With gas around $4 per gallon, hybrids are hot. Before, if they looked like their regular production counterparts, they languished while the different-looking Toyota Prius prospered. Now buyers would rather have extra bucks in their pockets than make a styling statement. Other than hybrid badging, there is little that makes the Malibu Hybrid stand out. It does get better fuel economy, primarily in the traffic where the stop-start feature helps squeeze 4 mpg more out of the city cycle. Chevy has done an admirable job in making the operation seamless; just don’t expect massive boosts in fuel economy. With a light foot, you can make the Malibu start off in pure electric mode, but it will soon pop on the 4-cylinder engine, especially if you have accessories like air conditioning running.
The Toyota Camry Hybrid sedan brings the quality and reliability of the Camry together with increased fuel efficiency.
The Camry Hybrid is a front-wheel drive four-door sedan that seats five passengers. Available in two trim levels, LE and XLE, the heart of the Camry Hybrid is the Hybrid Synergy Drive, a combination electric motor/gasoline engine that produces a combined 200-hp, and efficient, electronic continuously variable transmission. The standard warranty for hybrid-related components is 8 years/100,000 miles. Stability and traction control, ten-airbags, anti-lock brakes with brake assist and tire pressure monitor are some of the standard safety equipment. Tech features include Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming, garage door opener, rear camera, navigation with touch screen, HD and satellite radio, and the new Entune mobile app and services system.
For 2013, the Camry Hybrid LE is outfitted with a standard 6.1-inch touch screen audio system with Bluetooth wireless streaming.
The Flex has never lived up to original sales expectations, though one of the worst criticisms you can levy at this Ford is that the boxy design is polarizing. Then again, at least it doesn’t look like every other family-mobile on the road. From behind the wheel the Flex is surprisingly car-like, especially considering its overall size and three rows of seating. An especially fun option is a refrigerator positioned between the two second-row seats. You’d probably be fine sticking with the base 287-bhp 3.5-liter V-6, but the 365-bhp twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 is hugely entertaining and nearly as frugal – not that either engine is exactly a fuel-sipper. There are a ton of options that can be added to the Flex, including heated and cooled front seats, parking assist and adaptive cruise control. The Titanium appearance package gives the Flex some extra visual punch, courtesy of 20-inch alloys, a black painted roof and side mirrors, and special leather interior trim.
The Ford Fusion Plug-In Hybrid is the top of the Fusion family ladder for buyers looking for a midsize sedan that maximizes fuel economy.
The Fusion Plug-In Hybrid uses a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in combination with an electric motor powered by a lithium-ion battery. To link the gas engine and electric motor together, an electronic continuously variable transmission, also known as an eCVT, is used to optimally match the power and gearing. Safety features include anti-lock brakes with panic brake assist, AdvanceTrac electronic stability and traction control, LED taillights, security system, eight-airbags, and a tire pressure monitoring system.
The baby Bimmer is destined to be replaced in 2013 with an evolution of the current model. We were surprised to see the 1 Series M introduced late in 2011 as a 2011 model, with no 2012 model to speak of. The incredibly spry 1 Series M with 335 bhp has come and gone too quickly. We're left with the last naturally aspirated 3.0-liter inline-6 in the 128i; the engine will be replaced by a new 2-liter turbo four in the next generation. Updated last year with an optional 7-speed dual-clutch DCT transmission and single-turbo 3-liter I-6 N55 engine, the top-of-the-line 135i is still plenty of fun on the back roads. The 1 remains available as a coupe or convertible with a power-retractable cloth top, and there is hope the next generation will bring a 5-door to the U.S.