We all know that hybrid vehicles typically offer greater fuel economy than their regular gasoline counterparts. But when considered over a typical ownership period, are they actually any cheaper to run?

That's what a new study from cost-of-ownership specialists Vincentric has been finding out. The company has released its latest 2013 data and revealed that yes, hybrids do offer genuine cost-of-ownership benefits over their counterparts... as long as you select the right model.

Out of 33 hybrid vehicles on the market, a total of 13 prove cheaper to run over a five-year ownership period than their gasoline equivalent.

That's an increase of two vehicles compared to last year's study, though Vincentric points out that with more hybrids on sale in 2013 compared to 2012, the actual proportion with a lower total cost of ownership than their gasoline equivalent has actually fallen, from 44 to 39 percent.

The study takes into account eight cost elements per vehicle, over a five-year ownership period and 15,000 miles per year. Depreciation, financing, fees and taxes, fuel, insurance, maintenance, opportunity cost and repairs are all considered, while Vincentric's database is constantly updated to ensure data is relevant to the models you'll drive off the forecourt.

Luxury models do well

So which hybrid models proved cheaper to own over five years next to a comparable gasoline model?

Topping the list is the Lexus CT 200h. Keen-eyed readers will be aware this doesn't have a direct gasoline equivalent, so the study uses the least expensive Lexus IS 250 for comparison. The CT proves over $6,000 cheaper to run over the period than the larger, rear-drive sedan--perhaps enough to tempt some customers into the smaller model in the showroom.

A more direct comparison is provided by the Lincoln MKZ and MKZ Hybrid. That the hybrid costs no more than the gasoline car helps its cause, and after five years the hybrid costs $47,482 to the regular MKZ's $52,260--a $4,778 saving.

Others comparing well to gasoline equivalents include the Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz S Class, Toyota Avalon, Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Prius V (compared to the Matrix), VW Jetta, Honda Insight (compared to the Civic), Ford Fusion, Toyota Prius C (next to the Yaris), Acura ILX and Lexus ES 300h.

Many hybrids more expensive

By the Lexus though, the difference is minimal at $195 over five years--and from there, hybrids start to get more expensive than their typical gasoline equivalent. What can be seen clearly in the study is that several luxury models do well. When the typical luxury car is already expensive and less economical than average, savings generated by hybrid options can be quite worthwhile.

Overall in the study, hybrids proved $1,338 more expensive in total. That's not great, and suggests that some manufacturers need to lower the price of their hybrid options a little to provide a real benefit for cost-saving customers.

That said, affordable options like the Toyota Prius C and Honda Insight are clearly good buys for those who want low all-round costs.

The overall message here is that consumers need to choose wisely. There are, of course, plenty of reasons to choose a hybrid car that don't involve total cost of ownership--often, it's about being seen--but those really counting the pennies could often be served by a cheaper option.


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