Finding the Winner Among Midsize Hybrids

Recently, a good friend of mine asked what would be a good choice for his next car, and wanted to know what’s available among hybrid cars.  He said he wanted the car to deliver good mileage, have good handling and seat five comfortably.  This led me to suggest a midsize sedan hybrid.  He agreed and wanted to see a comparison of what’s available.  Now that we know what class of hybrid to look for, let’s find the best of the available choices.

Here is a comparison table comparing the available models:

Model Toyota Camry Hyundai Sonata Ford Fusion
Price 26K – 35K 26K – 32K 27K – 33K
MPG (city/hwy/avg) LE – 43/39/41
XLE – 40/38/40
35/40/37 47/47/47
Transmission CVT 6-speed automatic CVT
Battery Type Nickel-metal hydride Lithium-polymer Lithium-ion
Horsepower 200 206 188

Camry Hybrid

The first competitor, which is probably the most well-known to most people, is the Toyota Camry Hybrid.  It starts at 26K, and can climb up to about $35,000 when fully equipped.  Gas mileage is respectable, at 43 city/39 highway/41 combined MPG for the LE model.  The more well-equipped XLE falls a little short of that at 40/38/40.

Standard features include Bluetooth, USB connectivity, automatic headlights, and Smart Key.  Optionally, you can get navigation, Entune app integration, a backup camera, leather, XM Radio, a moonroof, fog lights, and a blind-spot monitor.  Interior quality is actually really good for a car in this price class.  Trunk space is better than both Sonata and Fusion.  The navigation and Bluetooth are very easy to use and set up.

The 2.5-liter inline-4 gas engine, coupled with an electric motor makes about 200 horsepower.  This uses a nickel-metal hydride battery, rather than moving to a pricier, longer-lasting lithium-ion battery.  The transmission is a CVT, which means it has infinite gear ratios, rather than a fixed selection of gears.  The Camry has great drivability and good real-world fuel economy.  It’s also nice and responsive on the roads and highways, and it feels and handles like a regular Camry.

Sonata Hybrid


The Hyundai Sonata, which was a brand-new model for 2011, is a relatively new competitor in the midsize hybrid sector.  It’s also Hyundai’s first hybrid.  It is competitively priced, with a base MSRP of 26K and 32K when equipped nicely.  Mileage isn’t quite up there with the competition, at 35/40/37, despite the fact that it uses advanced lithium-polymer batteries, the same type used in smartphones and laptops.

All the usual tech is standard including USB/iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, Keyless Access, auto headlights, fog lights, and XM Radio.  You can optionally get navigation, backup camera, a moonroof, and leather seating.  Two added convenience features include available heated second row seats and an available panoramic roof.  New for 2012, Hyundai offers their Blue Link telematics system, which allows you to get roadside help, find gas stations and other POIs, get restaurant ratings, monitor your vehicle from afar, and more.

The Sonata uses a 2.4-liter gas engine and electric motor, combined at a total output of 206 horsepower.  Hyundai chooses to gear up with a 6-speed automatic, for cost savings.  Compared to Camry, Sonata isn’t as responsive, and the fuel economy is not up to class, compared to its other rivals.  Also, it feels and drives too much like a hybrid, and it’s a little rough with auto start-stop.

Fusion Hybrid


Finally, there’s a new Ford Fusion Hybrid, which is the fuel economy champ in this competition, delivering mpg of 47/47/47.  It starts at $27,000, and can be optioned fully to 33K.  One downside is that you don’t have any keyless technologies or push-button start.  You do, however, get an available class-exclusive self-parking system.  I must say, without doubt, the Fusion is the most stylish ride in the competition.

Standard features include auto headlights, SYNC AppLink, USB, Bluetooth, leather, XM Radio, and blind-spot tech.  You can option navigation, a backup camera, fog lights, and a moonroof.  One downside is that the trunk space is very cramped, due to the fact that the the lithium-ion battery takes up a good amount of space, however, Ford SYNC is still one of the most excellent in-car voice command systems.  The MyFord Touch navigation system used to get a lot of criticism, and now it has improved for this car, but I still think it needs more processing power behind it to react faster to touch inputs.

Powering the Fusion Hybrid is a 2-liter 4-cylinder engine with an electric motor, producing 188 horsepower.  It uses a CVT, like the Camry.  Lithium-ion batteries allow you to drive at higher speeds under electric power than with Ni-MH batteries, but you need to have a light foot to do that.  Auto-start stop is imperceptibly smooth, but the braking isn’t the best.  The steering doesn’t give much feedback, and the ride is smooth, even on the roughest pavement.

The Winner

While all three cars are worthy contenders, I would choose the Camry Hybrid because of its great drivability and very nice interior packaging.  This is one of the more practical vehicles because it’s got more trunk space than its competitors.  Also, it’s a very responsive, great-handling car, and Toyotas have been known for their good reliability and value.  And Toyota has the most experience with hybrids.  I can’t wait to see the car my friend gets.

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