By Jacob Gordon of MSN Autos
Who knew gasoline and electricity could have so much fun together? Until recently, hybrids were boring, bare-bones transportation. Sure, they'd get you from point A to point B, but not in style or with any joie de vivre. But now that hybrid thinking has been embraced by nearly every automaker around the globe, the auto kingpins are competing for our hearts and dollars by offering inspiring eco-conscious autos, ones that are sporty, fun to drive and easier on Mother Earth. Here are our five favorites from this new breed of gas-electric vehicle.
Already venerated in the luxury class, the Porsche Panamera will soon be available in the U.S. as a hybrid, making it Porsche's second gas-electric model after the Cayenne. For a starting price of $95,000, you get a 3.0-liter V6 compressor engine paired with a powerful electric motor. The Panamera can run on electric-only mode for up to 1.24 miles at speeds of up to 52 mph. Although EPA figures are pending, Porsche says the hybrid Panamera will earn fuel economy in the low 40s, making it the most efficient Porsche in production.
The car evoking the most controversy in the hybrid world is the Chevrolet Volt. Critics argue that with a starting price of $40,280 it is an overpriced halfbreed — neither gas nor fully electric — while proponents hail it as a low-emissions breakthrough that can go the distance. More evolved than your typical hybrid, the Volt charges from a standard home outlet and can travel up to 40 miles on electric power alone. Ensuring you don't get stranded is a small gasoline engine that kicks in when the battery flags, extending the vehicle's range to 300 miles.
Built as a dedicated hybrid, Lexus' CT 200h has "European market" written all over it. But Americans may find themselves attracted to this stylish hatchback with its cushy amenities and excellent fuel economy. With a 1.8 liter 4-cylinder engine and Toyota's hybrid system, the 200h earns an EPA rating of 43 mpg city/40 mpg highway. What it lacks in performance — you won't be tearing up the twisties in this this ride — the 200h may make up for in price: Starting at $29,120, it is Lexus' most attainable model.
If you have $95,000 and want an eco-friendly car with world-class styling and room for four, the Fisker Karma might be your baby. After precipitous ups and downs, Fisker Automotive seems on track to start delivering its luxury plug-in hybrid by autumn 2011. The Karma can cover up to 50 miles in electric-only mode when charged from your home electrical outlet. Like the Volt, the Karma's gasoline engine is there to charge the lithium-ion battery when it wanes, not to actually power the car's wheels.
The success of the Prius has inspired Toyota to grow the family bloodline. Soon the Prius badge will be worn by at least two new models: a larger Prius V and a compact city model dubbed the Prius C. Toyota unveiled the concept for the smaller car at the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and says we'll likely see it in showrooms in the first half of 2012. No word yet on fuel economy, but Toyota claims it will get the highest mileage yet from a non-plug-in hybrid.
Jacob Gordon is a freelance writer, a blogger for TreeHugger.com and a producer of TreeHugger Radio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.