By Erik Badia
While there’s no doubt our economy is in a downturn, virtually all of us still need to have reliable transportation for our everyday lives. If your budget is tight and you need a new vehicle, there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. There are ways to ease the pain of buying a new car in this economy, however. Perhaps one of the best ways to save money in the long run is to scoop up one of the many new hybrid vehicles currently offered by a variety of auto manufactures. Not only will these vehicles save you green at the pump, there are also tax incentives that come along with them. According to the E.P.A., hybrids purchased or placed into service after December 31, 2005 may be eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $3,400. Additionally, driving one of these vehicles lowers your ecological footprint, helping to save our environment from its constant struggle against us humans. Whether you’re in the market for a subcompact, sedan, S.U.V. or truck, you can find them all in hybrid versions. Here’s a look at some choices:
Compact/Subcompacts: Chances are you’ve seen a smart fortwo cruising around Long Island and wondered what it was. Since their January release in the United States, these micro-machine sized cars have sold well. smart is part of the Daimler-Benz auto group, and with dealerships in Smithtown and Roslyn, any Long Islander can have access to these unique automobiles. While the smart fortwo isn’t a hybrid, it offers up impressive fuel economy numbers with an EPA rated 33mpg city and 41mpg highway. Frightening as it may sound, the fortwo sports a wheelbase only 7 inches longer than the popular Honda Goldwing motorcycle, but that doesn’t mean that the pint sized coupe isn’t safe. In fact, the 2008 smart fortwo achieved the highest ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for front and side crashworthiness. But surely one of the best features of the fortwo is its low starting price, with a base model only setting you back $11,590. (See www.smartusa.com for more details)
Sedans: Most everybody knows what a Toyota Prius is by now, and while it may be the most well known of the hybrid sedans, it is far from your only choice. The Prius has proven to be a very safe, reliable and fuel efficient vehicle, which has spurned its popularity. Along with that popularity, however, comes some baggage, mainly in the form of dealers asking over sticker price, less flexible leasing/financing options and very limited availability. So if you need a hybrid with some space, but don’t want to wait for a Prius, consider the Honda Civic sedan hybrid ($22,600 base—40/45mpg city/hwy), Toyota Camry hybrid ($25,650 base—33/34mpg), Nissan Altima hybrid ($25,480 base – 33/35mpg) and the Chevy Malibu/Saturn Aura hybrids ($25,545 base —26/34mpg; $24,550 base—26/34mpg). All of these hybrids feature starting prices under $26,000, get at least 34mpg on the highway and have room to seat 5 comfortably, plus all your wares.
Trucks/S.U.V.’s: If you find yourself needing the room and utility of a truck or S.U.V., don’t fret, you can still jump on the hybrid bandwagon. If you are in the market for a small S.U.V., you’ve got plenty of options, with the Saturn Vue hybrid ($26,270 base, 25/32mpg), the Ford Escape hybrid ($26,640 base, 34/30mpg), and it’s counter parts the Mercury Mountaineer Hybrid ($28,150 base, 34/30mpg) and the Mazda Tribute hybrid ($26,155 base, 34/30mpg). If you need more space, G.M. has got you covered with its lineup of large hybrid S.U.V.’s and trucks; the Chevy Tahoe hybrid ($50,490 base, 20/20mpg) and the upcoming ’09 Cadillac Escalade hybrid ($TBD, 20/21mpg) offer luxury, plenty of space and generous towing capabilities. If you need even more utility, take a look at the ’09 Chevy Silverado pickup truck hybrid, which is expected to get close to 21mpg on the highway.