Most (and least) cost-effective hybrids

How much it costs to save a gallon of gas varies widely, even among closely-related vehicles.

Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
Hybrid value rank: 2
Time to recoup premium in fuel savings alone: 4.6 years

Typical cost: $22,140

Compared to: Chevrolet Malibu 4 cyl.

Hybrid cost premium: $535 (Based on "True Market Value" and $1,300 hybrid tax credit.)

Annual fuel savings: $116 (38 gallons)

Offering only a modest fuel economy improvement, the Malibu Hybrid might not seem like much of a hybrid. It has what General Motors calls a "belt alternator system" in which the vehicle's electric motor provides minimal assistance. It does, however, allow the car's gasoline engine to shut off entirely whenever the car stops, event momentarily, and it does provide some additional power during acceleration. The Malibu Hybrid can never drive under all electric power, though, even at low speeds.

The benefits to the consumer are that this system, which requires relatively small batteries and minimal changes to the basic car's engineering, costs less to build and to buy. That means you aren't spending thousands of dollars to save a few hundred dollars a year in gas. Also, smaller batteries mean the Malibu Hybrid gives you the same ample trunk space as the non-hybrid version, whereas other hybrid sedans have severely truncated trunks.

The very similar Saturn Aura Hybrid ranks lower than the Malibu because of a larger price gap between it and a newly available 4-cylinder Aura.

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