As gas prices rise, hybrids make even more sense, but which are best?

With gas prices at or near record highs, if you’re in the market to buy a car right now, fuel efficiency might be high on your wish list! As Consumer Reports explains, there are lots of other good reasons—in addition to fuel economy—to consider buying a hybrid vehicle.

Hybrids have a gasoline-powered engine and a battery-powered electric motor that work together to optimize efficiency. Consumer Reports compared hybrid and nonhybrid versions of some popular vehicles and found that fuel savings could make up for many hybrids’ additional up-front purchase price.

Using a gas price of $4 per gallon and driving 12,000 miles a year, we found that the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid would pay off its higher cost in four years. The Honda Accord Hybrid would pay it off in three years; the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid, only two. And if gas prices go up to $5 per gallon, the payback period for the Santa Fe Hybrid could drop to just one year.

Beyond fuel economy, some hybrids perform better in our tests than the gas-only version of the same model. For example, the Hyundai Santa Fe Hybrid rides better, is quieter, and shifts more smoothly than the gas-only Santa Fe. It’s quicker in our acceleration tests, too.

Consumer Reports also finds that hybrids often have higher owner satisfaction scores than their conventional counterparts.

And if a new hybrid isn’t in your budget, consider buying a used one. When shopping for a used car, we say the sweet spot is a well-maintained 5-year-old vehicle. It not only has gone through a significant part of the depreciation cycle but also was designed and built recently enough to have modern safety and convenience features.

And if you are in the market for a car but you’re not ready to try a hybrid, check out our website, where we’ve put Consumer Reports’ list of fuel-efficient gasoline-powered vehicles.

Most Fuel-Efficient Cars

Fuel economy is one of the most important factors to consider when buying a new car, because it has an impact on your weekly operating costs. This is especially a concern when with record-level gasoline prices that may continue to rise. But even when they’re down, they won’t stay that way forever.

Many cars sold today offer impressive fuel economy, especially in contrast to what you may be trading in. Below, CR spotlights the most fuel-efficient cars based on its overall fuel-economy test results.

Measuring fuel economy is one of more than 50 tests we conduct on each car we purchase. Our fuel-economy numbers are derived from a precision flow meter and are rounded to the nearest mile per gallon. CR’s overall mileage results are calculated based on equal portions of city and highway driving.

This list starts with the most-efficient car, and it doesn’t include plug-in vehicles, like the Honda Clarity and Toyota Prius Prime. All of the cars are hybrids.

These featured models have our Green Choice designation, which highlights vehicles with the cleanest emissions. You can read more about Green Choice here.

Complete test results can be found by clicking through to the model pages. Note that not all of the models below are recommended vehicles.