Report: Do hybrid cars really save you money?

It’s often assumed that a hybrid car will cost more to own than a comparable gasoline model because the higher initial purchase price will cancel out any fuel savings.

That’s not necessarily true, though. It just depends on which hybrid you buy.

Research firm Vincentric recently conducted its annual Hybrid Analysis cost-of-ownership survey, and it found that only about one third of hybrids – 10 out of 31 surveyed – cost less to own than their straight gasoline counterparts.

Topping the list are the small but luxurious Lexus CT 200h and Toyota’s Avalon Hybrid, which Vincentric estimates will save owners $7,600 and $3,200, respectively, over five years.

Other models that showed a cost advantage over a direct gasoline counterpart included the Audi Q5, Hyundai Sonata, Infiniti QX60, Lexus ES 300h, Lincoln MKZ, and Toyota Camry hybrids, as well as the now-discontinued Acura ILX mild hybrid.

Of course, owners will save money on fuel regardless of which model they choose – Vincentric puts the average savings over five years at $2,895 – but that still may not be enough to offset a higher purchase price.

The Lexus GS 450h, for example, still ended up costing $8,200 more to own than a non-hybrid GS, while the Volkswagen Touareg Hybrid carried a cost penalty of $7,500.

Hybrids that actually save their owners money are in the minority, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. A combination of low fuel prices and more-efficient non-hybrid powertrains – usually based around small four-cylinder turbocharged engines – are eroding any cost advantage.

Meanwhile, hybrids aren’t getting any cheaper. They’re still saddled with the cost of essentially two complete powertrains, adding at least on electric motor, a battery pack, and other associated hardware to the traditional gasoline engine and transmission.

In fact, Vincentric found the average five-year cost of ownership for hybrids to be $1,445 more than gasoline cars. The specific number of hybrid models that are less expensive to own than gasoline cars has also shrunk, from 44 percent in 2012, to 39 percent in 2013, and 32 percent in 2014.