In the last decade, the automobile market portfolio has diversified significantly from a diesel- and petroleum-dependent economy to now including more electric and hybrid options. Consumers should stay informed about the beneficial qualities, including updated technological features, in order to select the best smart, hybrid, electric or regular car for them. The advantages and differences between hybrid and smart cars will be discussed here to enhance consumer knowledge.

To combat parking space availability, increase fuel efficiency and reduce environmental impact, Daimler-Benz manufactured the first Smart Car, available to European markets in the late 1990s and officially introduced to American markets in early 2008.

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With the 2013 Smart Car priced at $12,490, delivering 38 highway mpg* for the “smart fortwo model” and 68 highway mpg* for the “smart electric drive” model, drivers can reap both the financial savings from fuel efficiency and the convenience of compact parking with their vehicle. The smart car features a three-cylinder in-line engine with 70 horsepower that can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 12.8 seconds, with a maximum speed of 90 mph. Customers interested in more advanced and customized features can also choose from the passion coupe fortwo and the convertible passion cabriolet fortwo.

Equipped with a trident safety shell, multiple airbags and a crash management system, safety is a high priority amongst smart car engineers. According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety ratings, the smart car fortwo achieves “good” for overlap front test results and attains “acceptable” for rear crash protection, the second highest rating. While the smart car may not be the safest car on the road, extensive safety trials have confirmed its legitimacy in protecting its drivers.

Crucial in deciding to purchase the smart car, size does matter. Given the dimensions (a little over eight feet in length and almost five feet in width), the smart car can fit two 6’ 5” people and can parallel park perpendicularly. Ideal for urban environments, the smart car also features a manual shift system, entitled the “smartshift transmission,” that eliminates the need for a clutch. Satisfied drivers are also drawn to the appearance: sleek, modern and easily identifiable amongst current car selections.

Unlike the smart car, many companies are choosing to develop hybrid options for their drivers, including Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford and Hyundai. Hybrid models often look very similar to the regular internal combustion engine models, so consumers are already familiar with defining characteristics. The most common, mass-produced hybrid vehicles (hybrid electric vehicles, HEVs) have an internal combustion engine with one or more electric motors. Hybrids can also be formulated to run on other forms of alternative fuel, such as biofuel and natural gas.

While two or more motors increases the complexity of the vehicle, hybrid electric drivers enjoy the benefits of both systems. Specifically, the internal combustion engine’s gasoline yields high acceleration rates, and the electric engine’s consolidates energy use when inactive, configures power for a regenerative braking system and reduces greenhouse gas emissions.

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Hybrid vehicles are exceedingly fuel-efficient compared with solely petroleum-powered cars. Furthermore, extensive research should be conducted when comparing prices and gas mileage efficiency. For example, the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid ranked #1 in Hybrid Cars and #2 in Affordable Midsize Cars in 2013 from U.S. News and World Report, averages 47 City/47 Highway mpg and prices around $26,500. While the 2013 Ford Fusion ranked #5 in Affordable Midsize Cars, it averages 22 City/34 Highway mpg and is priced around $21,700.

Customers ultimately determine the significance in payback period for investing in hybrids and smart cars. Becoming more informed of vehicle options in terms of design, fuel efficiency, safety, price and external environmental costs allows potential drivers to buy a car that aligns with their personal values, preferable aesthetics and bank accounts.

*EPA mpg estimates

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Isabel Sepkowitz is a freelance writer. She is an environmentalist who values sustainability, education, and innovation for the emerging green economy. Her work can be found on