Finding a used car that suits your needs can be pretty straightforward, if you're just after basic daily transportation. But what if you're after a nice used hybrid that is not just still easy on your gas budget, but also safe enough to cart around your family and friends? Combining complex factors like these can make the used car search quite a bit more difficult. Fortunately, we are here to help make it easy again with this guide to some of the safest used hybrids you'll find anywhere.
In order to select the safest hybrids, we've used the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's Top Safety Pick and Top Safety Pick+ designations awarded from 2009-2014. This time range encompasses most of the used hybrids available on the market—or at least those likely to be in good enough condition to be something you'd want to spend your hard-earned cash on. Why the IIHS Top Safety Pick (TSP) awards? Because the IIHS' crash testing is rigorous, and includes additional tests to those carried out by the government's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In more recent years, the IIHS has even enhanced their TSP award with the addition of a Top Safety Pick+ designation, which gives carmakers credit for including more advanced safety technologies that aren't otherwise included in a crash test regimen.
Here, we should note that while the IIHS does a great deal of crash testing, it doesn't test each individual sub-model of car. This means that many hybrids which are based on other, non-hybrid vehicles, aren't tested separately as hybrids. While that likely means that the safety rating of the base non-hybrid vehicle would translate to the hybrid variant, significant differences in the vehicles' structure due to differing engines, placement of the battery pack, additional bracing, or other structural and design differences, could yield a different result for the hybrid version—a result we don't know. Therefore, we've limited our survey of the IIHS TSP ratings to dedicated hybrid models: cars that are only sold as hybrid vehicles, with no directly related gasoline—or diesel-powered variants.
So what are the safest dedicated hybrids you can buy on the used market right now? Some of the most popular, fortunately, as well as some sitting closer to the fringes. Listed in descending order of number of TSP awards:
The hybrid that started it all is still one of the best picks around if you want an efficient, safe transportation device. From 2010-2014, the Prius earned not just great crash-test ratings, but EPA gas mileage scores of 51 mpg city, 48 mpg highway, and 50 mpg combined.
The only series hybrid on this list, the Chevrolet Volt is technically an electric car with an onboard gasoline-powered generator. When plugged in to charge up the internal battery pack, the 2011-2014 Chevy Volt earns combined gas mileage ratings of 93-98 mpg (depending on year). When run without any plug-in charging, the Volt earns a combined gas mileage of 37 mpg across all model years.
So if you're going to be plugging in on a regular basis, either at home or at work, or both, you can end up with overall efficiency that's nearly double that of a Prius--and often for a similar purchase price. On top of that, those who charge their Volts from outlets get 35-38 miles of full-speed all-electric driving range--so it's possible for those who primarily use their cars as in-town commuters to completely avoid the use of gasoline altogether.
While it has proved far more successful and effective as a hybrid that Lexus' doomed HS 250h, the CT 200h doesn't turn in the most impressive gas mileage figures--but it does up the style and luxury of the compact hybrid hatchback class considerably. Rated at just 43 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, and 42 mpg combined, there are some high-efficiency conventional powertrain vehicles that can approach or match the CT 200h's hybrid system for gas mileage. The CT 200h does, however, allow some limited-case use of electric-only driving mode at low speeds and for short distances, which some buyers may find useful.
Toyota's smallest of the Prius family, the Prius c is probably best known by most drivers as the brightly colored little bubble that whizzes by on your daily commute. The Prius c uses a similar hybrid system to its bigger brother, the full-sized Prius, and gets about the same gas mileage out of it, despite its smaller size. Rated at 53 mpg city, 46 mpg highway, and 50 mpg combined, the Prius C is a solid choice for those living in denser urban areas where parking space is at a premium, but the need to transport more people or haul larger loads is less pressing.
On the flip side of the Prius c's coin lies the Prius v. Fleshing out the standard Prius to a rather capacious wagon profile, the Prius v is the suburban alternative for the busy family that needs space for people and things—but still wants really good gas mileage. The Prius v takes a hit on gas mileage compared to the standard car and the Prius c, but it's still quite good for a car of its capacity, rated by the EPA at 44 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, and 42 mpg combined.
A bit of an also-ran in the hybrid wars, the Honda Insight is a Toyota Prius doppelganger in nearly every way, except perhaps in the most important one: fuel efficiency. Where the first-generation Honda Insight was an oddity, with its tiny dimensions, boat-tailed rear end (for aerodynamics), and other quirks, it never sold in volume but won a devoted fan base. The second generation Insight, the one we're dealing with here, was considerably more conventional--and nowhere near as efficient. The EPA rates the 2010-11 Insight at 40 mpg city, 43 mpg highway, and 41 mpg combined. The 2012-2014 models add 1 mpg to each of those scores. While that's a bit disappointing for Honda's answer to the Toyota Prius, it's still much more efficient than most of the non-hybrid compact car alternatives, so those interested in the Insight shouldn't let slightly subpar gas mileage figures deter them from their path.
The newest vehicle on this list—only the 2013 and 2014 model years fall within our range—the C-Max Hybrid is an interesting mix of more engaging driving dynamics and a more refined, quiet interior (not to mention a bit more space for people and things), with slightly disappointing gas mileage figures, at least in comparison to its most direct rival, the Toyota Prius. The C-Max rates 42 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, and 40 mpg combined—but it's worth noting that those figures have been adjusted down from inflated initial claims of 47 mpg combined.
No matter which of these hybrids you pick, you'll be getting great gas mileage—it's just a question of whether you need space for family and gear, space to park, all-electric driving ability, or if you prefer something a bit off the beaten path. Whichever you choose, you should treat the hybrid buying experience just like any other: get your financing in order, even if this is your first car, and be sure to get an inspection done by a reputable mechanic.
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