The concept of the gas/electric vehicle revolutionized the auto industry and gained acceptance from the buying public in just a few short years. Many longtime hybrid drivers were “early adaptors,” the same kind of people who will no doubt buy pure electric or hydrogen powered vehicles in a few years time. (And trust me, they are coming. It’s just a question of which technology will catch on from a cost/ease of use perspective.)
But as harbingers of the alternative fuel revolution go, not all hybrids are created equal. There are some rather pointless hybrids that shall remain nameless whose sole function is to give the gas motor more power. These “mild-hybrids” do little or nothing to improve the fuel efficiency of the vehicle which sort of flies in the face of the economy and ecology improving ethos behind the original Prius and Honda Insight.
But with each passing year more and more high fuel mileage, high quality hybrids are released by an ever expanding range of manufacturers. Although Toyota is still leading the way in 2010 with its newly restyled Prius there are also new competitors in the form of an all new Honda Insight and the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid. So, which hybrid vehicles are the best combination of fuel economy, reliability and emissions for model year 2010? Here they are. (Note: Don’t tell anyone but some of them are also actually fun to drive.)
Toyota Prius: (Starting at $22,400)-(51 city/48 highway)
Now in its third generation, this iconic fuel economy champ is the class leader thanks to relentless, constant and thorough perfecting of the hybrid concept. Not only is the Prius the most fuel efficient car on sale in North America it is also the most reliable family car according to Consumer Reports. That means that even with all the wiring, batteries and complex electronics this car is still more reliable than even Accord or Camry.
With the 2010 redesign the Prius got an upgrade to its interior which now stands as one of Toyota’s most techno-stylish and comfortable. Although some of the controls may look as complex as something out of Star Trek, once you are acclimated to features like the somewhat bizarre transmission shift lever it all begins to make perfect sense. As an added benefit of its hatchback body style the Prius is also highly utilitarian with a large, easy to access cargo area. Overall this is the smartest hybrid vehicle purchase you could ever make.
Ford Fusion Hybrid: (Starting at $27,950)-(41 city/36 highway)
Ford really took the auto industry by surprise when it developed its own hybrid system and it wound up getting better fuel economy than even the Toyota Camry Hybrid. The Fusion Hybrid can also be driven in full electric mode up to speeds just over 40 miles per hour and not even the Prius can do that. This of course depends on your batteries staying fully juiced up to that speed. After the batteries give out a new, highly efficient 2.5 liter Atkinson Cycle 4 cylinder takes over power duties until the electric batteries recharge.
Thoroughly reworked for model year 2010, the Ford Fusion has lost some of its old exterior design blandness thanks to a new grille and some subtle body tweaks. The interior also has had a bit of a doing over with more soft touch plastics and many top-line features like navigation, rear back-up camera and a premium 10-Speaker Sony Audio system now all on the options list. Also, for “greenies,” the standard cloth seats in the Ford Fusion hybrid are made from 85% recycled materials so you can save money on gas and feel like you are helping the planet.
Lexus HS250h: (Starting at $34,650)-(35 city/34 highway)
Think of this as a slightly more powerful, more luxurious version of the Prius and you get the idea of what Lexus was trying to do here. While efficiency and exterior styling could be better this is still a very appealing entry level luxury car for the aspiring environmentalist. Or people who just hate how much gas six-cylinder luxury cars use. (If you think of it that way it does make sense).
Powered by a peppy 2.4 liter 4 cylinder that offers more than adequate acceleration, where the HS250h really shines is in the interior. Although I prefer the hatchback-style utility of the Prius, the Lexus HS (which is a sedan with a trunk) is just as roomy inside as its Toyota cousin. Also on hand in navigation equipped models is the new Lexus mouse controller that easily outshines competitors like BMW’s iDrive and Audi’s MMI from an ease of use perspective.
Honda Civic Hybrid: (Starting at $23,800)-(40 city/45 highway)
The Civic Hybrid is the car for people who don’t like to call too much attention to themselves or don’t like the whole “green” association lumped with many hybrid vehicles. To most other drivers it will just look like you are driving an everyday Civic sedan. Although the engine is assisted by Honda IMA batteries that put power to the wheels through a CVT auto instead of a conventional one, most of this car is pure Civic. Which means it’s a great car.
Ford Escape Hybrid: (Starting at $29,860)-(34 city/31 highway)
How there are so many SUV hybrids on the market yet only the Escape Hybrid got the concept right is beyond me. Newly available with the gas engine/battery design from the 2010 Fusion Hybrid, the Escape Hybrid is fully focused on improving SUV fuel economy. Even for a compact SUV these fuel economy figures are outstanding and low speed power from the electric batteries is truly addicting. Shockingly, the Escape Hybrid is actually far more fun to drive than the somewhat ponderous gas-powered version. Simply amazing.