Mileage Challenge 5.5: Final Thoughts

Mileage52
Beyond the numbers that we so diligently broke down yesterday, driving four different cars for six hours can be telling in many more ways than just fuel economy. Our editors share their thoughts on the cars and pick which car they’d log another six-hour trip in.
Mileage53
“The Volkswagen Jetta TDI felt the sportiest by far. Credit goes in part to its taut, responsive suspension setup, but its fuel-sipping diesel engine also plays a part. The four-cylinder produces lots of low-end torque — 236 pounds-feet at just 1,750 rpm — that gives you plenty of passing power whether driving at city or highway speeds. It's a feeling that the hybrids in this group couldn't match.

“If you put aside the Prius' impressive gas mileage, I'm less wowed by the rest of the car as a whole. It doesn't raise the bar as much as it should for a redesigned model, both in terms of how it drives (it's not that engaging) and its interior quality (the velour-like seat fabric in our Prius didn't appeal to me).

“Of the three hybrids in our test, the Mercury Milan Hybrid performs most like a conventional car in how it accelerates and steers, which may appeal to some buyers coming from a gas-only car.

“While the Insight felt a little sportier than the Prius, it couldn't touch the Jetta. The driver's seat in the Honda also had a pronounced contour in its backrest that provided a lot of lumbar support. I would have preferred less, but it's not adjustable.”

Mike Hanley, editor

“Like Mike, I appreciate the Prius for its impressive gas mileage, but I still have a beef with the driving experience — even with this new generation. Its unresponsive accelerator pedal and inconsistent braking made driving a constant battle of asking myself if it will accelerate or brake how I want given the driving conditions. Most of the time the answer to that question was ‘maybe.’

“The Jetta TDI, Insight and Milan Hybrid drove more like normal cars with little indication of the alternative-fuel powertrains underneath. I was most impressed by the Jetta with its gutsy diesel engine, quiet highway ride and typical Volkswagen premium interior — all for a reasonable starting price.

“Between the hybrids, the Insight was very sporty, which you normally wouldn’t associate with being a hybrid. It felt very much like the Civic as far as how it handled but with the same detracting qualities of excessive wind and road noise.”

Joe Bruzek, editor

“If I were going to be purchasing an affordable hybrid as my city car today, it would be the Toyota Prius. While I, too, am not a fan of its unresponsive accelerator, I think the comfort, new technology and efficiency make up for the few shortcomings.
 
“The other car that came closest to winning my monthly payment was the TDI. With no deficiency in performance, the Jetta TDI was good without being a gas-guzzler. Plus it looks like any regular Jetta.
 
“From the very unique and high-tech dashboard to the comfort of being in the ‘everyday-car’ category, the Milan Hybrid was a pleasure to drive. On the flip side, even though I don’t have the seat time in as many cars as a full-time reviewer, I have yet to experience anything less comfortable than the Honda Insight’s seats. After 15 minutes of driving, my back was in sheer pain.”

Matt Raskin, data editor

“I’m with Matt: The Insight’s seats are punishing. The car also wanders too much on the highway, and when it’s in Economy mode, the drivetrain feels anemic. Contrast that with the Jetta and its burly diesel engine that gets you going with barely a squeeze on the accelerator. Steering is crisp, and the car has oodles of ride composure compared to the Honda. My kind of car, the TDI is.

“I disagree with Mike on the Prius. Though never engaging to drive, it’s a step in the right direction for Toyota, a company that’s been foundering on quality and interior issues of late. The Milan Hybrid offers up family-car levels of room and seating comfort to boot.”

Kelsey Mays, editor
    
Mileage51
 
If you had to get behind the wheel for another six hours, which car would you take?
MH: “There's no question, I'd take the Milan Hybrid if I was going on a long drive. It's the quietest on the highway, offers the most comfortable ride of this quartet and is more entertaining to drive than either the Prius or the Insight. It's a hybrid, but it doesn't feel like you're driving an appliance.”

JB: “Despite being impressed by the Jetta, I would absolutely take the Milan Hybrid on another six-hour tour. The Jetta is quiet and comfortable, but the Milan is quieter and more comfortable. The Milan also has Sync, which is a vital addition for multimedia junkies with massive music collections.”

MR: “This is a tricky question. If I were paying for the next tank of gas I would take the Prius in a second.  This efficient, comfortable, technologically advanced car is a pleasure to be in. If I had no expenses attached, I would drive the Milan Hybrid. Sorry, Joe, but Sync is not a selling point for me. However, the Milan’s intuitive dashboard is definitely a plus.”

KM: “I really want to pick the Jetta TDI here: For driving fun, it stands head and shoulders above the rest. But the prospect of driving another six hours puts almost all the weight on issues like road noise, seating comfort and ride quality. The Prius measures up well, but so does the Milan Hybrid — and it’s more engaging to drive. Guess Mercury runs the table.”

Previously
Mileage Challenge 5.4: The Results
Mileage Challenge 5.3: Dizzying Displays
Mileage Challenge 5.2: Avenues and Interstates
Mileage Challenge 5.1: Hybrids vs. Diesel

Comments 

H

Did you change the font because it's easier to read. I miss the quick links on the right hand side showing a list of recent posts.

the redesign was so the blog looked more like the rest of the Cars.com site, especially the homepage and make it easier to read yes. I'll look into getting the recent posts back since it seems to be missed.

H

When the redesign first came out I felt it was harder to read and differentiate the various sections because all the fonts and colors seemed to blend together. Maybe it's just me but today seems like the body text is easier to read and stands out more.

I guess i will for Mercury Milan Hybrid as well.As of the reviews here and based on some research i made on the web,it's really fuel efficient.

JohnQPublic

I would pick either the Prius or the Ford Fusion Hybrid / Milan Hybrid for one reason: It has the simplest (and hence most reliable) drivetrain of all those cars.

Both the Prius and Fusion/Milan Hybrid use the same type of hybrid drivetrain-- The Power Split Device.

The PSD drivetrain is just a simple planetary gearset-- No hot-running torque converter, no clutch, no complicated DSG gear box, no CVT belts. The Prius PSD assembly has all of 22 moving parts. This kind of simplicity means the transmission will be exceptionally reliable.

The PSD transmission also allows the car to use electrical regenerative braking, which saves brake pad wear tremendously. The Prius and Fusion/Milan hybrids consequently do not need brake pad changes until well after 100,000 miles.

The Prius and Fusion/Milan hybrids also do not have timing belts, alternators, or starter motor / solenoids to wear out and need replacement.

The simplicity of the PSD-drive vehicles means less time at the mechanic for maintainance.

In contrast, the Jetta TDI is far more complex, with a hot-running turbocharged engine and the problematical DSG gearbox that has had 50,000 cars recalled. And the Honda Insight has a belt-driven CVT transmission with a torque converter that is far more complex than the Toyota/Ford PSD drive.

The PSD drive has proven tough enough to withstand the abuse of cab drivers in NYC, San Fran, Vancouver etc., where they routinely put 200,000+ miles on their Prius and Escape Hybrid taxis.

I'll take a PSD-equipped car anyday.

My dad drive Prius and i think it's a good choice.I would like to try having ford fusion.Having some research,i like the design and i guess it's fuel efficient as other hybrids.

If i'm not mistaken,i read an article that these four cars were nominated or a finalist for the top green cars this 2010.Anyone heard this news?

I got my Prius last year and i would say,i love it.Hopefully,i can try the other hybrid cars like the Milan and Volkswagen Jetta.It feels good to drive an environment friendly car all the time.

The Civic GX is one of my favorite gasoline saving car because it doesn't use any gasoline at all.It runs on compressed natural gas which is cheap,plentiful and safer than gasoline.

MB

do u see green plans?no, there is more plains than ever,green ships? they burn fuel by the foot 1,000at a time. so we are worried about my weed eater when our goverment is wasting millions of gallons hour. if u are a business u can pollute the air if u pay a tax. if there was a problem with our enviroment our goverment would use the fuel that they know about that uses no pollutants our engines ran on it in the begining not petol

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