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Hybrids like Toyota’s Prius (above and below) can sometimes sound like George Jetson’s ride.
Hybrids like Toyota’s Prius (above and below) can sometimes sound like George Jetson’s ride. (Cars.Com Photos)

Hybrids in the real world not as exotic as some think

Many issues same as gas-engine cars

If you think driving a hybrid will be an experience akin to piloting Luke Skywalker's landspeeder hovercraft, I have the regrettable task of informing you that it's in no way so exotic.

Aside from a few interesting characteristics, hybrids drive like conventional vehicles. And unless you're driving one of the more distinctively styled hybrids, like Honda's Insight or Toyota's Prius, there's a very real possibility that other motorists and pedestrians will mistake your hybrid for its gas-only counterpart.

One of the first things you'll probably notice when operating a hybrid is that its gas engine automatically shuts off when you come to a stop and starts again once you're under way (or, in some hybrids, after you've gotten under way on electric power alone). There's also a good chance that if you listen closely, you might be able to hear hybrid-system whirring sounds reminiscent of George Jetson's spaceship.

Though not exclusive to hybrids, continuously variable transmissions are common in them. With a CVT, a vehicle can accelerate while maintaining steady engine rpm, which might take some getting used to for some drivers.

Some characteristics can annoy, like the nonlinear brakes on the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Honda Civic Hybrid. For many drivers, it's a given that easing down on the brake pedal results in a smooth stop. With these hybrids, the driver has to be especially conscious of how much pressure he or she is applying to the brake pedal in order to avoid jerking passengers around.

Temperature extremes can affect how hybrids operate, and thus their gas mileage. Honda engines' auto-stop feature is less likely to engage when the climate control system is on, said Honda spokesman Chris Martin, which hurts fuel economy.

Being subjected to extremely cold weather for an extended time can reduce the energy-storage capability of a hybrid's high-voltage battery pack, said Stephen Hunter, Ford control systems engineer for hybrid vehicles. This makes it less efficient at storing energy during regenerative braking.

It's important to note that the fuel economy of conventionally powered vehicles is similarly affected by high and low temperatures, according to General Motors' Steve Tarnowksy, assistant chief engineer for hybrid power trains. Tarnowksy said running the air conditioner on hot days hurts fuel economy for hybrids and non hybrids alike.

(Cars.Com Photos)