Gas prices remain historically high and volatile, and one of the most successful ways automakers and American motorists have adapted is by embracing hybrid technology. Though a few full-size hybrid trucks from GM have been discontinued, 2014 sees as many models as ever. No matter why you may want a hybrid, you might want to know how well it meets its mission.
To determine if a hybrid's added expense is worth the cash, we devised an efficiency-cost rating. It's simply the EPA's combined mpg rating divided by the base price (meaning MSRP plus destination charge). We then multiply that result by 1,000. This formula can be applied to any type of vehicle, hybrid or not. A high mpg rating and low price provide a high efficiency-cost rating. A higher score is the better score.
We don't account for equipment levels, quality judgments, cost of ownership or any variances from EPA mileage estimates. The goal here is to pay the least for the most mileage, barring all other considerations.
2014 Toyota Prius c
Gas mileage (city/highway/combined mpg): 53/46/50
Efficiency-cost rating: 2.51
The subcompact 2014 Toyota Prius c remains the top-rated hybrid this year. Its efficiency-cost rating of 2.51 is far ahead of the compact Honda Civic Hybrid (1.77), and it also edges out the regular Toyota Prius, which tops the mid-size-car category at 2.00.
2014 Honda Civic Hybrid
Gas mileage (city/highway/combined mpg): 44/47/45
Efficiency-cost rating: 1.77
The Honda Insight's low cost gave it an efficiency-cost rating of 2.15, but unfortunately, Honda has discontinued the hybrid in the middle of the 2014 model year. As a result, the Honda Civic Hybrid is the best compact left standing, or at least the best-rated: At 1.77, it's slightly better than the conventional Civic's 172. (In comparison, the 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid's 1.71 rating just barely beats the base gas-powered Jetta sedan's 1.70.)
2014 Toyota Prius
Gas mileage (city/highway/combined mpg): 51/48/50
Efficiency-cost rating: 2.00
The 2014 Toyota Prius tops not only the Ford C-Max Hybrid (1.65), but all the mid-size cars and many smaller ones, too. It's second only to the Prius c (or third, if you want to count the Insight). Combine its roominess and efficiency, and the Prius is arguably still the best hybrid, despite the many other models in the market, including those that share its name.
2014 Honda Accord Hybrid
Gas mileage (city/highway/combined mpg): 50/45/47
Efficiency-cost rating: 1.57
The 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid became a late replacement for the 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid in June 2014 after Ford announced a dramatic 5 mpg reduction in its sedan's combined mpg, to 42 mpg. This decreased its earlier 1.73 efficiency-cost rating to 1.55, knocking it out. Despite the Accord Hybrid's higher price, its combined mpg rating, which remains 47 mpg, gives it a superior 1.57 efficiency-cost rating. The 2014 Toyota Camry Hybrid (1.51) brings up the rear.
2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid
Gas mileage (city/highway/combined mpg): 42/37/40
Efficiency-cost rating: 1.54
Editor's note: The C-Max Hybrid remains on this list following Ford's June 2014 lowering of its mileage rating, but the description below has been changed since this report originally published.
The 2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid hatchback is larger than the regular Prius, which is closer to the big Prius v. Though Prius models rule the subcompact and mid-size classes, here the Ford edges out the Prius v with an efficiency-cost rating of 1.54 over the Toyota's 1.52. A lower starting price gives the C-Max Hybrid the edge despite its lower EPA mileage rating.
2014 Toyota Avalon Hybrid
Gas mileage (city/highway/combined mpg): 40/39/40
Efficiency-cost rating: 1.10
A newcomer, the hybrid version of Toyota's Avalon sedan has a respectable efficiency-cost rating of 1.10. While that's not as good as most mid-size hybrids, it's the best of the full-size sedans — and a big boost from the gas-only Avalon's 0.78 rating.
2014 Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid
Gas mileage (city/highway/combined mpg): 25/28/26
Efficiency-cost rating: 0.72
Though the 2014 Toyota Highlander Hybrid retains the 28 mpg combined rating of the 2013, this redesigned model comes at a much higher price and thus a lower efficiency-cost rating than last year: 0.58. As a result it has been unseated by a newcomer, the Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid, at 0.72. Unfortunately, like the Highlander Hybrid before it, the Pathfinder Hybrid is a model whose conventional gas version has a higher efficiency-cost rating than the hybrid version. The front-wheel-drive Pathfinder rates 0.74. However, if you want all-wheel drive, the hybrid (0.69) beats the gas-only Pathfinder (0.67).
2014 Lexus RX 450h
Gas mileage (city/highway/combined mpg): 32/28/30
Efficiency-cost rating: 0.63
The ranks of hybrid luxury SUVs are swelling and now include players from Audi, Infiniti and Porsche. But once again, on top is the Lexus RX 450h. Even in its all-wheel-drive version, rated 0.60, the RX has an edge over the 2014 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid, rated 0.57 with front- and 0.55 with all-wheel drive.
Luxury Compact Sedan
2014 Acura ILX Hybrid
Gas mileage (city/highway/combined mpg): 39/38/38
Efficiency-cost rating: 1.28
The compact 2014 Acura ILX Hybrid carries the highest efficiency-cost rating of any luxury vehicle. The 2014 Lexus CT 200h is just a hundredth behind at 1.27, so if you don't mind paying more ($32,960), the Lexus' 42 mpg combined EPA estimate might entice you. The stinker in this class is the BMW ActiveHybrid 3 sedan, whose 0.55 rating is below those of its diesel-powered 328d (0.94) and gas-powered 320i (0.83) siblings.
Luxury Mid-Size Sedan
2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
Gas mileage (city/highway/combined mpg): 38/37/38
Efficiency-cost rating: 1.02
Editor's note: Like the C-Max Hybrid full-size hatchback above, the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid remains on this list even though Ford Motor Co. lowered its mileage rating dramatically in June 2014. The description below has been changed since this report originally published.
The 2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid similarly leads the luxury side of the midsize hybrid car class, beating a BMW, a Mercedes-Benz and two models apiece from Infiniti and Lexus, the latter of whose ES 300h sedan held this spot last year. The MKZ Hybrid beats the 2014 ES, which rates 0.99. Despite a lower mpg rating than the Lexus, the MKZ Hybrid owes its higher rating to its more affordable price — the same as the gas-only version, which has a 0.70 rating. Once again a BMW, the ActiveHybrid5, disappoints the most, with a 0.42 rating, below that of the gas-only 528i (0.54).
Luxury Full-Size Sedan
2014 BMW ActiveHybrid 740 Li
Gas mileage (city/highway/combined mpg): 22/30/25
Efficiency-cost rating: 0.29
The 2014 BMW ActiveHybrid 740 Li breaks from BMW's hybrid trend. For one thing, its efficiency-cost rating isn't worse than that of its gas-only sibling: It's the same as the 740i at 0.29. But more important, it's the best among full-size hybrid luxury sedans. As of this writing, Mercedes and Porsche have discontinued their previous conventional hybrid competitors this leaves only the 2014 Lexus LS 600h (0.17). Apart from being rated far below a gas-only LS 460 (0.26), it has the worst efficiency rating of any hybrid. As hybrids go, the LS 600h remains a head-scratcher.
Editor's note: This story was updated on June 12, 2014 to reflect Ford's lowered fuel-economy ratings.