The Hybrids You Can Buy for Less (or the Same) Than Their Gas Models

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Here's a look a five hybrid cars that can put more "green" not only on the road but in your wallet, as they cost the same or less than their gas-powered counterparts.

"These cars are really good deals for consumers because they offer the benefits that come with owning hybrids without the premium price," says Warren Clarke of Edmunds.com, which recently compared all 2013 hybrids' prices to those of comparable gas-powered models.

Hybrids — which run on a combination of gasoline and battery-electric power — offer better fuel efficiency than all-gasoline vehicles, but typically cost around $5,000 or $6,000 more than comparable gas-only cars.

Clarke says that's mostly because hybrid technology hasn't achieved enough adoption among automakers to create the same economies of scale that gas-powered cars offer. Hybrids also require expensive battery packs that boost vehicles' sticker prices.

Still, Edmunds' research uncovered a handful of hybrids that actually cost the same or less than the equivalent all-gas models do.

Clarke speculates that some auto companies have decided to sell certain hybrids at cut-rate prices for business reasons.

"I think it's a marketing decision on the part of some of the manufacturers," he says. "They're willing or able to offer consumers hybrids at low prices, which is good news for consumers."

The expert believes consumers should almost always buy a car's hybrid version when it costs the same or less than the gasoline edition, unless buyers have their hearts set on certain gas-only vehicles that have significantly higher horsepower.

"If you're a consumer who really wants the most-powerful model available, the gas version of a car will probably suit you best," Clarke says. "Otherwise, a hybrid is definitely the way to go."

Click below to check out the five vehicles Edmunds found go for the same price or less than their all-gas equivalents, listed in order of percentage savings.

All dollar figures refer to manufacturer's suggested retail prices for 2013 base versions of each hybrid and its gasoline-powered equivalent. For hybrids that don't have exact gas-only counterparts, Edmunds compared each model with the most-similar all-gas vehicle from the same brand.

Buick LaCrosse Hybrid (Base price: $31,660)
Gas equivalent:
Buick LaCrosse (Base price: $35,285)
Savings on a hybrid:
10.3%

The LaCrosse Hybrid costs 10.3% less than its gasoline-powered sibling, but delivers nearly 50% better fuel economy in city driving.

A so-called "mild hybrid" (a car whose gas engine shuts off when you're idling, then uses battery power to help accelerate from a dead stop), the LaCrosse gets an estimated 25 miles per gallon/city and 36 miles per gallon/highway. That's far above the 17 mpg/city and 27 mpg/highway that a gas-only, front-wheel-drive LaCrosse offers.

"The LaCrosse Hybrid gets better mileage but is significantly cheaper than the gas-only LaCrosse," Clarke says. "That's a very attractive combination."

On the downside, the LaCrosse Hybrid's four-cylinder gasoline engine and electric motor only put out 182 horsepower between them — far below the 303 horsepower that a gas-powered LaCrosse's six-cylinder engine cranks out. General Motors also made the LaCrosse's already smallish trunk even smaller in the hybrid version to accommodate the drivetrain's large battery pack.

Lexus CT 200h (Base price: $32,050)
Gas equivalent:
Lexus IS 250 (Base price: $35,065)
Savings on a hybrid: 8.6%

Even though the CT 200h lists for 8.6% less than its closest gas-powered cousin (the Lexus IS 250), the hybrid offers a stunning 43 mpg/city and 40 mpg/highway — the best fuel efficiency for any mainstream compact luxury car.

By contrast, a base IS 250 gets just 21 mpg/city and 30 mpg/highway.

The CT 200h, the least-expensive 2013 offered by the Lexus unit of Toyota, also offers good looks, a quality ride and lots of high-tech accoutrements. One standout feature is the car's Remote Touch controller, which allows you to run the CT 200h's audio, climate and other systems using a built-in PC-like mouse.

"The CT 200h is an attractive little hatchback and a really pleasant car to drive," Clarke says.

Buick Regal Hybrid (Base price: $29,015)
Gas equivalent:
Buick Regal (Base price: $30,635)
Savings on a hybrid:
5%

Buy a Buick Regal Hybrid and you'll save more than 5% on the MSRP while getting roughly a third better fuel economy than what a gas-powered Regal offers.

Another "mild hybrid," the Regal Hybrid scores an estimated 25 mpg/city and 36 mpg/highway. That's well above the 18 mpg/city and 29 mpg/highway you can expect from a gas-only Regal base model with automatic transmission.

The Regal Hybrid also comes with a long list of upscale standard features, from leather upholstery to heated front seats. "That's a good deal," Clarke says.

Mercedes-Benz S400 (Base price: $92,350)
Gas equivalent:
Mercedes-Benz S550 (Base price: $95,000)
Savings on a hybrid: 2.8%

Anyone spending more than $90,000 on a Mercedes S-Class car probably doesn't care that the S400 costs 2.8% less than its all-gas cousin the Mercedes S550, but buying the hybrid will help the environment as much as your pocketbook.

That's because S400 gets an estimated 19 mpg/city, or nearly a third better than the 15 mpg/city that you can expect with an S550. (Both models get a projected 25 mpg on the highway.)

And while the S400 lacks the S550's 429-horsepower V-8 engine, the hybrid does feature a V-6 engine and an electric motor that collectively generate a beefy 295 horsepower.

Ecofriendly consumers might also consider the Mercedes S350, whose 240-horsepower clean-diesel engine offers 21 mpg/city and 31 mpg/highway — the best efficiency of all for Mercedes S-Class models. The S350 does list for $650 more than the S400, but $2,000 less than the S550.

Lincoln MKZ Hybrid (Base price: $35,925)
Gas equivalent:
Lincoln MKZ (Base price: $35,925)
Savings on a hybrid:
None. Prices are the same.

The MKZ Hybrid from the Lincoln unit of Ford costs the same as a gas-powered MKZ, but gets more than twice as many miles per gallon in city driving and over a third as much on the highway.

Completely redesigned for 2013, the MKZ Hybrid boasts 45 mpg/city and 45 mpg/highway — way above the 22 mpg/city and 33 mpg/highway you'll get with a base gas-only MKZ.

The hybrid draws its power from a four-cylinder gas engine and an electric motor that put out 188 horsepower between them. Inside, the MKZ Hybrid comes standard with lots of luxury features, from leather seats to an 11-speaker stereo.

"The MKZ Hybrid is a very handsome car, and its fuel economy is very good," Clarke says.

— By Jerry Kronenberg

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