Cars: Hybrids and an Electric Compared

Setting out to find the best hybrid or fully electric vehicles available on the Corvallis new car market, my trusty ’91 Lincoln Town Car and I had been tasked by some editorial dice roll to follow two rules in our search: to only consider cars available locally, and further to select the most efficient model on each lot.

I started with the Honda Civic and meandered all the way to a fully electric Nissan Leaf. On the way, I tested the Ford Fusion, the Prius and Prius C, and finally the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. There are other hybrids available in Corvallis, but I included only those which achieved the highest miles per gallon offered on each lot. I did a simple assessment based mainly on style, comfort, handling, and agility.

Honda_Fit_EV_2011_LA_Auto_ShowHonda Gadget Love
Although no longer available to lease, I got to ride in the owner of University Honda’s personal Honda Fit EV, which was disappointingly less like a spaceship and more just like a human-sized RC car. The Civic Hybrid however, had the most intriguing gadgets and gizmos of all the green cars I test drove here in Corvallis. The 2014 Civic Hybrid gets a combined city and highway average of 45 miles per gallon, and has a sportier look to it than most hybrids. The brakes seemed to be a tad on the touchier side and the blind spots were rather egregious, but the Civic made up for these downfalls with a nifty passenger-side camera, known as the LaneWatch. As you signal to turn, this camera turns on, displaying all the pesky areas you can’t see in the mirror or in your peripheral vision. For a place like Corvallis, where bicyclists run rampant, some obeying traffic laws and others cycling under prison rules, this sort of camera truly comes in handy.

Ford_Fusion_Hybrid_2nd_genFord Luxo-Shark Comfort
Next I hit up Ford and checked out the Fusion Hybrid. This hybrid seems to be marketed toward the ultra-macho but ecologically attentive community in fear of being emasculated by the other Prius-style hybrids. It doesn’t conform to the aerospace, turtle shape of many hybrids, and instead resembles something more aggressive, somewhat shark-like. Although seemingly more like a luxury sedan in build, in terms of leg space, especially in the backseat, the Fusion seems much snugger than the Civic and Prius. It only gets 3 miles per gallon less on average than the Civic, and they both get a city average of 44 miles per gallon. I prefer the drive of the Fusion overall, based mainly on comfort.

2012-toyota-priusToyota Gets Cargo Space Gold
While the Prius C will never be much of a “grocery getter” and had a bit of a cheap feel to it, there’s no ignoring its combined city and highway rating of 50 miles per gallon. I would suggest a little more patience with the C when accelerating onto highways. It’s a bit sluggish, even compared to Eco Mode in the Leaf. The Prius has the same average miles per gallon as the C, but scores much higher on the comfort and interior style scale. I found the gas/electric display of the Prius to be a bit unnecessary and distracting. At times I found myself playing a game trying to only light up the battery section of the electronic display car on the console, rather than trying to stay on the road. I’d say the Prius takes the gold for extra cargo space and roominess, but lags far behind in style. I also felt the Prius lacked in agility compared to some of the others.

SONY DSCVW’s Sporty Handling Plus Cuteness
Where all of the other vehicles I saw were wanting in cuteness, the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid compensated for its competitors. This vehicle seems to be aimed at a younger market with its sportier feel and peppy handling. It can certainly compete at an average of 45 miles per gallon, but costs a bit more in comparison to its hybrid counterparts with a sticker price of just a dash over $32,000. Despite the higher price, I continually found myself returning to this one, quite possibly because of the genuine and surprisingly non-villainous sales reps I encountered at the dealership, but more likely because of the style, smooth transitioning, and agility. Not to mention, I won’t actually be dropping any real dough on this vehicle—I am a writer, after all.

Nissan LeafNissan Offers Fully Electric Leaf
As I pulled up to these dealerships in my Detroit parade float, I got more than a few second glances. In fact, while nearly laying frame in the Keiffer Nissan lot, a few lovely salesmen emerged from their cozy office chairs just to step outside and throw a couple pesky remarks my way. My predetermined impressions of driving the Nissan Leaf were not terribly far off from the real thing. It’s smooth, quiet, peaceful, and surprisingly simple to navigate. However, I didn’t feel nearly as akin to an Australian fairy working to save my beloved FernGully as I hoped I would. Perhaps if my drab salesman were more of a kooky Robin Williams character, I could have better entertained the fantasy. Outlandish expectations aside, the Leaf had decent get up and go, unless switched to Eco Mode, which is a battery-saving drive mode. I test drove the 2015 Leaf S, which gets a combined city and highway average of 114 miles per gallon gasoline equivalent. The Leaf gets an average range of about 84 miles per charge, and can be fully recharged in about five hours with a 240 volt charger. If you drive primarily in town and can bring yourself to drive a car reminiscent of a Pokemon character, then the Leaf seems to be a pretty smart investment.

According to my painstakingly scientific testing, or lack of a quick dodge in an editorial meeting, these are the top hybrid and electric cars on the Corvallis market today. What it comes down to is lifestyle and budget. As for me, street cred is a much higher priority than gas mileage, or more truthfully, because my humble writer’s budget can’t allow for such extravagances at this time, I’ll have to stick with my trusty Town Car.

By Maggie Nelson