2009 Hybrids – a Brief Buying Guide

The calendar may continue to read 2008 for another six or seven weeks, but in the world of new cars, the models we're looking at are sporting the number 2009 – and even 2010 - in front of their names. While gas prices have decreased dramatically since the summer, fuel economy and the need to move away from a dependency on oil are still foremost in our brains. This, then, is a look at the Hybrids of 2009.

Introducing: Plug-In Hybrids

Plug-ins may not be practical for most of us, but if most of your driving needs involve short commutes on surface streets, or quick runs to the grocery store, they're worth considering. These companies are new, and their futures are still nebulous, but they're a fair representation of where such technology is heading.

Fisker Karma

Starting Price $80,000

With a top speed of 125 mph, and the ability to accelerate from 0-60 mph in under six seconds, this four-door plug-in isn't just a hybrid, but a premium sports sedan. The first Karmas are expected to be delivered in the fourth quarter of 2009.

Phoenix Motorcars SUT

Starting Price $45,000

This car has a bare-bones body (meaning engine-free) supplied by Korea's fourth-largest carmaker, Ssangyong, which is then fitted with a 100kW electric motor system, that includes generators, controllers, high-performance motors, and rechargeable batteries, to give us a truck that offers 120 horsepower, acceleration from 0-60 in under ten seconds, a top speed of 95mph, and a payload capacity of 1,000 pounds.


Price Not Yet Set

Considered a motorcycle under California law, this enclosed three-wheel vehicle won't see actual streets until early 2010, but it's so exciting, we had to include it. It's got room for two, gets 100 miles/gallon, and has a hybrid powertrain that is powerful enough to allow towing of a motorcycle trailer. Venture Vehicles, which makes the Venture One, says they plan to price it to be "comparable to a compact car."

Updated Versions of Familiar Faces

Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid

Starting Price $26,225

The engine has been improved on this version, so it actually gets 4mpg better than the standard-engine Malibu. (The previous model was only 2 mpg better than standard. This one clocks in at 26 city/34 highway. It also comes with many standard Chevy features, like six airbags, and the StabiliTrack electronic stability control system (which includes traction control).

Ford Escape Hybrid / Mercury Mariner Hybrid

Starting Price $29,305 / $22,310

These are built on the same platform, but with different branding and different features. The 2009 Ford gets a new 2.5-liter engine that increases horsepower from 155 to 177, and it also sports a braking system that's been refined to allow better traction and stability control, and also reduced noise and vibrations. It's also got a 110-volt AC Power outlet as a standard feature. The Mariner, on the other hand, now comes with the Sync voice-activated music and phone system as a standard offering.

Honda Civic Hybrid

Starting Price $23,550

All the Civics are a bit sportier for the 2009 model year, including the hybrid, which now has three upsized air intakes, and a more angular grille and front bumper. Inside, there are optional leather-trimmed seats (the front ones are even heated) and heated side mirrors, as well as a USB audio interface and a navigation system that supports Bluetooth. Estimated mpg: 45. In limited markets the Honda Civic GX, which runs on natural gas, is available as well.

Toyota Prius

Price Not Yet Listed

It won't even be unveiled until the Detroit Auto Show in January, but the initial news about the third-generation Prius is that it will be larger and more powerful, with a 1.8-liter, 160 horsepower engine, and a body that is three or four inches longer and an inch wider than the current version. Rumor also has it that despite the increased size, a re-engineered powertrain and a weight that matches the current model will allow fuel economy in excess of 50 mpg.

Upcoming Hybrid Models

In addition to the updated models listed above, you can also expect some new hybrids to roll off the conveyor belts in the near future. They include:

Chevrolet Silverado Two-Mode Hybrid

No Price Listed

Chevy says it's taken 90 years for them to develop this truck: a full-sized pickup that operates in two modes. Though production was supposed to begin late this year, market conditions may delay it a bit. Still, it will be worth the wait, because this truck can operate in all-electric mode, all-gas mode, or in a combination of the two (making it, in a sense, a three-mode Hybrid). It's also got technology to cut the number of cylinders in use down to four, when conditions warrant lower power.

Ford Fusion Hybrid / Mercury Milan Hybrid

No Price Listed

Hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan are rumored for the 2009 calendar year, if not the model year, but neither car is mentioned on the Ford Motor Company website. Those in the know claim that both cars will have 2.5-liter, 200hp engines, with the entire Fusion lineup to have a complete refresh at the same time, and that the hybrid drivetrain to be used will be based on the Ford Escape's model.

Lexus Hybrid GS 09 & LS 09

Starting Price $55,800 / $105,885

As recently as September, these two hybrids were still rumored, not real, and expected to be revealed in Detroit in January. Information about them is still a bit vague, but they appear on the Lexus website. The GS is a rear-wheel drive vehicle which comes with a 3.5-liter, 340 hp V6 engine and can accelerate from 0-60 mph in 5.2 seconds, while the more expensive LS is an all-wheel drive car with a 5.0-liter, 438 horsepower hybrid V8.

Saturn GreenLine Aura and Vue

Starting Price $26,685 / $28,625

For 2009, Saturn's GreenLine hybrids include the Aura, a sedan which gets an estimated 34 mpg in the city, and the much anticipated two-mode Vue. The current Vue is a mild-hybrid vehicle that uses stop-start technology, which shuts down the gasoline engine when the car is idling, producing fuel economy numbers that are generally about 25% better than those of its non-hybrid counterparts. The new Vue, however, will offer a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds, and is expected to get a combined fuel economy in the high-20's or low 30's. Saturns website estimates it at 32 mpg in the city.

New hybrids are being developed continually, and new vehicles may be added to existing line-ups as the year progresses. Already, both BMW and Mercedes are showing hybrids in the European markets, and the Mercedes hybrid may make it to North America by late 2009. When considering the purchase of any of these cars, be certain to weigh everything from cost of car insurance, to your daily driving needs, and remember that in some cases, you may have to learn new driving techniques.