Hybrid drive systems in modern cars store what would otherwise be wasted kinetic energy from braking, making it available to supplement the work of the gasoline engine. These hybrid cars get much better fuel economy than their gasoline-only equivalents, and, due to regenerative braking, reduce brake pad wear. Although the Prius is the hybrid poster car, many other types of hybrid cars exist today, meeting the American buyers' variety of needs.
Here are five of the latest hybrids hitting the market.
2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid
The newest hybrid hitting the U.S. market is based on one of Ford's European models. The C-Max Hybrid is kind of like a tall, fat hatchback. It uses a similar hybrid system to what Ford will be offering in its upcoming Fusion Hybrid. As such, the electric motor can drive the car for short distances, letting the gas engine remain off. This operation is a boon in heavy traffic. Read the full review.
EPA rating: 47 mpg city/47 mpg highway
Acura's newest model, the ILX, comes in both gasoline-only and hybrid models. Based on the Civic, the ILX Hybrid gets its own body style and the premium elements in the cabin you would expect from Acura. As it uses the same hybrid system as found in the Civic Hybrid, the car uses a lithium ion battery pack for electricity storage. However, this system does not allow the electric motor to drive the car by itself, instead assisting the gas engine with acceleration.
EPA rating: 39 mpg city/38 mpg highway
The Prius has been such a big success for Toyota that the company decided to branch out the brand, offering new models under the Prius name to accommodate the different needs of buyers. The Prius C is the mini version of this hybrid poster child, a hatchback with diminutive proportions making it sized for the city. It uses a downsized version of the Prius' hybrid drive system, which loses nothing in capability. Like the Prius, the Prius C can drive for short distances under electric power.
EPA rating: 53 mpg city/46 mpg highway
Lexus, Toyota's luxury brand, has been offering its own hybrid vehicles for years, giving buyers who want a car with nicer appointments than the Prius an option. The CT 200h is one of the more recent hybrid entrants to the Lexus model line. This hatchback has no gasoline-only equivalent and cuts a stylish figure. It uses the same hybrid power train as the Prius', which makes it big on fuel economy, although a little short on power.
EPA rating: 43 mpg city/40 mpg highway
GM's hybrid efforts over the last decade have not been all that successful, but with the Buick LaCrosse it looks like the company has found the right formula. The new LaCrosse is a premium sedan with cabin appointments close to that of a Lexus, and it comes standard with GM's mild hybrid system. This system consists of a modern, direct injection engine aided by an electric motor. The motor does not drive the wheels of its own accord, but adds to acceleration and enables the engine to shut down at traffic stops.
EPA rating: 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway