With two dozen hybrid models now on the market, and several mass-market plug-in hybrids as well, weighing costs and benefits can get a lot more complicated.
Take, for instance, our reader Catherine Chan-Smith, who wrote to ask for advice:
I've read your article on the 2014 Honda Accord Plug-In Hybrid, and was hoping you could help shed some light on the car.
My husband and I are looking for a fuel-efficient and comfortable car; we test-drove the Toyota Prius and Camry Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, and the Accord Plug-in.
We're ruling out the Prius at this point, because we didn't love how it drove, nor was it very comfortable.
I really love the Accord Plug-In--it's comfortable and the 115 MPG is a big selling point, obviously. The trunk is tiny and that's potentially a deal-breaker for my husband, who thinks it's way too small for us and our two kids (ages 2 and 5).
He also doesn't think that we'll be able to get the 115 MPG based on how we drive. I drive 60 miles round trip every day...and my average morning commute in Los Angeles is about an hour.
Do you think we'll be able to get close to 100-115 MPG or will I get significantly less due to my long commute?
You will NOT get 115 mpg, no matter how you drive.
That number is a theoretical equivalent number called "MPGe," or miles-per-gallon-equivalent. It refers to how far the car will travel electrically on the same amount of energy as contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.
It's confusing in that respect, because the car only operates at that efficiency for the distance it can travel on battery power alone.
For the 2014 Accord Plug-In Hybrid, the EPA says that number is 13 miles.
So if you drive 60 miles a day, you may get 10 to 12 miles on electricity (depending on your speed and driving style). Then the car reverts to being a conventional hybrid when the battery pack is depleted.
Its fuel efficiency as a hybrid is rated at 46 mpg, which is pretty good for a car that large, though you might be better to plan on 35 or 40 mpg in case you're an aggressive driver.
As for its capacity, it's a mid-size sedan, so it should be fine for two adults and two small children.
I don't know how much stuff you carry--so trunk space could be an issue--but in terms of cabin capacity it should be fine--unless you're used to a Chevy Suburban or something!
2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid drive event, NYC area, April 2013
Are we better off getting a Hyundai Sonata Hybrid?
I've just driven the new 2013 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, which is upgraded compared to the 2011-2012 hybrid model.
I'd say you'll get a real-world 35 mpg or so in that car.
Note that it's not a plug-in hybrid with a battery pack you can recharge from the wall, but a regular hybrid that runs only on gasoline--but more efficiently.
We found the new 2013 hybrid Sonata to drive better than the previous version did.
See details in our 2013 Sonata Hybrid first drive report. We'll have another article on a longer drive up within a few days.
Lastly, do you know if Honda is coming out with a Hybrid Accord (non-plugin) this year?
Honda is indeed coming out with a conventional hybrid version of the Accord, without the plug-in feature.
It'll be out sometime in the second half of this year, but we don't know the price or efficiency rating yet.
The delay is because the Accord Hybrid will be built with other Accords in a U.S. plant, whereas the plug-in Accord is built in Japan.
So, what do you think? Did we give the Chan-Smiths the right advice, or would you have advised them differently?
Let us know what you think in the Comments below.