Just like traditional cars, fuel efficient hybrid cars now come in all shapes and sizes, from small sedans to luxury performance sedans, plus minivans, SUVs and even crossovers. And just like traditional cars, the cost and -- more importantly -- cost savings of hybrids vary widely.
The top three hybrids for 2008, named by the website Cars.com are -- in this order -- Toyota Prius, Saturn Vue Green Line and Honda Civic Hybrid. Here's the rest of the top ten list --
4. Toyota Camry Hybrid
EPA-estimated mileage: 33/34
Not everyone wants a small, less-refined car like the Prius, which makes the Camry Hybrid the one for the masses. It costs one-third more than the base four-cylinder model, but gets significantly better gas mileage, which can pay back that higher buy-in price if you drive a lot.
5. Lexus RX 400h
EPA-estimated mileage: 27/24
This luxury model SUV costs just 10 percent more than its gas-only sibling, the RX 350. Combined with a 50 percent city mileage improvement and 4 percent highway bump, it's a value alternative to the gas-only model. With optional AWD, the RX 400h (26/24 mpg) is an even better deal, with mileage improvements of 53 percent and 9 percent compared to the all-wheel-drive RX 350.
6. Toyota Highlander Hybrid
EPA-estimated mileage: 27/25
The Highlander Hybrid comes only with AWD. The most efficient gas Highlander has FWD. In comparison, the hybrid costs 23 percent more but delivers 50 percent better city mileage, but only a 4 percent highway improvement. If you want AWD, however, the hybrid costs only 17 percent more than the gas-only model and boasts 59 and 9 percent higher mileage in city and highway driving, respectively.
7. Ford Escape Hybrid (pictured above)
EPA-estimated mileage: 34/30
The Escape Hybrid's comparitively low rank in the top ten is surprising, given its impressive mileage, but it's hard to overcome the fact that it costs 40 percent more than the base, four-cylinder Escape. So, even with its 55 percent city and 7 percent highway mileage improvement, it's hard to pay back the gas savings. If you compare it to the thirstier V-6, however, this hybrid would be higher on the list.
8. Chevrolet Tahoe 2 Mode Hybrid
EPA-estimated mileage: 21/22
Does a full-size truck defeat the purpose of a hybrid, or do people who who want or need a large SUV have an even greater need than the rest of us to save money at the gas pump? The Tahoe Hybrid is tough enough to tow a boat, and gets a stunning 50 percent increase in city mileage and 16 percent bump on the highway. It comes in eighth not because of its size, but because of its added cost: 43 percent more than the lowest-priced gas-only Tahoe.
9. Saturn Aura Green Line
EPA-estimated mileage: 24/32
This hybrid delivers modest mileage improvements over the four-cylinder Aura - 9 percent in the city and 7 percent on the highway - but its price premium is a mere 12 percent.
10. Lexus GS 450h
EPA-estimated mileage: 22/25
This luxury comes in last because its cost increase outweighs the gains it gets in mileage. There's a 24 percent premium between it and its gas-only siblingthe GS 350, for a 16 percent city mileage improvement -- and a 7 percent decrease in fuel efficiency in highway driving. No, that is not a typo -- Cars.com says the hybrid Lexus GS 450h guzzles more gas on the highway than its gas-only sibling. Hard to believe.
So, check the numbers carefully when choosing which 2008 hybrid to buy or lease. That includes price, fuel efficiency and tax credits.