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Heavenly Hybrids – Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid/Kia Niro

Driving a hybrid used to mean putting up with wacky space-age styling and limited practicality. Not so with these hybrid models.

The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is a gas-sipper. (Photo: © FCA US LLC.)

Sure, sure, we know it’s a minivan. But don’t let that fool you, as the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid is still one of the most appealing new models on the market.

As the name implies, what sets this version of Chrysler’s latest minivan apart is its gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain. What really makes it noteworthy, however, is that it’s actually a plug-in hybrid that offers up to 33 miles of all-electric range (at speeds of up to 75 mph) after recharging the oversize battery pack. Topping it off with electrons takes roughly 14 hours when plugged into a normal 120-volt wall outlet, or about two hours with a 240-volt Level 2 charger.

What this means to you is that, if you keep the battery charged, you’ll likely be going a long time between fill-ups. And because it’s a hybrid, when that initial battery charge is depleted, the gasoline engine comes online and you can just keep right on motoring for more than 560 miles on a full tank, making the Pacifica Hybrid an ideal vehicle for both everyday errand-running and family road trips.

Figure in federal tax credits of up to $7,500, and you have a sophisticated vehicle that’s also a smart choice.

Base Price: $39,995

MPG: 84

Crash Test: N/A

The environmentally friendly Kia Niro. (Photo: Kia Motors America)

Take the higher seating position of a crossover, mix in an impressive gasoline-electric hybrid powertrain and you have the all-new Kia Niro.

Of course, the fact that the compact Niro lacks an available all-wheel-drive system and increased ground clearance makes it more of a four-door hatchback than a crossover. Which is OK, as it still offers plenty of practicality – like a generously sized 54.5-cubic-foot cargo area with the rear seats folded.

That it forgoes the funky styling of some hybrid models is also noteworthy. Its relatively ordinary looks may actually be a plus to folks interested in maximizing mpgs without feeling like they’re loudly proclaiming some greener-than-thou world view at every turn.

On the environmentally friendly scale, the Niro earns high marks. The FE base model returns Environmental Protection Agency estimates of 52 mpg city and 49 mpg highway. Those numbers drop as you go up in trim levels, until you get to the 46 city/40 highway numbers of the heavier top-of-the-line Touring model I drove. Still pretty impressive for a model with this much utility.

Base Price: $23,340

MPG: 52 city, 49 highway

Crash Test: N/A

Looking for a new car ride? Find more car reviews online. AAA.com/TestDrive

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