2011 Lexus HS 250hEnlarge Photo
Say "hybrid car," and most people think Toyota Prius.
The Japanese maker has sold roughly 3 million Prius models worldwide since 1997, which is more than half of all the hybrids in the world.
The 2012 Toyota Prius remains the gold standard among hybrid-electric vehicles, with three of its four separate models delivering a combined EPA gas-mileage rating of 50 mpg.
But there are more than a dozen other hybrids sold in the U.S. as well, and the technology will expand across many more vehicles in coming years as fuel-efficiency standards rise.
With that in mind, it's worth highlighting some hybrid models you may wish to think twice about before you sign on the dotted line.
2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 7
One of BMW's first two hybrid efforts--the other is the now-discontinued ActiveHybrid X6--the hybrid 7-Series sedan suffered from an unwieldy name, marginal gas mileage, and lumpy driving behavior that belied its "ultimate driving machine" image.
BMW skewed its first hybrid system toward boosting power, rather than improving fuel efficiency. In fact, the company touted it as "the world's fastest hybrid vehicle" at the time, with a 0-to-60-mph time of just 4.7 seconds.
2011 BMW ActiveHybrid 7Enlarge Photo
The EPA rated the ActiveHybrid 7Li model at 20 mpg combined--no better than the (less powerful) conventional 740Li model the same year.
The hybrid's 15-kilowatt (22-hp) electric motor wasn't nearly powerful enough to move the full-size luxury sedan on its own. It could only contribute additional torque, restart the 455-hp 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 engine when the car moved away from a stop, and recharge the lithium-ion battery pack under braking.
We found that the car slowed noticeably when lifting off the throttle under 25 mph, "as if it had driven into mud that was dragging it down," when we tested the ActiveHybrid 7 two years ago."Worse," we wrote, "there's a perceptible second phase of recharging in which the car slows even quicker."
That's just not how a big, expensive BMW should behave.
BMW agrees. For 2013, the ActiveHybrid 7 is being updated with an entirely new powertrain that's shared with hybrid models of the 5-Series and 3-Series as well. It has a more powerful 40-kW (55-hp) electric motor and can move the car purely under electric power at low speeds, paired to a twin-turbo six-cylinder engine.
The update makes orphans of the 2011 and 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 7. With fuel economy no better than a non-hybrid 7-Series, and notably worse driving behavior, we see no reason to put the 2012 model on your shopping list.
2012 Honda CR-Z
2012 Honda CR-ZEnlarge Photo
Fans of the legendary Honda CRX two-seater sports coupe really wanted to love the 2011 Honda CR-Z hybrid coupe.
But relatively few do.
The CR-Z is a perplexity, a mixed message. It's neither a light, lithe, roller-skate sports coupe like the 1984-1992 CRX, nor an ultra-economical hybrid with breathtaking gas mileage like the original 2000-2006 Honda Insight (rated at 53 mpg with a five-speed six-speed manual).
Instead, the hybrid system and a 700-pound weight gain to comply with modern crash safety standards (compared to the CRX) make it neither particularly fast nor particularly sporty.
We found it fun to drive, but only somewhat--and more because of its small size than any real sports-car character.
Honda does get points for offering the only manual-transmission hybrid model currently on the market. You can order the CR-Z with a six-speed manual as well as Honda's continuously variable transmission (CVT).
Gas mileage, at 37 mpg combined, is better with the CVT. The manual is rated at 34 mpg, little better than many four-door compact sedans with far more room and carrying capacity.
As a two-seater, the hybrid CR-Z is already a specialized vehicle. It's also the sole two-seat hybrid sports coupe on the market.
It will find some buyers, but it's not a very practical car. And its gas mileage isn't that special either, which puts it firmly on the "disappointing" side of our ledger.