Introducing the Hybrid Family
Hybrid automobiles reproduce like rabbits. Just a decade ago, they were a fringe movement, like LARPing and men’s skinny jeans. The introduction of the Toyota Prius in 2001 spawned a family of gasoline-electric vehicles ranging from fuel-sipping family sedans to petrol-swilling pickup trucks. In the modern era, hip male youth don denim-spandex pantaloons, and their parents shop for hybrid vehicles. The difference between the two is that while skinny jeans may fade out of fashion, hybrids may be here for the long haul. As of the 2013 automotive model year, over 40 hybrid vehicles vie for a share of the North American automobile market and consumer’s wallets. Here are twelve of the more charismatic contenders.
2013 Toyota Prius
Favorite vacation: Arctic photography
As the granddaddy of the hybrid movement, the Toyota Prius is a poster child for green Yosemite trees and blue Bering Sea ice everywhere. It remains the most popular and most efficient hybrid vehicle on the market, accounting for approximately half of U.S. hybrid sales and achieving 51/48 mpg. It also accounts for half of the leers, jeers and denigrating cat-calls on the roads today. It seats five, has almost 40 cubic feet of cargo capacity, which is more than twice that of a midsize sedan, and comes in four feature trims. Unfortunately, the Prius has all the opulence of a Fisher Price toddler toy and has the dorkiest visage this side of a Honda Crosstour. The Prius is also the cheapest car on our list, and according to Kanetix the Prius is also the cheapest hybrid to insure.
In this instance, the transmission is part of a broader power management system branded as Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD). However, the transmission itself is more or less a CVT; which is why for regulatory purposes, Toyota classifies the transmission as a e-CVT (Electronically Controlled Variable Transmission).
2013 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid
Favorite brand: Giorgio Armani
Favorite sport: Golfing
The S400 is a wonderful car and a terrible idea. It costs more than $92,000, accelerates slower than a Toyota Camry SE, achieves less power than the neighbor’s Mustang and garners 21 combined mpg. Meanwhile, its sibling, the S350 diesel Bluetec, is faster, more efficient and about the same price. Its big brother, the S550, pounds out 429 horsepower and costs $95,000. All of them share similar features, which include an adaptive and adjustable air suspension, parking sensors, front thrones with massage features, and a gamut of electronic technologies. The S400 serves one purpose: to shut up Jiminy Cricket. It allows buyers to purchase an exorbitantly decadent S-Class sedan while appeasing their green consciences.
Equipped with a seven speed transmission, closely spaced gear ratios will deliver much improved response in almost any driving conditions as well as better highway fuel efficiency. We don wonder, what will happen if one of the seven gears decides to send in their resignation letter, especially outside the warranty.
2013 Honda Insight
Main hobby: Saving trees
Weakness: Social skills
Poor Honda Insight. It is a perennial sidekick, a perpetual back-up singer, a professional second string player. Regardless of how or when it manages to mount the podium, the Prius, its arch nemesis, is always there with a gleaming grin and a laurel wreath. The Insight was revised in 2012 to accommodate more mainstream buyers and, of course, to put the heat on the Prius. The liftback now puts out 98 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque sourced from its full-hybrid powertrain. The Insight is also available with modern features such as a satellite-linked navigation system with voice controls and a rearview camera. Unfortunately, the Prius is swifter, larger, more efficient and more technologically advanced. Here’s to ceaseless silver, Honda Insight.
Honda Insight also uses a CVT transmission, however its branded as “Honda Multimatic”
2013 Fisker Karma
Residence: Beverly Hills, California
Life mantra: “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
The Fisker Karma is a mild hybrid four-person exotic sports luxury car made by Fisker and manufactured in Finland. The svelte sedan looks trim, but it weighs 5,300 pounds and breezes to 60 mph in approximately 6.3 seconds. Although a few minor recalls have tainted the vehicle’s reputation, the problem with the Karma isn’t the construction; it’s the purpose. The Karma bills itself as eco-friendly. It points to its reclaimed/recycled lumber appliqués and its solar panel roof and says, “See? We’re saving trees!” Yet, to be frank, it’s useless. Utterly so, in fact. No 2.65-ton subcompact sedan is sustainable or viable. The Karma is a political exercise, a plaything, a ball of string for wealthy fat cats to toy with until their grasping paws wander to a newer, fresher, more a la mode toy. Unsurprisingly, Fisker is now experiencing difficulty repaying a $529 million government loan. Bad karma, perhaps?
Fisker Karma has a Single-ratio transmission w/ limited slip differential.
2013 Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Hybrid
Favorite athletics: Football and mudding
Education: High-school drop-out
Who say hybrids are all parsimonious econoboxes with the sex appeal of mutton chops? The Chevy Silverado 1500 is the hybrid equivalent of Paul Bunyan. It’s a workaholic with a green side. With 332 horsepower on tap, the truck can tow up to 6,100 pounds and haul up to 1,400 pounds and still achieve 21 combined mpg. Say butch! Other numbers, however, are not so impressive: The truck tips the scales at 5,641 pounds, drives like a narwhale and costs a minimum of $40,000. Eco-responsibility was never so expensive. Also, it is nearly impossible to mess around under the hood of the Silverado hybrid without mucking up some hugely expensive equipment such as its unique Two-Mode drivetrain system.
2013 Lexus 450h
Social ethnicity: Soccer mom
Enjoys: Cooking, yelling at referees
The RX 450h is the most popular sport-utility hybrid – ever. And with good reason. The sleek midsize crossover makes almost 300 horsepower, 30 combined mpg and has interior accommodations to make an Arabian sheik drool with envy. Standard features include a remote power liftgate and Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity; optional features include premium leather upholstery, heated seats, a rearview camera and the Remote Touch infotainment system with haptic feedback. A well-outfitted RX runs close to $50,000, however, so the crossover is strictly for white-collar glacier saviors.
2013 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid
Favorite music: Hip-hop
Favorite color: Chrome
A hybrid Cadillac Escalade makes as much sense as the National Association of Ayn Rand Fans for Better Government. It is a burly, brusque and burlesque SUV with the bling of a hip-hop star and the fuel efficiency of Boeing 747. It costs approximately $75,000 yet only achieves 21 combined mpg, hardly better than the original ‘Slade. Oxymoronic, anyone? However, the Escalade does offer a blind-spot warning system, heated and cooled 10-way power-adjustable front seats, a rear-seat entertainment system, an enormous touch-screen interface and myriads of other alluring features, taking the responsible out of eco-responsibility.
Ferrari 599GTB HY-KERS
Residence: Maranello, Italy
Occupation: Mob boss
Contrary to popular myth, Ferrari, not Toyota, developed the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle. It was a four-person horseless carriage called the Lohner-Mixte hybrid. Built in 1901, it weighed more than 3,300 pounds and put out 56 horsepower. Today, Ferrari makes another hybrid, but it can run the quarter-mile in 10.4 seconds and make a woman swoon even faster. It is called the Ferrari 599GTB HY-KERS veturra laboratio, and as of now, no one can either buy it or pronounce its name. It has a burbling V12 engine and looks to rival a Victoria’s Secret model. Ferrari is only building it to comply with European Union CO2 emission regulations, but hey, necessity is the mother of invention. And it comes in green.
2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid
Social ethnicity: Yuppie
Favorite shopping outlet: Buckle
The Fusion hybrid has a lot of things going for it. Firstly, it is the sexist hybrid available for less than six figures (take that, Camry hybrid!) Secondly, it starts at less than $28,000, which is within the financial grasp of Average Joe and Co. Thirdly, it has gobs of high-tech equipment, including MyKey, MyFord Touch, SYNC and enough active safety aids to pilot a Panzer. It also has impressive cornering with quick-turn in and razor-sharp reflexes. What’s the problem? One: Most of the Ford’s electronic systems were co-developed with Microsoft, and understandably, they glitch. A lot. They dazzle, but they don’t do. Two: EPA estimates for the Fusion are 47/47 mpg, the best in its class. However, like the Ford C-Max, the Fusion regularly undercuts its estimates by 5-12 mpg in the real world.
2013 Lexus CT 200h
Aspiration: Captain of the football team
Realization: Captain of the chess team
People who like the CT 200h say it is urbane, forward-thinking, sustainable and sporty. People who don’t say it is dowdy, slow, small and clunky. Either way, the numbers don’t lie: 10 seconds to 60 mph, 134 horsepower and 43/40 mpg. Perhaps the Lexus would be better received if it was supposed to be like every other Lexus: practical and luxurious, something grandma would buy. Some misguided marketer, however, decided to bill the CT 200h as a sporty hatchback, which is a good joke first and a bad buy second. To make things worse, the hatchback has pitifully few standard features, and what few high-tech options exist are pricey. With more affordable hybrids like the Hyundai Sonata offering buyers the latest gizmos for far less cash, the Lexus CT 200h struggles to finds its place in the world.
2013 Volvo V60 Diesel Plug-In Hybrid
Relation: Black sheep
Citizenship status: Illegal immigrant
Ssh! Volvo is making a plug-in hybrid diesel-powered station wagon, the only one of its kind in the entire world. Is that genius, or is it genius? It made 1,000 of them for 2013 and plans to manufacture 3,000-4,000 for 2014 since the ones it already made are sold out. Catch-22: It costs about $80,000, and it is not sold in America.
2013 Prius V
Socioeconomic status: Blue-collar
Favorite Number: Seven
Isn’t the Prius already on this list? Not this one. There’s only one thing more socially unacceptable than a Prius hatchback, and that’s a Prius wagon. Actually, the Prius V is an MPV (Multi-Purpose Vehicle), which is essentially a mini-minivan. Fads and fashion aside, the Prius V is a tremendously useful vehicle. Its 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine achieves 44/40 mpg, and the car has as much cargo room (67.3 cubic feet) as a midsize crossover. While competitors, such as Volkswagen Jetta TDI Sportwagen and the smaller Ford C-Max wagonoid, are worth a look, the Prius V reigns king as the most practical of them all.
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