Move more people, use less fuel: family-sized hybrids

If you’ve got one eye on a car with capacity but have your other eye on the price at the pump, your short list might well include the Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid, Toyota Prius V and Chevrolet Malibu Eco. They’re all hybrids and already have a leg up on fuel efficiency. But how does their green street cred compare overall? That’s answered by our eRatings, which include environmental impacts not only at the tailpipe but also from oil wells and iron mines to oil refineries and auto factories. Higher eRatings indicate more planet-friendly rides; a higher eco-value reflects how clean a car is relative to what you pay for it. Both are tallied in the table below.

Make and Model$MSRPSpecsCity/Hwy/Comb
Ford C-MAX Hybrid25,995188 hp hybrid drive47 / 47 / 471837.04
Ford Fusion Hybrid27,995188 hp hybrid drive47 / 47 / 471836.53
Toyota Prius V27,445134 hp hybrid drive44 / 40 / 421746.35
Chevy Malibu26,095182 hp hybrid drive25 / 37 / 291214.65


2013 Ford C-MAX Hybrid

Environment. The C-MAX and Fusion, utilizing the same hybrid drivetrain, deliver excellent fuel economy during both city and highway driving. Their Atkinson cycle engines exploit engineering principles similar to those that Toyota uses for its Prius family. Ford also calibrates these powertrains to emit much lower tailpipe pollution than average, helping reduce smog and improve local air quality. In contrast, the Chevy Malibu maintains more traditional engine technology and a milder degree of drivetrain hybridization. While it posts impressive highway mileage for a full-size sedan, the Malibu’s lower city mileage holds its eRating down.

Performance. Don’t let the top notch mileage ratings fool you, driving any one of these cars will keep your everyday commute from becoming a chore. The Malibu offers the fastest zero-to-sixty time among this set of cars. The Prius V’s “Pitch and Bounce Control” system was well received by automotive reviewers; it utilizes the hybrid system to smooth out the effects of uneven roads by modulating the electric motor torque to counteract unpleasant vehicle dynamics like body roll. The C-MAX, sharing a vehicle platform with the compact Ford Focus, inherits its smaller sibling’s sporty handling. As variants of long-popular mainstream sedans, the Ford Fusion and Chevy Malibu both benefit from the pedigree of their conventional brethren in terms of acceleration, responsiveness and handling.

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Economics. A good way to gauge which vehicles provide the best environmental performance for your money is to look at how high an eRating you can get per thousand dollars of purchase price. The Ford C-MAX comes out on top according to this eco-value metric, delivering the most green goodness per greenback. The competitively priced Toyota Prius V and Ford Fusion Hybrid offer the next best eco-values. With an MSRP above that of the C-MAX but a lower eRating, the Malibu Eco lags the full hybrids on the eco-value scale.

Stand-out Tech. All of these cars offer some new and unique technologies for increasing vehicle efficiency and environmental performance. The 2013 Fusion and C-MAX are the first vehicles to use Ford’s brand new HF35 hybrid transaxle. This new piece of hardware helps the engine and electric motors work together and allows the vehicle to rely on either power source independently, or to blend the two sources, to maximize efficiency. With the benefit of its new drivetrain, the Fusion delivers a combined 8 mpg boost over last year’s model.

The Malibu Eco comes equipped with advanced grill shutters to help reduce drag by closing at highway speeds, preventing air from being forced through the engine compartment when it is not needed. The Prius V reaps the benefits of Toyota’s third-generation Hybrid Synergy Drive, a long-time market leader in terms of highly efficient powertrain engineering and the technology that helps push the Prius’ mileage toward the top of the charts.

Efficiency upgrades shared by one or more these vehicles include electrified accessories, such as electric power steering, electric air conditioning compressors or electric brake boosters. When powered by electricity from the alternator instead of the engine’s drive belts, accessories can operate independently of engine speed and therefore decrease parasitic losses, increasing efficiency. Lightweight materials, like aluminum and high strength steel, were also used in these vehicles and help keep vehicle mass down.

The 2013 model year brings the introduction some exciting new hybrids like the Ford C-MAX and notable improvements to existing models like the Ford Fusion and Toyota Prius. As manufacturers continue to replace fuel-thirsty designs with fuel-thrifty advanced technology, both consumers and the planet stand to gain.


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