Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

What to buy: regular car vs. hybrid

I am in the running for a new car but can’t decide whether to go with a regular car or a hybrid. I am a 44 y/o and have been driving compacts - mostly Honda Civics - my whole life. They are great cars, but I’m at that age where I’d like something a little more comfortable. Nothing fancy, but maybe the next class up, e.g., an Accord. I drive 50 miles each way for work, at least 100 miles every day, often 500+ miles for the week. 85% of my drive is open highway. Given the number of miles I drive, fuel efficiency is extremely important to me. So, any thoughts on what car to get next? The VW Jetta hybrid gets ~ 45 mpg / $26k; the Civic Hybrid gets ~ 43 mpg / $24k. There is also the new Accord Hybrid coming out, weighing in at ~ 47 mpg / $30k. There is also an Atlima Hybrid and, of course the Prius which I don’t like, so don’t bother. (In fact, there are plenty others at The non-hybrid versions of those same cars usually start at ~ $10k less, but the hybrid models come with all the bells and whistles too. So I guess the question is whether I will actually save ~ $10k in gas over the life of the car. If gas prices stay the same, I figure I’ll actually recover the extra cost over ~ 5 yrs - even more quickly if gas prices go up, which is, of course the trend. So have I reasoned this through correctly? Or am I just trying to talk myself in to something? What are the community thoughts (don’t forget the 100+ mile daily commute).

A hybrid won’t save much on the highway, just in town. When I was just out of school a salesman told me you should drive the biggest, most comfortable car you can if you are going to drive a lot. For over 30 years I drove full sized Olds or Buicks for my 50 mile commute and never regretted it.

@Bing When you were “just out of school”, a good bottle of whisky cost $3, a case of beer (24) the same, and you could fill your gas tank for $5 or so.

Now the beer costs $25, the whisky $25 and a tank of gas is $70+ or so for a full size car.

I agree that comfort is important, but you don’t need a full size Buick to be comfortable. The new Corolla has very good createure comforts and in the “eco” version gets really good gas mileage. If I drove 100 miles a day to work, or some 30,000 miles a year total, a Prius would be entirely adequate and save a good deal over a full size Impala or Ford Taurus. My choice, however would be a non-hybrid Corolla, however.

Years ago I was in sales and drove nearly 40,000 miles a year. I had a full size Pontiac Catalina because the compacts were noisy and had terrible seats. There were no intermediates at that time.

I guess that’s the point I"m at - where I really just want something more comfortable and accept that I’ll have to pay a little more $ for the upgrade in class. I’d be fine with a Corolla or Civic LE, except the 1) they’re not as comfortable as a bigger Accord (or Camry if you prefer), and they’ll both be less efficient then the new 47mpg Accord. So it’s really just a matter of cost.

My coworker bought a 2010 Prius for his 100 mile daily commute (70% highway/30% rural). He has had no issues with the Prius other than a using a little oil after 100k miles. No issues with the batteries or electric motor that I’m aware of. He has been averaging 48-52 mpg and has had no regrets about the purchase.

Ed B.

With what Honda has done with the Accord, a friend has yet to get less them 40 mpg commuting, not on the interstate, but over country roads. If you feel you want to compare it to a Hybrid, compare it to a Prius only. That is the only Hybrid that has the proven longevity of an Accord name plate. I have ridden in both and the Prius is decent for sure but it is no Accord. I normally don’t like fwd. but for highway cruising with room and comfort, it works.

We had three 4 cylinder Accords in our family, including the kids. Their forte compared to most other intermediate fwd cars, was their high speed tracking, comfort and longevity. I have set the cruise on for 100 mph for an extended period driving in Northern Maine with my wife’s 4 cylinder Accord. It was rock solid. You put that together with their now quiet interior and great gas mileage, they have no equal for your use. Spend the extra money. You will not regret it. Owner satisfaction in CR has always been higher then in a Corolla or Civic and for good reason. I feel right now, it’s the bench mark. IMHO, Honda makes one of the very best 4 cylinder passenger car motors in the world. And now, it has one of the best fwd chassis.

The Honda Accord hybrid costs about $5700 more than the Accord EX with the 4-cyl and CVT automatic. At a gasoline price of $3.50/gallon, it would take about 295,000 miles to break even. If this is a dollars and sense calculation, then take the Accord EX non-hybrid car. I used the EPA highway mileages of 45 (hybrid) and 36 (not hybrid) for the calculation.

With so much highway driving, also do the math to see if a diesel car would work best.

The real value of most hybrids for most people is the feeling that they’re doing something for the environment. If this is important to you, than look at hybrids. If not, they’re not currently cost effective, so look elsewhere.

The actual choice? Hey, it’s your money. Read all the latest “new car” consumer rating magazines, pick out the ones that look good to you and fit your budget, and spend a few weekends doing test drives.

Good luck.

Some hybrid’s the cost difference isn’t much when you compare feature to feature. Most people don’t buy base model vehicles. And hybrids usually come fully loaded. So a true comparison would have to be to compare the hybrid with a non-hybrid vehicle and the features you would be willing to upgrade to. Use that number as the true comparison.

If you don’t want one of the VW TDI’s which might give you even better mileage than the Jetta Hybrid, then look at the Accord Hybrid. A Camry Hybrid might be another alternative which a few people I know own instead of the Prius. You’d be getting 50mpg plus on this kind of drive with the Prius. The Altima Hybrid I’m aware of but I don’t know what mileage you can actually expect.

The Ford Fusion Hybrid would be another option. With a hundred mile round trip commute you should have what’s most comfortable for you. A non-hybrid Accord or Camry would also serve you well but it’s all up to you and the one that fits your needs best.

“And hybrids usually come fully loaded. So a true comparison would have to be to compare the hybrid with a non-hybrid vehicle and the features you would be willing to upgrade to. Use that number as the true comparison.”

I did.

@jtsanders - I get $3700 difference between Accord EX-L versions. They pretty much match in options.

My only long distance experience with a hybrid was with a Honda Civic Hybrid that I drove from my institution’s fleet to a conference about 150 miles away. My colleague who made the trip with me owns a Honda Civic with the manual transmission. She claimed that the road mileage on the Hybrid we drove was no better than her manual transmission Civic. The trip to and from the conference was almost all interstate driving. The seating position in the Civic Hybrid was not comfortable for me. My wife did a lot of recruiting for our institution and she requested not to be assigned to a Honda Civic Hybrid as she didn’t find them very comfortable. She requested a Ford Taurus instead. Of course, we weren’t paying for the gasoline.
Last spring, my wife volunteered my services to help a family friend, a single woman in her late 60s to shop for a car. We looked at Hondas. She thought she wanted an Accord but found that the Civic was easier to get into her garage which she enters from an alley. The 2013 Civic seemed to me to have more room than the earlier models and was quite comfortable. The Accord was a little quieter and smoother. However, I was concerned that the model she was interested in, the 4 cylinder, had a CVT transmission. I am not certain how long these transmissions will last.
I didn’t check the mileage, but the last vehicle I used from my institution’s fleet to travel to another university go give a talk was a Ford Fusion. I found that car quite comfortable.

The website has gas mileage comparison tools. You can also personalize it based on your percent hwy and gas prices in your area. I find it very helpful for just cost comparison. It gives you fuel cost per year, per 5 years and so on. Then you factor in your preferences as far as comfort, test drive and price.

Even though I drive a hybrid, for the OP’s commute I go with an intermediate with a 4 and an auto trans. Near hybrid mpgs (compared to same size car) at lower cost.

I drive mostly in-town, so take what I say with a grain of salt. But if I buy another new car at some point, it will almost certainly be either a hybrid or all electric.

That said, in all likelihood the cars I have now – a 40 year old Ford truck and a 20 year old Corolla – will be my last car purchases, new or used. I just don’t like all the extra complications that come with newer cars, like power windows breaking down left and right, blue tooth nobody can figure out, the security system preventing you from starting the car late at night in an “iffy” neighborhood, or if you remove the battery to get needed access to change the spark plugs or something, then you have to tow the car to the dealer to get it reprogrammed before it can be started. All that? I don’t want any part of it. I’ll keep my existing cars. Thank you.


Did you have enough head room in the Ford Fusion?

Every time I see one in a parking lot, it looks kind of low compared to a Camry or Accord

I looked up the numbers, and the Fusion apparently does have slightly less head room

But on the plus side, the Fusion has a much more advanced suspension setup than the Camry

If it’s only about dollars then even if you commute in stop and go traffic or do only city driving a hybrid rarely “pays for itself.” Buy a small econobox with good mpg and you’ll probably be dollars ahead. But as has been pointed out above, start adding options and then it’s a little more muddled. The Prius–whether you like it or not–is a neat little car with plenty of options.

But here’s the thing. People don’t buy hybrids just based on dollar cost. They use less gasoline. That alone has value to many people, cost of the fuel is irrelevant. Just that you’re using less is the whole point. There’s an intangible element to buying a hybrid, just like there is to wearing stylish clothes or eating gourmet food or playing golf. You have to figure out if the satisfaction you derive from it has any value.

For a highway daily-driver, get a car with a good supportive seat. I can’t emphasize that enough. Luxury cars have (or at least, had) overstuffed sofa seats that creates tons of back pain when you really start logging time.

I wouldn’t rule out a small car if no backseat passengers: most full size adults fit comfortably in the front of most any car.