People have many reasons for choosing hybrid vehicles. For some, the chance of cutting down on fuel bills may be a priority. For others, knowing that they're doing less damage to the environment is very appealing.

We've noticed that you, our readers, prioritize many different factors when choosing a green car. Some of you accept that spending a little extra initially can have financial benefits in the future, while others prefer to spend a little less in the short term.

That's why we're looking at two leading midsize hybrids, the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid and 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and comparing them to their non-hybrid counterparts. Just how quickly does each car pay off the cost of its extra technology?

Ground rules

The Camry and Sonata were chosen because they have direct gasoline equivalents in their respective ranges. A Toyota Prius is one of the cleanest, greenest vehicles on sale, but direct comparisons with other vehicles are difficult - there's no non-hybrid Prius.

We appreciate your feedback too. Last time we compared the running costs of different vehicles, you pointed out that we'd missed out factors like servicing and insurance. Insurance is very dependent on your personal circumstances (as is vehicle financing), but we've tried to include typical service costs in our calculations.

As ever, usage figures are based on the EPA's site. We've set gas at $4 per gallon--it's only a matter of time--and there's a 45 percent highway, 55 percent city split over 15,000 miles per year.

In common with our last comparison, all data here represents five years of ownership.

The costs

Firstly, we'll look at purchase price. A 2.4-liter Sonata SE with the six-speed automatic transmission costs $23,195. The 2.4-liter Sonata Hybrid starts from $25,850. That's a $2,655 difference.

A Camry LE with the 2.5-liter engine and standard automatic transmission begins at $23,260. A Camry Hybrid in LE spec is $25,900. That's a difference of $2,640.

Maintenance will set you back around $2,500 for the Sonata SE, and just over $2,000 for the hybrid. For the regular Camry, maintenance is around $1,600 after five years, and $1,600 for the Hybrid too.

Five years of fuel at $4 per gallon works out as $10,750 for the Sonata and $8,000 for the hybrid, with $10,750 for the gasoline Camry and $7,250 for the Camry Hybrid.

The calculations

The next step is relatively simple. We take the total cost over 5 years for each car, regular versus hybrid, and see whether the initial purchase difference has been regained.

Over five years, the Sonata 2.4 SE comes in at $36,445. The hybrid? $35,850. The regular Camry will cost you $35,610 over five years--less than the hybrid Sonata--and the hybrid only $32,110.

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

$2,655 more expensive to start with, the Sonata ends up $595 cheaper over five years. Of course, if you chose a higher specification of non-hybrid Sonata to compare, that difference would be much larger.

Both Camrys were in SE spec, making it a fair comparison. From $2,640 more to start with, the hybrid would save you $3,500 in ownership.

You'd also have contributed less pollution to the environment, which is always a good thought. It's just nice to discover that a green-thinking purchase can also mean more green in your wallet.


Unfortunately for the Sonata, which doesn't pay off the initial investment as quickly as the Toyota, it also depreciates more than the Camry. That means if you felt like trading it in after five years (perhaps to an even greener electric car, with a healthy 300-mile range--we can dream, right?) you'd get less for it than if you'd bought the Camry Hybrid.

It's worth noting though that most estimates predict that the hybrid versions of each vehicle depreciate heavier than the non-hybrids--a sign of consumers lacking confidence in battery life, perhaps?

As ever, we'd stress that these are only guideline figures--it's impossible to take into account all ownership costs, individual driving styles, and whether you have a special handshake that gets you money off the MSRP at your local dealer.

Still, the writing is on the wall: if you pick the right hybrid, it's not only the greener choice, but could save you a lot of money over five years. And if gas prices keep rising the way they have been, then expect that hybrid to be even more valuable over the next few years...


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