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Cheapism: The best budget hybrid cars

Bill Pugliano / Getty Images file

The Toyota Prius C doesn't exactly impress experts with the way it drives, but the bottom line is it's one of the cheapest hybrids available.

When it comes to cars, “going green” demands a lot of green. Eco-friendly hybrids carry sticker prices thousands of dollars higher than their gasoline-only counterparts. Buyers also can no longer claim the federal tax credits offered in recent years to help bridge the gap. Of course, many hybrids boast outstanding fuel economy, which can combine with other factors, such as depreciation, to more than make up for the higher initial purchase price over the life of the car. (A calculator at Fueleconomy.gov shows car buyers how much they stand to save on gas.)

Below are Cheapism’s top picks for affordable hybrid cars.

  • The Toyota Camry Hybrid (starting at $25,990) outdoes other hybrid sedans under $26,000 with its performance and comfort, according to reviews, and with fuel efficiency of 43 miles per gallon in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. One reviewer wagers that if consumers were to test drive it without being told it’s a hybrid, they would have a hard time telling it apart from a regular Camry. (Where to buy)
  • The Toyota Prius C (starting at $18,950) doesn’t exactly impress experts with the way it drives, but the bottom line is it’s one of the cheapest hybrids available and offers an almost unsurpassed 53 mpg city/46 mpg highway. This is a smaller car than the sedans on our list, but it still carries up to five passengers. (Where to buy)
  • The Kia Optima Hybrid (starting at $25,700) stands out for its fluid styling, prompting multiple reviewers to call it the best-looking car in its class. Even the base model includes plenty of bells and whistles. This sedan claims a more modest but still respectable 35 mpg city/40 mpg highway. (Where to buy)
  • The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (starting at $25,850), like the Optima, gets 35 mpg city/40 mpg highway and comes with extra features such as a power drivers seat and heated mirrors. Reviewers note that both the Optima and the Sonata tend to shudder when switching between gas and electric power, but that’s hardly unusual among hybrids. (Where to buy)

Hybrid cars achieve their impressive fuel economy by drawing power from an electric motor and rechargeable batteries in addition to a traditional gasoline engine. The mpg ratings listed above are based on standardized testing and vary depending on how you drive. Leadfeet will get worse gas mileage than drivers with a lighter touch on the pedals.

Hybrids tend to come with more standard features at the lowest trim level than conventional cars do. Automatic climate control, for example, comes standard on every hybrid on this list. The three sedans feature dual-zone climate control, so the driver and front passenger can adjust the temperature separately. All four cars come with CD players, audio controls on the steering wheel, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth support, as well as power windows, locks, and mirrors.

Perhaps most important: The models we’ve chosen have all been designated Top Safety Picks by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

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