Eight Vehicles That Cost Less To Own As Hybrids

November 2, 2014
If you like the Lexus GS 350, but you feel compelled to ‘go green’ with a hybrid, picking the GS 450h hybrid version instead isn’t going to save you money.

In fact, it’ll cost you an estimated $8,155 more to own over the course of five years. That’s because paying about $2,700 less at the pump for the 8 mpg (EPA combined) doesn’t even come close to negating the GS450h’s higher sticker price and steeper anticipated decline in resale value, among other factors.

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The data comes from the cost-of-ownership authority Vincentric. And the example serves as an illustration that some knee-jerk responses to go with hybrids to save money might be misguided—unless you really consider the full picture, and how much you save on the hybrid over the years you own it.

A hybrid could save you money—if you pick the right one

Hybrid models, versus non-hybrid equivalents, will shrink your fuel budget, of course—saving you an everage of $2,895 over five years, according to the ownership data firm Vincentric. They’ll also, in many cases, cost less to insure than their non-hybrid counterparts. They typically won’t cost any more to maintain; and in some cases they’re more reliable than the non-hybrids.

The wake-up call comes in all those other factors: Because they cost so much more, initially, in some cases even years later any money saved at the pump still hasn’t offset their much higher sticker price. And hybrids won’t in all cases command the trade-in value that has you saving money in the end.

Vincentric just finished its third annual Hybrid Analysis, and found that only one third (10 of 31) of hybrid vehicles actually save owners money—versus if they’d purchased a standard version of the same vehicle, or a ‘gasoline-equivalent’ vehicle.

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Fewer hybrids are paying off in the long run. Why?

The firm had done a similar comparison twice before, and found that the percentage of cost-effictive hybrids has fallen, from 44 percent in 2012 and 29 percent in 2013 to around 32 percent this year.

The primary reason: The price of fuel is dropping. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average pump price of regular-grade gasoline has fallen to just $3.17, down from $3.34 in October 2013 and $3.75 in October 2014. This isn’t just a monthly blip; on an annual basis, the average pump price will factor in at well under $3.50.

On a secondary basis: Hybrids aren’t getting any cheaper. The price differential between hybrids and non-hybrids hasn’t been tightening. This runs counter to what industry analysis anticipated many years ago: that eventually, the additional cost of a hybrid would lessen, to a point at which hybrid models would be no-brainers.

“In some cases, fuel cost savings associated with hybrid vehicles are able to offset their price premium,” said Vincentric president David Wurster. “However, hybrids are losing their competitive edge due to the improved fuel economy of gas-powered combustion engines and falling fuel prices,”

Mainstream models becoming more miserly

And that’s another important point. With engine downsizing, as well as engine technologies like turbocharging and direct injection, mainstream gasoline models have become far more fuel-efficient than they were just a few years ago. That’s effectively pushed most ‘mild hybrid’ models, like the Honda Insight, out of the market, and it’s made some of those hybrid versions a tougher calculation.

Cribbing from Vincentric’s list, removing the models that don’t have direct gasoline-powered U.S. counterparts, click on to see the list of eight hybrids that pay off. The calculations relate to 2014 models, but we’ve given some insight as to how they’ll carry into 2015.

2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

2015 Toyota Avalon Hybrid

Toyota Avalon Hybrid
EPA fuel economy: 40 mpg Combined (40/39 city/highway)
Five-year cost-of-ownership savings versus non-hybrid: $3,356

If you’re considering the Avalon, why not buy it as a Hybrid? The latest Avalon is no longer just for retirees, and whether you go for the Avalon Hybrid or the standard V-6 model you get the same rejuvenated driving dynamics and refined ride. With the Avalon Hybrid, you may see 40 mpg in commuting conditions, in a big, roomy comfort-oriented sedan that could also save you a bundle.

2015 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

2015 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
EPA fuel economy: 38 mpg Combined (38/37 city/highway)
Five-year cost-of-ownership savings versus non-hybrid: $3,252

The latest MKZ looks distant from Lincoln’s recent, conservative past—and from the Ford Fusion that it remains related to. It’s essentially a ‘reboot’ for Lincoln, and what better way to embrace that than with the MKZ Hybrid? As such, you’ll do better than the MKZ’s base turbo four or premium V-6 model; and Ford’s done well in tuning its hybrid system to feel responsive. Those great cost-of-ownership ratings were calculated with the MKZ Hybrid’s 2014 ratings, of 38 mpg city, 37 highway, but this model improves those numbers to 41/39 mpg for 2015.

2015 Audi Q5 Hybrid

2015 Audi Q5 Hybrid

Audi Q5 Hybrid
EPA fuel economy: 26 mpg Combined (24/30 city/highway)
Five-year cost-of-ownership savings versus non-hybrid: $2,611

The Audi Q5 Hybrid might be hard to find at U.S. dealerships, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth considering—especially when, as we see here, the numbers work out very favorably. While those few who have driven the Q5 Hybrid have found it to be relatively responsive and pleasant, it seems to have gotten lost in Audi’s lineup amidst the relentless push toward TDI diesel models as the ‘green’ choice.

 

2014 Acura ILX

2014 Acura ILX

Acura ILX Hybrid
EPA fuel economy: 38 mpg Combined (39/38 city/highway)
Five-year cost-of-ownership savings versus non-hybrid: $1,613

Acura has discontinued the ILX Hybrid for 2015, yet in many respects it was the model from that lineup that made the most sense—if you understood the tradeoffs. Around town, it’s a pleasant-driving, upscale small sedan that will earn you better city mileage, and save on your fuel budget, without having to think too much about it. However, if you do mostly highway driving, the Hybrid isn’t as pleasant-driving...and won’t boost your mileage significantly enough to pay off.

2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
EPA fuel economy: 38 mpg Combined (36/40 city/highway)
Five-year cost-of-ownership savings versus non-hybrid: $1,379

Most of the Hyundai Sonata lineup is completely redesigned for 2015. But the Sonata Hybrid is the only model from the previous-generation Sonata lineup that continues, essentially unchanged, from the 2014 model year. Keep in mind that the cost-of-ownership savings seen here might not be quite as high—mainly because Hyundai has eked one or two additional miles per gallon out of the non-Hybrid models for 2015, and released a new Eco model that earns 32 mpg combined, for a significantly lower price than the Hybrid.

2015 Lexus ES 300h

2015 Lexus ES 300h

Lexus ES 300h
EPA fuel economy: 40 mpg Combined (40/39 city/highway)
Five-year cost-of-ownership savings versus non-hybrid: $1,179

The Lexus ES 300h is the way most comfort-minded ES shoppers should get this luxury sedan: in hybrid form. Don’t think you have to feel sluggish all the time, either; Lexus' Drive Select gets Eco and Power modes, so you have a choice in how the hybrid system responds, while there's even now an EV-only mode. And at a price that’s still well under $50,000, fully loaded, it stands as quite the counterpoint to some far more expensive ‘green luxury’ models.

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid

2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Toyota Camry Hybrid LE
EPA fuel economy: 41 mpg Combined (43/39 city/highway)
Five-year cost-of-ownership savings versus non-hybrid: $1,075

The Toyota Camry is the top-selling mid-size sedan in the American market; Toyota actually sells about 20 percent of them—that’s about 80,000 Camrys—with full hybrid powertrains. And with its combined gas mileage topping 40 mpg, the reputation of the Prius-proven Hybrid Synergy Drive, and its only modestly higher sticker price, it’s easy to see why. Seeing that the Camry’s ‘bold’ updates for 2015 were limited to pretty much everything but powertrains, the cost-of-ownership savings you see here (applying to the already finessed ‘2014.5’ models) should mostly carry over.

2014 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid - Driven, August 2014

2014 Infiniti QX60 Hybrid - Driven, August 2014

Infiniti QX60 Hybrid
EPA fuel economy: 26 mpg Combined (25/28 city/highway)
Five-year cost-of-ownership savings versus non-hybrid: $191

The QX60 Hybrid arrived on the market this past year, and clutches a new thin-motor system in with Nissan Motor Company’s ubiquitous CVT setup. It calculates out to some cost-of-ownership savings; although after a couple of extended driving experiences, this one definitely hasn’t won us over. The standard QX60 is a great pick for families needing a third row, yet somehow, that model’s general confidence doesn’t translate over to this heavier, laggier vehicle.

One other word of caution: This system shies away from turning off the gasoline engine in colder weather, or when the air conditioning is on, so you won’t see nearly the payoff if you live in a more extreme climate.

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