It’s a rarity to roam the highways and byways of Western Washington these days without noticing them: hybrids, the environmentally friendly, easier-on-the-gas automobiles that have lately become far more ubiquitous in carmakers’ inventories — and in family garages.

As manufacturers line up to introduce the next mass-market hybrid, it’s now simpler than ever for a family to find a vehicle to fit its needs. Of course, affordability is a factor, and hybrid sticker prices (coupled with their fuel-saving technology) have become comparable.

Space ranks among the most important factors for families. Not only must the hybrid car accommodate three, four or even more people, it must be roomy enough for families that are still growing.

With those things in mind, we lined up the dozens of hybrid cars on the market, and narrowed the list to five: some more spacious, several more affordable and still others with better fuel economy.

But only you know which hybrid will be right for your family and your situation. So use this as a starter’s shopping list. Keep an eye on what you see on the roads. And then get out there and test-drive.

Saturn Aura Green Line

Fueled by a hybrid system that complements its four-cylinder gasoline engine, the Aura Green Line has been recognized as the most affordable hybrid family-sized hybrid sedan, with 2008 models starting at a little less than $23,000. Mileage on the hybrid version beats its gas-only sibling by 25 percent, as the electric motor/generator kicks in during acceleration and at full throttle, allowing the Aura Green Line to grab an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 28 miles per gallon in the city and 35 miles per gallon on the highway. The four-door sedan holds a family of five comfortably, and it’s fun to drive, too, thanks to an easy-to-handle suspension.

Honda Civic

At ease with a family of four, the hybrid Honda Civic is recognized as an excellent family sedan for two main reasons: fuel economy (a head-turning 45 miles per gallon for both city and highway driving) and safety (high rankings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for its eight standard air bags and a sleek structure designed to absorb more crash energy). The hybrid Civic’s Integrated Motor Assist system kicks in at moderate cruising speeds, allowing the car to run solely on electric power (and the gasoline engine shuts down completely at vehicle stops to further conserve fuel). If you like the looks of the conventional Honda Civic, the hybrid’s nearly identical sticker price ($23,000) will not disappoint.

Ford Escape

Launched by Ford in 2004 as the hybrid version of its popular sports utility vehicle, the Ford Escape hybrid provides an estimated 34 miles per gallon in the city, nearly doubling the mileage of its traditional counterparts. This smaller-style SUV runs on a full hybrid electric system, switching automatically between electric and gasoline (or combining the two) to fuel the engine. Ford even takes its earth-friendly design inside the vehicle, styling the Escape’s seats in 100 percent post-industrial-waste plastics for durability and greenness. In addition to five-passenger comfort, the Escape (priced about $28,000) offers loads of cargo space behind the rear seat.

Toyota Highlander

With no hybrid minivan yet on the market (Toyota’s Sienna is expected to be first on the block later this year), the Toyota Highlander hybrid SUV is often the pick of the litter for larger families because of its seven-passenger capacity, three-row seating and improved crash safety features. Yet it performs like a jumbo wagon, with a potent five-speed V6 engine and in the option of Puget Sound-perfect all-wheel drive. Though not as celebrated for its fuel economy (22 miles per gallon), the Highlander will carry its passengers 400 miles or more on a tank of gas, and priced at about $34,000, it must be part of any conversation for hybrid-seeking families.

Toyota Prius

Its five-capacity seating is larger than it looks, and it boasts great fuel performance. That alone ranks the hybrid Prius near the top on any family wish list. It’s unbeatable in miles-per-gallon circles, with an EPA combined city/highway ratting of 55 miles per gallon, and its gas-electric 110-horsepower engine virtually purrs when running on electric only. The Prius has become the prototypical hybrid automobile, selling more than all other hybrids combined, and word is that 2009 might bring changes, such as different-sized models and larger fuel tanks. But for now, priced at $21,000, this model is tough to beat.

Scott Holter is a freelance writer and avid foot commuter who lives in Ballard with his wife, Karalyn, and son, Emmett.


Originally published in the December, 2007 print edition of ParentMap.

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