Carmakers now offering more SUVs as hybrids

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Nissan is now offering a hybrid version of its Rogue. (KABC)

Buyers can't get enough of SUVs these days, particularly the compact ones.

And now, we're seeing the newest flavor of small SUVs: ones with hybrid power.

Nissan now has a hybrid version of its Rogue. The vehicle's been a hot seller for several years, and now it gets to be a little greener.

An electric motor combines with a 4-cylinder gasoline engine for better fuel mileage.

But there is a downside over the regular Rogue, besides the $1,000 increase in sticker price. (In equal SV trim level, the Rogue starts at $27,590, while the non-hybrid Rogue SV is $26,590.) The hybrid battery pack is located beneath the rear cargo floor, and steals some space.

Toyota has a direct competitor, the RAV4 Hybrid. The RAV4's been around over 20 years, and Toyota's been making hybrids for nearly that long.

But it was only last year that they decided to apply a hybrid system to their baby SUV. It too offers better fuel mileage and a bit less cargo space than the regular RAV4, also for a higher sticker price.

But don't bother trying to compare the Kia Niro Hybrid to the non-hybrid one, as there is no non-hybrid one. Kia decided that this all-new model would only be offered as a hybrid. It's on the smaller, more wagon-y end of the small crossover segment. It's also not available with all-wheel drive, which is something some buyers do want.

There's a reason behind auto manufacturers adding the fuel-saving hybrid technology to their SUV models, and it has to do with the buying public's changing taste in vehicle types.

Government fuel economy standards are tougher to meet as more trucks and SUVs get into the mix. So, hybrid power comes to the rescue.

The regular Toyota RAV4 with all-wheel drive gets a combined mpg rating of 25, while the hybrid gets 32, which is a 28 percent improvement.

For the Rogue, the hybrid improvement is 27 mpg bumped up to 33 mpg, a 22 percent improvement.

And the Niro blows them both away. The hybrid-only baby SUV is rated at an impressive 49 mpg overall for the middle trim levels. (Some higher trim Niro models get slightly lower figures due to larger wheels and tires.)

So three new choices in hybrids. Think of these as having the practicality of an SUV, with a guilt-free amount of fuel consumption.
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