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Cars.com Hybrid Mileage Challenge: Part 4

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We’ve been blogging all week about Cars.com’s latest Mileage Challenge, in which we took four hybrids through a day of Chicago traffic. Along the way we logged more than enough seat time to size up the competing drivetrains. Though different in many ways, all of them build on the same formula: a gasoline engine aided by one or more electric motors, which draw power from a high-voltage battery that’s recharged by the brakes. (Got all that? Next up: quantum physics 101.)

Read on for our thoughts.

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“In terms of raw driving experience, the car most palatable to me was the Prius. That seems odd to say, but given the annoying nature of the Civic’s auto-stop function and the Escape’s unresponsive brakes, driving the Prius and Tahoe were the only times when I felt like I wasn’t driving something totally foreign.

“At stoplights, the auto-stop function was intrusive in a couple ways. Pulling in and slowing down was fine, but once completely stopped the car felt noticeably dead; it reminded me of when my old Cutlass Supreme, may it rest in peace, used to stall in busy intersections. That really threw me off the first couple of times. Then once the light turned green the auto-stop function made it almost impossible to get off the line with any speed. I didn’t need to race out of every stoplight, but it’s handy to have a little punch off the line when you need to switch lanes in a pinch. The Civic Hybrid had none.

“Combine those issues with the Escape’s weird brakes — I felt as though I had to slam on the pedal to get the car to slow down even slightly — and I felt totally out of place in everything I drove … except the Prius. It ran well, hopped off the line, braked efficiently and never made me feel like I was driving a hybrid. While I enjoyed the Tahoe, considering the gas mileage differences, the Prius was easily my favorite of the day.”

— Eamonn Brennan, assistant editor

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“Chevrolet’s Tahoe Hybrid was by far the most comfortable and gave the least impression of driving like a hybrid, with its almost seamless transition from EV mode to gasoline. There’s no forgetting it’s a hybrid when looking at it, though, as emblems and stickers are plastered on every side of the SUV: front windshield, rear and both sides.

“The Prius returned stellar mileage during my turn driving it, primarily because it was the most boring to drive and sucked any inclination to go fast or turn quickly out of my system. OK, the excellent hybrid system may have had something to do with the good mileage, too. Unlike the Prius, the Honda Civic Hybrid actually had a tight steering feel and quick point-here-go-there action. One of the off-putting attributes of the Civic is the rough auto-stop feature that made it seem like the car inadvertently died — with a noticeable shudder — every time I came to a stop.

“For a smaller SUV, the Escape Hybrid’s brakes had an extremely hard pedal, and not just during regenerative braking. After long stretches of stop-and-go traffic my ankle was noticeably sore. The car even started creeping forward on a couple of occasions, even with a decent amount of force applied to the brake pedal — eek.”

— Joe Bruzek, assistant editor

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“These hybrids are no science projects — the Tahoe Hybrid and Prius, in particular, have well-groomed drivetrains. You can still feel the transition from electric-only driving to a gasoline/electric mix, but the sensation when the engine clocks in for duty is minimally intrusive. The Tahoe is hybrid driving par excellence: Its brakes feel natural, and the V-8/electric-motor drivetrain provides seamless oomph for quick spurts through traffic — which, as the day wore on, made Chicago seem more like Manhattan.

“I’m not so keen on the Civic and Escape hybrids. The Escape’s regenerative brakes give the pedal a bricklike resistance, and the engine often awakens with a loud, annoying drone. The Civic’s auto-stop/start at stoplights seems much more noticeable than the others’ auto-stop features. Perhaps that’s because the Civic’s engine has to turn along with its electric motors — though it does so without using any gas — at low speeds. The other cars can amble along while the engine remains motionless, so the sensation in the Civic is that it has to start up every time you move forward.”

— Kelsey Mays, editor

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Kelsey Mays likes quality, reliability, safety and practicality. But he also likes a fair price. Email Kelsey Mays

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