The Bottom Line: $61,110
Fuel Economy: 20 city/24 highway
There's a lot of Audi in this hybrid SUV, including the three-liter, 333-horsepower supercharged V6 from the S4 sedan. In the Touareg, it's paired to a 47-horsepower electric motor for a whopping 380 horsepower. So this is another big and expensive European hybrid that emphasizes performance over fuel economy. But it's definitely a road rocket. According to CNET, "With the transmission in Sport mode and a lead foot on the gas pedal, every bit of that power is felt as the Touareg rockets forward." A Prius won't do that, but a Prius will also deliver a combined fuel economy of 50 mpg.
The Bottom Line: $38,140
Fuel Economy: 28 city/28 highway
Redesigned for 2011, the new Highlander Hybrid offers more power (280 horsepower vs. 270 in the outgoing model) and four-wheel-drive on all versions. Those changes don't hurt fuel economy; in fact, the new version bests the previous version by a couple mpg. The Highlander Hybrid isn't a cheap choice, but it offers SUV utility with compact fuel economy.
2012 Ford Escape Hybrid
The Bottom Line: $32,320
Fuel Economy: 34 city/31 highway
The Escape was the first hybrid SUV from an American manufacturer (introduced in 2004), and it remains an excellent choice if you want the most fuel efficient SUV on the market. The Escape combines a 2.5-liter four with two electric motors and an electronically controlled CVT transmission that acts like an automatic. The Mazda Tribute Hybrid is based on the Escape.
The Bottom Line: $67,700
Fuel Economy: 20 city/24 highway
At this price, and with the Porsche name emblazoned on its hood, the Cayenne Hybrid should be great fun to drive. But Automobile magazine complains that the 380-horsepower 2012 model "suffers from the same leaden feeling that plagued the previous car." Controls are heavy, though off-the-line acceleration is predictably rapid. The cabin is richly appointed, as you might expect — think of this as a Range Rover for people with a green conscience.
2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid
The Bottom Line: $95,000
Fuel Economy: 18 city/27 highway
Here's the Porsche that sips fuel (on the highway at least) like a Honda. The drivetrain is the same as in the Cayenne, but the Panamera offers nimble handling to go along with the great straight-line acceleration. With four doors, this is probably the most practical Porsche, though not everyone likes the exterior styling.
2012 Lexus CT 200h
The Bottom Line: $29,120
Fuel Economy: 43 city/40 highway
Americans have really taken to this sexy entry-level hatchback. It's a have-your-cake-and-eat-it car, because it's relatively affordable, offers European-inspired flair and drivability, Lexus luxury, and great mileage, too. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) helps with fuel economy, but it's one reason the 200h's acceleration (almost 10 seconds to 60 mph) isn't better.
2012 Lexus GS 450h
The Bottom Line: $58,950
Fuel Economy: 22 city/25 highway
This is a luxury sports sedan, using V-6 hybrid drive to deliver power comparable to the V-8-equipped GS 460. The tradeoff is non-exceptional fuel economy. The GS 450h is very expensive, but it does come loaded.
2012 Lexus HS 250h
The Bottom Line: $36,330
Fuel Economy: 35 city/34 highway
This is the mid-pack Lexus hybrid sedan, and its fuel economy suffers only in comparison to stablemates like the Prius. But the tradeoff is a twin-cam four-valves-per-cylinder engine that makes 187 horsepower when the hybrid drive motor is factored in. You can select between "Normal," "Power," "Eco" and "EV" modes that changes performance characteristics. "Eco" gives a short drive on batteries alone. But floor this car and 60 mph comes up in 8.4 seconds. Some reviewers complain that the back seat is too small, and the interface controls too complex.
The Bottom Line: $91,000
Fuel Economy: 19 city/26 highway
Mercedes' big hybrid is very similar in conception to BMW's ActiveHybrid 7, though the BMW trumps it when it comes to off-the-line performance. It's based on Benz' top-of-the-line model, and luxury dominates. Mercedes has said that it may eventually offer its S-Class cars as hybrids only, which would be an industry first.
The Bottom Line: $55,790 (2011)
Fuel Economy: 16 city/20 highway
The M-Class is all new for 2012, and that includes the ML450 Hybrid, with details forthcoming. A diesel version of the hybrid car is reportedly under consideration. In the 2011 model, a 3.5-liter V6 joined with a pair of electric motors and a continuously variable transmission to deliver an impressive 335 horsepower — and a zero to 60 time of 7.8 seconds. But with all that power in a heavy vehicle, fuel economy suffered.
2012 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
The Bottom Line: $34,645
Fuel Economy: 41 city/36 highway
The Lincoln adds a dollop of sophistication and luxury to the Ford Fusion package, with identical fuel economy. U.S. News and World Report praised the "library-like ambience" of its upscale interior, and the software was tweaked for some performance enhancements. It's your move if that's worth an extra $6,000.
The Bottom Line: $97,000 to $101,000 (estimated)
Fuel Economy: 17 city/24 highway
The ActiveHybrid 7 claims to be the fastest hybrid on the market, and that's not likely to change even as the Fisker Karma plug-in hybrid enters the market. The Karma takes 5.8 seconds to get to 60, and the BMW just 4.7. In a recent test drive, it took off like a rocket. But the Karma also gets a claimed 69 mpg, while the ActiveHybrid is stuck in big SUV territory. The cabin in this car is the last word in luxury appointments, including rear seat video — but BMW's iDrive controls have always been a challenge for American drivers. The price will be a barrier to all but the most well-heeled conservationists.
There is also a hybrid version of the big X6 crossover vehicle, incorporating a 4.4-liter twin-turbo V8, and that one is pricey, too, at $89,775. Fuel economy suffers at 17 mpg city/19 highway.
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The point of owning a hybrid is to get good gas mileage. I look at most of the mpgs in this article and think, "These things get so-so mileage and cost how much?" If this is considered good for these cars, I shudder to think what their all-gasoline versions get! They must be worse than I'd originally thought. Wish they sold diesels in the US.
That said, Toyota seems to be the best at getting some bang for your buck.