2011 Hybrid Car Buying Guide

November 20, 2014

Compare hybrid safety ratings, ownership costs of hybrid vs. standard vehicles, and different form factors like compacts, sedans, and minivans.

Hybrid vehicles have gained substantial popularity due to an increase in fuel prices and marked improvements in reliability, battery technology and longevity. More people looking for primary forms of transportation are opting for these "green cars." Today, Hybrid vehicles not only deliver excellent fuel economy but add sophisticated styling and everyday practicality at prices that are highly competitive with standard gasoline-only cars. With more features offered as standard equipment, cars in this class offer excellent value.

Because of their intelligent drive trains, they are more fuel-efficient than compact cars, averaging anywhere from 40-50 MPG (combined city and highway).

Compacts and Small Sedans

This is the class that started the Hybrid craze. The Honda CR-Z in a no-frills base trim is the lowest priced Hybrid currently in production at around $19,200. But that doesn't mean you don't get features like power-windows, power door locks and a bevy of airbags.

The Honda Insight is also available if you need four doors, but doesn't offer the same driving dynamic as the CR-Z. There's a trade off with everything, and this Hybrid is no exception.

The best compromise seems to be the Honda Civic Hybrid, which offers improved handling over the Insight while still garnering significant fuel economy improvements over the standard gasoline-powered Civic (43 MPG combined versus 30 MPG combined, respectively).

The Hybrid benchmark, the Toyota Prius is the most popular Hybrid in the world. It's easy to see why. The Prius has won acclaim for its design, reliability and the title of most fuel-efficient car on the road today, with 51 MPG in the city and 48 MPG on the highway.

Mid-Sized Sedans

If the thought of cramming a family of five in a Prius or Insight doesn't sit well with you, the good news is that you have options.

Almost every popular midsize sedan manufactured has a Hybrid equivalent. Options in the Hybrid midsize car class include the Toyota Camry Hybrid, Nissan Altima Hybrid and the Ford Fusion Hybrid. All carry over all of their traditional gasoline-powered counterparts' features and appointments, while obtaining better fuel economy.

Luxury Sedans

If you are looking for something with a few more technical gizmos in addition to a roomier interior in the Hybrid class, give the Lexus HS 250h a look. The HS 250h offers luxury amenities like heated leather seats, a superb in-car navigation system and a plethora of safety features. The key attribute that sets the HS 250h apart is the powerful engine/electric motor combination, which is good for a solid 147 horsepower while still getting 35 MPG. If you pine for even more luxury, you have the Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid and the Lexus LS600h, which is the most costly and full-featured Hybrid at $111,350. It's also the most powerful of all Hybrids, producing 389 horsepower from its 5.0L V8/Electric Motor combination while still getting 19 MPG in the city and 23 MPG on the highway.

Hybrid Minivan

Hybrid vans have been manufactured for sale in Japan and Europe but have yet to be produced for the North American market. The Toyota Estima and the larger more luxurious Alphard are hybrid minivans that have been widely sold in Japan and other countries in Asia with great success.

How to Buy a Hybrid Car Online

The Internet offers several choices for purchasing a hybrid car. Visit websites likeHybridCars.com to research information on the types of hybrid vehicles. The website offers valuable ratings and reviews on almost all types of hybrid vehicles and lists the manufacturer's suggested retail price so you can search for cars that meet your budget.

After you find the hybrid vehicle you're interested in, look here at CarsDirect and find the lowest price on the new hybrid vehicle of your choice. CarsDirect has live operators available 24 hours a day to help you find the lowest price on a hybrid vehicle—guaranteed. The friendly online staff can also help you arrange quick and convenient financing and will be able to help you find the lowest insurance rates for your new hybrid vehicle—in only an hour or two.

How to Find Hybrid Car Dealers near You

Before you start searching for a local hybrid vehicle dealer, do some research on a couple of different type of hybrid cars that may interest you. Narrow your choices down to a couple of models.

Visit Manufacturer Websites

Once you have a couple of models in mind, visit the websites of the manufacturers that produce the vehicles you're considering. Most car manufacturer websites include links to local authorized dealers in your area and provide contact and address information for them. Use the list of authorized dealers to find those that sell the hybrid vehicle of your choice.

Hybrid Safety Ratings Compared

Hybrid safety is very important, just as it is for all cars that are on the roads. Hybrid ratings are very good when matched up against other cars in the same size class. The following models were tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

  • Toyota Prius. The Prius received the best rating that the IIHS gives out. "Good" for both frontal and side impact tests. The Prius features electronic stability control, anti lock brakes, lane departure warnings and side airbags. The crash test showed that injury risk was low, with the highest risk being a neck or head injury due to high head acceleration. This was rated as "Acceptable" on the grade sheet (right below Good).
  • Honda Civic Hybrid. The Civic received the score of "Good" on the front crash test, and a grade of "Acceptable" on the side impact tests. Civic safety features include electronic stability control, daytime running lights and anti lock brakes. It also has front and rear head curtain airbags, as well as front seat torso airbags.
  • Ford Fusion. The Ford Fusion may be the best hybrid car when it comes to safety. It was named an IIHS Top Safety Pick, meaning that it scored "Good" on all of its crash tests, and has electronic stability control. It also features anti lock brakes, daytime running lights and the same airbag setup as the Honda Civic.

Why a Hybrid May Not Save You Money

There are plenty of great reasons to buy a hybrid car, like concern for the environment, or a desire to reduce your carbon footprint. Driving a hybrid might even be your way of setting an example for friends and neighbors. But if you're considering a hybrid because you think it will save you money, think again. When it comes to pinching pennies, a hybrid is definitely not the champ. Here is a quick rundown on why hybrid owners can actually end up paying extra rather than saving money.

The Hybrid Price Premium

Car manufacturers need to make money, so cars that are more expensive to build cost more. The drive systems in hybrid cars are many times more complex than those of conventional vehicles, so these cars cost more; sometimes significantly so. Someone shopping for a new car can expect to pay a price premium of up to 25 percent for the hybrid version of a car. This adds up to thousands of dollars of extra upfront cost.

Fuel Cost Offset

Many buyers of hybrid cars expect to recoup the extra upfront cost over time in fuel savings from their hybrid's superior gas mileage. Say that you bought the hybrid version of a car that normally cost $25,000. Add a middle of the road hybrid price premium of around 15 percent and that means that you paid an extra $3,750 on the car. At an average gas price of $2.50 a gallon, that means that you'll have to save 1,500 gallons of gas to recoup that expense. Even if the hybrid option increases your gas mileage from 30 MPG to 50 MPG, that means a driver who averages 12,000 miles is saving about 140 gallons of gas per year. It would take more than 10 years of average driving to make up for the extra cost of the hybrid option.