Hybrids are all about fuel economy, right? In the minds of Joe and Jane Consumer, most would agree that hybrid vehicles get better mpg than their conventionally-powered counterparts.
When Toyota first introduced their Highlander Hybrid as a 2006 model, its EPA estimated mpg of 27 city/31 mpg highway was better than most other contemporary mid-size SUVs. For example, the 2006 Chevrolet Equinox with its standard 3.4-liter V-6 achieved only 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway.
Facts like these supported the understood paradigm.
But things have changed, and changed quickly.
Certainly, the way the EPA measures fuel economy is different. That 2006 Equinox would achieve only 17 city/22 highway using today's stricter standards. The 2006 Highlander Hybrid would be down to 28 city/25 highway. Regardless of measurement protocols, the Toyota still had a significant advantage over the gas-only Chevy.
However, the focus of this story is on a bigger issue. Given today's smaller and more powerful internal combustion engines, the hybrid advantage is not always what it once was. As proof, consider the 2009 Toyota Highlander Hybrid and the all-new 2010 Chevrolet Equinox. (For those interested in the latest Toyota models, the 2010 Highlander Hybrid is virtually identical to the 2009 edition.)