Editors’ Pick: Originally published Feb. 16.
Even in the age of Tesla and the electric car, a revamped Toyota Prius is still a big deal.
Sure, maybe the novelty has worn off a bit now that there are other options available. But a combined 56 miles per gallon in the Eco model (including 58 in the city), 52 in the base, tighter suspension, a mean new look and upgraded tech including parking assistance and new LED lighting have made the Prius a formidable (and, at less than $25,000, comparably affordable) offering.
That’s fairly impressive, considering Tesla already actively targets Toyota Prius drivers and is getting closer to the Prius’s price after announcing a Model 3 that will sell $35,000 when it’s finally finished. That doesn’t factor in $7,500 in federal electric vehicle incentives, which drop its price closer to $27,500, but that’s still a lot more affordable than Tesla’s Model S and its starting price upwards of $70,000.
General Motors, meanwhile, is revamping its quiet-but-underwhelming Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and announced the Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicle at this year’s Detroit Auto Show. GM claims the latter will offer 200 miles of electric range for $30,000 after incentives. That’s actually 65 miles less than the Tesla Model S, but it’s also considerably less expensive than Tesla’s only offerings– which won’t be followed up by the Model 3 until late this year at the earliest. It’s also more than double the range of the current fleet of non-Tesla electric vehicles, which is led by Toyota’s Rav 4 EV crossover and its nearly $50,000 price tag.
This is all making hybrid vehicles to cars what the Blu-ray was to home video — a stopgap technology. Consider that the revived Mitsubishi Mirage gets 44 miles per gallon on the highway and combined 40.5 miles per gallon from a combustion engine alone. The new breed of hybrids is going to have to step up its game.
Why? Because the Environmental Protection Agency says vehicle fuel efficiency standards have to reach a combined 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 for entire corporate fleets. However, the average fuel economy (window-sticker value) of new vehicles sold in 2015 was 25.3 mpg, according to the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. That’s still less than halfway to the EPA and Department of Transportation’s goal that they set back in 2012, though it beats the roughly 19 miles per gallon that the Department of Transportation measured for the same pool of vehicles in 1995. It’s also closing in on double the average mileage of the light-duty vehicles on U.S. roads in 1980.
As it stands, there are more than 35 new vehicles in the U.S. achieving more than 40 miles per gallon in combined mileage. However, low-priced hybrid vehicles are making up a larger portion of that group each year. In fact, the EPA counts at least 15 plug-free hybrids with more than 40 miles per gallon of combined mileage.
We checked in with the EPA and found the ten original-recipe hybrids chasing the Prius’s efficiency. We’ve ranked them by combined mileage, which places them in five separate tiers. If you aren’t ready to make the jump to electric and don’t see much point in plugging in a hybrid for a handful of extra miles, here are the hybrid vehicles giving you a bit extra for your investment. In the interest of fairness, we kept other Prius models (the Prius v and c) off the list, but in many cases, that still didn’t help close the gap between hybrids:
10. 2016 Toyota Avalon Hybrid and Lexus ES 300h
Starting price: $36,650, $40,920 for the ES
Miles per gallon: 40 city, 39 highway, 39.5 combined
They’re both built on the same platform in Georgetown, Ky., specifically for American car buyers, and each has the look of an efficient Japanese luxury car. However, the Avalon’s combined mileage that’s almost 14 miles per gallon more than its strictly gas version comes through sacrificing its 280-horsepower V6 for a 156-horsepower 4-cylinder.
It isn’t that the Lexus is any more powerful, mind you: It’s just that it comes with perks like leather seating, a 15-speaker audio system and a whole lot of personalized upgrades.
9. Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
Starting price: $35,190
Miles per gallon: 41 city, 39 highway, 40 combined for both
Not to be outdone by its luxurious competitors, the plush Lincoln MKZ hybrid is about 13 miles per gallon more efficient than its base model. Even with that cut in fuel consumption, the Lincoln manages to keep its panoramic sunroof, LED headlights, leather heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel and touchscreen console for navigation and entertainment apps.
The kicker? It doesn’t cost a dime more than its standard fuel version. Also, this vehicle is about to get a sweet honeycomb-chrome grill and Audi-style LED accent lights for 2017. MKZ sales have risen steadily since 2009, which gives Lincoln more than a few reasons to be optimistic about this vehicle.
8. 2016 Ford C-Max Hybrid
Starting price: $24,170
Miles per gallon: 42 city, 37 highway, 40 combined
Congratulations, Ford: The C-Max not only looks like a dead ringer for the old Prius, but it can’t even match the old model’s mileage missing by nearly ten miles per gallon.
However, it’s assembled in Wayne, Mich., and definitely has more “Made In The U.S.A.” credibility than the Prius. It also gets all those sweet Prius benefits like state and federal refunds and solo carpool lane access. However, if you want all of last-year’s Prius’s tech, less efficiency than the hybrid models of Ford cars that people actually buy and roughly the same price, by all means, help out some folks in Michigan.
7. 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Starting price: $26,000
Miles per gallon: 44 city, 40 highway, 42 combined
The Sonata can’t fit a scout troop or the midfield and defense of a youth soccer team, but for a family of four there’s 106.1 cubic feet of cabin space that’s among the roomiest in its class — and larger than the C-Max’s 99.7 cubic feet. There’s 35.6 inches or rear leg room and the back seat bench can sit three adults comfortably and three kids with room to spare.
Throw in the Blue Link telematics system, backup camera, touchscreen audio, steering wheel mounted controls, Bluetooth and optional dual-zone automatic climate control, and you’re getting a lot of sweet perks for your $26,000.
6. 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid
Starting price: $26,790
Miles per gallon: 43 city, 39 highway, 41 combined
With a starting price roughly $4,000 more than the base-model Camry, the Camry Hybrid humiliates the less-expensive model’s city mileage (just 25 mpg) while putting up combined mileage that’s 13 mpg better than its counterpart.
Each has the same passenger and cargo space, but the hybrid throws in a noise-reducing front windshield, dual-zone automatic climate control, Smart Key entry, pushbutton starter and computerized instrumentation. While automakers have struggled to simply make hybrid versions of their most popular cars, Toyota’s managed to make one that’s a strong argument for skipping the gas-only model altogether — and for giving a second thought to downsizing to the Prius.
5. 2015 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Starting price: $25,990
Miles per gallon: 44 city, 41 highway, 42.5 combined
It’s as if it just dawned on Ford that making the Fusion look even remotely like a sports car could do wonders for its sales. That sleek new body and tough-looking grill caught a lot of eyes over the last year, but the additions inside are the ones making buyers even happier.
With a sporty new exterior, keyless entry keypad, its own app, Microsoft’s SYNC entertainment and communications system (that also doubles as a Wi-Fi hotspot, a blind-spot alert system, adaptive cruise control and Hill Start Assist that holds the brake when starting on an incline, there are a ton of extraordinary features in what’s supposed to be Ford’s most ordinary car.
Even better, you’re looking for an upgrade on your family’s midsize sedan, the Fusion Hybrid’s mileage beats its gas-only version by 14 miles per gallon while tacking less than $4,000 onto the price.
4. Lexus CT200h
Starting price: $31,250
Miles per gallon: 43 city, 40 highway, 41.5 combined
Yes, this is the Lexus Prius.
However, it gets less mileage than the Prius it’s based on, yet still takes a yawn-inducing 10 seconds to hit 60 miles per hour. Why are people buying this car again? Because the Prius hatch doesn’t have this car’s sportwagon look or come with standard perks like key-detecting Smart Access, push-button starter, dual-zone climate control, personalized electronic settings, a safety package with assistance or a leather-trimmed steering wheel. Seem a little frivolous? That’s kind of the whole point of the Lexus brand.
3. 2016 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
Miles per gallon: 48 city, 42 highway, 45 combined
O.K., so maybe Volkswagen wasn’t entirely up front about its diesel vehicles. Its hybrid still delivers
This all comes at a cost, which is roughly $14,000 more than the base gasoline-powered model.
2. 2015 Honda Civic Hybrid
Miles per gallon: 47 city, 44 highway, 45.5 combined
The Civic Hybrid’s mileage caught up to its hybrid name and premium price…. just in time to be dropped by Honda altogether.
It’s being scratched for 2016 in favor of a more efficient Civic (Honda cites low gas prices), but this Civic Hybrid’s tech features help it stand out from its gas-only sibling. A 7-inch touchscreen audio display, HondaLink information and entertainment system, Pandora compatibility, text message manager, rearview camera, Lane Watch blind spot camera, traffic updates, Bluetooth connection and pushbutton start help provide a lot of incentive to pay a little extra for added efficiency.
However, Honda wasn’t asking folks to pay a little. If you happen to find one of these on the lots, it’ll cost you about $6,500 more than the standard Civic while being only about 10 miles per gallon more efficient.
1. 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid
Starting price: $29,305
Miles per gallon: 50 city, 45 highway, 47 combined
This is one of the best-selling cars in the U.S. even without a hybrid engine. When that engine adds 15 miles per gallon to the Accord’s already impressive combined mileage, however, it’s worth looking into.
With a starting price roughly $7,000 higher than the base Accord sedan, the hybrid tosses in a few perks including a power driver’s seat and heated mirrors. However, considering that the hybrid retains most of the Accord’s offerings from the 2013 redesign — including an 8-inch LCD display for its information, communication and app-based entertainment system, a single angle backup camera, dual zone climate control, a lane-drift detector, a power moon roof and alloy wheels — improving mileage without losing any of those amenities is a win in and of itself.
However, with this vehicle off the slate for 2016, the gap between Honda’s most efficient hybrid vehicles and Toyota’s only stands to widen.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.