Hybrids help ease the pain of high fuel prices

By Keith Turner
Green Family Car

Spring has sprung and so have gasoline prices across the nation. Just in time for summer vacation, fuel prices have topped $4 a gallon and by all accounts, are heading higher before school gets out.

The last time gas prices got this high proved to be the tipping point for the auto industry, driving families to start to take a serious look at the relatively unknown world of hybrids.
Toyota and Honda, who had been hybrid trailblazers for half a decade, saw sales of their fuel-sippers jump significantly, with other manufacturers quickly following their leads.

Today, families have a wide range of fuel-friendly vehicles to choose from, including plug-in hybrids, electric-only and compressed natural gas powered cars designed to limit or completely eliminate trips to the gas pump.

Here’s a quick look at some popular family-friendly fuel savers for 2011:

The Toyota Prius (50 mpg) is still the leader of the pack when it comes to hybrid technology. In addition to its upgraded third-generation design, which offers a solar roof to power the climate control system, Toyota is also rolling out a plug-in Prius that supplements the electrical power with household electricity, allowing the vehicle to run in electric-only mode for the first few miles. And look for a Prius V wagon in the near future, giving families an additional 60 percent more cargo space than the current Prius.

Honda’s Insight (41 mpg) is designed with an egg-shaped look similar to the Prius and is the most affordable hybrid on sale in the U.S., starting at $18,000. Honda’s undercover hybrid, the Civic hybrid (42 mpg) remains a premium family-friendly hybrid, adding even better fuel economy in 2011. Honda also offers the Civic GX, a natural gas compression vehicle that requires not a drop of gasoline and has zero emissions.

A newcomer to the hybrid market this year is the Hyundai Sonata hybrid, a sleek four-door that rates an average of 40 mpg. Ford offers a trio of new hybrids to supplement its small SUV Escape hybrid model (32 mpg): the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ hybrids all achieve mileage of 41 mpg in city driving, 36 mpg on the highway.

Speaking of SUVs, the Toyota Highlander (28 mpg) is the only hybrid offering third row seats, and the Lexus RX450h provides luxury living while topping 32 mpg it city driving.

Rather not stop for gas? Look at the just released Nissan Leaf, and all-electric, pod-like vehicle that will take you up to 100 miles before needing to plug into a standard household outlet to recharge. Also
new to the market is the Chevrolet Volt (93 mpg), a plug-in hybrid that promises extended range driving on electric and gasoline power.

So don’t let high pump prices foil your vacation fun. There are plenty of family friendly fuel sippers to keep your wagons rolling this summer.

This column was originally published in Parent’s Resource Guide of Northern Gold Country http://www.sierrasourcemedia.com.


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