By Louis DeNicola, Cheapism.com
Looking to get from one place to another without hurting the environment and spending half your paycheck on fuel? Hybrid cars offer a way to reduce your emissions as well as your expenses. Federal tax credits for hybrid car buyers are now available only for plug-in hybrids and electric cars. But as hybrid technology has become more mainstream, the cost of a typical gas-electric vehicle has decreased.
Related: Hybrid car recommendations
Cheapism.com has researched this segment and named the top four hybrid vehicles under $26,000.
- Toyota Camry HybridThe Toyota Camry Hybrid (starting at $25,990) is a family sedan that offers an appealing and roomy interior and some of the strongest acceleration in its class. In fact, reviewers say, it has enough power that you may forget you're driving a hybrid -- that is until you see that the electric motor is helping you get 43 mpg in the city and 41 on the highway. This car also received top safety ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
- Toyota Prius CToyota has released a few new models in its famous Prius line this year, including the subcompact Toyota Prius C (starting at $18,950). Although the Prius C can take some time to accelerate, according to expert reviews, you trade horsepower for an unmatched 53 mpg in the city, as well as 43 mpg on the highway. Drivers won't mistake the interior or ride quality for those of a more expensive model, but this five-passenger car delivers a lively drive and earns top marks in safety tests. It also costs thousands less than the larger sedans on this list and has one of the lowest price tags of any hybrid.
- Kia Optima HybridThe Kia Optima Hybrid (starting at $25,700) is a powerful, feature-packed, and extremely stylish family sedan. It is not, however, as fuel-efficient as the Toyota models. The official numbers are 35 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway; the car fell short of those thresholds in one test. Beyond its good looks, the Optima Hybrid features a comfortable interior and a top safety rating. Reviewers say the overall pleasant driving experience is dampened only somewhat by jitters when switching between gas and electric power.
- Hyundai Sonata HybridThe Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (starting at $25,850) is a midsize sedan in the same league as the Kia Optima Hybrid. Like the Optima, it's packed with extra features such as heated mirrors and claims a respectable but not exceptional 35 mpg city/40 mpg highway. Hyundai has given the hybrid almost the same interior as the regular Sonata, leaving plenty of legroom for front and back passengers. This is another hybrid without a lot of pickup, but it's also another top scorer when it comes to safety and reviewers say it provides a comfortable ride.
The hybrids featured above come with automatic climate control (dual climate control in the sedans), iPod and Bluetooth connections, steering wheel audio controls, and power windows, locks, and mirrors standard at all trim levels.
With dozens of hybrids to choose from these days, there are plenty of ways to drive green on the cheap. The vehicles above keep spending at the pump in check by drawing on an electric motor in addition to the gas engine, but how you drive and treat the car also makes a difference. Accelerating and decelerating slowly instead of abruptly, removing excess weight by regularly cleaning out your car, and maintaining the correct pressure in your tires all improve fuel economy.
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