Toyota Prius Alternatives Part 1: Hybrids and a Diesel

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  • Image Credit: Toyota

You can get good fuel economy and still have a pleasant car

When someone says hybrid, fuel efficient, or green, there’s one car that almost every person associates with those words: the Toyota Prius. It’s made a name for itself by being one of the first gas-electric hybrids in America, and subsequently becoming an icon with its stellar economy, distinct shape, and practical interior. Unfortunately, the Prius has always been a wet blanket of a car to live with, even in its current form, despite it being the best execution yet.

The good news is that you don’t have to sacrifice your driving experience to have Prius-like fuel economy. We’ve assembled a selection of cars that not only come as close as possible to Prius economy numbers, but are actually enjoyable to drive. Some are more comfortable, one actually gets better fuel economy, and one of them is even available with a manual transmission!

Click on to find a frugality without compromise. And if you want to compare these with other hybrids, or find other fuel-efficient vehicles, be sure to try out our comparison tools and our Car Finder.

Research the 2018 Toyota Prius

  • Image Credit: Hyundai

2018 Hyundai Ioniq: 55-57 City / 54-59 Hwy / 55-58 Combined

First on the list is the Hyundai Ioniq hybrid, and the first reason you should seriously consider this over the Prius is that its fuel economy is equal to or greater than the Toyota, depending on trim and fuel economy type. Provided that you pick the extra-efficient Blue trim level, the highway number of 59 miles per gallon exceeds the Prius’ numbers by 6 mpg, the 58 mpg combined number beats Prius by 2, and the 57 mpg city number is only 1 mpg lower than the top Toyota Prius. Even the regular Ioniq’s numbers of 55 city, 54 highway, and 55 combined isn’t shabby.

Besides the superb fuel economy, the Ioniq is actually fairly fun to drive. The 8-speed dual-clutch transmission provides a more natural feel for those accustomed to cars with conventional powertrains. It’s a rather adept handler with responsive steering and a willing chassis. It drives like a good car, not just a good hybrid.

EPA Fuel Economy (City / Highway / Combined):

Ioniq Blue: 57 / 59 / 58

Ioniq SEL / Limited: 55 / 54 / 55

Base Price:

Blue: $23,085

SEL: $24,885

Limited: $28,435

  • Image Credit: Toyota

2018 Toyota Camry Hybrid: 44-51 City / 47-53 Hwy / 46-52 Combined

Next up comes yet another Toyota. And yes, we know the Camry has garnered a reputation for being bland, but the newest model is actually quite good. It’s comfortable and composed. The steering is good enough to have you tackling corners with confidence, maybe even a hint of enthusiasm. Which is certainly more than you can expect from a Prius.

And when selected in Hybrid LE trim, you don’t even sacrifice much in the way of fuel economy. The combined number is just 4 mpg worse than the most efficient conventional Prius. The Camry also sees a nice bump in power, with a total of 208 horsepower between the engine and motor, whereas the Prius makes just 121 horsepower. Sure the Camry is heavier, but that’s still a big difference in power. Because of the better driving experience, greater performance, all without much loss in fuel economy, the Camry is the Toyota Hybrid we would pick.

EPA Fuel Economy (City / Highway / Combined):

LE: 51 / 53 / 52

XLE/SE: 44 / 47 / 46

Base Price:

LE: $28,695

SE: $30,395

XLE: $33,145

Research the 2018 Toyota Camry

  • Image Credit: Chevrolet

2018 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid: 49 City / 43 Hwy / 46 Combined

From the same size bracket as the Camry we have the Chevy Malibu Hybrid. It delivers nearly the same fuel economy as the Camry. Of course, it looks very different, certainly less polarizing than Toyota’s midsize sedan.

It drives differently, too. The Malibu excels at being an extremely refined and comfortable car. It soaks up bumps like a sponge, but manages to avoid being floaty. It’s not exactly exciting, but cars don’t always have to be exciting to be nice to drive. Sometimes you just want something to soothe you, and the Malibu does that nicely. The fact it’ll save you money at the pump should be even more soothing.

EPA Fuel Economy (City / Highway / Combined):

49 / 43 / 46

Base Price:

$28,795

Research the 2018 Chevrolet Malibu

  • Image Credit: Kia

2018 Kia Niro: 46-52 City / 40-49 Hwy / 43-50 Combined

Since the Hyundai Ioniq is here, it was only natural for its close sibling the Niro to appear, too. Under the skin, it’s basically the same as the Hyundai, which means the same horsepower, the same dual-clutch transmission, and the same perky handling and good braking.

Its outer skin is noteworthy, though, first for being a much more conservative, but perhaps easier-to-swallow design than the quirkier Ioniq. It’s also looks like a crossover, which seems to be what people want. And because of its more traditional hatchback, it’s more practical. The only major trade off is worse fuel economy. But it’s still ahead of most every other crossover-esque machine on the market, and not so far off the Prius that you’re going to be sweating your fuel bills.

EPA Fuel Economy (City / Highway / Combined):

FE: 52 / 49 / 50

LX/EX: 51 / 46 / 49

Touring: 46 / 40 / 43

Base Price:

FE: $24,280

LX: $24,590

EX: $27,090

Touring: $32,940

Research the 2018 Kia Niro

  • Image Credit: Chevrolet

2018 Chevrolet Cruze Diesel: 29-31 City / 45-52 Hwy / 35-37 Combined

This is the one and only non-hybrid machine on this list. Despite the lack of electric assistance, the Cruze Diesel returns phenomenal fuel economy on the highway – up to 52 miles per gallon, enough to make it worth consideration despite its low (relatively) combined fuel economy. That highway number is achieved with a manual (!) transmission in the sedan body style, but hatchback and automatic options are available that lower highway fuel economy and affect city economy. But no matter the combination, you’ll be getting around 30 mpg in town, and 45 mpg or better on the interstate.

What makes the Cruze diesel a favorite Prius alternative for us is in part because it’s actually available with a manual. In fact, it’s the only car in this list with that option. Not only that, but you can add on whatever options you want, regardless of body or transmission. We appreciate a car company that doesn’t restrict manuals to the most basic, unadorned trim levels. Besides the manual option, we also really like the diesel’s 240 pound-feet of torque, which makes it surprisingly fun to hustle around town and for passing on the highway. It completes the package with a comfortable ride and plenty of space. The engine is even pretty quiet.

EPA Fuel Economy (City/Hwy/Avg):

Sedan: Manual (30/52/37), Automatic (31/47/37)

Hatchback: Manual (29/48/35), Automatic (30/45/35)

Base Price:

Sedan: $24,695

Hatchback: $26,395

Research the 2018 Chevrolet Cruze