles with average fuel economy in the 40s. The other is the Prius look-alike 2011 Honda Insight.

While the Civic Hybrid scores high points for style, finish and ergonomics, the cabin doesn’t rank as well for cargo space and comfort in the back seat. The Civic Hybrid is relatively nimble and tightens up nicely for confident maneuvers at higher speeds. While it certainly won’t win any stoplight drags, once up to speed it’s a solid, smooth performer on city streets and on the highway as well. In a world where economy cars are often just driving appliances, this hybrid is actually fun to drive.

Price: $23,950
MPG: 40 city / 43 highway

Lexus HS 250h

hs250h-610g.galleryThe HS 250h is the Lexus brand’s first dedicated hybrid. Previous Lexus hybrids were adaptations of existing vehicles, but the HS is sold just as a hybrid, with no gasoline-only version.

The comparison to the 2010 Prius is apt, since the two cars share the same basic platform. They both ride on a 106.3-inch wheelbase, though the Lexus HS 250h is 2 inches wider, half an inch higher, and a full 9 inches longer than its hatchback relative. The HS also has a larger 2.4-liter engine—similar to the one in the Toyota Camry Hybrid—against the 1.8-liter engine used by the 2010 Prius. The complete hybrid system in the Lexus is fully 40 percent more powerful than that of the Prius: 187 horsepower compared to 134.

So while the two cars have different bodies, different engine sizes, and certainly different personas, you can view the HS 250h as a Prius with a trunk, a raft of luxury accoutrements, and a different trade-off between fuel economy and features.

Base MSRP: $34,650
MPG: 35 city / 34 highway

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