They're fuel-efficient, eco-friendly, and cool to drive. Could a hybrid be right for your family?

hybrid car covered in greens
Credit: Mike Agliolo/Getty Images

Driving a hybrid—cars that combine the power of a gas engine with an electric motor to reduce fuel consumption and emissions—may seem like something only an environmentalist or a tree-hugging celeb (hello, Leonardo DiCaprio!) could get revved up about. The fact is, however, there's never been a better time to consider a switch to a green, clean, environmentally friendly gas-saving machines. Here, six reasons a hybrid may be perfect for your family.

1. They're as comfortable to drive as conventional cars.

Hybrids handle just as smoothly as conventional cars, and while acceleration isn't as quick—they're not built for speed—chances are you won't notice a whole lot of difference. Well, there is one difference: Hybrids are super-quiet—sometimes you can't tell whether the engine is running or not! When power is not needed—at a red light, say, or in bumper-to-bumper traffic — the engine completely shuts down and revs up again when you press on the accelerator, meaning you don't waste gas or emit toxins.

Hybrids run on a rechargeable battery and gasoline rather than gas alone, but the power shift between the gas engine and electric motor is so seamless that you're likely to forget about all the advanced technology moving you down the road. And there's no need to plug them in as you would with an all-electric car; the electric motor also acts as a generator during deceleration and braking to continually recharge the batteries as you drive.

2. You're sure to find a model that fits your family's lifestyle.

There are numerous hybrid vehicles that can transport a family in comfort.  They not only offer superior fuel efficiency, solid performance but a noteworthy list of family-friendly features. Check out the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota Camry Hybrid.

3. You'll save money on gas.

With gas prices up...then down...then up again (currently, average gas prices around the U.S. are well above two bucks a gallon), there's no smarter reason to switch to a hybrid than fuel efficiency. Just compare the miles per gallon you're getting now with, for example, a Toyota Prius's 54 mpg in the city and 5 mpg on the highway.

In fact, hybrid cars can go for about 550 miles between fill-ups, meaning you should be able to cut visits to your neighborhood gas station in half, saving you time as well as money. If you drive 1,000 miles a month and your current car averages 20 miles per gallon, driving a hybrid could save around $853 or more a year at the pump.

4. You'll be doing your part to help protect the environment. 

Hybrids emit less pollution than standard vehicles.  On average, compact hybrid cars produce 10% fewer smog-producing emissions than their conventional counterparts. Hybrid mid-sized cars, mid-sized SUVs, and full-size SUVs reduce smog-producing gas emissions by 15%,19% and 21%, respectively, over their gas-only counterparts.

5. You'll set a good example for your kids. 

If you like the notion of leaving the world a better place for your children, driving a hybrid is one good way to transform that lofty ideal into a concrete move. Our actions as parents speak louder than our words, even with seemingly simple decisions. Owning an eco-friendly car does more to impart environmental values to your children than countless talks about saving the planet.

6. You'll boost your "coolness quotient."

You can't put a price on this aspect of hybrid ownership, but suffice it to say, driving a hybrid car is a surefire conversation starter among coworkers, fellow parents, neighbors, and even total strangers. Just ask Hollywood A-listers Matt Damon, Julia Roberts, and Kate Hudson—all happening hybrid owners.

Reality Check

Although hybrids offer some significant benefits, there are a couple of points to consider before you sign on the dotted line.

  • Energy efficiency. All hybrids get better mileage than conventional cars, but there are two different approaches to the powering mechanism, in both current and upcoming models. Some, for example, get better fuel mileage in stop-and-go traffic, while others do better on the highway.  Before you settle on a particular model, keep in mind how you'll use the car — as a neighborhood shuttle service or a long-distance commuter-mobile. Hybrids are a great choice for those who drive many miles — especially in stop-and-go traffic.
  • Reliability. Generally, hybrid vehicles require very little maintenance and have received high marks as far as reliability by such auto industry watchdogs as Consumer Reports and J.D. Power. 
  • Fuel emissions. If your goal is to drive the car or truck with the least possible environmental impact, you'll want to spend some time researching your options. Even though automakers have greatly improved gas mileage in recent years and offer a wider range of economical gasoline models, these vehicles can still produce more pollution per mile than a comparably-sized hybrid. Essentially, some hybrids are cleaner than others — and conventionally powered cars with low emissions can be cleaner than certain hybrids. So the bottom line, do your homework before deciding which vehicle is right for your specific needs.

Parents Magazine