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Autobytel Fast Five: Best MPG Hybrid Cars for 2012

Not All Hybrids are Created Equal

Christian Wardlaw
by Christian Wardlaw
September 7, 2012
5 min. Reading Time

Honda and Toyota certainly seem to have this whole hybrid car thing figured out. There are seven hybrid models on sale for 2012 that get a combined fuel economy rating of 40 mpg or better, and one of these two companies builds each of them.

That said, not all hybrids are created equal, and not all hybrids are designed to get great fuel economy. Some car companies use hybrid technology to improve power and performance as much as they do to boost gas mileage. For example, the Lexus GS 350 has a 3.5-liter V6 making 303 horsepower, and is rated to get 28 mpg in combined driving. By comparison, the hybrid-powered Lexus GS 450h pairs a V6 engine with electric assist motors and a battery pack to generate a combined 336 horsepower, and the hybrid model gets 31 mpg in combined driving.

We’re here to talk about the hybrids that get the best fuel economy, and the Lexus GS isn’t one of them. Determining the best MPG hybrid cars of 2012 is pretty simple. Using the EPA’s fueleconomy.gov website search tools, we were able to narrow the list of 2012 high MPG hybrid cars and then sort by the combined fuel economy rating. The resulting list actually features six models rather than five, because there was a three-way tie for fourth place.

On the pages that follow, you’ll find the six best MPG hybrid cars for 2012, listed from least to most fuel-efficient and, in the case of our three-way tie, in alphabetical order. Had we elected to include all models with a combined rating of 40 mpg or better, that seventh car would have been the 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid.

Best MPG Hybrid Cars for 2012: Honda Insight (tie)

The 2012 Honda Insight is one of the best MPG hybrid cars for 2012, and is also the least expensive hybrid in base format. It’s more appealing for 2012, too, as Honda has upgraded the five-door hatchback with a nicer interior, additional sound deadening material, and more rear seat headroom. Choose the Insight EX model and you’ll get Bluetooth and seats covered with new synthetic leather with fabric inserts. Additionally, a reversing camera is now included with the optional navigation system.

The 2012 Insight is powered by Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology, which pairs a 1.3-liter, four-cylinder engine and a continuously variable transmission with a 10-kilowatt electric motor and nickel-metal hydride battery to generate a combined 98 horsepower. This is a “mild hybrid” powertrain, one unable to power the Insight on electricity alone.

To maximize fuel economy, the Insight is equipped with an Eco Assist system that adjusts throttle and transmission response, climate and cruise control operation, and idle/stop duration. Low rolling-resistance tires, a flat underbody and redesigned bumpers make the Insight more aerodynamic, and EPA fuel economy estimates rise this year to 41 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway, for a combined rating of 42 mpg.

That bump in fuel economy puts the Insight on our list of the best MPG hybrid cars for 2012.


Best MPG Hybrid Cars for 2012: Lexus CT 200h (tie)

If the Honda Insight is the least expensive hybrid on the market, the Lexus CT 200h – which ties the Honda with a 42-mpg rating in combined driving – is one of the sportiest hybrids available today. That’s especially true for 2012, thanks to a new F Sport Package that adds a sport-tuned suspension.

A five-door hatchback based on the Toyota Prius platform, the 2012 Lexus CT 200h adds a new Vehicle Proximity Notification System that emits an audible noise when the car is traveling on electric power at low speeds. It needs this technology because, unlike the Insight, the CT 200h is a “full hybrid,” which means that it can travel for one mile at speeds up to 28 mph on battery power alone.

To achieve this feat, the CT 200h’s Drive Mode Select system must be in EV mode. Drive Mode Select also lets the driver choose Eco, Normal, and Sport modes, which calibrate the powertrain accordingly. Together, the 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine and the electric drive motor powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack generate 134 horsepower, the same as the Prius upon which the Lexus CT 200h is based.

The result is a vehicle that gets 43 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway, making the CT 200h one of the best MPG hybrids for 2012.


Best MPG Hybrid Cars for 2012: Toyota Prius v (tie)

Like the Honda and the Lexus, the new-for-2012 Toyota Prius v is rated to get 42 mpg in combined driving, which places it on our list of high MPG hybrids for 2012.

Also, like the Lexus, the Prius v is based on the Toyota Prius platform and is equipped with the same 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine, nickel-metal hydride battery pack and electric drive motor rated to generate a combined 134 horsepower. The difference here is that the Prius v is a wagon with lots of interior room – an extra 12.7 cu-ft. compared to a standard Prius.

A new model for 2012, the Prius v is sold in Two, Three and Five trim levels (for some reason, there is no Prius v Four). Standard equipment includes aluminum wheels, Bluetooth, a color touchscreen radio with a USB/iPod connection and a reversing camera, push-button ignition, and LED taillights. Expected amenities such as power heated side mirrors, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, and a tilt/telescopic steering wheel are included, too, and Toyota also provides two years or 25,000 miles of free scheduled maintenance.

Regardless of the trim level you choose, there’s no denying that the 2012 Toyota Prius v is the roomiest model on our list of 2012 best MPG hybrid cars.


Best MPG Hybrid Cars for 2012: Honda Civic Hybrid

Next up is the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, which gets better fuel economy ratings than it ever has. The EPA says the Civic Hybrid will return 44 mpg in the city, 44 mpg on the highway, and – what a surprise – 44 mpg in combined driving.

The 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid is redesigned, and can be told apart from other Civic models by its unique styling details, lightweight 15-inch alloy wheels, and LED brake lights. Standard equipment includes automatic climate control and special instrumentation related to the hybrid powertrain, along with Bluetooth, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry, power mirrors, cruise control, and a stereo with a USB port. A navigation system and leather seats are optional.

Honda upgrades its Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology this year. A 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine is paired with a new lithium-ion battery pack. Combined, the system generates 110 horsepower and 127 lb-ft of torque, but Honda’s latest version of IMA still cannot power the Civic on battery juice alone. It does, however, shut the gas engine down more often when coasting and coming to a stop, conserving fuel and helping to ensure the Civic Hybrid’s ranking among the best MPG hybrid cars of 2012.


Best MPG Hybrid Cars for 2012: Toyota Prius c

Toyota has expanded its Prius line with new models for 2012. The Prius v is a larger vehicle, multi-purpose in nature. The Prius c is a smaller vehicle, with a significant haircut in terms of base price. In fact, the Prius c is the second least-expensive hybrid you can buy after the base version of the Honda Insight.

Unlike other Prius models, the Prius c employs a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine rather than a 1.8-liter powerplant. Like other Prii, it uses an electric assist motor powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack, and is a “full hybrid” that can travel short distances at low speeds on electricity alone. Combined, the gas/electric hybrid powertrain generates 99 horsepower and offers Normal, Eco and EV driving modes.

If you drive mainly in the city, know that the Prius c gets the best city fuel economy rating of any 2012 hybrid, at 53 mpg. It is less accomplished on the highway, where it is expected to return 46 mpg. In combined driving, the rating is 50 mpg, same as the larger Prius.

The new Prius c is sold in One, Two, Three and Four trim levels. Standard equipment includes Bluetooth, automatic climate control, power side mirrors, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, a trip computer with hybrid system displays, and a stereo with a USB port. Toyota also includes two years or 25,000 miles of free maintenance with every purchase.

The Toyota Prius c might not be the biggest hybrid available, but it certainly is one of the best MPG hybrids of 2012.


Best MPG Hybrid Cars for 2012: Toyota Prius

Though Honda was first to the U.S. market with a hybrid car when it launched the 2000 Insight, Americans tend to regard the Toyota Prius as the mack daddy of high-mileage hybrids. And for good reason, considering the Prius is a midsize five-door hatchback with room for five passengers and plenty of cargo while achieving mileage ratings of 51 mpg in the city, 48 mpg on the highway, and 50 mpg in combined driving.

The secret to this car’s success lies in its Hybrid Synergy Drive gas/electric hybrid powertrain, the same one featured in the Lexus CT 200h and Toyota Prius v. A 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine works together with an electric motor and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack to produce 134 horsepower. The Prius is a “full hybrid,” which means it can travel at speeds up to 25 mph on battery charge alone.

For 2012, Toyota makes subtle styling modifications and adds standard equipment to the various trim levels. The company also introduces a new version of the Prius featuring plug-in technology. Thanks to new lithium-ion batteries and other upgrades, the Prius Plug-in can travel up to 15 miles at speeds up to 62 mph on electricity, and then switches over to the same method of propulsion as the standard Prius.

This new version of the Prius, rated at 95 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) by the EPA, cements this iconic model’s status as the best MPG hybrid car of 2012.



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