Cars

Hybrids come in all shapes, sizes, prices

Chevy Volt
Chevy VoltCars.com

If you’re thinking about car shopping this holiday weekend—and car dealers have come to regard this weekend as a great sales opportunity—it might be time to consider putting a hybrid on your shopping list.

Hybrids must be doing something right. After all, most every manufacturer is offering one or more these days, and, outside of some complaints about inflated mileage figures, these vehicles seem to be holding up well.

Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada sees a bright future for hybrids.

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“Some people say hybrids such as the Prius are only a bridge to the future, but we think it could be a long bridge and a very sturdy one,” he said last month in remarks to the Economic Club of Washington, DC. “In each of the previous new generations of the Prius, we achieved a 10 percent increase in miles per gallon. We are committed to beating that next time.”

Looking ahead, Uchiyamada is optimistic about a new hydrogen fuel cell vehicle that Toyota is developing that won’t have any tailpipe emissions or the range and recharging issues of electric vehicles.

“I personally expect a lot from this technology,” he says.

He’s not alone. General Motors and the US Army are expanding their collaboration on hydrogen fuel cell technology.

This is interesting because the Army initiative, designed for tanks, will be aimed at durability. GM also has a long-term agreement with Honda to co-develop a next-generation fuel cell system.

Meanwhile, hybrids will be important.

The Boston Common Garage and Zipcar recently announced the addition of four Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrids to Zipcar’s Boston fleet, plus plug-in stations and priority parking for Zipcars and hybrids at the Boston Common Garage.

A quick count finds there are more than 50 hybrids on the market.

Here is a look at 10 hybrids, covering a variety of body styles and starting prices, that you might want to put on your consideration list.

Acura ILX ($29,000): Analysts keep telling us that the public will want nicely equipped smaller cars. If that’s so, Acura has built just that, relying on a hybrid system that’s been reliable in the Honda Civic. It’s rated at 38 mpg overall and is available with or without Acura’s Technical Package.

Buick LaCrosse ($34,000): Maybe this is your father’s new Buick. The eAssist (hybrid light) system is ingenious and helps this full-size sedan achieve 36 mpg in highway driving. It’s got a six-speed automatic transmission and is a well equipped, comfortable cruiser.

Chevrolet Volt ($35,000): GM lost a lot of momentum by taking so long to get the Volt to market. The plug-in hybrid is capable of up to 38 mpg on all-electric operation before the small onboard engine starts running to provide juice to the electric motors, eliminating any range anxiety problems. Definitely an underappreciated vehicle.

Ford C-Max ($26,000): The C-Max got some bad publicity by not living up to its 47 mpg EPA rating; however, 43 isn’t at all shabby. It’s a useful compact wagon. Oh, we’re not supposed to use that word, so we’ll call it a five-door hatchback. It’s got a nice interior and a quiet and refined ride. The C-Max has one big drawback—a confusing name—but it’s a great successor to the Escape hybrid and a worthy competitor for that big pool of compact SUVs.

GMC Yukon ($55,000): 21 miles per gallon might not seem too impressive in combined driving but it’s a nice bump up from the 15 or so that the gas version of this eight-passenger people-mover and tow vehicle normally gets. Who wouldn’t like to cut their fuel bill by 25 percent?

Honda Accord ($30,000): This is a steep pricetag to put on an Accord but the early returns indicate that a 50 mpg highway rating will generate a lot of interest. The vehicle is due in showrooms on Halloween. Standard features include a rearview camera, dual-zone automatic climate control, and blind-spot warning system. Price (and features) rise with the EX to L and Touring models.

Lexus ES 300h ($40,000): Driving this vehicle was the first time I realized that I preferred the hybrid version to the gas-powered one. What’s not to like? There’s Lexus luxury and reliability, lots of easy-to-use high tech features, and a smooth and refined ride.

Toyota Avalon ($37,000): The EPA mileage rating for the Avalon hybrid is 40 city and 39 highway, numbers we easily exceeded in a week of enjoyable driving. Buy one in all black and folks will think you’re driving a limousine. Besides a roomy rear seat, there’s lots of trunk space, especially for a hybrid.

Toyota Prius ($25,000): The vehicle that made the term hybrid synonymous with fuel economy. The Prii family now includes a Prius C (hatchback) and Prius V (wagon). All have Toyota’s reliability, decent interior room, multiple driving modes, and often are seen flying past you on the highway in the high-speed lane.

Volkswagen Jetta ($26,000): Here’s a hybrid that feels more like a sporty performance sedan. Instead of a CVT, there’s a seven-speed automatic. Combine spirited acceleration and solid handling with a quiet and spacious interior and you have a nice vehicle. Add in the 45 mpg for combined driving and you have economy that even surpasses the diesel (TDI) version of the Jetta.

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