I'm looking to get a new car that gets great mileage, but is also a good performance machine. I deal with lots of rush-hour, stop-and-go crawling traffic, but also want to be able to hit the accelerator to quickly get to a cruising highway speed. Is there anything that provides both the benefits of hybrid technology/mileage with good performance? – Ricky in Hamilton, Ont.
Vaughan: Ricky, it would help if you gave us a price range. A high flyer like Cato will want to put you into a $70,000 Tesla, while a cheapskate like me might suggest a bottom-of-the-line discounted Prius.
Cato: Look, Rick has the dough for a hybrid. And that's something, because your typical hybrid is nearly twice the price of a traditional car about the same size – for instance, Toyota Prius, $26,105; Toyota Matrix, $16,795.
So Rick has money and he definitely wants a high-tech "green" car with sterling road manners. That spells T-E-S-L-A to me. No gasoline at all, and Tesla says the $77,800 base model does 0-100 km/h in 6.2 seconds. Top speed: 190 km/h. Range? Tesla says 302 kilometres per charge. Buy now and Ontario taxpayers have an $8,500 subsidy for Rick – $8,000 in Quebec and $5,000 in British Columbia. Here's the car that solves all Rick's problems.
Vaughan: Perhaps, but I'm not sold and it's a big jump from a Prius to a Tesla. I'll say this: it's interesting that hybrids used to be sold purely as fuel-savers; that's why the Vancouver taxi fleet is overwhelmingly Prius.
But now some car makers who have been late to the hybrid game are flogging hybrids as performance machines at a much higher price. They tell you you're getting two motors – one gas and one high-torque electric – and when you hammer the accelerator you're going to take off like a rocket.
Cato: And that's true in many cases. Take the first Infiniti hybrid, the M35h. It's a beast – massively powerful and leftover 2013s can be had with $12,000 to even $15,000 in discounts. Just play the game well. That takes the $68,500 sticker down to the mid-$50,000s.
But I want Rick to test drive something newer: the 2014 Infiniti Q50 Hybrid. We're talking slick handling, 360 combined horses and great fuel economy – 7.0 litres/100 km in the city, 5.6 highway. That's $47,000 to you, Rick.
Vaughan: I'll tell you about one hybrid that I really like and it's the Ford C-Max. It's the wagon version of the Ford Focus with an ultra-smooth hybrid system. When you floor it, you get a big boost from the electric motor plus energy recovery when you hit the brakes. It even teaches you how to use the regenerative braking in a way that recovers most energy and saves gas. All in, it's 183 hp. Totally functional and comfortable. I drove it as hard as I could and still got 6.5 litres/100 km.
Cato: You like the price: $27,199. But what about the $29,950 Honda Accord Hybrid? Inventive technology – two electric motors, lithium-ion battery pack – thrifty, jumps away from stoplights, 50:50 weight distribution. This Honda carves apexes like any normal Accord, which is good.
Vaughan: Cato, I'm with you. I like the Accord Hybrid, but there are new hybrid choices popping up all the time. For example, Volkswagen finally has a hybrid and its trick is to add a turbocharger on to the little gas engine that works with the electric motor. The gas engine is 1.4-litres, direct injected which, with electric power, produces 170 hp and the passing power of 184 lb-ft of torque. That will get you to highway speed in a hurry.
Cato: Yeah, $28,490 is a steep price here. I will say the Veedub is a genuinely sporty vehicle, right down to the ultra-slick, seven-speed auto-shift manual gearbox – what they call a DSG or dual-clutch transmission. Super-fast, efficient shifts.
Vaughan: The Korean car companies do hybrids, too. The Kia Optima hybrid and the Hyundai Sonata hybrid are both sophisticated. You'll have to make your own choice, but I do know you can get some serious discounts on both of these.
Cato: How about a $6,600 discount on a $35,995 Optima Hybrid?
Vaughan: Ricky, not knowing your budget or your preferred body style makes it a shot in the dark. But my favourite hybrid at the moment, because I like hatchbacks, is the Ford C-Max.
Cato: Rick, bite the bullet and do a Tesla. If not, then the Q50 Hybrid. If I'm wrong and money's tight, then go with Vaughan's C-Max.
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