New Mariner Hybrid: Nice and green

Also sold - in different guises - as the Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute, Ford's small hybrid SUVs offer an excellent value.

Dollar for dollar
The 2008 Mazda Tribute looks only slightly different from the current version. Again, differences from the Escape and Mariner are entirely cosmetic.
2008 Mazda Tribute Hybrid
Dollar for dollar
Ford's Escape family of car-based SUVs offer the best overall fuel economy of any SUV. That extra mileage comes at a cost of about $5,000 over the cost of non-hybrid 4-cylinder versions of the vehicles.

But you can subtract a federal tax credit of $3,000 for front-wheel-drive versions and $2,200 for all-wheel-drive versions from that difference. So the hybrid will really only cost you $2,000 to $2,800 more.

Toyota's Highlander Hybrid offers fuel economy that's nearly as good and with a better reputation for reliability. And it does this with a 6-cylinder engine that gives more power and smoother performance. Plus, the 2008 Highlander has also been redesigned, providing more usable third row seating among other improvements. The Escape family of vehicles doesn't offer a third row.

But all that comes at a cost of about $9,000 more than the Escape Hybrid, including the tax credit. Toyota hybrids qualify for a smaller tax credit.

Overall, the Escape, Mariner and Tribute offer a lot of value in a hybrid SUV. The only real issue here is the lack of electronic stability control. Except for that, Mariner Hybrid and its cousins would be solid buys.

Subtle changes

Sound and silence

Easy ride

Inside line

Stability issues

Dollar for dollar
Ford updates two of its classic trucks for 2008. Ford's Escape and the SuperDuty F-450 (more)