Does 60 miles per gallon appeal to your budget? Then check out this year's hybrids. While the Honda Insight two-seater and Toyota Prius midsize sedan are currently available, Ford's Escape Hybrid SUV is due in showrooms late this summer, and Lexus' luxury RX400h will be available in late fall.
What's the attraction? Significant savings at the pump. These gasoline/electric-powered vehicles boast high mileage, run up to 90 percent cleaner than standard-powered vehicles, and need less maintenance. And you don't have to plug them in to an outlet nightly to recharge as you do with electric cars. The downside? A hybrid can cost $2,000 to $10,000 more than a comparable conventional vehicle, according to the Department of Energy.
Need a four-door? The only midsize hybrid sedan on the market is the $20,510 Toyota Prius, named Motor Trend's 2004 Car of the Year. It gets 51 mpg highway, 60 city and can travel more than 500 miles on a single tank of gas. Under the hood is a conventional 76-horsepower four-cylinder gasoline engine that works in tandem with a 50-kilowatt electric motor and can operate in either individual or combined modes. This second-generation Prius is faster than its predecessor, with acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in about 10 seconds. Also new is Bluetooth's hands-free communication system, which lets you dial calls on the navigation screen and answer calls with a steering-wheel button. Other features include automatic transmission, 16.1-cubic foot trunk capacity, two power outlets and split fold-down rear seats.
For a small car, try the Honda Insight with 60 mpg city/66 highway (manual transmission). In SUVs, Ford's Escape Hybrid has target fuel economy of 35 to 40 mpg city/29 to 30 highway (front-wheel drive). Lexus says its RX400h will be competitive.
Editor and consultant Jill Amadio has been reporting on the automotive industry for 25 years.