For many fans of electric cars, a hybrid like the Toyota Prius is so last year. Make that so last decade. They depend on a gasoline engine almost all the time but get a boost from an electric motor built in to the powertrain and a smallish battery that is recharged by the engine and by regenerative braking. Some people get annoyed when hybrids are referred to as “electric cars.” Whatever your point of view about hybrid cars, there is no question they are more fuel efficient than similar models that have just a conventional internal combustion engine under the hood.
15 years ago, there was only one hybrid available in the American market — the first generation Toyota Prius. It was ugly and slow. Only someone like Al Gore would drive one. Today, there are dozens to choose from and prices have dropped to the point where they cost very little more than conventional cars. Kelly Blue Book has put together its Top Ten Hybrids For Under $40,000 list with specs for all ten of them. If you are interested in purchasing a hybrid car, it may help you decide which models fit your lifestyle and which do not.
#10 — 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Starting price: $37,230
Fuel economy: 29 mpg combined (30 city/28 highway)
Total system power: 306 horsepower
The Toyota Highlander Hybrid has one option no other car on the list offers — 8 passenger seating, thanks to a third row seat. That right there could make it attractive to people with large families who want a fuel efficient car. And it has one important difference from the Toyota Synergy Drive system found in the Prius — a V-6 engine. KBB says, “it’s actually the hot rod of the Highlander family.”
One drawback? It has a CVT (continuously variable transmission). Many hybrids use a CVT to eke out a few more tenths of a mile per gallon but many people find them annoying to live with every day. Test drive one before you decide if the CVT is your cup of tea.
#9 — 2017 Toyota Camry Hybrid
Starting price: $27,675
Fuel economy: 40 mpg combined (42 city/38 highway)
Total system power: 200 horsepower
For $10,000 less than the Highlander, the Camry Hybrid gets 10 more miles per gallon, thanks to the 2.5 liter four cylinder engine instead of the V-6 in the Highlander. KBB says, “The Camry Hybrid is available in several flavors, including an LE model that marries combined fuel economy of 40 mpg with a starting price under $28,000. Stepping up to the sport-tuned SE or top-of-the-line XLE will cost you money and a bit of fuel economy, but it’s good to have options.”
Inside and out, the Hybrid is pure Camry, one of the top selling cars in America because of its high quality, excellent fit and finish, and comfortable ride. The Hybrid has all of those things plus a significant boost in fuel economy.
# 8 — 2017 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
Starting price: $28,750
Fuel economy: 46 mpg combined (49 city/43 highway)
Total system power: 182 horsepower
The Malibu Hybrid uses a version of the Voltec powertrain found in the Chevy Volt to make it one of the most fuel efficient sedans you can buy. It has a smaller battery than the Volt and you don’t have to plug it in. For just $1,000 more than the Camry Hybrid, the Malibu offers more miles per gallon. “It’s also stylish, a pleasure to drive and offers a long list of tech highlights including built-in 4G LTE Wi-Fi plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, notes KBB.
#7 — 2017 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Starting price: $29,990
Fuel economy: 32 mpg combined (34 city/30 highway)
Total system power: 194 horsepower
The Toyota RAV4 is one of the most popular small SUVs in America. The hybrid version does all the same things the regular version does but delivers better fuel economy. It comes with the same Hybrid Synergy Drive found in the Camry Hybrid but adds all wheel drive capability and the higher seating position many drivers prefer. It has plenty of cargo room for those who want to carry lots of stuff around without sacrificing fuel economy.
#6 — 2017 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Starting price: $26,835
Fuel economy: 42 mpg combined (39 city/45 highway)
Total system power: 193 horsepower
Hyundai offers the longest warranty in the business, a big plus for many consumers. It’s also a midsize sedan and features a 6 speed transmission instead of a CVT. KBB says,”The Sonata Hybrid is appealing for all the same reasons the traditional, gas-only Sonata has become a staple on our annual list of 10 Best Sedans Under $25,000. It’s roomy, comfortable and has one of the segment’s best designed and most practical interiors.” The starting price is attractive, too.
#5 — 2017 Kia Optima Hybrid
Starting price: $26,890
Fuel economy: 42 mpg combined (39 city/46 highway)
Total system power: 192 horsepower
The Kia Optima and the Hyundai Sonata are identical mechanically. The only difference is in styling with both cars offering an attractive, contemporary appearance. “Available infotainment and driver-assist features include Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, smart cruise control and autonomous emergency braking,” are features that KBB highlights.
#4 — 2017 Kia Niro
Starting price: $23,785
Fuel economy: 50 mpg combined (52 city/49 highway)
Total system power: 139 horsepower
The Kia Niro is the SUV version of the Hyundai Ioniq. It offers great styling and superb fuel economy. (I thought it was a new Mercedes model when I first saw it at a Kia ride and drive event in San Antonio last year.) KBB says, “The new-from-the-ground-up Kia Niro is a dedicated hybrid vehicle for efficiency-minded drivers who’d rather drive something that looks more like a regular car. It even drives like a regular car, thanks to well-sorted interplay among the gas, electric and braking systems, as well as a sophisticated 6-speed automatic transmission that feels more familiar than the continuously variable transmissions more common in today’s hybrids.”
#3 — 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid
Starting price: $30,480
Fuel economy: 48 mpg combined (49 city/47 highway)
Total system power: 212 horsepower
The second generation Honda Accord Hybrid is flying out of dealer showrooms as savvy shoppers who want all the goodness of the traditional Accord are happy to get their hands on a version that offers outstanding gas mileage as well. KBB says it is simply the most fuel efficient midsize sedan you can buy. “In addition to its highly efficient, well-integrated hybrid powertrain, the Accord Hybrid delivers all the comfort, convenience and excellent resale value of its more established sibling.” KBB calls the Accord Hybrid “compelling.”
#2 — 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid
Starting price: $23,035
Fuel economy: 58 mpg combined (57 city/59 highway)
Total system power: 139 horsepower
Check out that starting price. Then check out those fuel economy numbers. A mechanical twin to the Kia Niro, the Hyundai Ioniq is “nothing less than the most fuel-efficient hybrid on the market,” raves KBB. “It even offers more passenger and cargo volume than the Prius. Other bonuses are the Ioniq’s commendable handling and braking. From our first review: Lightweight, independent rear suspension and a low center of gravity provided handling that was better than expected. One of the most pleasant surprises with the Ioniq was the linear braking feel. The brakes weren’t grabby or jerky. Despite the ability to regenerate energy, they simply felt like regular brakes, a detail that made it easy to forget we were driving a hybrid.”
#1 — 2017 Toyota Prius
Starting price: $25,570
Fuel economy: 52 mpg combined (54 city/50 highway)
Total system power: 121 horsepower
Despite its praise for the Hyundai Ioniq, Kelly Blue Book still ranks the Toyota Prius as the pick of the litter when it comes to hybrid cars under $40,000. “The proven Prius remains king of the hybrids. If city/highway combined fuel economy of 52 mpg isn’t quite enough for you, the latest Prius is available in an Eco version that delivers 56 mpg combined. And while the refined, reliable and recently restyled Prius is also more agile than ever, as we explain in our expert review it’s also quite composed: On the highway, the 2017 Prius hybrid delivers a smooth ride and a quiet cabin with very little wind or road noise evident.”
Those into picking nits may quibble about the Pruis’ polarizing styling. People either love it or they hate it. Like every Prius, it also comes with a CVT, a choice not everyone enjoys.
You may or may not agree with the ranking that Kelly Blue Book assigned to these ten cars but if you are considering a hybrid, you owe it to yourself to take at least some of them for a test drive. While we may wish for the day when the whole world drives electric, that utopia is still quite far in the future. In the meantime, hybrids offer much improved fuel economy (and lower emissions) with little or no sacrifice in comfort, convenience, or styling.
Source and photo credits: Kelly Blue Book