Additional contribution by Bradley Hasemeyer
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Toyota Avalon Hybrid
Miles Driven: 382
Verdict: A hybrid for the family that doesn’t tranquilize you, and it finally looks damn good.
Memorable Moment: Putting it through the ropes on a twisty local road and forgetting it was a Toyota sedan.
The Avalon has gone from retiree sled to bona fide handsome sedan, all in the span of three generations. Ditch the 11 a.m. buffet and get ready for a night on the town. The Hybrid gives up the stock Avalon’s 268 horsepower, 3.5-liter V6, which is supplanted by the 156 horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder and 141 horsepower electric pairing found in the Camry hybrid. For a car this size, 40/39 mpg is wickedly good — and for something that used to look like a bingo-hall boulevardier, the driving dynamics and steering input in Sport Mode are pretty sharp. The interior doesn’t evoke a doctor’s office, thankfully, and the bolstered suspension uprights and decreased body roll ensure that you can have fun and lug the golf bags in style.
Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Miles Driven: 233
Verdict: A competitively priced family hybrid sedan that doesn’t look like a bar of soap on wheels.
Memorable Moment: Thanking my luck stars that the fleet service delivered a black one instead but wondering why it had to have wheels modeled after a Cuisinart food processor blade.
The rakish, sleek Sonata, with its creased sheet metal, doesn’t sag after its hippie-pleasing green makeover. Instead, the Sonata Hybrid benefits from a beefed up 35kW electric motor and a total output of 199 horsepower; combined with a shocking 235 lb-ft of torque, the Korean four-door boasts a 0-60 time of 8.1 seconds. You’d swear it wasn’t a sleepy hybrid. And in another show of brilliance, Hyundai spared us a CVT, delivering a smooth-shifting six-speed step-gear automatic transmission instead. You won’t win any slaloms with those skinny tires, but that blue hybrid badge belies the Sonata Hybrid’s great acceleration numbers, and its relaxed driving experience and top-notch cabin puts it at the top of its segment.
Lexus ES 300h
Miles Driven: 277
Verdict: A luxury hybrid that doesn’t look completely like a hybrid, even in light blue.
Memorable Moment: Dropping it into Sport Mode before hitting a freeway ramp and being pleasantly surprised. Also: the time-travel experience of driving it past a casino full of retirees.
Only the environmentally conscious in your circle of friends will notice you got a tree-hugger ES, since the hybrid version looks nearly identical to the gas version. It also happens to utilize the same system as the Camry hybrid with better mileage, shockingly — close to 40 mpg in the city, burying its gas brother’s paltry 21. The 156 horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine is mated with the 141 horsepower electric motor’s 199 lb-ft of torque. Knock it into Sport Mode and a tach gauge pops up where the hybrid power monitor used to be. It maximizes the gas engine and drops the mileage a bit, but the the ES 300h is more than the sum of its parts. The best of those parts is probably the cabin’s gorgeous, achingly crisp bamboo trim. Anyone up for sushi?
Images courtesy of Lexus.
Miles Driven: 317
Verdict: The Ford C-Max has more oomph and is more fun to drive than the staple of all hybrids, the Prius.
Memorable Moment: Driving the C-MAX back-to-back with a Prius and being surprised by how much quicker and more enjoyable it was.
Available as a plug-in or regular hybrid, the stocky C-MAX features a screen that provides you with a driving score, measures your growing efficiency with a display of growing leaves, and literally thanks you for driving a hybrid as you turn the car off. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 141 horsepower through the electronic continuously variable transmission (e-CVT), which groans a little when you push the pedal to the floor. But it’s got both stubby good looks and plenty of space with the hatchback setup, genius secret storage compartments, and optional foot-activated lift gate — all of which goes to make the C-MAX the king of traditional hatchback hybrids.
Miles Driven: 274
Verdict: It’s a functional EV — you’ll never have to rent a car for a roadtrip again.
Memorable Moment: Using the Volt as a camera car and not having to shout over the engine to coordinate passing shots.
One of the most influential cars in the alternative fuel category is the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt. Almost 40 miles of pure EV with a 1.4-liter on-board generator that charges the battery and powers the wheels (still following?) means technically, gas never powers the car. Technically. The Volt’s stylish package and 2 + 2 seating result in a car that stands out without looking otherworldly. It has multiple drive modes, including a “hold” function that allows you to pause the battery save it — great for the inefficient stop-and-go traffic you encounter once you leave the mpg-friendly freeway. It’s a revolutionary car that hits a sweet spot between efficiency and sensibility. The price drop helps, too.