Hybrid Or Just High MPG? Which Car Is Right For You?

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2011 Honda Insight

2011 Honda Insight

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As cars throughout the automotive spectrum get more efficient, it's an increasing dilemma for buyers looking to improve their gas mileage.

Just what should I buy? One of those fancy hybrids, or a regular, fuel-efficient car?

Different fuel efficient vehicles excel at different types of driving--and as we know, driving styles and conditions have quite an effect on gas mileage.

City driving

Driving in the city presents its own set of unique challenges, and driving conditions also vary from city to city.

Usually though, city driving means a few things: Slow traffic, plenty of time spent at a standstill with your engine wasting fuel, lots of punishment on your brakes, and plenty of stress.

Regular gasoline and diesel engines aren't perfect in city driving. Few feature stop-start systems to save fuel when caught in traffic, and every time you stop you're wasting energy--few regular cars have regenerative braking.

Hybrids are much more suited to this environment, though. Not only will all hybrids kill the engine when standing still, but full hybrids--like all Toyota and Ford hybrids, as well as some others--will allow you to travel on electricity alone at low speeds, while the battery lasts.

And the battery should last a decent distance in stop-start traffic, as each time you slow down, energy is put back into the pack.

Above all, driving a hybrid is relaxing in traffic--not just because virtually all hybrids are automatic, but because you'll be saving on gas bills--hybrids typically do their most economical work in city driving.

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

2012 Volkswagen Jetta GLI

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Highway driving

While some hybrids are known for their aerodynamic bodies, helping them achieve good gas mileage at constant higher speeds, highways have recently become the domain of another gas-sipping category--diesels.

Punchy, low-revving and efficient engines in modern diesels do their best work for long periods at constant throttle loads.

A long journey also helps a diesel engine get to its most efficient operating temperature, which takes a little longer than it does on gasoline vehicles.

Once you're sitting on the freeway, a modern diesel--from Volkswagen or BMW, for example--will happily chug away at low engine speeds, sipping gas but offering enough torque in reserve should you need an extra burst of speed. Not only that, but low revs also means low noise--you're much more likely to hear wind and tire roar than you are any sounds from the engine. It's not a bad way to travel, and you'll be using very little fuel too.

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Comments (22)
  1. This is why we love electric cars. Even with performance (such as Tesla S), it is 1.5x to 2x more efficient than a Prius (the benchmark).

    This is also why I bought a Volt (since I can't afford a Tesla S). To get the best combination of performance and efficiency...

  2. Best combination? I beg to differ.

    Volt is slower than C-Max hybrid. Volt's emission (tailpipe and upstream) is worse (260 vs. 236 g/mi)as well. And you need to plug it in, to avoid 37 MPG on premium gas operation. The size and price difference is huge.

  3. I am tired of your Volt bashing.

    Volt uses less gas than the C-Max Hybrid. You can work out the MPG by using the 37mpg and divide it by the (1-% of EV miles). So, for me and most people who commute less than 40 miles. Volt uses less gas than a C-Max Hybrid. Its performances is very close to C-Max Hybrid. It might NOT beat C-Max hybrid in 0-60mph. But its handling and braking are certainly equal if NOT better. Now.

    As far as your repeated stuff about emission. I keep telling you that your individual emission vary depending on your EV miles and source of your EV charging. EPA has NO models for that. It is only an estimate that ONLY works for traditional ICE or hybrid cars.

    Stop using your "old method" to judge the future.

  4. @ Dennis Chin,

    YOu also failed to understand the fundamental part of Electric power train is far more efficient than any ICE. So, staying in EV mode as long as possible, as much as possible is by FAR the most efficient way.

    So, if another automaker can come out with something with more EV range than the Volt and with extender range capabilities, I will be more than willing to support that model.

    For now, Volt is the KING in the realm of EV range among all EREV/Plugins hybrids.

    Also, Volt allow you to charge in sources other than your house to use even less gas...

    You also said: "And you need to plug it in, to avoid 37 MPG on premium gas operation"


    Get it?

  5. Sure, my "combination" does NOT work for you. You are a Volt hater.

    But name me another car that can do what my Volt did in the last 5 months with 6800 miles and only 42 gallon of gas used. And it has to perform the same as the Volt and are 5-stars rated in safety.

  6. This is what might be driving the lust for electric cars in the first place:
    America's distaste for diesels could be traced back to this car. Electric cars fill the void that might be filled with diesels if it weren't for this car.

  7. My dream vehicle would be a Cadillac SS-V sportwagon with a six speed manual transmission and that 4.5 L V8 Duramax clean diesel.

    In lieu of that, I will settle for the 2014 mazda6 Sky-D sportwagon with a six speed manual transmission.

  8. Hybrid is not a sufficient enough description. For instance, there is the Toyota Prius, and then there is the Ford Fusion- both hybrids, but hardly comparable when it comes to fuel mileage. When it comes to comparing the current selection of diesels and a hybrid like the Prius, there is still no comparison due to the 20%+ premium attached to diesel fuel. The Prius rules in both city and highway driving with the same (or better highway MPG) than say...the VW Jetta. Also, maintenance must be factored into the equation. VW diesels are well known for their drive train reliability, however the rest of the car is another matter entirely.

  9. Emission system of TDI requires maintenance. For hybrids, there is no maintenance required (including the traction battery). The brake pads of full hybrid virtually last the life of the car.

  10. "Emission system of TDI requires maintenance."

    No, it does not: at 1,950 RPM, extra fuel is injected into the emission system to burn off excess deposits. The system cleans itself automatically.

  11. I also want to point out that there are many factors to consider beside just simple MPG.

    In general, the high MPG diesels are MORE FUN to drive than the high MPG hybrids by FAR.

    Prius might beat Jetta TDI in emission and MPG, but it is NO WHERE close in terms of performance such as handling, braking.

    Sometimes, people are willing to sacrifice a little in MPG for a lot more fun...

  12. I do not consider that a sacrifice, just as I do not agree with the claims that Prius is the most efficient choice.

    I would not have bought the Prius if it were the only vehicle available which was fuel efficient.

    Prius stands for everything I stand against:

    - gasoline engine
    - expensive batteries
    - complexity in the system (much more complex than diesel emission control systems)
    - automatic only
    - no torque
    - no performance
    - ugly.

    Did I mention that the Prius is incredibly ugly? I would not be caught dead in it. I would sooner walk or ride a bicycle than drive a Prius. And I'm a car guy. I think that speaks volumes about what kind of a car (failure) the TOYOTA Prius is.

  13. @Annatar: Your view that the Prius is a "failure" is apparently not shared by the roughly 3 million people who have purchased Toyota Prius models to date.

  14. OK, and what exactly does that mean to me?

  15. @Annatar: Just pointing out that you commented that the Prius is a failure, and the data don't support that--for the benefit of readers who may not be aware.

    We try to provide context here when it's missing, to let readers make their own judgments.

  16. "@Annatar: Just pointing out that you commented that the Prius is a failure, and the data don't support that--for the benefit of readers who may not be aware.

    We try to provide context here when it's missing, to let readers make their own judgments."

    Uh huh. So, assuming your claim of three million Priuses is correct, which I highly doubt, in the interest of context, you might want to point out that at a population of roughly 300 million, 3 million is 1%.

    Or, if you really, really wanted to put in the context, again assuming your claim is correct, it means that there are three million TOYOTA Prius owners out there who do not know enough about automechanics to not buy a clean diesel car instead of a gasoline electric hybrid.

  17. @Annatar: Oh, goodness, where to begin? You should really use this thing called the Internet to do a bit of research.

    Toyota built its 3-millionth Prius in March 2011:

    Not sure what your 300 million figure is: U.S. vehicle population, perhaps? (The figure is actually closer to 250 million.)

    Or perhaps global vehicle population? That's now at 1 billion and rising:

    As we note frequently, hybrids make up about 3 percent a year of *new* car sales in the U.S. & about 1 percent of global sales.

  18. My point is very, very simple:

    anybody who knows anything about car engines and automechanics would never buy a TOYOTA Prius in its current incarnation. Even if you are correct (quoting a random site does not magically make it so), 3% just means that there is 3% of the population who do not know enough about automechanics and are willing to make compromises.

    As for my research capabilites: anybody (that includes me and you) can post anything on this thing called "the Internet". I will also have you know that I have used and helped build out Internet since 1993, long before it was popular and long before anyone even knew what it was, so I do not appreciate being given a "talking-to" about Internet search.

  19. @Annatar: That sales data is widely reported, not just on some "random site". Each automaker issues sales figures monthly (except for outliers like Fisker and Tesla) and it is aggregated. Percentages are very easy to derive.

    Do the research YOURSELF. You will find hundreds of sites that show the same data, which is widely distributed, covered, and reported.

    I am utterly baffled by your seeming unwillingness to acknowledge accepted data used throughout the industry.

  20. "I am utterly baffled by your seeming unwillingness to acknowledge accepted data used throughout the industry."

    What is there to be baffled about? Companies lie all the time. As the saying goes:

    "there are lies, damn lies, and statistics."

  21. What I want to know is when are you (John) are going to confront the nonsense coming from both sides of the fence on this website. It is clear that ALN has one or two legitimate points, but he negates all legitimacy with the rest of his nonsense. ALN kinda discredits himself on his own...doesn't need much help. When are you (John) going to create a new section of the website devoted to reader's projects?

  22. @Randall: What precisely would you propose that I do as site moderator?

    I try to correct blatantly wrong and false statements, as I did with Annatar above. And I remind commenters to be polite, not to make rude comments about OTHER commenters, and to stick to facts, preferably supported by links.

    Beyond that, we encourage robust discussion. If you don't think Annatar is on the right track, feel free to respond yourself ...

Commenting is closed for old articles.

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