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Which Hybrids Are Worth the Green? Cars.com Names Best Hybrids for the Money

Since their emergence into the market, hybrid vehicles have been popular with consumers. With so many options now available, Cars.com editors have put together a list based on vehicle size that identifies which hybrids offer the best value for the money you'll spend on them.

"Even with money saved on gas, and federal tax incentives to defray purchase costs, hybrids are still more expensive than conventional cars," said Cars.com Editor in Chief Patrick Olsen. "Cars.com put together its list of Best Hybrids for the Money for hybrid shoppers looking to go green without spending too much green. The list highlights the hybrids in each vehicle segment that stand out from the pack and really deliver the most for your money."

Cars.com's Best Hybrids for the Money

In a Class By Itself:
2009 Toyota Prius
MSRP: $22,000 (2009)
Gas mileage (city/highway--combined): 48/45 -- 46
Efficiency-cost rating: 2.09
To understand the Prius' longtime appeal, look no further than this list. It's ahead of the 2010 Honda Insight hybrid (2.07), which is a smaller car. A few gas-only models--including the two-seat Smart ForTwo (3.0), the Nissan Versa 1.6 sedan (2.9) and the Toyota Yaris (2.62)--are affordable and efficient enough to outrank the Prius, but they can't compare in terms of size. (We don't have third-generation 2010 Prius pricing yet, but the combined mileage increase to 50 mpg means Toyota could boost the price by thousands without hurting its ranking.) Regardless of size class, the Prius earns our top efficiency-cost ranking of all.

Compact Cars:
2010 Honda Insight
MSRP: $19,800
Gas mileage (city/highway--combined): 40/43--41
Efficiency-cost rating: 2.07
The lowest-priced hybrid as of its debut, the 2010 Insight is intended to compete with efficient non-hybrids. One could argue that it does, as its rating beats that of the Chevrolet Cobalt LS (1.92), which has the best efficiency-cost ranking among cars in the traditional gas-only compact class. Though it's not as nice inside, the Nissan Versa hatchback and its low, low price of $13,100 compete in the subcompact class. The Versa is, however, technically large enough inside to be called a compact, and the base model has a jaw-dropping 2.14 rating.

2009 Honda Civic Hybrid
MSRP: $23,650
Gas mileage (city/highway--combined): 40/45--42
Efficiency-cost rating: 1.78
The Civic Hybrid's place on this list is tenuous: It costs more than the Prius despite being smaller, and the cheaper Insight has comparable cabin size and more cargo space. The Civic Hybrid's efficiency-cost ranking is lower than that of the regular Civic (1.89) and some other compacts. All the same, it's a proven entity and one of the most efficient cars sold, with plenty of appeal for traditional hybrid buyers. Will the Insight eat into Civic Hybrid sales? You bet it will.

Midsize Car:
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid
MSRP: $27,270 - $1,700 federal tax credit = $25,570
Gas mileage (city/highway--combined): 41/36--39
Efficiency-cost rating: 1.53
Our midsize-sedan entry, the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid, comes in well ahead of the 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid, which has an efficiency-cost rating of 1.30. Note that the Fusion Hybrid benefits from a $1,700 federal tax credit if bought between April 1 and Sept. 30. The credit then decreases to $850, until it expires March 31, 2010. Tax credits have already expired for prolific hybrid sellers Honda and Toyota, but that's not the deciding factor; the Fusion Hybrid's efficiency cost would spank the Camry Hybrid's even if calculated with the lower tax credit (1.48) or none at all (1.43). The Fusion is the only car model on the market whose hybrid ranks higher in efficiency cost than its gas-only version (roughly 1.35). The Fusion Hybrid's sibling, the Mercury Milan Hybrid, has a higher sticker price that ranks it well below the Fusion Hybrid, at 1.35.

Compact SUV:
2009 Ford Escape Hybrid FWD
MSRP: $29,645 - $1,500 federal tax credit = $28,145
Gas mileage (city/highway--combined): 34/31--32
Efficiency-cost rating: 1.14
The Ford Escape gets the compact-SUV slot because it's priced lower than its sibling, the Mercury Mariner Hybrid (1.12). The Mazda Tribute Hybrid actually ranks higher (1.16) due to a lower starting price, but it's sold only in California. All three models are good choices. They are the most efficient SUVs on the market, though the recently improved non-hybrid Escape and Tribute outrank them in efficiency cost (1.22 for the Tribute), as does the miserly Jeep Patriot (1.43). Like the Fusion's, the hybrid SUVs' tax credits halve Sept. 30. Note that all-wheel-drive versions of these models already get a lower, $975 credit to begin with.

Midsize SUV:
2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid AWD
MSRP: $34,700
Gas mileage (city/highway--combined): 27/25--26
Efficiency-cost rating: 0.75
Being the only midsize non-luxury hybrid SUV helps the Highlander Hybrid land this position. Its size and price show in its sub-zero efficiency-cost rating. Though it ranks behind some gas-only midsize SUVs, starting with the Dodge Journey (1.00), it ranks above the regular Highlander with all-wheel drive (0.65). It doesn't quite catch the Highlander with front-wheel drive (0.78), but the hybrid is only offered with all-wheel drive.

Luxury SUV:
2008 Lexus RX 400h FWD
MSRP: $42,080 (2008)
Gas mileage (city/highway--combined): 27/24--25
Efficiency-cost rating: 0.59
The RX hybrid rated is a 2008 model; Lexus skipped the 2009 model year pending the 2010 RX 450h, which comes mid-summer 2009. Because of higher prices and typically lower mileage, luxury models don't rate as high in efficiency cost as do non-luxury models of the same size. That's the case with the 2008 Lexus RX hybrid, especially because it's less efficient than the 2010 model, which the EPA rates at 32/28--30 mpg. Thanks to the bump, it's likely that the 2010 RX 450h will take the 400h's place on this list when its pricing is announced, even if the price is substantially higher.

Pickup Truck:
2009 Chevrolet Silverado Hybrid RWD
MSRP: $38,020 - $2,200 federal tax credit = $35,820
Gas mileage (city/highway--combined): 21/22--21
Efficiency-cost rating: 0.59
As a full-size pickup truck, the Silverado Hybrid has lower mileage and a lower efficiency-cost rating than the smaller hybrids, but that doesn't change the end result: a significant improvement in efficiency over non-hybrid trucks, especially in city driving, where the difference is almost 50 percent. The Silverado LS RWD is priced lower, but its accompanying lower mileage (14/19--16 mpg) puts it just shy of the hybrid in efficiency for your dollar, with a 0.58 rating. The low-priced Silverado work truck is more efficient than the LT (15/20--17 mpg), so its rating is 0.88, but the Hybrid is not incapable of work; it can still haul and tow.

Full-Size SUV:
2009 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid RWD
MSRP: $50,455 - $2,200 federal tax credit = $48,255
Gas mileage (city/highway--combined): 21/22--21
Efficiency-cost rating: 0.44
Once you account for its higher price, even with a tax credit the Tahoe Hybrid RWD's efficiency-cost rating is a relatively low 0.44, but it's the lowest-priced of GM's full-size hybrid SUVs, a category that also includes the GMC Yukon and Cadillac Escalade hybrids. Its story mirrors that of the Silverado Hybrid: It grants a substantial mileage improvement over non-hybrids, especially in city driving, but it trails the gas-only Tahoe LS in efficiency cost. (Ironically, the XFE--extra fuel economy--version of the Tahoe is priced high enough to negate its 1 mpg advantage. Both rate 0.43.) In terms of the full-size market, the Ford Expedition beats the Tahoe Hybrid's price by enough to deliver better efficiency cost, at 0.47.

Luxury Car:
2009 Lexus GS 450h
MSRP: $56,400
Gas mileage (city/highway--combined): 22/25--23
Efficiency-cost rating: 0.41
It's very likely that the 2010 Lexus HS 250h, a small and affordable hybrid model due to go on sale late this summer, will run away with the luxury car distinction, but for now that honor goes to the hybrid version of Lexus' 2009 GS sedan, which is a midsize car. The GS 450h beats the gas-only GS 460 V-8 (0.38), but it can't touch the V-6-powered GS 350's 0.49 rating.

Methodology:
In evaluating Best Hybrids for the Money, Cars.com devised an efficiency-cost rating to reflect overall bang for the buck. The formula takes each vehicle's combined city/highway mpg rating and divides it by its base MSRP. The resulting number is then multiplied by 1,000 to determine the efficiency-cost rating. Editors accounted for federal tax incentives, but not for equipment levels, quality judgments, cost of ownership or any inaccuracies in EPA mileage estimates.

About Cars.com

Cars.com is the leading destination for online car shoppers, offering credible, easy-to-understand information from consumers and experts to help buyers formulate opinions on what to buy, where to buy and how much to pay for a car. With comprehensive pricing information, side-by-side comparison tools, photo galleries, videos, unbiased editorial content and a large selection of new- and used-car inventory, Cars.com puts millions of car buyers in control of their shopping process with the information they need to make confident buying decisions.

Launched in June 1998, Cars.com is a division of Classified Ventures, LLC, which is owned by leading media companies, including Belo (NYSE: BLC), Gannett Co., Inc. (NYSE: GCI), The McClatchy Company (NYSE: MNI), Tribune Company and The Washington Post Company (NYSE: WPO).

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