Which hybrid should I get?

I’m saying a sad goodbye to my trustworthy vehicle of 7 years that has been declared a total loss after a traffic accident last week.
But, I’m excited about the prospect of buying a new car this weekend. We’ve decided to get a hybrid. I spend too much of my commute stuck in traffic, and it vexes me to lecture my students about carbon emissions and global warming and then go idle in traffic for a half hour.

The question for you is: “Which hybrid should I get?” Do you drive a hybrid? What have your experiences been with it? Would you buy it again?


  1. #1 Dave Munger
    November 29, 2007

    We just got a Prius and are quite happy with it. We test drove a Prius and a Civic hybrid and found the Civic a bit too small for us. Looking at the size of your Subaru, I’d say the Prius is probably about right for you, maybe just a bit smaller.

    We’ve averaged about 48 MPG combined city/highway mileage since we got it. Not bad at all.

  2. #2 G. Williams
    November 29, 2007

    I also have a Prius and am satisfied with it. It’s the only hybrid I tried, and it’s actually a little big for my usual needs (commuting, basically), but I like it. My only real complaint is that while the car itself is quite quiet, it’s not well insulated against road noise (an issue with Toyotas generally, and at their reasonable prices it’s not that much of a complaint). I’m getting 53-55 mpg on average, with mostly highway driving.

  3. #3 chezjake
    November 29, 2007

    I’ve been driving a Toyota Highlander Hybrid for about 6 months now. It gets good mileage (about 26 mpg) for a decent sized SUV and behaves very well, but it’s nowhere near as fuel efficient as the Prius. My daughter has had a Prius for over three years and is very happy with it, including baby hauling activities.

    There is now also a Camry Hybrid, which would be somewhat bigger, but I’ve had no direct reports on it.

  4. #4 chezjake
    November 29, 2007

    Afterthoughts on the Highlander Hybrid. I have no idea where Mystery U is, but seeing the Subaru and knowing that you do fieldwork, you might be wondering about AWD/4WD options. The Highlander is available with so-called “intelligent 4WD,” but you should be aware that the “intelligent” means that you have absolutely no control over when/if the 4WD is engaged or disengaged; the vehicle’s computer makes those decisions on its own and there is no override. (So far, to the best of my knowledge, mine has yet to activate the 4WD feature.)

    One additional thing about the Highlander compared to other hybrids — it’s rated to tow up to 3500 lbs, and does so quite handily and with no complaints. If at some point you might want to tow a camper or such-like, that’s a powerful consideration.

  5. #5 ScienceWoman
    November 29, 2007

    Anyone know anything about the Ford Escape Hybrid? It’s currently at the top of the list. Or the Saturn Vue? Most of the time the car will just be commuting, lugging baby and groceries in city traffic, but occasionally we’ll be taking it camping in the mountains or bringing things home from the nursery or hardware store. For that reason we are thinking about one of the SUV’s…

  6. #6 matthew
    November 29, 2007

    IMHO buying a hybrid SUV to solve your ethical delimma does not make sense given that in the city they get around 25mpg. That may be good for a regular SUV, but then you may as well get another station wagon for the same effect. Your yourself said that you only need the qualities of an SUV occasionally, so why would you make your final decision on a longterm product based on your occasional needs? Seems to me that your ethical delimma would remain.

  7. #7 Tatarize
    November 29, 2007

    One that plugs-in….

    Though the first (non-mod) is suppose to hit the market late 08.

  8. #8 oku
    November 29, 2007

    We are a family of 5, and are absolutely happy with a Prius. And there is enough space in the trunk for a big stroller. I blogged about it. The mileage has improved since, and traveled through Oregon with it.

    I agree with matthew on the SUVs.

  9. #9 Writer Chica
    November 29, 2007

    We loved our Prius. I miss it terribly, but it just wasn’t going to work. With two carseats and a stroller, there was no room for anything else. However, for one kidlet it was great. Not sure if it is big enough for family camping trips with Pup, though.

    Are there any station wagon type hybrids out? Something between the small hybrids and the SUV hybrids?

  10. #10 G. Williams
    November 29, 2007

    Good point, Writer Chica. You can haul a lot in it OR have passengers in the backseat, but not both; the only way to get real cargo space is to fold the rear seats down.

    I also wouldn’t take it on some of the forest service roads we have around here (I live in Washington) because they’re in such bad shape that I’d start worrying about the undercarriage.

  11. #11 ecogeofemme
    November 29, 2007

    I certainly don’t mean this as any kind of attack, but I kind of agree with Matthew. If you only need the SUV occasionally, why not rent one when you need it instead of getting half the gas mileage (hybrid SUV compared to hybrid car) all the time?

    Is everybody okay after the accident?

  12. #12 Addy N.
    November 29, 2007

    I’ll chime in as a Civic Hybrid owner. We’ve put over 7000 miles on ours since we bought it in June and we love it. We’re a family of three, so we don’t need a huge amount of space. The trunk is small, but we were able to fit everything we needed for our trip to Florida. We got the one with the Navigation System and XM radio, which was really great on the trip. My husband is 6’3″ and has no trouble sitting in the passenger or driver seat. I felt good buying from Honda, too- I’ve always heard great things about the reliability of their cars. While I am proud to drive a hybrid, I kind of like that our car isn’t so obviously a hybrid, too. It looks just like a regular Civic, unless you see the Hybrid label on the back. Good luck with your search!

  13. #13 Lev P.
    November 29, 2007

    I wanted Escape hybrid too at one point. In fact, we looked at it at the New York Auto Show and liked the looks and the specs. But! Reliability and support were never Ford’s strengths. I could not force myself to get another Ford (we had Taurus at the time) after I pulled on the door trim of the display model and it gave way easily.
    The very next day one of my coworkers was talking about her letter to Ford’s CEO about her Escape… That killed what was left of my enthusiasm.

    Regular Ford Escape is on the bottom of the ratings list in Consumer Reports (CR). I don’t see how it’s hybrid version would be any better.
    You might want to look through CR ratings and reviews (online subscription is $20 well spent). They also sell detailed pricing reports that come with a review.

    We then looked at both Prius and Camry hybrid. Both were fine, and CR concurs with me. Again, there is a “but”… Even they noted: “The Camry is capable, … but is not exciting to drive”. [Insert here your favorite stereotype regarding men and cars] – I plead guilty as charged.

    Also, I want to see Camry (or Prius) with their low suspension driven in that forest in your photo… Do you think Toyota will honor the warranty after that trip?

    So a small SUV looks like the answer.

    All this brought me to Subarus. Did I mention full-time AWD? And excellent safety record? Originally I was looking at the Outback, but Forester was very appealing as well.
    Just at the same time, a president of a humanist organization we belong to purchased a Forester and was being very happy with it. She also mentioned: “Subaru has a reputation as a car for environmentalists and lesbians, and both are welcome in my car at any time”. I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    The deal was sealed when the ’07 Forester demo model (4900 miles) with the premium package was offered to us at a nice discount.

    Let me quote CR one more time: “The offerings from Ford, Jeep, Kia, and Saturn don’t come close to dethroning the best vehicles in the category: the Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4.”
    Santa Fe is out due to much higher curb weight (hence much lower fuel economy) and due to lower reliability.
    Out of the remaining three – pick based on your personal preference and don’t look back – they are that good.

    By the way, all three have EPA fuel economy at 22/28 or better (city/highway). My (or Forester’s, actually) overall MPG so far is about 23 (New York City area).

    Please post the results of your decision-making process!

  14. #14 Lev P.
    November 29, 2007

    To ecogeofemme, re Accident:
    No news is good news, I hope…

    To ecogeofemme, re Rent an SUV:
    I wish I’d have your travel budget… It really depends whether you live in Idaho or New York City. If the former, I would agree with you immediately. I have quite some experience with renting vehicles in the latter, and it’s not pretty ($$$). My credit card company was very happy, though.

  15. #15 ecogeofemme
    November 29, 2007

    Lev P., I agree. It depends on how often you need the bigger car, right? I’m sure we could formulate a decision rule based on some kind of cost / benefit analysis. 🙂

  16. #16 Michele
    November 29, 2007

    You might consider a “small” SUV such as the highly rated Honda CR-X. It costs less than a hybrid and gets good mileage. Hondas hold their value and are low maintenance.

  17. #17 Nic
    November 30, 2007

    Sounds like if you have to idle in traffic for so long, a bicycle would suit your needs. 🙂

    I probably would invest in something that gets the best highway miles for trips/groceries and then cycle for everything else (what I do now).

  18. #18 Twice
    November 30, 2007

    I love my Prius. I have twins and have found the space to be adequate, even with two carseats. We no longer haul around a large stroller, however.

    However, the Prius does have a low undercarriage. Mine scrapes just going out of my building’s parking lot. It is a fabulous car for commuting though. I get around 50 mpg – highway/city mix. Both are about the same.

  19. #19 OrneryPest
    November 30, 2007

    A friend of ours has a Prius. We rode with her once, and it was a very nice 3-hour ride. My 6’1″ 215 lb hulk rode very comfortably in the back seat. She claims 57 mpg, although I’m not sure that figure isn’t, perchance, a bit enhanced.

  20. #20 Alex
    November 30, 2007

    Consider a VW Golf turbodiesel; not a hybrid, but it gets 50mpg and provides you with 140-odd horsepower if you’re not trying to maximise the mpg…and they do them as five-door hatches, too, so plenty of room in the back.

  21. #21 Carrie
    November 30, 2007

    We have had our Prius for 3 years and I can’t say enough good things about it. We have two kiddos (now ages 8 & 4) and rarely have space issues. If we do need to pick up something ‘big’ we just send one adult and no kids and put the seat down.

    I love, love, love that the engine just turns off when you’re sitting still. It makes rush hour traffic just ‘feel’ so much better. Re: fitting everything in — do you have one or two cars? We have two cars — the Prius and a RAV4. The Prius gets driven the most, and the RAV gets driven when we need more cargo space or more clearance or something like that. We ARE lucky in the US that you don’t have to have one car that does it all (which is why I also really want an electric car for commuting!)

  22. #22 ScienceWoman
    November 30, 2007

    You all have given me a lot to think about. Here are some more details our situation. Two cars are a necessity because Fish and I work in totally different directions at totally different times. Fish’s car is a Ford Focus-it’s been mostly reliable though I haven’t been super-pleased with it because it has had some issues over the past 6 years. Fish’s commute is ~20 miles one way, primarily on the highway, but in the afternoons he picks Minnow up from daycare which adds ~10 miles of city driving. My commute is ~8 miles in the morning, when I have to go past daycare and ~7 miles in the afternoon, when I don’t. The afternoon drive in particular involves a lot of time sitting in traffic – it can take me up to 45 minutes to get home. Biking would be a great option IF I didn’t have a baby OR had bike-friendly routes available for the whole commute. But I don’t feel comfortable riding with Minnow on very busy streets with lots of vehicle emissions. Our family goal is to get out of the city at least one weekend a month, so regularly renting a bigger car would add costs quickly.

  23. #23 Volcano Girl
    November 30, 2007

    We recently ought a new car, a Forrester after test driving a Prius and a civic hybrid.
    While we loved the Prius, we learned that in a few years, Toyota is planning to produce an even greener version of the Prius with up to 90 mpg, making the old ones obsolete. Also, the price tag was too much for us.
    The civic seemed small to us, a one-car family of two+large dog (and hoping to be a family of three is a few years).
    Our Forrester gets 28 mpg (ok, not so good), but it is PZE (partial zero emissions), meaning that it releases much fewer greenhouse gases to meet California’s new zero emission policy. Also, Subaru is a pretty green company, their plants are “zero landfill” plants: they recycle or reuse everything.
    So, while we are not lessening our dependence of foreign oil, Subarus are good and green. Also, we are planning to buy a next generation Prius when they come out in a few years as a second car.

  24. #24 Mommyprof
    November 30, 2007

    You might want to consider a PZEV instead of a Hybrid. They have similar environmental benefits to a Hybrid, but are easier and less expensive to get and to maintain. We have a PZEV Ford Focus Wagon and have really, really loved it.

  25. #25 wayfarer scientista
    November 30, 2007

    how exciting! I have absolutely zero useful to say on this subject as I live in a place where hybrids are totally impractical. But I’ll be curious to see what you decide on.

  26. #26 Dave Munger
    December 1, 2007

    Wayfarer scientista:

    I wasn’t aware of locations where hybrids are “impractical.” What’s impractical about them? What types of locations are they. I’m not being critical, I’m just curious.


    One possible way out of this would be to get a Honda Civic, then with the $5000 or so you save compared to a Prius, get a used pickup or SUV for your weekend wanderings. Save gas on commute, and have the option to head out to the backcountry whenever you like. The money you save on mileage would go a long way to paying the extra insurance/maintenance of a third car.

  27. #27 James Annan
    December 3, 2007

    But I don’t feel comfortable riding with Minnow on very busy streets with lots of vehicle emissions.

    I hope you realise that sitting in a traffic jam doses you (and your child) up with pollutants far more than you’d get riding a bike past it. It sounds like your traffic is so bad that the bike would even be quicker.

  28. #28 Lab Lemming
    December 4, 2007

    Surely relative pollution dosage is a function of traffic speed- riding on a busy 10 lane highway at 20kph gives 4 times the exposure time as driving it at 80.

    I second the suggestion that you look at the European turbo-diesels. We love ours, and if you want more cargo space for trips while retaining in-town efficiency, get a tow bar and a camping trailer. PZEV is a smog specification- it says nothing about co2 emissions.

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