Say "hybrid car," and most people think Toyota Prius.
The Japanese maker has sold roughly 3 million Prius models worldwide since 1997, which is more than half of all the hybrids in the world.
The 2012 Toyota Prius remains the gold standard among hybrid-electric vehicles, with three of its four separate models delivering a combined EPA gas-mileage rating of 50 mpg.
But there are more than a dozen other hybrids sold in the U.S. as well, and the technology will expand across many more vehicles in coming years as fuel-efficiency standards rise.
With that in mind, it's worth highlighting some hybrid models you may wish to think twice about before you sign on the dotted line.
2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 7 [$97,000]
One of BMW's first two hybrid efforts--the other is the now-discontinued ActiveHybrid X6--the hybrid 7-Series sedan suffered from an unwieldy name, marginal gas mileage, and lumpy driving behavior that belied its "ultimate driving machine" image.
BMW skewed its first hybrid system toward boosting power, rather than improving fuel efficiency. In fact, the company touted it as "the world's fastest hybrid vehicle" at the time, with a 0-to-60-mph time of just 4.7 seconds.
The EPA rated the ActiveHybrid 7Li model at 20 mpg combined--no better than the (less powerful) conventional 740Li model the same year.
The hybrid's 15-kilowatt (22-hp) electric motor wasn't nearly powerful enough to move the full-size luxury sedan on its own. It could only contribute additional torque, restart the 455-hp 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 engine when the car moved away from a stop, and recharge the lithium-ion battery pack under braking.
We found that the car slowed noticeably when lifting off the throttle under 25 mph, "as if it had driven into mud that was dragging it down," when we tested the ActiveHybrid 7 two years ago."Worse," we wrote, "there's a perceptible second phase of recharging in which the car slows even quicker."
That's just not how a big, expensive BMW should behave.
BMW agrees. For 2013, the ActiveHybrid 7 is being updated with an entirely new powertrain that's shared with hybrid models of the 5-Series and 3-Series as well. It has a more powerful 40-kW (55-hp) electric motor and can move the car purely under electric power at low speeds, paired to a twin-turbo six-cylinder engine.
The update makes orphans of the 2011 and 2012 BMW ActiveHybrid 7. With fuel economy no better than a non-hybrid 7-Series, and notably worse driving behavior, we see no reason to put the 2012 model on your shopping list.