As the world ushered in the new millennium, naysayers of the automotive world dismissed hybrid vehicles as unproven technology with batteries that would either electrocute early adopters or drain their bank accounts with premature replacement costs. Fast forward 15 years and today there are more than six million hybrids happily motoring about the world’s highways and byways. Prices have come down in recent years and with that in mind we asked our automotive panel to review five hybrids from a wide variety of styles and price points.
Best deal: Toyota Prius C
Although all five of our featured vehicles have their own merits, we’ve chosen Toyota’s tiniest hybrid as our top pick this issue because of its winning combination of value, style and fuel savings. “It’s priced right, super fuel efficient and its small footprint makes it an excellent city car,” says Tim Dimopoulos. Honda actually introduced the first mass-produced hybrid in 1999, but it was the original Prius (which debuted the following year) that took flight and is still the sales leader with more than three million worldwide. The C model is the smallest of Toyota’s Prius line-up and its starting price is definitely within reach of many compact and sub-compact buyers. “It’s a true hybrid car sold at a compellingly low price,” says Ron Corbett.
2nd place: Lexus CT 200h
Based largely on the Prius C architecture, Lexus bills this sporty car as “the world’s first luxury hybrid hatchback.” While the CT 200h has more luxury and tech toys, it’s still a tight fit for families, says Novak. “It’s a small car with very limited space inside, but it’s fun to drive and better looking than its Toyota counterpart,” he says. Despite the price difference, the CT 200h is still pretty reasonable for a Lexus and Gentile says the funky colour options and a practical hatchback design make it a fun and smart choice.
3rd place: Honda Civic Hybrid
Honda’s Civic hybrid has always struggled to match the popularity of the Prius line, in part our experts say, because it commits the cardinal sin of looking exactly like a normal gas-only Civic. “One reason for the success of the Toyota Prius is it looked like no other Toyota, making it easily identifiable as a green car,” says Corbett. Still, Honda gets top marks for fuel efficiency and affordability, says Petrina Gentile. Sadly, this is the last year Honda will sell the hybrid version of the Civic so if you want one you don’t have much time left.
4th place: Lexus ES 300h
The Lexus ES 300h adds sizzle and style to your eco-friendly morning commute. Eric Novak calls it “a good mid-sized luxury eco-cruiser with a ride and feel that is pretty unmistakably Lexus.” Like most hybrids based on existing models, the ES 300h doesn’t do much better than its all-gas variant on the highway, but when crawling through city traffic your fuel consumption can drop by half. Combine those savings with the Lexus luxury and you can see why airport limo companies have begun switching their fleets to this car.
5th place: Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
Get past those puzzling Matthew McConaughey TV ads and you’ll realize that the MKZ makes a very stylish statement for a green car. “It has very good fuel economy, but its real advantage is that it carries no premium over the non-hybrid version,” notes Novak. “The car’s mix of luxury and hybrid is like giant shrimp—it sounds weird, but works,” says Nika Rolczewski. The car is based on the less glamorous Ford Fusion. And our critics are not fans of the company’s complicated and occasionally buggy infotainment system.