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Are Hybrids Bunk?

Illustration for article titled 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).

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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?

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DISCUSSION

There's nothing bunk about a lean, mean, ground-up hybrid like the Prius. Just because you happen to drive all highway miles 24/7 doesn't mean other people do.

I used to commute into Manhattan in the mornings, and there would be plenty of stop and go for about an hour on the f'ing BQE, which is exactly the kind of situation where the Prius would happily run along at 50MPG while even the most efficient non-hybrid is only going to get a fraction of that (and no, do NOT point out cars from the 1980's that don't have any modern safety features or conveniences, you might as well point out that a bicycle gets better MPG).

Think it's bunk all you want, but legit hybrids have serious fuel economy for people who have to deal with traffic. So if you drive in Los Angeles suburbs traffic (I had the misfortune of doing this once...made NYC traffic look good), or Boston area traffic, or San Francisco traffic, etc. you'll see a massive improvement in mileage.

Of course, arguably you should try to take the subway in NYC, but for some people this could triple their commute time and just be really inconvenient (I'd usually take the subway, but some days I'd need my car for errands, so I had to drive in). And for people who live in the burbs of Los Angeles there's just no real public transportation alternative that doesn't suck.

Los Angeles might actually be one of the cities that would benefit the most from Priuses, between it's utter lack of good public transportation and the fact that the air is smogtastic. So while the hollywood stars might be fadtastic idiots on the one hand, the Prius is actually a pretty practical vehicle for people who commute from the burbs of LA.