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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