New Hybrid and Plug-In Hybrid Car Buying Guide for 2016

The hybrid car market used to be limited to a few models, with not too many body styles to choose from and with restricted interior space and performance. However, that was a long time ago, and you can get a hybrid today in the most popular body styles, except for pickup trucks, convertibles, and a few notable exceptions.
Volvo V60 Plug-in Hybrid with R-Design Package 1 photo
Photo: Volvo
The advance in technology and the increase of the market for hybrids has also led to the development of plug-in hybrid vehicles, along with several variations on this theme.

Since there are over 40 hybrid vehicles to choose from on the US market and that is just the 2016 Model Year, we decided to make a buying guide to help you make a decision. Readers outside the US can still benefit from our guide and decide how to get the best hybrid for them. We’ll follow up with the car buying guide for electric vehicles soon.

First of all, the potential customer of a new hybrid car must consider the following criteria: budget, estimated annual mileage, fuel economy, parking space, availability of a charging plug, necessity of all-wheel-drive, and performance.

Once you find a few options that fit your budget, you must then make a short-list of the cars that meet your other needs: interior space, preferred body style, available options, and design. Take your time and make a table with these characteristics, benefits of each car, drawbacks of each model, and then arrange them in order of preference to see how they stack up.


First of all, the customer must set a price range for their new car. Since hybrids are now available for almost all pockets when it comes to new car buyers, you can buy one for less than $20,000. If money is not a problem, you can pay well over $100,000 for a hybrid model, so it all depends on how much you are willing to spend.

Naturally, there are financing and leasing options, so this depends on the income and preference of each buyer. Whatever you choose, make sure you get an insurance quote for the car before you sign any papers, and think in perspective if it is a financially competent decision to buy a new car right now. Consider fuel costs and make an exaggerated estimate based on worst case scenario - fuel prices go up, and your mileage will not be as advertised. If you have any doubts that you will afford it, don’t buy a new car. Going bankrupt for a car is not worth it.

If you are looking for the cheapest hybrid on the market, the 2016 Toyota Prius C is the one for you. It has an MSRP of $19,560 and is the most affordable hybrid you can get today in the US, according to prices listed on manufacturer websites. The EPA estimated MPG rating of this car is of 53 MPG City and 46 MPG Highway, so it is going to get a good spot in the fuel economy list.

The cheapest Hybrid coupe is the Honda CR-Z, with a starting MSRP of $20,295 and an MPG rating of 39 Highway and 36 City. If the Toyota Prius C was too small for you, just move along, because the CR-Z is even smaller. The CR-Z model has been discontinued on some markets because of low sales, and American availability might be limited, so you must hurry if you want one badly.

The next model on our list when it comes to budget hybrids is the 2016 Toyota Prius. It starts at an MSRP of $24,200 and has recently received a new generation. The all-new Prius has an estimated MPG of 54 City and 50 Highway.

For sedan buyers, the cheapest hybrid option is the 2016 Ford Fusion Hybrid, that starts at an MSRP of $25,675. The EPA rates it at 44 MPG City and 41 MPG Highway. SUV customers can turn to Toyota for the cheapest hybrid SUV currently on sale on the US market, the 2016 RAV4 Hybrid. The SUV starts at $28,370, and its MPG estimates are 34 for City and 31 for Highway.

Estimated annual mileage

How much do you drive every day? What about on weekends? Do you mostly drive in the city or have extended portions on highways? For a hybrid to make sense, you have to put some miles on it in the conditions where it is more economical than a conventional vehicle. So if you do significant city driving and expect to do the same with the hybrid, look for a model with a higher MPG estimate for city driving and with a plug-in hybrid setup. Remember that figures are not the only thing that matters, so don’t get the one with the highest MPG rate if it does not meet other criteria for you.

If you are more into longer journeys, plug-in hybrids are a better solution as well, but conventional hybrids are still a good proposition. Remember that most hybrids that don’t feature impressive power figures are not that economical at highway speeds, so consider getting one with improved highway efficiency if that is what you’ll use it for the most. Even if a small hybrid car gets good fuel economy, don’t forget to check the fuel capacity of the tank, as these models will need more refueling stops than cars with larger tanks. There’s no point in making a list here, because it all depends on what every customer needs.

Fuel economy

As the EPA explains, mileage may vary. While it significantly depends on driving style, weather, incline, road resistance, driving speed, and other factors, it is difficult to get the advertised MPG figure on every car on the market. Hybrids included.

So don’t let a few MPGs (1-4) make you choose a different model just for the improved figure that you might not attain in real life. However, don’t expect miracles from cars with poor MPG figures either. Unless you are a hypermiling master, you are rarely going to beat them, especially on your daily commute. No matter what you choose, don’t forget to be gentle on the gas pedal, think ahead and plan your trips in a more efficient way, so you spend less on gas.

Parking and charging space

While this might seem like a no-brainer, check your garage for size and make sure your new car will fit inside. The same goes for your regular parking spot (if you are planning on an SUV and park in a cramped area). If you have trouble every day finding a parking spot, a plug-in hybrid will not be practical for you, especially if you cannot charge it where you live. However, if there’s a plug at your workplace and you are allowed to use it, it might pay off.

Otherwise, don’t count on plug-in hybrid benefits if there’s no place to charge the car every night or, at least, every other day. Extension cords are a bad idea, as most aren’t safe to use on cars, so don’t even mention these. If you’ve never owned a car and want a plug-in hybrid, figure out where you can park it and charge the battery before you sign any papers.


There are hybrids and plug-in hybrids available with an all-wheel-drive system. While they are not meant for off-roading, the system can prove useful if you live in an area with harsh winters. If snow is not a concern where you live, an all-wheel-drive system will just add complexity and weight to your new car, while mileage may be lower than on a hybrid with a single driven axis.

The good part about some hybrids is that they have an internal combustion engine driving one axle, and an electric motor for the other axle. This brings on-road all-wheel-drive in the most efficient manner possible, as it does not have a central driveshaft to link the front and rear wheels together. This is the best four-wheel-drive option for a hybrid, but not a common technical solution.

Keep in mind that AWD is useless on a car in the snow if it does not have adequate snow tires, and that most snowy roads can be tackled with a modern front-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive vehicle that has appropriate tires. If you get harsh winters in your area or seriously consider moving to a place where severe winter conditions are a frequent occurrence, seek a four-wheel-drive hybrid and get winter tires when the season comes along.

Personal preference and necessities

There’s no point in buying the most fuel-efficient hybrid car on the market if you cannot fit your family inside, or if the vehicle doesn’t have enough room for your luggage. However, it is best not to go into extremes and buy the biggest hybrid just in case, because the largest models in the segment defy the purpose of such a vehicle.

Naturally, space is not the only issue. Since you are going to live with a car for several years, you should pick one that has a design that you appreciate, along with an interior that suits your preference. If you ignore your desires and needs and choose a hybrid on price or MPG estimate alone, you are going to have an unpleasant ownership experience.

You also must consider how the dealer treats you and check out brand-specific owner forums in your area to find out if there are any friendly dealers near the place where you like. Don’t forget to consider that some dealers might be friendly when it comes to selling a car to you, but only until you buy it. Research them online before buying a car. In the long run, if you feel distressed after a trip to the dealer, you might have a terrible ownership experience while you get your car serviced.

Last but not least, we suggest visiting multiple dealerships of several brands on your short-list, ask to get into the models you are interested in, close the door and ponder how you feel. Trust your gut, because cars imply an emotional experience that goes beyond MPG figures, MPSRP, and reviews. If you do not like how you feel inside the car that looked right on your short list, check the other models.
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About the author: Sebastian Toma
Sebastian Toma profile photo

Sebastian's love for cars began at a young age. Little did he know that a career would emerge from this passion (and that it would not, sadly, involve being a professional racecar driver). In over fourteen years, he got behind the wheel of several hundred vehicles and in the offices of the most important car publications in his homeland.
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