A few years ago, the popular British car program Top Gear performed a very peculiar road test. 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 a social engagement.
All of a sudden, all this much up-talked fuel-sipping becomes an all-out guzzle in an underpowered 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 to consistently perform up to the advertised mpg numbers. Consider that even at peak fuel efficiency, an average hybrid 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.
Yes, an extra $300 every year sounds great, but remember how much you paid for that hybrid 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 diesels from BMW, Audi and Volkswagen are some of the most fuel-efficient engines out there right now, at any driving style.