With gas prices at or near record highs, if you’re in the market to buy a car right now, fuel efficiency might be high on your wish-list! Consumer Reports explains there are lots of other good reasons, including fuel economy, to consider buying a hybrid vehicle.
With gas prices soaring, it’s no surprise that hybrid vehicles are gaining popularity. And while the up-front costs are often more than their conventional gasoline counterparts, Consumer Reports finds, most hybrids will save you money over the long-term.
“Hybrids have a gasoline-powered engine and a battery-powered electric motor that work together to optimize efficiency. We compared hybrid and non-hybrid versions of some popular vehicles and found that fuel savings could make up for many hybrids’ additional up-front purchase price,” said Consumer Reports Car Experts Alex Knizak.
Using a gas price of $4 per gallon, which is the current average gas price in Florida, and driving 12,000 miles a year, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid will pay off its higher cost in four years, the Honda Accord Hybrid in three years and the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid in only two years. And if gas prices go up to $5 per gallon, the payback period for the Santa Fe Hybrid could drop to just one year.
Hybrid vehicles combine a gasoline engine and a battery-powered electric motor. Unlike fully electric vehicles, they do not need to be plugged in.
“You don’t have to buy an EV to reduce your exposure to high gas prices,” said Chris Harto, senior energy policy analyst at CR. “Buying an efficient hybrid can help buffer your monthly budget from the wild swings caused by volatility in global oil markets.”
• Honda Accord Hybrid: 3 years
• Honda CR-V Hybrid: 4 years
• Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid: 2 years
• Lexus RX450h: 6 years
• Toyota Highlander Hybrid: 2 years
• Toyota Camry Hybrid: 5 years
• Toyota RAV4 Hybrid: 4 years
(Above calculations assume $4-per-gallon gas and 12,000 miles driven per year.)
If gas prices fall to $3 a gallon, the payback period on a Hyundai Tucson Hybrid or Toyota Highlander Hybrid would increase to three years. These calculations don’t consider other money-saving factors—such as the higher resale value for hybrids when compared with gas-only counterparts—that can make the equation even more favorable. In the case of the Ford Maverick pickup truck, the hybrid version actually has a lower purchase price than the nonhybrid.
Bigger Savings on SUVs
The payback period is shortest for SUVs, and the reason for that is just simple math and physics: SUVs tend to be larger and heavier, and they get worse fuel economy to begin with, so an improvement is more meaningful. “Going from 20 mpg to 25 mpg saves a lot more fuel than going from 30 mpg to 35 mpg,” Fisher says.
Say you’re taking a 500-mile trip. A gas-only sedan that gets 30 mpg will use about 16.67 gallons of gas, while the hybrid version that gets 35 mpg will use about 14.29 gallons of gas. That’s 2.38 gallons saved. But compare a gas-only SUV that gets 20 mpg and a hybrid version that gets 25 mpg, and the hybrid will save you 5 gallons of gas.
We did not examine plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles (PHEVs), which combine a gasoline engine with a short, electric-only driving range. PHEVs may offer even more savings for drivers with short daily commutes. Fully electric vehicles can also save owners money over the course of ownership, but they might not be ideal for all drivers. Most plug-in hybrids and EVs also qualify for a federal tax incentive of up to $7,500, which standard hybrids don’t get.
More, Better Hybrids
There’s also a much wider variety of hybrids available today. In the past, hybrids tended to be purpose-built models designed for maximum efficiency, like the Prius, or luxury models with extra features that made it hard to compare a hybrid directly with the most popular trim levels of gas-only vehicles.
“Many automakers used to force consumers to buy higher trimlines if they wanted a hybrid, but that has changed,” Fisher says. “Today, you can find hybrids at many prices, and for some newer models, the hybrid is the cheapest version available.”
Beyond fuel economy, some of these models do better in our tests than the gas-only vehicles they’re based on. Consider the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid. Our testers found that it rides better, is quieter, and shifts more smoothly than the gas-only Santa Fe. On top of all that, it’s almost 2 seconds quicker than the nonhybrid in the dash from 0 to 60 mph.
“Today’s hybrids drive quite normally,” Fisher says. “For most models, there’s very little difference in the driving experience between a nonhybrid and a hybrid, especially when compared to early hybrids.”
In addition, CR’s data shows that hybrids tend to have lower repair costs than their nonhybrid counterparts. At the same time, they tend to have higher owner satisfaction scores.
Watch Out for Markups
If hybrids rise in popularity along with gas prices, expect to see dealerships marking up the sales prices of hybrid vehicles the same way they’ve done with cars, trucks and SUVs that have been in short supply over the past two years.
One of CR’s car buyers was quoted a 10% markup over the sticker price on the Kia Sorento Hybrid he tried to purchase for our auto test program—and that was after he contacted multiple local dealerships that didn’t have the vehicle in stock.
Whether such anecdotes turn into a wider trend remains to be seen, says Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics at J.D. Power.
“It’s still really too soon to see anything definitive in the data, since the fuel price jump is so recent,” he told CR. But Jominy says that early indicators point to hybrids selling faster than gas-only cars. In addition, hybrid market share appears to be increasing in line with gas prices, even though there are fewer hybrids in stock on dealer lots.
“Beyond fuel economy, some hybrids perform better in our tests than the gas-only version of the same model. For example, the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid rides better, quieter, and shifts smoother than the gas-only Santa Fe and it’s quicker in our acceleration tests too,” Knizak said.
Consumer Reports also found hybrids often have higher owner satisfaction scores than their conventional counterparts. And if a new hybrid isn’t in your budget, consider a used one.
“When buying a used car, we say the sweet spot is to look for a well-maintained 5-year-old vehicle. Not only has it gone through a significant part of the depreciation cycle, but it was also designed and built recently enough to get modern safety and convenience features,” Knizak said.
Not convinced to try a hybrid? Here’s Consumer Reports’ list of fuel efficient gasoline-powered vehicles:
- 2022 Honda Insight / CR MPG: Overall 54 / City 44 / Hwy 62 mpg
- 2022 Toyota Prius / CR MPG: Overall 52 / City 43 / Hwy 59 mpg
- 2022 Hyundai Ioniq / CR MPG: Overall 52 / City 40 / Hwy 63 mpg
- 2022 Hyundai Elantra / CR MPG: Overall 48 / City 40 / Hwy 55 mpg
- 2022 Toyota Corolla / CR MPG: Overall 48 / City 37 / Hwy 59 mpg
- 2022 Honda Accord / CR MPG: Overall 47 / City 40 / Hwy 52 mpg
- 2022 Toyota Camry / CR MPG: Overall 47 / City 39 / Hwy 53 mpg
- 2022 Hyundai Sonata / CR MPG: Overall 44 / City 36 / Hwy 51 mpg
- 2022 Kia Niro / CR MPG: Overall 43 / City 33 / Hwy 52 mpg
- 2022 Toyota Avalon / CR MPG: Overall 42 / City 32 / Hwy 52 mpg