By on March 7, 2011

Gas prices are getting into the area where they affect consumers’ buying decisions. According to a new Kelley Blue Book study, more than 80 percent of car shoppers say that gas prices have influenced their buying decisions. 58 percent already have downgraded.  But what about switching to diesel or hybrid instead? Be careful when you do that, says Edmunds: Choosing a green alternative can cost you a lot of green.

“Now that federal tax credits have expired, car buyers may be surprised to learn how long it takes for savings at the pump to offset the additional expense of buying a hybrid or diesel car,” says Ronald Montoya, consumer advice associate at Edmunds.com.

Some of the worst choices, says Edmund, are the BMW X5 xDrive35d (takes 25.2 years before savings kick in), the Volkswagen Jetta TDI (13.8 years) and the Nissan Altima Hybrid (10.3 years.)

To help you choose the greenest car that saves you the most green, Edmunds compiled the list of Top 10 Diesels and Hybrids With the Shortest Break-Even Periods for 2011.

Surprise, surprise, the list is monopolized by an unlikely candidate: Mercedes-Benz.

5 of the Top Ten are Daimlers. The leader of the list, the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class Diesel, even is $961 cheaper than the gasoline model. Buy it, and you started saving before you drove off the dealer lot.

#2 is the Lexus  HS 250h Hybrid.

Lincoln lovers get a good deal with the  MKZ Hybrid.

The Prius comes fourth, it takes you a little more than half a year to break even.

Rank Model Premium Savings per year Break-even after
1 2011 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class Diesel -$961 $694 -1.4 years
2 2011 Lexus HS 250h Hybrid $85 $990 0.1 year
3 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid $167 $1,093 0.2 year
4 2011 Toyota Prius Hybrid $620 $882 0.7 year
5 2011 Cadillac Escalade Hybrid $1,966 $1,102 1.8 years
6 2011 Mercedes-Benz E-Class Diesel $1,428 $640 2.2 years
7 2011 Audi A3 Diesel $1,432 $617 2.3 years
8 2011 Mercedes-Benz R-Class Diesel $1,433 $567 2.5 years
9 2011 Mercedes-Benz M-Class Diesel $1,427 $544 2.6 years
10 2011 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Hybrid $1,317 $476 2.8 years

Remember: All cars on the list are the best performers. If your green diesel or hybrid is not on the list, then you most likely won’t see any savings before the lease is up.

(I was toying with the idea of pointing out that there are no EVs on that list. But then I dropped it. I’m worried someone would brand me as an EV hater.)

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40 Comments on “The Price Of Green: Savings At All Cost...”


  • avatar
    John Fritz

    I’ll be more than happy to say it then; There are no EV’s on that list.
     

    • 0 avatar
      downhill56

      Alrighty then… Let’s say you have to commute 100 miles per day. Your ICE car gets 25 miles per gallon a $4 per gal (soon to be $5) That’s $320 per month for fuel only!!! My EV costs 2cents per mile or $40 per month and my employer let’s me charge at work so my outgo is about $20 a month for charging. I put that $300 savings towards my payments and my payment is only less than $100 per month and NO fuel bills. How is that not cheaper? There I said it for you.

  • avatar
    BlueEr03

    Did they account for the additional features you get with some of these choices?  I know for a fact that in the Golf TDI you get many more standard features than in a normal Golf, things like fog lights, a DSG transmission (instead of slushbox, manual in still standard), nicer interior, touch screen radio, etc.  Those should all be included in this payback period.  Now where is Karesh’s calculator…

  • avatar
    philadlj

    $1,966? The Escalade Hybrid costs about $10,000 more than the base Escalade; and you’d maybe half that for all the extra options you get on top of the hybrid powertrain. Dunno where $1,966 came from, but I suspect it’ll take more than 1.8 years to pay off the Escalade’s hybrid premium.

  • avatar
    talkstoanimals

    The Lexus HS250h and Prius are hybrid only models, so what exactly is the baseline for the “premium” part of the equation on those cars?  Are they compared to other cars in the same class?  If so, I would think the “premium” is much greater when one figures in equipment and hp forgone by eschewing a similar IC powered car.

    (I was toying with the idea of pointing out that there are no EVs on that list. But then I dropped it. I’m worried someone would brand me as an EV hater.)  So you pointed it out without pointing it out? I was toying with branding you an EV hater, but dropped it. I was worried someone would brand me an EV lover. (The issue bears pointing out, BTW. So I’m glad you snuck it in there.)

  • avatar
    colin42

    I understand this for car which are sold with and without “Green” power trains but how do you work out the Prius has a $620 premium?

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      If you click the link, it says what they are compared to.  The HS is compared to the ES* and the Prius is compared to the Camry**.

      * The HS actually splits the difference, in exterior size, between the RWD/AWD IS and the FWD ES.  Interior space of the HS is probably down quite a bit versus the ES but way over the IS that is pretty well known as having a small interior.

      ** This comparison is largely based on the buyer.  I paid a $500 premium to get a 4door GTI over a 2door in the past, so I’d easily have paid more money for the hatchback feature of the Prius over the Camry.  Basically, the Camry cannot give me a hatch, so that makes the Prius a winner in the first place.  If the most comfort for seating 5 is your priority, the Prius will fall short compared to the Camry. 

    • 0 avatar
      jaje

      I don’t agree that the Camry is the right car to be the comparison factor for the Prius.  I would think a Corolla is the best competitor for this car as is has the exterior dimensions similar passenger space of a Corolla.  I also wonder why the Jetta TDI did so poorly.  Did they compare it to a 2.0 Jetta or the 2.5 or the 2.0T?.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      I think the Prius interior is far too nice to be compared to the Corolla.  It is smart and airy inside while the Corolla certainly feels like a $15k car.  When cargo space is considered, I’m OK with comparing it to a Camry.

      Jetta TDI versus the 2.0T would be unfair, IMO.  140HP versus 200HP is a pretty large difference.  HP is far closer to that of the 2.5 and interior quality is pretty much the same.

    • 0 avatar
      M1EK

      @jaje, incorrect – even the 2G US Prius (2004-2009) has passenger space closer to the Camry than the Corolla, and the 3G is a bit bigger.

  • avatar
    K5ING

    I have to take some issue with that list, not the least of which is that anyone interested enough to want to save money can’t afford most of the cars on that list anyway. Penny-pinchers don’t spend $50K on a car.
    http://caughtatthecurb.blogspot.com/2011/03/golf-with-insane-miles.html
    Second, Edmunds assumes 15,000 miles per year.  Many diesel owners drive more than that, and they also keep their cars longer because of the diesel’s longevity.  There are tons of Golf and Jetta TDIs out there with well over 300,000 miles (400,0000 in my case).

    As I’ve told many people asking if a diesel is right for them, it all depends on the kind of driving you do.  If you drive 5 miles to work in city traffic, the Prius is a better choice.  However, if you have a 30 (or more) mile commute at highway speeds, and plan on keeping your car for longer than a couple of years, the (VW TDI) diesel is the way to go.
     

    • 0 avatar
      M1EK

      Nope, even at that all-highway commute, the Prius will still get better mileage – and will still, thus, pay off better than the Jetta TDI. The mileage most of you diesel owners insist you get has never been obtained by any independent testers anywhere in the world, remember; so the rest of us have to assume you’re doing the equivalent of Prius owners’ hypermiling (also not valid for mass-market comparisons). Perhaps your highway driving is at 85 mph, for instance; at that speed, you’d ‘win’, but most of us don’t live in areas where that’s remotely possible on a daily basis.

    • 0 avatar
      K5ING

      Excuse me M1EK?  There are thousands of TDI owners out there who get 50mpg at (legal) highway speeds.  Not by hypermiling like Prirus owners have to do, but just by setting the cruise at 70 and relaxing.  On a recent trip between Dallas and Chicago, I got 52mpg by setting the cruise at 70 or 75, with tank ranges of around 750 miles/tank.  That’s by filling to the brim, driving, and refilling to the brim and calculating, not by looking at some optimistic trip computer in the car. Add to that the better ride and handling of the Jetta/Golf compared to the Prius, and that we still have plenty of power at 70 to squirt past cars that need passing makes it a no-brainer.  I suggest you try driving one before bashing them. I’ve seen a bunch of people who traded their Prius for a TDI and were happier, but hardly any that went the other way.
       
      Like I said, if you do most of your driving in town, yes, the Prius will get better mileage and is a better choice.  For highway driving, however, there is only one choice….a diesel.
       

    • 0 avatar
      M1EK

      Was I really not clear enough?
       
      When CR (or anybody else) road tests one of these diesel cars, they never, ever, ever get anywhere near the mileage you quote. The Prius goes lower too – but here’s the kicker, when CR tests them both, they find the Prius does better on the highway, alone, without even one mile of city driving; than does the Jetta.

      CR found the new Prius to get 55 mpg highway in the one link I can still find outside their paywall; the Jetta got 49 IIRC.
       
      There are hundreds of Prius owners out there getting 60 and 70 mpg too. Doesn’t mean the average person will.

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      even at that all-highway commute, the Prius will still get better mileage
       
      Now they just need to create an automobile-like driving experience, instead of the feeling of playing a video game like one of the TTAC reviewers so eloquently put it.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    One more column is needed – actual vehicle price.
     
    A quick glance at the table tells me why the Prius remains the best-seller: Most people have Prius money, not M-B or Lexus money to spend.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      This analysis is necessarily isolated to the choice between the ‘green’ drivetrain or the conventional one, within a particular vehicle line.  The exception is the hybrid-only Prius which is compared to a Camry.
       
      But back in 2005, I found that the Prius offered a 12-year payback on its price premium over the Scion xB that I ultimately purchased, so it depends on how down-market you want your comparison to go.

  • avatar
    redwood2

    Those premium numbers are way off.  The MKZ premium is 2000$ not 167.  The A3 is wildly optomistic as well.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Most of the cars on that list will be bought by people who really don’t care about the price of gas,  they just want to look environmentally conscious. The Prius is the only practical car on the list The Great Unwashed can afford to buy. if your driving around in your Escalade on 22″ wheels with the Crew in back and da bass is kickin’ you probably don’t think about melting ice in Alaska or foreign oil dependence
     
    Kudos to Toyota for maintaining that fuel efficient cars can be affordable too. When M-B makes a 22K diesel hybrid car that the masses can afford with 40+MPG ratings I’d call that an achievement.
     

  • avatar
    Steven02

    TTAC should dissect the data better here to verify that the price comparisons are correct and so are the models being compared to.  The Prius probably would be good against the Camry, but it wouldn’t fair well against a Corolla for instance.  Same with the HS, which is way worse comparing it to a 3.5L V6.  Terrible comparisons in my opinion.  I understand the difficulty here because there is not an easy to pick model that shares as much with them.  I would really hope that we could see the same type of comparison with the Prius vs a Corolla, Cruze, Civic, new Focus, and new Elantra.
     
     

    • 0 avatar
      redwood2

      Coincidentally, Last night I made a spread sheet and graph on this exact question.  I considered initail price, then cost per year over the next decade based on an assumption that gas would average $4 and diesel $4.50, and that I would do 15,000 mixed miles a year.  I compared TDI sportwagon, prius, elantra touring, Gasoline sportwagon, and 2012 focus hatchback.  Plotting it out really made me realize that the tdi, while undeniably awesome in many subjective ways, is never going to make great financial sense.  Compared to the gas version it pays off after like 7 years, but If I wanted a gas wagon i wouldnt be looking at a sportwagon.  10 year cost of the TDI was $45K.  The prius was $35K.  and the ford focus, (assuming 30 city and 40 hwy) was $38K.  After all that, I think the focus makes the most sense for the mix of driving I do, though it does lose to the VW and Hyundai on cargo space.  Volume wise its more like the prius.

    • 0 avatar
      Steven02

      So, at $4 a gallon, it sounds like it would take a lot longer for the Prius to make up the difference between it and the Focus than the .7 years this graph indicates vs the Camry.  This is exactly the type of comparison that should be done.  Since we are not quite to $4 yet, it could take longer for the Prius to make up the difference, and if gas prices fall back to $3, it could take even longer.  Now, if gas his $5, it would be coming up a lot quicker.

    • 0 avatar
      redwood2

      Steven – assuming the focus gets 35 mpg combined, then the algebra says that the costs of owning the $23K base model prius and the $21K 5 door focus with automatic transmission will be equal at 4.1 years.  If the ford gets slightly less than 35mpg comnbined, the lines will cross slightly sooner.  But not in 7 months.

    • 0 avatar
      monomille

      The Prius with its hatchback format, included features and its nearly equal interior room is much closer to a Camry than a Corolla.  I had both a Corolla and a Camry when I bought a Prius in 2005 – so could and did make a direct comparison.  I’ve since put 110K miles on that Prius and find it well suited to my purposes which include touring the US and Canada now that I have retired.  Exterior appearance is not as reliable an indicator as living with the usable interior volume, particularly since aero form and hatchback layout are so different. btw, I could have bought a $30K plus car at this stage of life as many do but I chose to “move down” to a mid 20s price range because the Prius was just fine for what I needed/wanted – pure economic analysis ignores other motivations than instant or life cycle cost. Environmental considerations were a “nice to get” for me but not a main driver, either.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “There are tons of Golf and Jetta TDIs out there with well over 300,000 miles (400,0000 in my case”

    Big deal. There isn’t hardly a gas car today that won’t make 300 or 400K. It’s cold starts and the calender that take the life out of any engine. So let’s get over this 1970′s/OTR truck argument about how diesels last so much longer than gassers because the truth is that they don’t. How many people nowadays actually put enough miles on their car to wear out the motor? I drove my ’93 Toyota a lot for 11 years and it still only had 197K. 7 years later it’s rolled well past 300k and still used as an everyday driver. You think your TDI would even come close to lasting as long or being as reliable as that truck cold start for cold start, year after year. Don’t kid yourself. That thing would have been in the junkyard a long time ago.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      A diesel Volkswagen powerplant might actually last a long time, but no one really knows because <i>the whole rest of the car</i> has, by that time, become a maintenance nightmare as likely as not.
       
      Yes, you might have to spend a lot of money to replace a Prius’ battery.  How much to replace, well, just about anything on a ten-year old VW?

  • avatar
    vbofw

    …or instead of “spending-up” to a hybrid or diesel, you “spend-down” to an efficient combustion engine – ala the Elantra and it’s 40 mpg highway.  Preserve your capital and save on the periodic energy costs, too.
     
    Somehow I have become a Hyundai apologist.  The value proposition is just too great to overlook on these Elantras and Sonatas, and probably the whole lineup, eventually

    • 0 avatar
      redwood2

      at 17k$ and 33 mpg combined for the automatic transmission option, it will take 10.1 years for cheapest prius to pay off.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      Two points:
      The Elantra got 40mpg on the EPA cycle, and only on the highway.  Other recent EPA cycle aren’t returning those figures in the real-world
      The Elantra is a smaller car, by a good margin, than the Prius.  Compared to the Sonata (which the Prius is nearer in size than) the price advantage isn’t that significant
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      redwood2

      Thats why i did the math with the published 33 mpg combined on the elantra…
       
      As far as which hyundai to compare a prius to you may have a point – I’ve never seriously looked into buying any sedan so im not as familiar with the size. And obviously it isnt all about money.  If a TDI makes you feel manly and sophisticated, or a prius makes you feel green and modern, its tough to put a dollar value on that.  My own personal situation? I’m shopping for a replacement for my Golf TDI.  So I’ve been cross shopping other fuel efficient wagons and hatchbacks.  And what I’ve learned is that if you are getting a TDI based on the assumption that the diesel fuel efficiency will pay off vs the increased up front cost, then you are kidding yourself.  The prius, on the otherhand, will pay off vs  a lot of the competition, but not against the cheapest fuel efficient cars like the elantra.
      I am looking at a prius, but only because i want a fuel efficient hatchback.  I dont care much about emissions. And I’m not convinced that the environmental impact of decreased fuel consumption outweighs the unknown impact of bringing all those batteries into the world.  I am a left wing democrat, who cares about the environment, but If i do end up getting a prius, I’ll probably put one of those “I love spotted owls – they taste like chicken” bumper stickers on it. That should piss off the prius snobs.
       
       

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      And I’m not convinced that the environmental impact of decreased fuel consumption outweighs the unknown impact of bringing all those batteries into the world

      Batteries really aren’t a big deal.  The mines already exist (because the minerals are used in a lot more than batteries, especially in the case of the NiMH cells the Prius uses) and the packs themselves are recycled (seriously; Toyota will pay you for your battery!) which you can’t really do with petroleum without some form of huge-scale carbon sequestration.

      The “environmental impact of batteries” really is a brilliant piece of astroturfing.

    • 0 avatar
      redwood2

      Thanks – that is reassuring about the batteries!

    • 0 avatar
      vbofw

      The Elantra is a smaller car, by a good margin, than the Prius.
       
      This is simply false.  Exterior the Elantra is bigger in most measurements.  Interior the back seat measurements are 1.0-1.5 inches bigger in the Prius.  The front seat measurements are 1.0-1.5 inches bigger in the Elantra.  I would assume most drivers would prefer the extra shoulder and head room in their front seat, if given the choice.
       
      I have zero desire to either buy an $20k Elantra or pay an extra $8k for a similarly equipped Prius (with leather and nav) but the cars are similarly sized by any objective measure.  Unless you are going to stuff people in the extra total volume created by the hatch.
       
       

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Why does it always come down to cost?  Does anyone ever cost-justify a V6 in terms of time saved versus an I4?  So why do we harp on it with hybrids and EVs, especially when the buyers of these cars are more often as not buying to reduce emissions.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    I’m with Jeremy Clarkson on the Prius.

  • avatar

    I bought a 2010 VW Golf TDI last May,before the federal tax credit expired – so that’s $1300 back in my pocket. Besides that, if you go strictly by EPA numbers, the “real world” mileage results are much higher than stated. I average consistently in the low 40′s, approx. 525 miles from a 15 gallon tank, and never dip below 35mpg in city driving. On the contrary, both Hybrid and Gasoline MPG numbers are usually a bit lower, sometimes disappointingly so, that what is reflected in the EPA numbers.  I may be paying 30 cents more per gallon for diesel, but dollar-for-dollar, I’m still WAY ahead of most other gasoline cars.  Otherwise, it’s not just about the fuel economy, but the driving dynamics of the whole car – 236 ft./lbs of torque with a 6-speed manual, superb ride and handling, a high level of refinement, and the versatility of a hatchback. Try and find all those characteristics in one vehicle – they are few and far between. For me, I can’t ask for much more value in a vehicle.  A slight sticker price premium? Yes, but a great value nonetheless. Let’s compare apples to apples here.


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