Yet another "What car should I buy?"
February 21, 2023 1:46 PM   Subscribe

I need to buy a new car, very soon, and would like to move into a hybrid vehicle for the better gas mileage and because It's the Right Thing to Do. But which car, and which type hybrid, to buy?

Most of my driving is local and no more than about 30 miles a day, but I'm also in the habit of taking road trips that may cover ~1000 miles spread over two days of driving. I'm not willing to eliminate the road trips, stretch them over multiple days to accommodate charging, or rent a car for that purpose, so I expect electric vehicles are not yet in the cards for me.

I have a garage with electrical outlets, so a plug-in hybrid is feasible. I'm not really concerned about getting the federal tax credit, and price isn't much of a consideration either. Size is, though. There's room in the garage for a small sedan (the size of a Honda Civic, say) but nothing much bigger. I'm not interested in a hatchback or a SUV, nor a used vehicle of any type.

So what should I be looking at? What are the relative merits of a plug-in versus a true hybrid?
posted by DrGail to Travel & Transportation (27 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I really like my Prius Prime, a plug-in hybrid. It gets 25 miles to a charge (less in cold weather), and 55mpg on gas, so with my commute I'm averaging 75mpg. Mine is 5 years old, nearing 100K miles and I've had no problems. I do suppose it counts as a hatchback, though.
posted by underthehat at 1:56 PM on February 21, 2023 [2 favorites]

Everyone I know who owns a Prius loves it.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:03 PM on February 21, 2023 [3 favorites]

Only sedans, and only compact ones? Your options will frankly be quite limited.

I'd probably focus most on the Corolla Hybrid, which I've heard good things about (my personal preference would be for a Prius over a Corolla any day, but that's a hatchback). Hyundai makes an Elantra Hybrid, which is worth a look - I don't know much about it. Both of these are relatively inexpensive options.

If you're willing to spend substantially more for something more luxurious and sportier, there's a plug-in hybrid version of the BMW 3-series sedan that is quite compact.
posted by kickingtheground at 2:03 PM on February 21, 2023

Prius PHEV,
Hyundai Ioniq 6 will be a PHEV sedan,
Volvo s60 recharge
BMW 330e should be a small sedan.

I have a PHEV - I wish the hybrid battery was a bit bigger/longer (it's ~15 miles), but most days it does my commute on battery only. Battery driving is sweet! We also drive cross country regularly these days, so it's nice to have a gas engine as secondary.
posted by Dashy at 2:32 PM on February 21, 2023

Happy Prius owner. I like car camping. My Prius is easy for me to stretch out in with passenger seats folded down; taller people make different adjustments. You can leave the Prius On and run ventilation all night; the gas engine will come on occasionally to recharge the hybrid storage battery. It's like having a very tiny camper. The Prius is comfortable, pleasant to drive, reliable.
posted by theora55 at 2:40 PM on February 21, 2023 [1 favorite]

The Prius is out, people. No hatchbacks! I've heard great things about the Corolla, and Toyota has proven themselves to be really good at hybrids.
posted by rikschell at 3:01 PM on February 21, 2023 [1 favorite]

If the sedan style is the number one priority, consider the upcoming Hyundai ioniq 6 or a Polestar. Both all battery sedans.
posted by nothing.especially.clever at 3:17 PM on February 21, 2023

I'm considering getting the Bolt. Yes, it's a hatchback. Like the Prius, the folks I know that have one love it, and someone smarter than me just got their second one. Until I put myself inside one of the new ones and gave it a go around the block a bolt was NOT on my list.

It's fun. Like how my first Civic was. Cheerful even. I was charmed by it.
posted by zenon at 3:36 PM on February 21, 2023

Just out of curiosity, DrGail, why are you not interested in a hatchback? The Prius absolutely fits your described need, save that it's a hatchback. A little context might be helpful so we can recommend other cars.
posted by pdb at 3:51 PM on February 21, 2023 [1 favorite]

Bear in mind that if you want a hybrid soon, “soon” is currently about 12 months at most dealers. If you’re desperate and don’t go the used route, there are stories of people hunting around and finding things on the lot of dealers in some out of the way places.
posted by cardboard at 4:07 PM on February 21, 2023

Response by poster: Mr. DrGail is adamantly opposed to a hatchback for Reasons, and I’ve never really liked them either. I know it’s quirky, but a hatchback is a deal-breaker for us.
posted by DrGail at 4:08 PM on February 21, 2023

I encourage you to measure your garage and research the dimensions of the vehicles available. You are probably a good candidate for a PHEV, but the sedans tend to be 1-2 feet longer than their hatchback counterparts.
posted by credulous at 5:11 PM on February 21, 2023

I don’t think there is a single non-suv, non-hatchback PHEV. I think the only compact hybrid that is an option is the Corolla Hybrid. Prius drivetrain, but a Corolla sedan.
posted by rockindata at 5:36 PM on February 21, 2023 [1 favorite]

One of the reasons the Prius gets such good gas mileage is because of its teardrop silhouette (therefore a hatchback) is "slipperier". If there are concerns about headroom, both of my six foot tall sons are very happy in the rear seat. Understood that this is a dealbreaker, but it severely limits your choices.
posted by lhauser at 5:38 PM on February 21, 2023 [3 favorites]

Unfortunately, the sedan PHEV hybrid options are currently at a "none." I believe the Hyndai Ioniq's multiple iterations are all liftback designs, a hatchback variation much like the current Prius. And the sedan hybrid options aren't much more numerous; SUVs and crossovers are the favored body style in the US, hence the slim pickings. Your options are the Toyota Corolla Hybrid, the Hyundai Elantra Hybrid and - if you are willing to wait and see - the planned Honda Civic Hybrid. If buying pre-owned isn't a hard "no" for you, the most recent years of the Honda Insight are essentially the Honda Civic Hybrid without the name.

I think the Toyota Corolla Hybrid will be your best option. My answer is biased, of course, since I'm the new owner of a Toyota Corolla Hybrid as of last week, Like you, I needed to buy a new car, wanted to buy a hybrid because it felt like the right thing to do, but had questions about PHEV hybrid vs gas-only hybrid, sedan vs hatchback vs SUV. I ultimately decided the Toyota Corolla Hybrid was the best fit for me in this market and for my needs.

Expect having to search in a wider radius near home than expected if you need a car now and/or purchase at above MSRP. If you have time, put yourself on a wait list at a Toyota dealership that sells at MSRP; I did this, they informed me to expect a wait time between 2 - 6 months, and I received my car 6 weeks after putting myself on the wait list.
posted by Thirty7Degrees at 6:05 PM on February 21, 2023 [1 favorite]

At least in the midwest US the supply of any kind of hybrid is .. bad. Whatever you're planning to buy, whatever your timeline, and even though it'll suck, I recommend talking to the dealer sooner rather than later.

We were planning a car buy sometime in the next year or two when our 2004 Subaru's head gasket failed in early December, so we were suddenly in a big hurry. Which was incompatible with the 6-month-probably-but-can't-promise-anything wait times for any Toyota hybrid. We ended up with a non-hybrid Honda instead, and we only had a 6-week wait because they had ONE car we'd consider that was scheduled in under 3 months that met our other requirements once we'd given up on a hybrid. (and high prices and higher interest rates on used cars meant they weren't any cheaper to own!)

Since you have some pretty specific wants as well, I fear you may end up in the same boat.
posted by the antecedent of that pronoun at 6:06 PM on February 21, 2023

There's the Hybrid Honda Accord in a variety of trims which ticks your "hybrid" and "sedan" boxes. but maybe it's too big for your garage?
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 6:44 PM on February 21, 2023 [1 favorite]

As others have noted, the vehicle with the specifications you are looking for simply does not exist. Once upon a time, Ford had a phev version of the Fusion. I have one. It is not small. It is the largest vehicle I own by a good margin in every dimension.

Most of the offerings on the market that may be smaller are all hatchbacks and SUVs. Even then, none are Honda Civic in size.

If you go pure electric then you may have some options. The Tesla Model 3 may work. (Trigger warning: Elon). Long distance road trips may not be an issue depending on where you go. Middle of nowhere Utah or Montana? Not really going to happen. Populated areas or along the interstate? Not a problem. Punch in your past trips and potential vehicle into to see how you would do from a charging time perspective.
posted by SegFaultCoreDump at 6:56 PM on February 21, 2023

My dad drives a hybrid Malibu that he is very very happy with, but I have no idea how it compares in size to a Civic.
posted by joycehealy at 7:10 PM on February 21, 2023

Honda Accord Hybrid is probably too big, but it's a really good value, imo and gets great gas mileage. If you can find one (I think they stopped making them last year) the Honda Insight Hybrid gets like 50 MPG and is about the size of a Civic and has the looks (sorta) of a Honda Accord.
posted by flamk at 8:46 PM on February 21, 2023 [1 favorite]

You might have already considered this, but a PHEV will suffer a loss of efficiency on long road trips if you're unwilling/unable to find a non-level-3 charger and if you're unwilling/unable to wait around while your car slowly recharges. Honestly I'd probably just stick with a regular (and cheaper!) hybrid until long-range electrics get cheaper or fast charging gets significantly more ubiquitous.
posted by flamk at 9:06 PM on February 21, 2023

Sending more love for hybrid hatchbacks -- Toyota RAV4 (ours) and Prius (youngest daughter).
In both cases the back seats stay flat the majority of the time (split seats) to make room for projects. Occasionally the supplies are stored from the space between the front seats to the back door.
Therefore the hatchback is greatly appreciated.
posted by TrishaU at 10:29 PM on February 21, 2023

I know someone who was very unhappy with their plug-in hybrid, which they bought partially at my suggestion. The small battery degraded quite rapidly in a few years, making the plug-in exercise moot. They also paid a rather high premium for the plug-in capability.
posted by meowzilla at 11:55 PM on February 21, 2023 [1 favorite]

I believe thay both Ford and Chevy sold hybrid ed versions of their small suvs in the past, but don't now. You might do better on the used car market than the new car market.
posted by SemiSalt at 6:02 AM on February 22, 2023

We have a 2021 Honda Insight and have been very happy with it. I also did not want a hatchback (they seem like a great way to get stuff stolen from your car, but obviously not everyone lives somewhere that has that issue) and have a small garage, and this car has been great for us. We've had it for 2.5 years with no problems at all and it gets particularly good mileage on those big ol' suburban roads where the speed limit is ~50mph, if that's a kind of driving you do. We spent five months in the Palm Springs metro and were averaging truly 65 mpg.

The Insight is done now (rip) but if you can find a lightly used one it's great. Or you can wait for the Civic Hybrid, which it sounds like will be functionally the same car.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 6:37 AM on February 22, 2023 [1 favorite]

Stern scowl at those saying that PHEV sedans or small SUVs don't exist.

From a list I use for EV outreach, in order by price:
- Ford Escape PHEV $35.5k $28.0k popular compact SUV
- Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid $40.0k $32.5k impressive minivan
- BMW 330e $44.6k $37.1k smaller luxury sedan, AWD opt
- Mini Countryman PHEV $41.5k n/a small SUV, AWD standard
- BMW X3 30e $49.6k n/a smaller SUV, AWD standard
- Audi Q5 PHEV $55-65 $48-58k mid-size luxury SUV
- Volvo S/XC 60/90 $48-65 (1/4) 4 PHEV models; tax credit to S60 only

(copy pasted from a table in a PDF; first $number is MSRP, second $number is cost after tax credit)

I left out a couple hatchback models per the OP, and I left out the Toyota RAV4 because, when it comes to EVs, that company is evil.
posted by intermod at 6:39 PM on February 23, 2023

The OP also specified no SUVs, so that winnows that list down to the 330e and the S60/90, both of which are a fair bit larger than a Civic. There's a Jetta Hybrid (as I read the OP's question, they are open to both hybrids and PHEVs.)
posted by Larry David Syndrome at 8:22 PM on February 23, 2023

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