A few years ago, the popular British car program Top Gear performed a very peculiar road test with a hybrid car. They pitted a Hybrid-powered Toyota Prius against a V8-Powered 414-Horsepower BMW M3. The test was simple: the Prius had to drive as fast as possible around their signature race track, and the M3 had to follow. The result was of the test was astonishing: The Prius, a king of fuel-efficiency and environmental friendliness turned in a figure of 17 mpg, while the race-bred, over-powered BMW delivered 19 mpg.
That’s impossible, you say. What about the 45-50 mpg numbers attached to hybrid vehicles? Those numbers can’t be that far off! They aren’t, but these numbers are derived from measured, calm driving on surface roads and the highways — this is simply not the way we drive. Most of the time, we are mashing the gas pedal trying to make a yellow light because we are late for work, school, soccer practice or social engagement.
All of a sudden, all this much up-talked fuel-sipping becomes an all-out guzzle in a car with a tiny engine struggling to keep up with our stop-and-go driving.
But let’s assume that you live in an area without traffic, and your time management is impeccable at all times. Let’s assume that you are not one of those lead-footed pedal-mashers, and you can actually get your hybrid vehicle to consistently perform up to the advertised mpg numbers. Consider that even at peak fuel efficiency, an average hybrid car will only get 10-15 more mpg than a similarly-sized non-hybrid vehicle. If you are driving an average of 15,000 miles a year, you will likely see savings of roughly $300 a year.
Is it worth it?
Yes, an extra $300 every year sounds great, but remember how much you paid for that hybrid car in the first place? On average, hybrid models cost $3-4,000 more than their non-hybrid equivalents. Additionally, a hybrid’s power plant is more complex than an all-gasoline one, so maintenance and repair costs over the life of the automobile could potentially sting. At an extra $300 per year, it would take 10 years or more for the hybrid’s efficiency to pay for itself.
If you are looking for a hip automobile that will score points with the environmentalist crowd, grab a hybrid. If you are looking for a fuel-efficient automobile, buy a BMW M3… Just kidding, but the reality is, advanced diesel from BMW, Audi, and Volkswagen are some of the most fuel-efficient engines out there right now, at any driving style.
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