The best of them – that would be Toyota’s Prius – manage low-mid 50s. Most average low-mid 40s. Which is good, but far from spectacular. After all, 40-something MPG is only about 8-10 MPG better than many current-era non-hybrid economy cars manage.
It’s not that big a difference – especially when you factor in the difference in price.
So – how come? Why aren’t hybrid cars more economical? How come they can’t go farther on just the batteries? Why do they need an internal combustion (IC) engine at all? Couldn’t they be made simpler? Why the need for two powertrains – the gasoline-burning engine and an electric motor?
It’s a Catch-22 situation.
Without some way to top off the battery pack “as you go,” hybrids wouldn’t be able to go very far – due to the limitations of battery capability. Hence the IC engine, which serves as an on-board generator in addition to providing propulsion. The IC engine makes hybrids practical – which is essential for them to be successful as other-than-expensive toys (see electric cars).
Electric motors are in many ways superior to reciprocating, internal combustion engines. They are much simpler. They deliver immediate and abundant torque. And because there’s no need to convert up and down (reciprocating) energy into rotational energy, they can “direct drive” the wheels – without a transmission to leverage mechanical force.
But – Catch 22 – you need electricity to run the motor. Hence the battery pack. Which needs to be kept charged up.
Hence the IC engine.
This is why hybrids are more complicated than conventional cars – as well as more expensive. It’s also a big part of the reason why they’re not as gas-sippy (or even “electric easy”) as you might expect them to be.
Honda’s original Insight – made in the late ’90s/early 2000s – was capable of 70 MPG. It was a light two-seater. Most current hybrids are fairly large (mid-sized) sedans/hatchbacks and very heavy. An Accord hybrid weighs 3,550 pounds. The Camry hybrid, 3,435 pounds.
My 1976 Pontiac Trans-Am weighs only slighty more than they do.
Even the Prius – king of hybrids – weighs more than 3,000 pounds. This is about twice the curb weight of an original model VW Beetle.
Hybrids are heavy to a great extent because of government “safety” mandates – which of course conflict with the goal of making cars (and not just hybrid cars) more fuel efficient.
Also, there is conflict between consumers’ desire for performance and their desire for economy.
Even the Prius – the least quick of all hybrids – is a high-performance muscle car . . . compared with the typical IC car of my childhood back in the ’70s. Back then, a family car took around 12 seconds to hit 60. Economy cars of the period – the original VW Beetle, for instance – took 15-20 seconds to get to 60.
The Prius gets there in about 11 seconds.
It also easily cruises at 80 – and can reach speeds well over 100 MPH (trust me).
And the Prius is the slowest hybrid. The 2014 Accord hybrid I recently reviewed gets to 60 in 7.4 seconds. The Camry Accord, about the same. This is as quick (or nearly as quick) as the V-8 muscle cars of the ’70s.
Mind, I’m not slamming the performance of hybrids. I’m just observing that they’d be a lot more fuel-efficient if they were around 2,200 pounds rather than 3,400-ish pounds – and could get by with 100 hp powertrains rather than 200 hp powertrains (as in the current Accord/Camry hybrids).
A 2,200 pound hybrid with a 100 hp powertrain might need 12 or so seconds to get to 60. It might have a top speed of just under 100 MPH. It might not be as “safe” – if you run it off the road and pile-drive it into an oak tree.
But I bet it would also give you 70-plus MPG all day long. Maybe more. And it would probably cost thousands less to buy than the current crop of hybrids.
The truth is, most people don’t value gas mileage uber alles. If they did, the original Insight would have sold gangbusters. It belly flopped.
Gas mileage is merely one among several other competing values – including performance, safety – etc.
There’s nothing wrong with this. Slow cars are not much fun. It’s reasonable to be concerned about a vehicle’s ability to protect the people within from impact forces in the event of a crash. A quiet cabin usually requires sound deadening, which adds weight; AC and other such amenities do the same. More weight requires more engine to maintain performance – which reduces economy.
Lesson: It’s important to not expect miracles – and to accept that conflicting wants usually results in compromises.
You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.
Throw it in the Woods?