Best MPG Hybrids and Plug-In Hybrids
Hybrid cars are making impressive gains in mileage, with the most efficient flirting with 60 mpg. Here's a list of the hybrids and plug-ins with the best mpg ratings. Not all of these cars made our list of Best Hybrids, but if your goal is to spend as little at the pump as possible, these are the top contenders.
Hyundai Ioniq Blue — 58 mpg
An efficiency-oriented trim level that forgoes equipment to maximize weight savings, the Ioniq Blue is a bit stripped-down but supremely frugal. Unfortunately, it doesn't have a lot to recommend it beyond its impressive mileage. See also the regular Ioniq, which checks in at 55 mpg combined.
Toyota Prius Eco — 56 mpg
Like the Ioniq Blue, the Prius Eco makes some trade-offs in the name of efficiency. You get less stuff, but you also burn less gas. On the flip side, other Prius trims are still highly efficient, and they're more pleasant to spend time in.
Toyota Prius Prime — 54 mpg
A plug-in hybrid, the Prius Prime is also capable of going 25 miles on all-electric power. We do prefer the regular Prius, though, so unless you really want the Prime's plug-in range, we'd say stick with the conventional variants.
Toyota Camry Hybrid LE — 52 mpg
The Camry Hybrid LE is another mileage-above-all-else model, but there's no denying its success. The regular Camry Hybrid checks in at 46 mpg, putting the LE's advantage at more than 10 percent. Every Camry Hybrid is actually a little more fuel-efficient on the highway than in town — it's usually the other way around for hybrids — so this Toyota could be a better option for freeway commuters, especially the LE with its 53 mpg highway rating.
Toyota Prius — 52 mpg
The regular Prius drops a few mpg compared to its Eco sibling, but you can load it up with technology features and creature comforts such as faux leather seating.
Pros and Cons of Hybrid Cars
Hybrid cars return excellent fuel economy, especially in city driving, without requiring drivers to change their habits. Plug-in hybrids cancel out the range anxiety of an all-electric car and allow many drivers to commute almost entirely without gas. Depending on where you live, there might be tax incentives for buying a hybrid or plug-in hybrid vehicle, reducing the cost to you. With fewer tailpipe emissions, you help keep your community's air cleaner.
On the downside, hybrid battery packs eventually need replacing, which can be a big expense. Hybrids are also generally at their least efficient when cruising at high speed, so if you spend a lot of time driving on freeways with high-speed limits, you may not see the same mileage benefits. Hybrid cars also tend to come with a price premium over their non-hybrid competitors, which might offset your savings on gas.
What Is a Plug-In Hybrid?
A plug-in hybrid is essentially a conventional hybrid with a stronger electric motor and an extra-large battery that can be charged up to provide true all-electric motoring. With more ability to store and use electricity, a PHEV can run solely on electric power — even at freeway speeds — for a significant distance before the gas engine needs to come to life. Some conventional hybrids have EV modes, but they tend to be limited to either low-speed maneuvering or very short bursts. A PHEV is a great option for buyers who have access to a charge point either at home or at work but who don't want to opt for a fully electric car and the concomitant range anxiety.
Hybrid Cars vs. Gas Cars
One of the biggest advantages hybrid cars have over all-electric cars is that living with a hybrid is basically the same as living with a traditional gas-powered car, just with fewer dollars spent at the pump. You drive and fuel a hybrid just as you would a gas car, but because of the way a hybrid powertrain works, it's capable of recovering energy when the car brakes or slows — something a gas car can't do. Otherwise, nothing really changes.
The gas-electric system works in the background to respond to your inputs as naturally as possible without any special effort on your part. Just as with gas cars, the cost of maintenance for hybrid cars is bound to go up as the cars get older. The gas engines in hybrid cars don't get as much wear as in gas cars, but for high-mileage hybrids the batteries can become an issue, potentially even requiring replacement.
How Do Hybrid Cars Work?
Hybrid cars use both an electric motor and a gas engine for power. The gas motor can also be used to generate electricity and charge the hybrid's batteries. When slowing, hybrids can use regenerative braking to recapture some power that would otherwise be lost.
At low speeds, the torquey electric motors can do a lot of the work. This means that around town, where gas cars use the most fuel, hybrid cars can rely on their batteries and be amazingly fuel-efficient. The gas motor only needs to come into play when you need more acceleration or want to cruise at higher speeds.
Hybrid Vehicle Benefits
If your commute involves city driving or stop-and-go traffic, you'd likely see a lot of savings on gas with a hybrid car. And because hybrids can rely on their electric motors for torque, their gas engines don't have to produce as much power and can focus on fuel efficiency. So even when they're burning gas, hybrids' more efficient motors return better mileage. The benefit of a hybrid car is that you can spend less money on fuel without changing your habits or adapting to a different sort of ownership experience, like with an all-electric car. To learn more about what hybrids can and can't do, check out our "Green Car Myth Busters article.
Choosing the Right Hybrid Vehicle for You
The first step is to decide whether a plug-in hybrid or a conventional hybrid best fits your lifestyle. Once you know the type of hybrid you want, it's time to start researching your options and narrowing down your choices so that you can test-drive your short list. Don't forget to check out available deals and find out what sort of tax incentives or rebates are offered on the cars you're interested in. Edmunds has the ratings and reviews you need to find your perfect car, and our advice articles can get you ready to buy. Make sure to check out 9 Steps to Easier Plug-In Vehicle Shopping
if you think a plug-in hybrid is in your future.