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Autobytel Fast Five: Most Affordable Hybrids for 2012

Disproving the Theory That You Can’t Recoup the Cost of a Hybrid

Christian Wardlaw
by Christian Wardlaw
August 16, 2012
5 min. Reading Time

One of the arguments against purchasing a fuel-efficient hybrid car has been that they cost so much more than a car with a conventional four-cylinder gasoline engine that the owner cannot hope to recoup the additional cost of the hybrid vehicle.

In many cases, this argument rings true. But what if you chose an affordable hybrid car, one that didn’t cost more than the average car sold in America today? Poof. The argument against purchase vanishes, especially considering that one of the most affordable hybrids of 2012 is also a midsize car with a trunk larger than a full-size car.

No, we’re not kidding.

To create this list of the most affordable hybrid cars of 2012, we made a list of hybrids, checked their base prices, and selected the five least expensive models. That was easy. If you’d like to see our list of affordable hybrids, they’re on the pages that follow, with the most affordable hybrid car on the last page.

Autobytel Fast Five: Most Affordable Hybrids for 2012

Ringing the register at $24,990, the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid is one of the most affordable hybrid cars of 2012. It looks just like other Civic sedans, unless you squint and spot the unique aluminum wheels, body-color grille with blue accents, blue-tinted headlight and taillight elements, LED brake lights, trunk lip spoiler, and subtle aerodynamic tweaks. Leather seats and a navigation system are optional, and a loaded Civic Hybrid costs $27,690. Trunk space measures 10.7 cu-ft., and the rear seat does not fold down to carry longer items.

The Civic Hybrid is equipped with Honda’s latest Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) gas/electric hybrid technology. Though this version of IMA now employs lithium-ion battery technology and is more sophisticated than before, the Civic Hybrid still cannot accelerate or cruise at low speed on batter power alone. Rather, the gas engine shuts off as the Civic Hybrid coasts to a stop, and the engine restarts when the driver releases the brake pedal and prepares to accelerate. That inability to accelerate purely on battery juice qualifies the Civic Hybrid as a “mild” rather than “full” hybrid vehicle.

Total system output is 110 horsepower, and the EPA says the Civic Hybrid will get 44 mpg in the city, 44 mpg on the highway, and 44 mpg in combined driving.


Autobytel Fast Five: Most Affordable Hybrids for 2012

The Toyota Prius wasn’t the first hybrid to be sold in America, but it is the best-selling hybrid in America. Know why? This is the hybrid that is classified by the EPA as a midsize car, and this is the hybrid with 21.6 cu-ft. of cargo space behind the rear seat. Fold the back seat, and a Prius can accommodate almost 40 cu-ft. of your stuff. Best of all, the Prius doesn’t cost more than a “normal” car.

Prices start at an exceptionally reasonable $24,760, including two years or 25,000 miles of free maintenance. Load a Prius with every option – the list is both long and technologically impressive – and you’ll roll off the showroom floor at $40,510 for a Plug-in model with accessory floor mats.

The standard Prius is equipped with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, which combines a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric assist motor powered by a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. A “full” hybrid, the Prius can accelerate up to 25 mph on battery juice alone, meaning it can whir around the mall parking lot without burning a drop of gas. Combined power output is 134 horsepower, and the EPA says the Prius gets 51 mpg in the city, 48 mpg on the highway, and 50 mpg in combined driving.

If you prefer to be able to drive faster for longer distances without burning any gas, the Prius Plug-in is your answer. Speeds and range are modest: the Prius Plug-in can go as fast as 62 mph and as far as 15 miles before the gas engine fires, but the lithium-ion battery charges quickly, making this car perfect for people who take shorter trips around cities and suburbs and have ready access to a power outlet during the day. The Plug-in’s combined power is the same as the standard Prius, and the fuel economy rating is 95 MPGe.


Autobytel Fast Five: Most Affordable Hybrids for 2012

Some people say that hybrid cars are boring to drive. They’re right, though that is starting to change. Among hybrids, especially affordable hybrid cars, the 2012 Honda CR-Z is one of the most entertaining to drive.

Styled to recall the legendary Honda Civic CRX, the Honda CR-Z is a rakish two-seat hatchback equipped with a standard manual gearbox. That’s right. You row your own gears with a CR-Z, though it should be noted that a continuously variable transmission with paddle shifters is optional. An Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) “mild” hybrid powertrain pairs a gasoline-fired 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric assist motor and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack. Total system output measures 122 horsepower, and the CR-Z cannot accelerate or cruise at low speeds on battery power alone.

Though the Honda CR-Z can carry just two people, its trunk can swallow an impressive 25.1 cu-ft. of cargo, which means this diminutive hybrid would be perfect for a cross-country trip. Fuel economy measures between 31 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway, depending on transmission and whether the driver is using Normal, Sport, or Econ driving modes. And since the CR-Z starts at $20,485 and costs no more than $24,495 for the EX model with a CVT, this member of the most affordable hybrids of 2012 club leaves you with plenty of cash for motels.


Autobytel Fast Five: Most Affordable Hybrids for 2012

New for 2012, the Toyota Prius c is a sub-compact five-door hatchback that’s much smaller than a standard Prius, and also more than $5,000 less expensive thanks to a base price of $19,710. Add every option and a set of floor mats, and you’re writing a check for $25,170 for the Prius c Four.

While it can technically carry five people, the Prius c is definitely best suited for four. Trunk space measures 17.1 cu-ft. of cargo room behind the rear seat, as long as you stack items to the roof. A more practical way to load this car would be to fold the back seats, but Toyota declines to provide a measurement for maximum cargo capacity.

A 1.5-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine is used for the Prius c, paired with an electric assist motor and a nickel-metal hydride battery pack to generate a combined 99 horsepower. This car is a “full” hybrid, capable of accelerating and cruising at low speeds on electricity alone, and the EPA says it will return 53 mpg in the city, 46 mpg on the highway, and 50 mpg in combined driving.

With numbers like these, combined with a base price under $20,000 and free scheduled maintenance for two years or 25,000 miles, you can understand why we think the Prius c is the best affordable hybrid car of 2012 – if maximum fuel economy for a minimum price is the ultimate goal.


Autobytel Fast Five: Most Affordable Hybrids for 2012

Here it is, the most affordable hybrid car of 2012, the Honda Insight. The base price is $19,290, and if you select the Insight EX with navigation and satellite radio, you’re rolling home with a wallet lighter by $24,792.

Like the other Honda hybrids on this list, the Insight is powered by the automaker’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) technology, a “mild” hybrid setup that cannot power the Insight on electricity alone. Rather, the nickel-metal hydride battery and electric assist motor are designed to supplement the 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine’s meager output. Combined, the Insight’s IMA powertrain generates 98 horsepower, and is rated to get 41 mpg in the city, 44 mpg on the highway, and 42 mpg in combined driving.

The Honda Insight is teardrop-shaped, like the Toyota Prius. Many people think this is because Honda is emulating Toyota, but that’s because they forget that Honda introduced the original teardrop-shaped two-seat Insight hybrid for the 2000 model year. Toyota’s Prius didn’t adopt the aerodynamic shape until 2004.

Capable of carrying five people, but better suited for four passengers, the Insight can carry 15.9 cu-ft. of cargo behind the rear seats – as much as a midsize sedan. Fold the rear seats down, and it holds 31.5 cu-ft. of junk in its trunk.

Let’s see. The Insight is priced at less than $20,000, carries four in relative comfort, gets 42 mpg, and holds as much stuff in its trunk as a midsize sedan. Now, what was that argument against buying a hybrid again?



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