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Hybrid SUVs a hot item for car buyers

December 28, 2007 12:00:00 AM PST
Hybrid SUVs are a hot item on the market right now, and several companies are making big changes to catch your attention. Find out what the latest models have to offer.Toyota had barely introduced the regular version of their new Highlander Crossover SUV when they then rolled out the Hybrid model. The new Toyota Highlander Hybrid ($33,700 base price) picks up where the previous model left off, adding more interior room and a standard third row seat for family use.

Underneath, the Highlander gets Toyota's full hybrid system, meaning it can crawl along on battery power to save fuel. It's rated at 26 miles per gallon overall.

Hybrid SUVs are one of the hottest things on the market right now, and the big news this automotive year is the introduction of some big hybrids, like the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid ($49,590 base price).

"It's all the things and all the reasons people want to have a full-size SUV, but we've improved the fuel economy by 30 to 40 percent," said GM spokesman Gary White.

The Tahoe Hybrid, along with the GMC Yukon Hybrid, is something a lot of buyers have been asking for. A full size SUV with respectable fuel economy, it gets up to 21 miles per gallon in city driving.

"Not only do you get the benefits in the city, but because of the way we configured the motors and the transmission, and with the aerodynamic package on the truck, you also pick up some highway fuel economy," said White.

GM's engineers went to great lengths to make the Tahoe as efficient as possible, saving weight here and there and streamlining the overall profile.

Creating a hybrid SUV is a little more of a challenge compared to a smaller sedan. Since the vehicle is bigger, it needs a bigger drive system with a bigger battery, and those add weight, which generally goes against overall efficiency. Still, consumers have said they want SUVs to go hybrid, and the auto industry is responding.

The Ford family expands its hybrid offerings with a Mazda Tribute Hybrid -- a mechanical twin to the Ford Escape.

The new Saturn Vue Hybrid ($24,170 base price) will be sold as both a mild hybrid for a relatively low price and a full hybrid for several thousand more.

GM's also promising a plug-in hybrid Vue in the coming years.

Chrysler has hybrid versions of its Dodge Durango and Chrysler Aspen coming soon, and even Porsche will be getting into the game with a hybrid Cayenne.

High gas prices don't necessarily mean SUVs are going away. But there will be more of them eking out a few more miles per gallon with hybrid power.

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