2017 Kia Niro Touring, Catskill Mountains, NY, March 2017
For the past few years, plug-in electric cars have gotten more publicity than their small share of the market deserved.
That's exactly what had happened to hybrids a decade earlier—and hybrids still outsell cars with plugs, even if they're no longer getting outsize publicity.
We've been driving quite a few hybrids lately, and we decided it was worth putting down in an article how and why they've changed since the last time average buyers paid attention.
So here are our six things you should know about hybrid vehicles if you haven't really spent much time thinking about them lately.
(1) Dedicated hybrids no longer have to look weird.
The public image of hybrids has probably been fixed by the Toyota Prius, which has always been slightly out of step and got downright weird-looking in its most recent incarnation in 2016.
2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
But two new dedicated hybrids, the Kia Niro wagon and the Hyundai Ioniq hatchback, were both designed specifically to be normally appealing—and we think they've succeeded.
The Niro is slightly less fuel-efficient than the 56-mpg Prius Two Eco, but the 58-mpg Ioniq Hybrid Blue beats it, and you might never know looking at either one that they had hybrid powertrains.
(2) Hybrid cars are way better to drive than they used to be.
Earlier hybrids tended to feel very different from "normal' cars behind the wheel. The Prius in particular, again, had numb and remote controls and little sense of connection between the inputs and its road behavior.
The engines spooled up and down in a way that was entirely disconnected from road speed, and usually howled under hard acceleration despite little forward motion. In other words, they were slow.
Now, the Hyundai and Kia (which share hardware under the skin) use dual-clutch transmissions that shift like normal gearboxes, along with their electric motor. TL/DR: They behave a lot more like normal cars.
2017 Kia Niro, San Antonio, Texas, Dec 2016
(3) In particular, they're a lot quieter inside.
While every car of any kind has gotten quieter in recent years, hybrids have benefited more than most as carmakers learned that a small efficient engine screaming at full speed did not induce confidence in drivers.
Among the hybrids we've driven over the last couple of years, we've largely found that transitions between electric-only and engine power are close to indistinguishable.
And even at maximum power, while the engines get louder, they're no longer startling or worrisome—and that applies to the latest Prius too.
(4) Real-world gas mileage still varies with driving style, speed, and temperature.
It's harder and harder to boost the efficiency of a car above 50 mpg, when the amount of gasoline saved on a drive cycle starts to be measured in tablespoons rather than fractions of a gallon.
But just like always, even the latest hybrids will give you extraordinary mileage if you're gentle on the accelerator, but suck up more gasoline if you're not.
Temperature counts too; below 40 degrees or so, we notice a mileage fall-off, and of course high speeds require more energy to overcome wind resistance than lower ones no matter what kind of powertrain you're using.