Hybrid vs. SUV

Sports Utility Vehicle is a misnomer for a car that is neither very sporty nor has much utility. Still, SUV sounds much more marketable than "New Millennium Station Wagon." For this comparison, we look at the 2004 Ford Expedition NBX and the 2004 Toyota Prius.

All data comes from Motor Trend road tests: SUV results, Hybrid results.

The Sport

To measure performance, three standard attributes are evaluated: acceleration, deceleration, and handling.

Consider the Ford Expedition. As far as being sporty, it goes from 0-60 in 9.6 seconds and back down from 60-0 in 139 ft. Now compare the sport of the SUV to the Hybrid, the 2004 Toyota Prius which goes from 0-60 in 9.8 seconds and back from 60-0 in 125 feet. For the 600-ft slalom, the SUV did it at 56.5 mph, giving the edge to the hybrid at 58.6 mph. The hybrid performed better in 2 of the 3 metrics, and came in behind the SUV in the 0-60 by only 1/5 of a second.

The Utility

To measure utility, we compared two data points: mpg return on investement and passenger transport return on investement.

The Ford Expedition model tested cost $42,925, can carry up to 7 passengers, and gets 13 mpg city / 17 mpg highway. The Prius configuration tested cost $25,939, carries 5 passengers, and gets 60 mpg city / 51 mpg highway. So for every thousand dollars of investment, the SUV returns 0.348 miles per gallon. For every thousand dollars of hybrid investment, you get 2.115 miles per gallon. In comparing mpg return on investement for a single commuting passenger, the hybrid gets six times the utility of the SUV.

To be fair, some people do take advantage of the high passenger capacity of the SUV either by ridesharing or by driving around quintuplets, even though the average passenger load in the US is 1.4. If you max out the passenger capacity of the SUV with 7 people, you get 2.436 miles per gallon per thousand dollar investment per passenger. With the hybrid, you'd have 10.575 miles per gallon per thousand dollar investment per passenger when the vehicle is carrying 5 people. The hybrid's passenger transport return on investment is four times that of the SUV when both vehicles are at maximum capacity.

There's more utility in purchasing two hybrids to drive around 7 people than one Ford Expedition NBX.

If you are thinking of purchasing a conventional SUV, consider ridesharing as a way to get some practicality out of your purchase or wait for one of the hybrid SUV models to come out. If you don't have 5 kids, and are not going to carry 6 passengers every where you go, get the hybrid. It's sportier and has more utility.

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