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Saw this on the main welcome page when I logged in to AOL. Pretty cool that they had nothing bad to say when it came to the Prius. :D This is the FULL BODY of the article.


Hybrid power in a variety of shapes

Hybrids aren't just small cars anymore, as manufacturers release sedan and SUV variants.

Hybrid vehicles have continued to gain attention. Concerns about rising gas prices, tailpipe emissions, and America's dependence on foreign oil have many consumers thinking about fuel economy. Hybrids offer a good alternative to conventional vehicles because they get excellent gas mileage and produce very low emissions. But until now, a hybrid may not have been right for everyone. The small vehicles from Honda and Toyota didn't necessarily supply the versatility people look for in their vehicle. Starting this year, pickup, sedan, and SUV hybrids will be available from domestic and foreign manufacturers.

Hybrid pros and cons

A hybrid vehicle uses two sources of power: gasoline and electricity. Depending on the design, some hybrids use an electric motor only to supplement a small conventional gasoline engine. Others can operate solely on gasoline or electric power, or a combination of the two, depending on driving conditions.

Unlike a dedicated battery-powered electric vehicle (such as the discontinued GM EV1), a hybrid recharges its batteries while it's being driven, so it doesn't need to be plugged in. This is done both by the gasoline engine and through a technique called regenerative braking, which converts braking energy into electricity.

In Consumer Reports' tests, hybrids have gotten between 36 and 51 mpg in combined city/highway driving. In some states, such as Virginia and Arizona, hybrids can travel in high-occupancy-vehicle lanes without meeting the passenger restrictions.

Hybrids tend to cost more than analogous gasoline-powered vehicles. The Civic Hybrid, for instance, is priced about $3,000 higher than a similarly equipped conventional Civic EX. To help offset this extra expense, the IRS currently gives owners of the Honda Civic Hybrid, Honda Insight, and Toyota Prius a $2,000 "clean-fuel vehicle" tax deduction. Since January 2004, however, the deduction is being reduced by $500 each year until it expires. Vehicles purchased after December 31, 2006, won't be eligible for the deduction.

Hybrids also must carry large battery packs that take up storage space and add weight. Another drawback: This is a relatively new technology without a proven reliability record. To address that concern, however, the Honda hybrids--the Civic Hybrid and the Insight--and the Toyota Prius come with extra-long, 8-year/80,000-mile and 8-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranties, respectively, for the electric-motor systems.

These hybrid models are currently available:

Honda Insight
The Honda Insight was the first hybrid available in the U.S., and went on sale for the 2000 model year. This small two-seater coupe returned 51 mpg in CR's testing, making it our current fuel-economy champion. However, the battery pack takes up much of the room, making the Insight much less practical than other hybrids.

Honda Civic Hybrid
In 2002 Honda released the Civic Hybrid, a gasoline-electric version of its four-door, five-passenger sedan. While its 36 mpg overall is short of the Honda Insight's numbers, it has far fewer limitations, and the driving experience is very similar to that of the conventional gasoline-powered Civic EX. (The EX returned 29 mpg in a combination of city and highway driving during our testing.)

2004 Toyota Prius
The second-generation Prius addressed many of the original sedan's shortcomings by adding more power and interior room. The five-door hatchback couples a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric motor, and automatically switches between them or runs on both as needed. We got 44 mpg overall in our tests and acceleration was on par with other similarly priced four-cylinder family sedans, such as the Chevrolet Malibu and Dodge Stratus. Access to the cabin is easy, and the folding rear seats expand the roomy storage area.

Upcoming hybrid models

Boasting excellent fuel economy, clean emissions, and advanced technology, gas/electric hybrid models have generated a lot of attention, particularly with the ongoing fluctuation in gasoline prices. However, the current selection of models is limited, consisting only of the small, two-seat Honda Insight, and the five-passenger Honda Civic Hybrid sedan and Toyota Prius hatchback.

Within the next two years, the number and range of hybrid models is expected to increase dramatically. New SUV and family sedan hybrids will provide greater versatility and interior space than the small hybrids offered today, but fuel economy will probably not be quite as good.

Here's a look at upcoming hybrid models:

2005 Ford Escape. On sale: 2004
Mercury Mariner Hybrid. On sale: summer 2007
Originally promised for last year, the Escape Hybrid is scheduled to go on sale this year as a 2005 model. Ford claims this small, car-based SUV will get about 40 mpg and be able to travel 500 miles on a tank of gasoline. The hybrid system will include a revised four-cylinder engine and an electric motor powered by a 330-volt battery, a system similar in design to what Toyota uses in the Prius. When the Escape is coasting or stopped, the gasoline engine shuts down and power is derived from the electric motor. The Mariner is the Mercury version of the Escape.

2005 Honda Accord Hybrid. On sale: fall 2004
Like the Honda Civic Hybrid and the Insight, the Accord Hybrid will couple Honda's partial-hybrid system, called Integrated Motor Assist, with a V6 engine that uses the company's variable cylinder management (VCM) system. To save fuel, the engine will automatically deactivate three of the six cylinders while the car is cruising on the highway or coasting. When more power is needed, all six cylinders will be used. By using both the hybrid and VCM systems, Honda says, the Accord Hybrid will provide the fuel economy of a four-cylinder Civic, with more power and better acceleration than the 240-hp Accord V6.

The hybrid battery is charged during braking and is used to power the vehicle when it is stopped. The electric motor supplements the gasoline engine, but cannot itself power the car. The Accord Hybrid will be the first vehicle to offer the passenger room and luggage capacity of a midsized sedan in combination with a hybrid engine.

2005 Lexus RX400h. On sale: fall 2004
2005 Toyota Highlander Hybrid. On sale: early 2005
These two midsized SUVs share the same gasoline engines in their conventional versions. As hybrids they will share the same powerplant and drive system as well. Both vehicles will use a 3.3-liter V6 engine combined with Toyota's hybrid powertrain, producing a claimed 270 hp. Fuel economy is said to be 27.6 miles per gallon, with a cruising range of more than 600 miles. Toyota claims both models will offer performance superior to the conventionally powered versions.

Both front- and all-wheel-drive versions will be offered. The AWD versions will feature a second electric motor to power the rear wheels. This system should save weight by eliminating the driveshaft that runs between the engine and the rear wheels. Toyota claims the Highlander Hybrid will be the first seven-passenger hybrid SUV when it goes on sale in early 2005.

2006 Saturn Vue
2007 Chevrolet Malibu
GM is scheduled to introduce two "mild' hybrid models over the next few years. The 2006 Vue SUV and 2007 Malibu sedan will use a hybrid system consisting of a combined starter/alternator and a 42-volt charging system. As with other hybrids, this belt-alternator starter system (BAS) will shut the engine off at idle and during deceleration, using the battery for power. It will quickly restart when needed. Fuel savings is further enhanced by a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and regenerative braking. The fuel-economy improvement over conventional versions is estimated to be between 12 and 15 percent.

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