It wasn’t that long ago that the mere mention of a hybrid car brought certain images to mind. None were particularly flattering. The perception was these vehicles were only owned by sour-faced tree-huggers to shuttle themselves from yoga class to the organic food co-op. No wonder the last thing anyone associated with such a car was luxury.
A lot has changed over the last few years, and hybrid cars have found more acceptance among mainstream car owners. In fact, there are models that cannot be described by any term other than “luxury car.” It’s simply a sign of the times.
Using data from the automotive information website Edmunds.com, CNBC.com highlights 10 cars that are powered by gasoline-electric hybrid technology but don’t skimp on comfort or opulence. Some are better buys than others, and the pros are listed alongside the cons.
What are some of the notable luxury hybrid cars on the market today? Click ahead and find out.
By Daniel Bukszpan
Updated 1 March 2012
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $102,300
The ActiveHybrid 7 Series is the more eco-friendly version of BMW’s 7 Series sedan. The good news is it’s more powerful and fuel-efficient than the car that inspired it. The bad news is that at $102,300, it costs over $30,000 more than the car that inspired it.
Other than the considerable jump in price from the 7 Series sedan, most of the differences in the ActiveHybrid 7 Series fall firmly into the plus column. Its advantages are “brawny hybrid power plant, better fuel economy and more standard features than a regular 750, technology galore, sublime seats, no practical compromise despite hybrid technology,” according to Edmunds.com.
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $74,135
The 2011 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid has an updated navigation system. Other than that, there is no difference between this model and its 2010 predecessor. The manufacturer's suggested retail price is $74,135 and for that, motorists get improved fuel economy and eight passenger seating capacity.
That’s not all motorists get. “Questionable value; quirky powertrain operation; reduced power and towing capacity; mediocre braking,” are a few of the decidedly less-marvelous attributes of this vehicle, according to Edmunds.com.
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $53,700
The Infiniti M is currently available in three different models, the M37, the M56 and the M35h Hybrid. The hybrid version of this midsize luxury sedan has a powertrain that combines an electric motor and a gas-fueled 3.5-liter V6, which together add up to 360 horsepower. Not bad for $53,700.
The hybrid compares well with its counterparts. “In testing, we found it matches the M56's incredible acceleration abilities, while besting the M37's combined fuel economy by 8 mpg,” according to Edmunds.com. “Unlike other luxury hybrids, its price isn't overly inflated, hitting the register in between its gasoline-only siblings.”
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $29,120
The 2011 CT 200h is the fifth hybrid produced by Lexus, and with a sticker price of $29,120, it’s certainly the least expensive. Add to that high fuel economy and better-than-average handling for a hybrid, and it all adds up to an attractive package.
Of course, it’s not all good news. Edmunds.com cites multiple factors preventing the vehicle from being a solid home run, such as “pokey acceleration; not a lot of in-cabin storage space; some controls look dated and less than premium.”
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $58,950
The 2011 Lexus GS 450h has a hybrid engine with a 340-horsepower output, and an EPA-estimated fuel economy of 23 miles per gallon. These specifications make the car a small improvement over its gas-powered counterparts, the GS 350 and the GS 460.
The GS 450h costs $58,950, which is $3,500 more than the GS 460 and a staggering $12,000 more than the GS 350. This makes the vehicle “dubious in terms of outright value,” according to Edmunds.com.
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $34,645
The 2011 MKZ Hybrid from Lincoln is a moderately-priced option for those wishing to buy a luxury hybrid vehicle. It has a manufacturer's suggested retail price of $34,645.
When it comes to shortcomings, the only one that Edmunds.com can muster is that it “lacks the premium feel of luxury competitors.” This is hardly a deal breaker, and it’s far outweighed by the vehicle’s excellent fuel economy and handling.
Note: The 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid is no longer in production. However, a certified pre-owned unit in "excellent" condition is worth $32,415, according to Kelley Blue Book.
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $55,790
The Mercedes-Benz M-Class is a series of SUV that debuted in the 1990s. It’s currently available in a dizzying number of variations. One is the ML450 Hybrid, which comes tricked out with all-wheel drive, Bluetooth, an iPod input, and all the bells, whistles and luxuries that one would hope to get for $55,790.
Sadly, the vehicle loses much of its luster when it comes to driving it. It’s a heavier vehicle than other M-Class cars, which compromises its performance, and its fuel economy is unimpressive, according to Edmunds.com. The website suggests that motorists take a look at the Lexus RX 450h instead.
Note: The 2011 Mercedes-Benz ML450 Hybrid is no longer in production. However, "used" units are available for prices starting at $47,138, according to Edmunds.com.
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $55,790
Edmunds.com gives a chilly review to Mercedes-Benz’ ML450 Hybrid. On the other hand, the website has a completely different take on the company’s S400 Hybrid.
The website considers the Mercedes-Benz S-Class “the quintessential premium luxury sedan” and calls it “a standard-bearer for technology, design, innovation, safety and performance.”
Its hybrid version lives up to these high standards, all while offering impressive fuel economy and selling for a relatively modest $55,790.
Note: The 2011 Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid is no longer in production. However, "used" units are available for prices starting at $74,496, according to Edmunds.com.
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $67,700
The Porsche Cayenne was redesigned from top to bottom for 2011. The new hybrid version costs $67,700, which is not exactly cheap, and it has a trunk with somewhat limited capacity, but otherwise, Edmunds.com characterizes it as “a top pick.”
The hybrid has a 3.0-liter V6 and an electric motor powered by a battery. “The result is one of the most seamless power deliveries from a hybrid system on the market,” according to Edmunds.com.
Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price: $95,000
When it comes to luxury sedans, Edmunds.com ranks the Porsche Panamera as one of the best on the market. It seats four comfortably, its interior is luxurious and its powerful performance should satisfy even the most discriminating.
Porsche has introduced a Panamera hybrid for 2012. It has a gasoline-electric powertrain with an electric motor, a supercharged V6 and eight-speed automatic transmission. This adds up to a 375-horsepower output and an ability to go from zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.7 seconds. The manufacturer's suggested retail price is $95,000.