Among Hybrids, the Toyota Camry and Chevrolet Malibu Offer the Best
Overall Value - Car News
Surprise! Not all hybrid cars cut costs equally.
BY JAKE HOLMES
Car buyers hoping to economize by switching to a hybrid car will save
the most money if they buy a Toyota Camry hybrid, Chevrolet Malibu
hybrid or Nissan Altima hybrid, according to a study by
As gas prices continue to rise around the country, hybrid cars are
attracting more and more drivers who want to save money on fuel. But
many consumers looking to buy a more efficient car only compare the
EPA fuel economy and don’t factor in the increased price of the hybrid
model, according to Tara Baukus Mello, NADAguides.com lead market
Even though they use less fuel to go down the road, hybrid cars cost
more upfront and, depending on how many miles drivers cover, won’t
necessarily save money. Baukus Mello and NADAguides.com studied the
prices and potential fuel savings of hybrids on sale in the U.S. to
determine their break-even point—how far the cars must be driven
before savings in fuel costs outweigh the initial outlay for a hybrid.
The study used EPA combined fuel economy ratings for 2008 model year
hybrid cars and their gasoline-engine counterparts to evaluate fuel
savings. Coupled to the manufacturer suggested retail prices (minus
any tax breaks for hybrids) for each vehicle, NADAguides.com found
varied results. For gas prices, the study used the current cost of a
gallon in Los Angeles, $4.59. While that’s higher than the current
national average, it might not be too long before all of us are paying
The Toyota Camry, Chevrolet Malibu, Nissan Altima, Toyota Prius and
Honda Civic hybrids all offer enough fuel savings for drivers to
recoup their price premiums after fewer than 75,000 miles of driving—
or less than five years for an average driver. But even among these
five models are some surprises.
Hybrids such as the Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon take longer to break
even than the five cars listed above (about 75,000 miles), and are
thus not mentioned in detail below.
The Popular Kids are Costly
Since its introduction to the U.S. in 2000 as a 2001 model, the Toyota
Prius has been the volume leader with over half a million models sold
stateside. Discussion on fuel economy and high-mileage hybrid cars
always seems to center around the quirky Prius, yet it may not be the
best hybrid for buyers looking to minimize overall vehicle costs.
Even though it achieves a combined EPA rating of 46 mpg, the Prius
starts at $22,160—thousands more than a comparable Toyota Camry LE
rated at a combined 25 mpg. Baukus Mello’s study found that a driver
paying $4.59 per gallon for gasoline would need to drive 41,626 miles
before they saved money. That distance rises to over 47,000 miles for
buyers paying the current national average of $4.11 per gallon. For
most drivers, that’s three to four years of vehicle ownership before
the Prius delivers cost savings.
The Honda Civic hybrid delivers an even worse return on investment.
Though the hybrid Civic is far more fuel-efficient than its gasoline
brethren, a $4000 premium for the hybrid is hard to recoup—even when
factoring in a $525 tax break. At $4.59 a gallon, buyers need to
accumulate 57,216 miles in order to save money with a Civic hybrid
rather than an automatic LX model.
Still, Baukus Mello said she believes many consumers want to drive
hybrid cars regardless of overall cost savings. Though the highly-
praised Prius isn’t really going to save money for drivers, it might
fulfill a different need: ecological pride.
“You’re doing it because you have an interest in fuel economy,” Baukus