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Are Hybrids Right For You? Part Deux

Hybrid Part Deux

Last month we asked the question: Is a hybrid right for you? The answer to that question was conditional. If your primary concern is the sociopolitical goal of using less fuel regardless of cost, you have the thumbs up. If saving money was your issue, we had to apply a comparative formula of initial purchase premium versus annualized fuel savings to determine the break even point. Simply stated, we had to do the math. Eyes became glazed over. No one wants to do the math.

The federal government to the rescue! FuelEconomy.gov has added a very handy hybrid/non-hybrid comparison tool that allows the consumer to easily compare the overall cost of a hybrid with its non-hybrid equivalent. One key factor is that they have pre-selected the non-hybrid model that most closely matches the equipment level of the hybrid version. Apples-to-apples. They even chose models equivalent to dedicated hybrids that have no non-hybrid version, such as the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight, so no need to flounder about spec sheets and equipment lists trying to find a match.

And just like on the rest of the site, you can adjust variables such as annual miles, ratio of city to highway driving, and fuel price per gallon. The final result clearly shows you Years to Payback. While the majority of the pairings show results similar to the 5+ years break even point we illustrated for the base Toyota Camry hybrid, there are some much quicker paybacks to be had, including two cars with zero payback time! 

There are 18 vehicle pairings available for comparison on the site. Let’s take a look at some highlights.

First of all, let’s give the Camry its due. While the LE model level has one of the longest payback times at 5.5 years, if you move up the standard equipment ladder to the XLE version, that break even point drops all the way to 2.7 years, good enough for sixth-best on the list. Even if you only plan to keep it for 5 years, you’ll enjoy over 2 years of gravy.

Joining the 2012 Camry XLE Hybrid in the 2+ years payback category are the 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco with a 2.2 year break even point, and two versions of the 2012 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid: the 2WD (2.3 years) and the 4WD (2.1 years).

However, our big winners in the hybrid payback race are the 2012 Buick LaCrosse eAssist, and the 2012 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. Both of these models can be had for the exact same price as the non-hybrid versions, so the payback time is exactly zero. Zilch. Nada. You start putting those fuel savings right back into your pocket with the first fill-up. 

And those savings are not insignificant. The LaCrosse eAssist is a so-called mild hybrid, so the savings aren’t as hefty as some others, but it’s still $755 per year. Over five years, you’ll tally $3775. Anyone turning up their nose at that? I think not.

For the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, annual savings are a whopping $1230; best on the list. And you are paying exactly nothing extra for the privilege of fattening your wallet like it’s a premium goose liver. Over five years you’re bankrolling a luxurious $6130. That’s a whole lot of foie gras. You can get a pretty decent used car for your teenager with all that bonus dough. Or a nice vacation or two. If six large doesn’t get your attention, I don’t know what will.

Okay, one small caveat with the Buick and Lincoln: The non-hybrid comparison vehicles have 6-cylinder engines versus 4-cylinders for the hybrids, so there is going to be a more significant performance difference with these pairings in relation to the others on the list. As those companion vehicles pull away from you at the stop light, you can comfort yourself with all that extra cash.

To see all 18 comparisons in a convenient grid, click here. For more research tools to help you make your hybrid buying decision, visit the AutoBuying101.com Research Autos section.