Just in time for summer vacation, fuel prices have topped $4 a gallon in many places and by all accounts, are only heading higher.
The last time gas prices got this high proved to be the tipping point for the auto industry, driving families to start to take a serious look at the relatively unknown world of hybrids.
Toyota and Honda, who had been hybrid trailblazers for half a decade, saw sales of their fuel-sippers jump significantly, with other manufacturers quickly following their leads.
Today, families have a wide range of fuel-friendly vehicles to choose from, including plug-in hybrids, electric-only and compressed natural gas powered cars designed to limit or completely eliminate trips to the gas pump.
Here’s a quick look at some popular family-friendly fuel savers for 2011:
The Toyota Prius (50 mpg) is still the leader of the pack when it comes to hybrid technology. In addition to its upgraded third-generation design, which offers a solar roof to power the climate control system, Toyota is also rolling a plug-in Prius that supplements the electrical power with household electricity, allowing the vehicle to run in electric-only mode for the first few miles. And look for a Prius V wagon in the near future, giving families an additional 60 percent more cargo space than the current Prius.
Honda’s Insight (41 mpg) is designed with a similar egg-shape look of the Prius and is the most affordable hybrid on sale in the U.S., starting at $18,000. Honda’s undercover hybrid, the Civic hybrid (42 mpg) remains a premium family-friendly hybrid, adding even better fuel economy in 2011. Honda also offers the Civic GX, a natural gas compression vehicle that requires not a drop of gasoline and has zero emissions.
A newcomer to the hybrid market this year is the Hyundai Sonata hybrid, a sleek four-door that rates an average of 35-40 mpg. Ford offers a trio of new hybrids to supplement its small SUV Escape hybrid model (32 mpg): the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ hybrids all achieve mileage of 41 mpg in city driving, 36 mpg on the highway.
Speaking of SUVs, the Toyota Highlander (28 mpg) is the only hybrid offering third row seats, and the Lexus RX450h provides luxury living while topping 32 mpg it city driving.
Rather not stop for gas? Look at the just released Nissan Leaf, and all-electric, pod-like vehicle that will take you up to 100 miles before needing to plug into a standard household outlet to recharge. Also new to the market is the Chevrolet Volt (93 mpg), a plug-in hybrid that promises extended range driving on electric and gasoline power.
So don’t let high pump prices foil your vacation fun. There are plenty of family friendly fuel sippers to keep your wagons rolling this summer.
Veteran automotive journalist Keith Turner is the founder of TheFamilyCar.com and GreenFamilyCar.com, providing auto news and reviews for families. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This column was originally published in Parent’s Resource Guide of Northern Gold Country www.sierrasourcemedia.com.
Top 10 Family Friendly Hybrids
Make / Model Combined MPG MSRP (base price)
Toyota Prius 50 mpg $22,800
Honda Civic hybrid 42 mpg $24,000
Honda Insight 41 mpg $18,200
Ford Fusion* 39 mpg $28,800 / $34,300
Lincoln MKZ hybrid*
Hyundai Sonata hybrid 35-40 mpg $25,800
Nissan Altima hybrid 34 mpg $26,800
Toyota Camry hybrid 33 mpg $26,600
Ford Escape hybrid 32 mpg $30,000
Toyota Highlander hybrid 28 mpg $37,300
Lexus RX450h hybrid 32 mpg $42,700
* Same car, different designs