Over the past year, Toyota's robust sales have made it a contender for the title of world's largest automaker, and in the process the Japan-based company has also become the leader in gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle sales. With hybrid versions of passenger cars, SUVs and luxury cars, Toyota's dominance is evident on MSN Autos' list of top 10 hybrids in the third quarter of 2008.

Hybrid vehicles in this list combine a gasoline engine and an electric motor to improve fuel economy, reduce emissions and, depending on the system, increase performance.

Led by the best-selling Prius in first place, five of the 10 spots are held by Toyota-made hybrids, including two from Lexus — the RX 400h SUV and the luxurious LS 600h hybrid sedan.

Including the aforementioned Lexus RX, there are four SUVs on this list of hybrids, including the most popular hybrid SUV, the Ford Escape Hybrid. Taking the fourth spot on the list, the Escape Hybrid is currently the most fuel-efficient production SUV in America. The Escape’s sibling — the Mercury Mariner Hybrid — was the eighth most popular hybrid on MSN.

With the discontinuation of the Accord Hybrid, Honda offers one hybrid model — the Civic Hybrid. For this quarter the Civic Hybrid placed second, just behind the Toyota Prius.

Chevrolet’s first hybrid sedan — the Malibu Hybrid — takes the ninth position on the list.

View Pictures:  Popular Hybrids

The list of the top 10 hybrid vehicles on MSN Autos is based on total visits to the site's vehicle research pages during the third quarter of 2008. Here is the complete list:

1. Toyota Prius

The Prius was the first mass-produced gasoline-electric hybrid when it went on sale in Japan in 1997. Since that time the Prius has become the best-selling hybrid vehicle in the U.S. and the world. The current-generation Prius debuted in the fall of 2003 as the first Toyota product to use Hybrid Synergy Drive, Toyota’s third-generation gas-electric hybrid powertrain technology. Classified by the EPA as the most fuel-efficient car in America, the 2008 Prius is rated at 48/45 (city/hwy) mpg.

2. Honda Civic Hybrid

Click to enlarge pictureHonda Civic Hybrid (© American Honda Motor Co., Inc.)

Honda Civic Hybrid

When it comes to looks, there isn't much of a difference between the Civic Hybrid and the regular Civic sedan. Aside from the shiny chrome-looking bar on the grille of the Civic, round dish-like wheels on the Civic Hybrid and hybrid badging, the two look almost identical. Where the Civic Hybrid shines is in fuel economy, with the 1.3-liter i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine teamed with a 20-horsepower electric motor to provide a combined 110 horsepower. With an EPA rating of 40/45 mpg, the Civic Hybrid is one of the most fuel-efficient cars in America.

Compare pricing and features: Civic Hybrid vs. Civic

3. Toyota Camry Hybrid

Click to enlarge pictureToyota Camry Hybrid

Toyota Camry Hybrid

One of the most popular family cars on the road today, the Camry was given a hybrid powertrain for the 2007 model year. It looks and drives like the gas-powered version and fits just as many passengers. The main difference is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine combined with a 105-kilowatt electric power system to give the Camry Hybrid a total of 187 horsepower. EPA fuel economy estimates for 2008 are 33/34 mpg, which gives the midsize sedan a range of nearly 600 miles. Consumers may also find the hybrid to be quieter than the standard Camry — it is equipped with a special acoustic-dampening windshield to absorb road noise.

Compare pricing and features: Camry Hybrid vs. Camry

4. Ford Escape Hybrid

Click to enlarge pictureFord Escape Hybrid

Ford Escape Hybrid

To give it more of a "Ford Tough" appearance, both the Escape and Escape Hybrid were redesigned with a more rugged look for 2008 to closely resemble the Ford Explorer and Expedition SUVs. Still considered a crossover, the Escape Hybrid is available in front- or four-wheel drive. The 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine is carried over from the previous generation, but the software control system has been improved for a better transition between gasoline and electric operation. A number of updates have been made to reduce noise, vibration and harshness levels for the interior. The Escape Hybrid is the most fuel-efficient SUV on the market today, with a rating of 31/34 mpg (front-wheel drive).

Compare pricing and features: Escape Hybrid vs. Escape

5. Nissan Altima Hybrid

Click to enlarge pictureNissan Altima Hybrid (© Nissan North America)

Nissan Altima Hybrid

The Nissan Altima has been quite a success since it replaced the Stanza about 15 years ago. With the rising popularity and demand for gas-electric hybrids, it was only a matter of time before one joined the Altima lineup. The Altima Hybrid became available in 2007, but for only eight states: California, New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Oregon, Rhode Island, Maine, and New Jersey. The Nissan Altima Hybrid is geared for performance, but still gets respectable fuel economy at 35/33 mpg.

Compare pricing and features: Altima Hybrid vs. Altima

What will prompt you to buy or at least consider buying a hybrid vehicle?