Mar
27
2012 Honda Insight

2012 Honda Insight

With chatter about $5 gas by Memorial Day, maybe it’s time to buy a hybrid.

The question is, are any hybrids affordable?

Here’s the thing about most hybrids: Even though they get better gas mileage, you pay extra for the hybrid technology. Over the lifetime of the hybrid, you may or may not come out ahead financially. Manufacturers can’t do much about the high production cost of a hybrid powertrain, but what’s frustrating is that many hybrid vehicles are unnecessarily expensive.

Of the 28 available 2012 hybrids, three of them have supercharged hybrid engines. The Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid, Porsche Panamera S Hybrid, and Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid—all priced north of $60,000—are designed more for performance than fuel economy. In addition, the Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid starts at $91,850, and the Infiniti M35h has a $53,700 price tag due largely to its robust 360-horsepower 3.5-liter V6. The Lexus LS 600h L is the most expensive hybrid of all at $112,250. The 600h L driver’s only solace is that the car gets slightly better mileage—2 mpg—than the base LS. Woo-hoo!

Of the remaining hybrids, nine come heavily equipped, meaning you’re paying thousands for the hybrid powertrain and thousands more for a variety of features. For example, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid is priced $10,050 more than the base Highlander. You’re paying not just for the hybrid powertrain but for an upgrade to a V6 engine, all-wheel drive, and 14 additional features. Such hybrids, it seems, are built not for the frugal-minded but for well-heeled drivers who want to “go green” but are not willing to “go without.”

Most hybrids will save you $4,000 to $6,000 in gas over the first 100,000 miles (if gas averaged $4 a gallon) compared to the same car with a base engine. That’s a pretty good chunk of change. Unfortunately, hybrids are expensive. While 25 2012 non-hybrids (with automatic transmission) retail for $17,595 or less, the cheapest hybrid starts at $18,350.

Below are mini reviews of the nine 2012 hybrids under $30,000. Fuel-cost estimates are based on EPA-estimated mileage as well as the assumption that gas will average $4 a gallon over the lifetime of the car.

Lowest-Priced Hybrids:

2012 Honda Insight

Class: Compact Car

Base price of hybrid: $18,350

Advice: Consider it. The no-frills, hybrid-only Insight was designed to save you money. Though the powertrain generates just 98 horsepower, Insight is the lowest-priced hybrid on the market and gets 41 mpg in the city. It’s an ideal chose for frugal urban dwellers.

 

2012 Toyota Prius c

Class: Subcompact Car

Base price of hybrid: $18,950

Advice: Strongly consider it. The Prius c is $5,050 cheaper than the “regular” Prius and gets an even higher EPA city rating (53 vs. 51). But it is a subcompact—and can be somewhat cramped for large adults—and its acceleration isn’t as strong. Consumer Guide Automotive gives the Prius c a 2 for acceleration, which is the lowest rating of any hybrid.

 

2012 Honda CR-Z

Class: Sporty/Performance Car

Base price of hybrid: $19,545

Advice: Consider it. The CR-Z, which comes only as a hybrid, is a 2-seater with little cargo space, restricted visibility, and an automatic transmission that will occasionally bog down and jerk when accelerating from a standstill. Nevertheless, you’ve got to love CR-Z’s sporty nature, sub-$20K price, and terrific fuel economy—37 mpg combined.

 

2012 Toyota Prius

Class: Midsize Car

Base price of hybrid: $24,000

Advice: Buy it. The hybrid-only Prius remains the fuel-economy king, averaging 50 mpg combined. After 100,000 miles at $4 per gallon, you would spend $8,000 on gas on the Prius as opposed to $16,000 for a car that averaged 25 mpg.

 

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid

Class: Compact Car

Base price of hybrid: $24,050

Advice: Avoid it. The Civic Hybrid is especially slow for a hybrid. And while it gets a combined 44 mpg, the money you save on gas compared to the Civic Sedan (an estimated $3,409 over 100,000 miles) won’t come close to the $7,445 extra you’d pay for the Hybrid over the base Civic Sedan w/automatic. The Hybrid is $5,395 more than the comparably equipped Civic Sedan LX.

 

2012 Kia Optima Hybrid

Class: Midsize Car

Base price of hybrid: $25,700

Advice: Avoid it. The Optima Hybrid has the same powertrain as the Sonata Hybrid, which Consumer Guide Automotive did not like (see Sonata Hybrid below). Moreover, the money you’d save on gas over 100,000 miles compared to the (comparably equipped) base Optima probably wouldn’t equal the $4,700 price premium of the Hybrid.

 

2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Class: Midsize Car

Base price of hybrid: $25,850

Advice: Avoid it. Consumer Guide Automotive test drivers experienced annoying bogging and surging from the drivetrain in low- and moderate-speed driving. In addition, the $3,475 you’d save on gas over 100,000 miles compared to the base model probably wouldn’t equal the Hybrid’s $5,055 price premium.

 

2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Class: Midsize Car

Base price of hybrid: $25,900

Advice: Buy it. Over 100,000 miles, you would save $4,530 in gas compared to the base Camry, which costs $3,945 less than the Hybrid. Moreover, the Hybrid delivers 200 horsepower compared to the base engine’s 178, and the Hybrid’s powertrain is especially smooth.

 

2012 Toyota Prius v

Class: Midsize Car

Base price of hybrid: $26,400

Advice: Consider it. The Prius v is a wagon that offers 27.7 more cubic feet of cargo space than the original Prius. However, it’s $2,400 more expensive than that car and gets just 42 mpg combined compared to 50 for the Prius.


2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Class: Midsize Car

Base price of hybrid: $28,600

Advice: Buy it. Compared to the comparably equipped Fusion SE, you likely would save money in the long run with the Hybrid. Also, the Hybrid’s powertrain delivers spirited performance without any hybrid fussiness.

 

2012 Lexus CT 200h

Class: Premium-Compact Car

Base price of hybrid: $29,120

Advice: Consider it. The hybrid-only CT 200h is mechanically similar to the Toyota Prius and delivers the same mediocre performance. You’ll get Lexus luxury with the CT 200h, but it’s priced $5,120 more than a Prius and gets 8 mpg less than that car (50-42).

 

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