Are Hybrids Bunk?

We're constantly approached by people who want to know which hybrid is best. There's a lot of excitement, still, around the concept of not only saving gas but of also having a neat toy with about 600 green stickers on it. Just today Honda announced a renewed commitment to hybrids. And while we like the idea of new toys, and of saving gas, we've been less than impressed with the hybrids we've driven, especially given the premium. Take, for instance, the Saturn Aura Hybrid, which makes a combined 27 mpg (24/32) compared to the regular four-cylinder version, which makes a combined 25 mpg (22/30). That's not a huge difference but there's an approximately $3,700 price difference between the two (and only a $1,300 tax credit).

We don't blame the car companies for making them, as it is a nice way to move cars at a premium and start to inch that CAFE up to levels they were able to achieve in the 1980's. And we don't necessarily blame people for buying them, as we all want to do our part. But is the cost difference so great that it wouldn't be better to just buy a Geo Metro or beater Brat and just keep up proper maintenance on a current vehicle? Are hybrids merely Band-Aids that are too small and too expensive? Or are hybrids a clever way to maintain our precious resources and reduce city emissions?