2012 Hybrid Car Buying Guide

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Automotive Editor

Trent Loomis is an automotive journalist who has spent the past four years writing reviews, buying guides, and how to articles for some of the biggest websites in the world. Although he currently lives in Los Angeles, he also spent some time in Germany where he got to experience European craftsmanship and the thrill of driving on the autobahn.

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, Automotive Editor - April 8, 2013

Once a relatively small niche, the hybrid car market has grown exponentially over the past decade by providing fuel efficient vehicles across several different segments and price ranges. It used to be that owning a hybrid meant you had to sacrifice power for efficiency, but that's not the case anymore. With luxury manufacturers now competing fiercely for a share of the hybrid car market, drivers have a wider array of features and conveniences to choose from.

Our editors at CarsDirect looked at metrics such as fuel efficiency, power, luxury, size, and style in order choose the best hybrid vehicles in four different price segments.

The 2013 Hybrid Buying Guide is now available. Browse »

Hybrids Under $25,000

Because of their low MSRPs and extremely low annual fuel costs, the vehicles in this segment provide incredible value for hybrid car shoppers.

Toyota Prius
The best-selling hybrid of all time
2012 Toyota Prius

The name Prius is synonymous with hybrids, and for good reason. The 2012 Toyota Prius is hands down the best hybrid around. By utilizing a flawless hybrid system, the Prius gets an astronomical 51/48 mpg rating. The EPA estimates that the average cost of gas per month is only $85, which, in addition to its affordable base price, makes the Prius one of the most affordable vehicles available. Other EPA figures have the Prius getting 536 miles per tank at an average cost of $36 per fill-up. If saving the environment is as important to you as saving money on gas, you'll be happy to know that the Prius receives a 9/10 on the EPA's CO2 emissions scale.

Honda Civic Hybrid
Popular hybrid that provides excellent handling
Honda Civic Hybrid

Honda's most efficient vehicle is second only to the Prius when it comes to sales and mpg. The reliable Honda Civic Hybrid sips fuel at an impressive 44 mpg on both city and highway roads. What we like about the Civic Hybrid is that it drives like a regular Honda Civic. With inspired handling, you won't notice that you're driving a hybrid until you realize that you just drove from San Diego to San Francisco on a single tank of gas.

Honda CR-Z
Best-in-class price with a sporty twist
Honda CR-Z

Definitely the sportiest of the bunch, the 2012 CR-Z also has the lowest base price of any hybrid on this list. The CR-Z is the only hybrid that offers a stick-shift so you can enjoy a 'hands-on' driving experience while getting an impressive 35/39 mpg. With its nimble handling and sporty good looks, the CR-Z drives more like a mild two-seat sports car. Choose between Sport, Normal and Econ settings to maximize efficiency and ride.

Hybrids Under $27,000

For just a few dollars more you can buy a hybrid that has both excellent fuel efficiency ratings and capable horsepower. These hybrids appeal to those looking to stand-out from the rest of the crowd in the boring mid-size sedan world.

Toyota Camry Hybrid
Best-in-class handling and city fuel economy
Toyota Camry Hybrid

The third-best selling hybrid behind the Prius and Civic, the Toyota Camry Hybrid is the most powerful of the three. With exactly 200 horsepower, the Camry Hybrid saves its peak efficiency for city streets at 43/39 mpg. One of the many benefits of the Camry Hybrid is that it drives and feels like its gas-only brother. Even though it's not the flashiest midsize hybrid around, the 2012 Camry Hybrid received a minor facelift, giving it more appeal to a younger crowd. Add reliability, safety, and high resale value and you have the best hybrid in its class.

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Exciting new-comer with high-end styling
Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

We like the Camry Hybrid because it's safe. On the other hand, we like the Sonata Hybrid because it's exciting and youthful. The Sonata Hybrid is a great overall value with 35/40 mpg and Hyundai's excellent 10-year 100,000 mile drivetrain warranty. The Sonata Hybrid is sleek and looks more expensive than it is. While the Sonata Hybrid generates 206 total horsepower, its new hybrid system causes choppy acceleration and braking. It's not as smooth as the Camry Hybrid, but it sure looks better.

Kia Optima Hybrid
Fun design and overall great value
Kia Optima Hybrid

The Kia Optima Hybrid uses the Sonata Hybrid's powertrain, but boasts edgier styling and a better overall interior. Horsepower and fuel economy ratings are the same as the Sonata Hybrid, so it really comes down to your styling preferences.

Hybrids Under $30,000

From entry-level luxury to American-made craftsmanship, these hybrids appeal to a wide range of drivers. What they all have in common is a base price under $30k and more than 40 mpg in city driving.

Lexus CT 200h
Luxury, performance and efficiency at a great price
Lexus CT 200h

Combine Lexus' quality and refinement with Toyota's tried and true Hybrid Synergy Drive system and you have a car that cannot be matched. Getting 43/40 mpg out of a luxury vehicle is unheard of and that's why we like the 2012 Lexus CT 200h so much. Take the 200h's $29k base price into account and the upper echelon of hybrid luxury is surprisingly within reach.

Ford Fusion Hybrid
Value-packed, well-rounded, best-selling American-made hybrid
Ford Fusion Hybrid

Like a beer that tastes great and is less-filling, the 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid has the comfort and ride quality of its gas-only brother and the superb fuel efficiency that only a hybrid can achieve. Perhaps the most family-friendly sedan available, the spacious and comfortable Ford Fusion Hybrid excels in city driving (41 mpg) so you don't have to pay as much for all of your day-to-day tasks. The Fusion Hybrid is based on its gas-only sibling's award-winning chassis, giving it a smooth, seamless ride. Quality interior materials are highlighted by the engaging SmartGauge cluster that displays efficiency-related graphics, making mundane driving a thing of the past.

Toyota Prius v Wagon
Hybrid fuel economy with crossover spaciousness
Toyota Prius v Wagon

Based on the world's best-selling hybrid, the Prius v Wagon offers more space than 80 % of small SUVs, while still maintaining excellent fuel economy at price that most small families can afford. Pack your stuff in under floor storage, and simultaneously fit up to 98 paper grocery bags when the rear seat is folded. Now that you have room for your bags, all you need is high-end fuel efficiency. The Prius v Wagon's 44/40 mpg rating allows you to drive from New York to Detroit, or San Francisco to Portland, on a single tank.

Hybrids Under $60,000

This segment of hybrid sedans caters to those who desire high-end performance and fuel efficiency - aspects that are rarely paired together. The Lexus and Infiniti are extremely well-rounded hybrids that shine with tantalizing horsepower, while the Volt has the potential to be the most efficient vehicle on this list.

Lexus GS 450h
Breathtaking blend of luxury, power and efficiency
Lexus GS 450h

Owning the all-new 2013 Lexus GS 450h is like having your cake, eating it, and then having another one for desert. We can't get over the fact that it generates 338 total-horsepower while still getting 29/34 mpg. Keep in mind that the GS 450h achieves those numbers while wrapped inside a striking exterior and technology-laden, refined interior. With five different drive settings and a host of next-generation features, the Lexus GS 450h has taken the driving experience to a whole new level. Note: the GS 450h won't be released until May 2012.

Infiniti M Hybrid
Upscale sport-tuned handling meets hybrid efficiency
Infiniti M Hybrid

With the power of a V8 and the fuel economy of a four-cylinder, the 2012 Infiniti M Hybrid is a driver's car. The Infiniti M Hybrid can go 0 to 60 mph in under six seconds and can drive in pure electric mode up to 62 mph. That raw power gives way to fluid efficiency of 27/32 mpg. And with features like the Forest Air purification system, which guides air flow within the cabin so it resembles that of a gentle breeze, the M Hybrid embodies comfort and sophistication. Enjoy sport sedan handling with a taste of class in the Infiniti M Hybrid.

Chevrolet Volt
Innovative design and high mpg potential
Chevrolet Volt

The 2012 Chevy Volt can be either extremely efficient or just moderately efficient based on your driving habits. Contrary to popular belief, the Volt is not a pure electric vehicle--it's a plug-in hybrid with a gas engine. Depending on your driving habits, you can operate on electricity alone and never spend a dime on gas. Most likely though, you'll need the gas engine in order to achieve normal hybrid fuel estimates. Without the $7,500 federal tax credit, the Volt starts around $40k and doesn't include a home charging station, making the Volt an expensive proposition unless you plan on minimal distance driving.

Hybrids Under $100,000

Barely making it in under the $100k mark, these hybrids are the epitome of everything you could possibly want: power, performance, efficiency, style, and sophistication. We could spend all day describing what we love about these hybrids - they're that good.

Porsche Panamera S Hybrid
The most fun-to-drive hybrid in the world
Porsche Panamera S Hybrid

If we told you that you could drive a Porsche that generated 380 horsepower, 428 pounds-feet of torque, and received 22/30 mpg, you would have a hard time believing us. There's no catch--that's really the case with the 2012 Panamera S Hybrid, which also provides the best handling of any hybrid, while still seating four comfortably. The Panamera S Hybrid is not only a luxurious grand touring car with rich leather and room for four full suitcases; it's also a thrill-seeking performance car with a racing pedigree.

BMW ActiveHybrid 7 Sedan
A sublime combination of performance, status and technology
BMW ActiveHybrid 7 Sedan

A close second place to the Panamera Hybrid, the 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 has the best compromise between all-out handling performance and ride quality. BMW slashed close to $5k from the ActiveHybrid7's base price so it can be classified under $100k. The ActiveHybrid 7 achieves V12 power from a V8 engine for a total of 455 horsepower and a blistering 515 pounds-feet of torque. Once you comprehend that, try to wrap your head around the ActiveHybrid's zero to 60 time of 4.7 seconds and fuel rating of 17/24 mpg. Add high-end features like heated/ventilated seats, heads-up display, and NightVision infrared display with pedestrian detection and the ActiveHybrid 7 is in a class of its own.

Mercedes-Benz S-Class Hybrid
Not built for the race track, but great craftsmanship
Mercedes-Benz S-Class Hybrid

While not as powerful or efficient as the Panamera, the 2012 S400 Hybrid is chock full of all the creature comforts you've come to expect from Mercedes-Benz. You'll still be able to get up and go with 295 horsepower, which is more than enough if you're focused on ride quality and day to day comfort. Fuel estimates of 19/25 mpg are not as stellar as the S350 Bluetec turbodiesel, but are more than adequate. The S400 Hybrid is one of six models in the illustrious S-Class family, which sit atop the luxury sedan throne for good reason. Seldom if ever will you encounter a luxury hybrid sedan as renowned as this one.

, Automotive Editor

Trent Loomis is an automotive journalist who has spent the past four years writing reviews, buying guides, and how to articles for some of the biggest websites in the world. Although he currently lives in Los Angeles, he also spent some time in Germany where he got to experience European craftsmanship and the thrill of driving on the autobahn.

Follow On: Google+ | Website

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