Fuel Mileage Savings Comparison: Mild Hybrid vs. Full Hybrid Vehicles, Proof in Dollar Signs


Fuel Mileage may be even easier to achieve with new mild hybrid technology

Our readers searching for better fuel mileage may believe a hybrid is the best option, but with the higher upfront costs there may be a better alternative.

DETROIT, M.I. – Fuel mileage is an important focus when choosing a vehicle to purchase, because an efficient vehicle with great fuel economy can save drivers a significant amount of money in the face of rising gas prices.

The push for greener technology has recently impacted supply and demand in all industries especially for automakers. Not only has the government stepped in with its newly mandated Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) laws that state all cars must have 35 mpg by 2016, but the public is pressing for better fuel economy especially as drivers are digging deeper into their pockets to pay for gas.

Even stricter standards have been proposed in talks to push the 2016 mandate from 35 mpg to vehicles with 60 mpg by 2025. Although 60 mpg would be great, the technology required to achieve that goal may force automakers to price those vehicles out of the range of the average consumer.

With the necessary infrastructure to support fully electric vehicles being years away, other fuel-saving vehicle options such as the standard hybrid, plug-in hybrids, diesel vehicles and E85 Ethanol engines are more accessible alternatives for consumers. In General Motors’ case, the automaker is giving consumers another option with its newest technology used to create higher efficiency. Enter the mild hybrids.

Better fuel mileage is better for the environment regardless of which path consumers choose, but different technologies carry different costs. Buyers may not be able to realize the financial benefits of better fuel economy if their upfront cost is greater than their savings.

We took a look at two luxury, full hybrid vehicles and compared them to this new, yet interesting, concept of mild hybrids. We evaluated the hybrids and mild hybrids in a spec per spec comparison to determine the best return on investment (ROI) and to guide buyers to a more monetarily rewarding purchase decision.

The comparisons include:

  • Buick LaCrosse eAssist vs. Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
  • Buick Regal eAssist vs. Lexus HS 250Hybrid

Before the Investment Savings Comparison begins, we need to first explain what this new segment of mild hybrids is all about.

What is a Mild Hybrid? Buick’s eAssist.

Buick eAssist Technology

Buick eAssist Technology

A mild hybrid gives consumers hybrid features, improved fuel economy without reducing horsepower while maintaining the traditional driving experience consumers are used to from standard gas-powered vehicles. The 2012 Buick LaCrosse is equipped with a four-cylinder engine that will be manufactured with eAssist, which will be standard equipment.

The eAssist system offers three times greater power to the vehicles with a 25 percent increase in fuel economy, and it is using the same 2.4 liter engine as the previous 2011 model. Final EPA estimated fuel is 25 mpg city and 37 mpg highway.

The 2012 Buick LaCrosse produces 182 horsepower with its new belt-drive system and a Hydro-Matic 6-speed automatic transaxle. Newly added is a 115 volt, 0.5 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery integrated into the vehicle. This battery has also been engineered to include regenerative braking, which delivers 15 kilowatts of electricity to recharge the battery.

Finally, the 2012 Buick LaCrosse includes an engine shut-off feature so when the vehicle stops, the fuel is cut-off during deceleration.

Investment Savings Comparison 1: Buick LaCrosse eAssist vs. Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

Buick LaCrosse Mild Hybrid vs. Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

Buick LaCrosse Mild Hybrid vs. Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

Now that it is understood what a mild hybrid is, MI Auto Times will compare it to a full-hybrid vehicle.

The Lincoln offers its MKZ in both a hybrid and non-hybrid version. Though the hybrid version will give buyers better fuel economy, they lose performance as the MKZ Hybrid only comes with a smaller engine and a decrease in horsepower by 41 percent. The Buick LaCrosse eAssist offers the exact same engine size, horsepower and performance as the non-eAssist model.

As full-sized luxury sedans, the Buick LaCrosse and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid are closely matched.

Buick LaCrosse with eAssist

37 mpg highway
$32,060[i]

Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
36 mpg highway
$34,645

There is already cost-savings for the consumer as the Buick LaCrosse is $2,585 less than the MKZ.

Assuming owners drive 15,000 miles per year with gas being $3.81 [ii]per gallon, the Buick LaCrosse costs $1,545 in fuel per year while the Lincoln Hybrid costs $1,588 per year.

Additional breakdown of savings:

  • Total savings in the first year: $2,628
  • Total savings in the second year: $2,671
  • Total savings in the third year: $2,713

With the lower MSRP of the eAssist technology paired with the gas savings the LaCrosse offers, it is clear that the Buick LaCrosse has a higher ROI of $2,803 over five years even with the mpg almost evenly matched. Mild hybrid technology is producing better gas mileage than the full hybrid version of Lincoln. Not only are drivers getting a better ROI with the Buick eAssist, they are also getting better mpg and 14 percent more horsepower.

Another way to think of the value Buick LaCrosse buyers will be getting is it will take Lincoln MKZ hybrid buyers 5 years to earn back the initial MSRP cost difference in fuel savings.

Investment Savings Comparison 2: Buick Regal eAssist vs. Lexus HS 250Hybrid

Buick Regal Mild Hybrid vs. Lexus HS 250Hybrid

Buick Regal Mild Hybrid vs. Lexus HS 250Hybrid

To show the difference between two mid-sized luxury sedans, one a full hybrid and the other a mild hybrid, the following is some basic information about the Buick Regal with eAssist and the Lexus HS 250h:

Buick Regal with eAssist

37 mpg highway
$28,250[iii]

Lexus HS 250h
34 mpg highway
$36,330

Once more the price difference between the hybrid and the mild hybrid is visible—with an $8,080 difference—and the Regal has a higher mpg and lower price tag with its eAssist technology.

Assuming owners drive 15,000 miles per year with gas being $3.81 per gallon, the Buick Regal costs $1,545 in fuel per year while the Lexus Hybrid costs $1,681 per year.

Over five years, the Buick Regal will save owners $8,760. This amount will be in addition to the already saved amount of $8,080. From these figures, it is clear that the Buick Regal has a higher ROI even before the vehicle is purchased with its technology and an already higher mpg.

Additional breakdown of savings:

  • Total savings in the first year: $8,216
  • Total savings in the second year: $8,352
  • Total savings in the third year: $8,488

Another way to look at the cost-savings is Lexus HS 250 Hybrid buyers will have to wait 26 years to earn back their initial MSRP cost difference in fuel savings.

Surprisingly, the mild hybrid is outperforming its full hybrid competitor in fuel efficiency and ROI while still delivering a powerful performance normally reserved for traditional gas-powered vehicles.

Best Overall Investment

Not only will it take buyers years to recoup their initial loss at MSRP, but both the LaCrosse and Regal earn better mpg highway than their full hybrid luxury counterparts.

It is clear that the mild hybrid technology outperformed the two luxury full-hybrid vehicles in this evaluation. The Buick LaCrosse and Regal are comparably equipped with the same luxury features as their competitors and still win in price and fuel mileage. With an alternative to hybrid technology, Michigan buyers may still purchase a luxury sedan and be able to enjoy the savings much faster with the eAssist.

For those who are watching their fuel-efficiency and pocketbook, the mild hybrid approach may be the best solution until a total transition has been made to fully electric vehicles.

MI Auto Times covers all Michigan automotive news all the time, featuring newly released vehicle recall information, relevant Michigan automaker news, vehicle ratings and comparisons, and everything else auto-related Michigan and world readers need to know.

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[i] A Buick LaCrosse equipped with leather trim is priced at $32,060 per 2011 model year data.

[ii] Fuel prices were the average taken from epa.gov for the Midwest part of the U.S. when the analysis began.

[iii] Price estimate based on KBB.com estimation that the new 2012 Regal will fall between $27,000 and $29,500.

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