Go big or go hybrid - now you can do both

LOS ANGELES It's been a bad sales year for large SUVs, thanks to the cost of fueling them up. But we're starting to see the "Hybrid" badge on a few of them. "Hybrid" is a term that some people assume means a magic bullet for fuel mileage.

"Hybrid isn't always what it's cracked up to be. It doesn't mean an instant 50 miles per gallon," said Edmunds.com Road Test Editor Brian Moody.

The newest player in the big-hybrid SUV game is the Dodge Durango. With its V-8 engine and three rows of seats, it has lots of attributes, including substantial towing capacity.

But its two-mode hybrid system means it can glide along on battery power alone in traffic, giving it an EPA city fuel economy rating of 19 miles per gallon; but it also has big V-8 power for passing.

Nineteen miles per gallon might not sound great, but compared to the conventional hemi-powered Durango, that's a 46-percent advantage.

The Durango follows the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid and its twin, the GMC Yukon Hybrid, into the marketplace. Their fuel economy improvement is similar at 43 percent.

Also being introduced this year is a hybrid version of the big Cadillac Escalade. It manages 20 mpg city, a major improvement over the non-hybrid Escalade. But the fuel savings comes at a cost.

"Because hybrids are typically more expensive than their non-hybrid counterparts. So it might just be better to get a fuel-efficient crossover or sedan and call it a day," said Moody.

The premium for a hybrid is usually several thousand dollars, money that would buy an awful lot of gas.

Dodge doesn't expect to sell a lot of these hybrid Durangos, and GM has pretty low forecasts for their full-size SUVs. But it gives the automakers something besides sales numbers: the cachet of having hybrid vehicles in their line.

That hybrid buzz may only take them so far once all the numbers are worked out.

Still, those hybrid badges are expected to work at least a little magic in the showroom, if only to show that car companies can build more fuel efficient SUVs -- for a price.


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