Which Hybrid Vehicles Save You The Most Money?

By dancurranjr On September 3rd, 2008

Despite their higher price, many models pay off after only a year!

Gas/electric hybrid vehicles present a conundrum for many car shoppers. They typically deliver the best fuel economy in their class, but they’re also priced higher than similar conventional cars. So it has been difficult to know whether a hybrid will save money overall.

Not anymore. With gas prices soaring, our latest analysis of owner costs shows that you can save more than $4,000 over five years by choosing a hybrid over a similar conventional gasoline-powered vehicle.

Six of the 12 affordable hybrids we looked at can save you from about $500 to $4,250, even without tax credits, and pay back their price premium after only one year. They are the Toyota Prius and hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Malibu and Tahoe, Ford Escape, Saturn Vue, and Toyota Camry. For several, you can save even more by taking advantage of federal tax credits.

The Honda Civic, Nissan Altima, and Saturn Aura hybrids will cost you a little more than their conventional counterparts—from $250 to $750 over five years—but some consumers might find it worthwhile to drive a more environmentally friendly car. With federal tax incentives, all three come out ahead after just one year.

Three hybrids—the Lexus GS 450h and RX 400h and the Toyota Highlander Hybrid—cost significantly more than their counterparts in the first five years.

Hybrid payback

Interest in hybrids has been on a parallel trajectory with gas prices. Hybrid sales jumped almost 40 percent last year. According to a recent Consumer Reports survey, 32 percent of active car shoppers are considering a hybrid for their next vehicle. And this past summer automakers had a difficult time keeping up with demand for the most popular models.

It would take many years for most hybrids to pay back their premium price just on fuel savings. But fuel costs are only a relatively small part—25 percent—of the overall owner costs in the first five years. Other factors include depreciation, insurance, interest on financing, maintenance and repairs, and sales tax.

In this affordable hybrid analysis, we compared the five-year owner costs of 12 hybrids with those of similar conventional vehicles, using Consumer Reports’ new-car owner-cost estimates, introduced in our April 2008 issue.

The Toyota Camry Hybrid, which got 34 mpg overall in our tests, saves the most money, about $4,250 over five years, compared with a similarly equipped four—cylinder Toyota Camry XLE, which gets 24 mpg.

The Saturn Vue Greenline Hybrid can save about $3,000; the Toyota Prius and Chevrolet Tahoe save $2,000 and $1,500, respectively. With tax credits, the Vue and Tahoe come out ahead by about $4,500 and $3,700. Federal tax incentives are no longer available for Toyota and Lexus hybrids.

The Lexus models and Toyota Highlander Hybrid show five-year losses ranging from about $1,250 for the Highlander to $5,500 for the GS. All three are positioned as the flagship models within their model lines and offer extra features and/or performance at a significantly higher price. The Lexus GS 450h, which emphasizes performance over fuel economy, is priced more than $8,000 higher than its all-gas sibling, a hefty premium despite saving about $1,500 in gas over five years. The Highlander Hybrid and RX 400h are priced about $6,000 and $4,000 higher, respectively, than their all-gas siblings.

Source: Consumer Reports

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