Luxury automakers are turning to hybrid powertrains to meet stricter government standards on fuel economy and exhaust emissions. It’s no easy task. Their well-heeled clientele demand responsive performance and refined interiors loaded with conveniences. The frequent result is a high-end green machine with fine driving dynamics but with fuel-economy little better than its gasoline-only counterpart. But that’s not always the case, as our 2014 Luxury Hybrid Buying Guide demonstrates.
All 13 luxury cars in this buying guide combine a conventional internal-combustion engine with at least one electric motor and a battery pack. But performance, amenities, and fuel economy vary. Our guide includes a mix of front- and rear-wheel drive models and, for the first time, hybrid luxury all-wheel-drive cars. All but one, the Lexus CT 200h, is a version of a conventional gasoline model. And Lincoln breaks the mold by pricing its MKZ Hybrid on par with the non-hybrid MKZ.
Base prices for cars in this guide range from $27,795 for the Acura ILX Hybrid to $120,970 for Lexus LS 600h. (Base prices in this guide don’t include options but do include the manufacturer’s mandated destination fee, which averages about $850.) For hybrid cars in the $21,000-$35,000 range, check out the CarPreview 2014 Hybrid Car Buying Guide. And for profiles of other hybrid categories, go to our 2014 Hybrid SUV Buying Guide and 2014 Electric Vehicle and Plug-in Hybrid Buying Guide. For our top overall hybrid picks across multiple vehicle categories, check out CarPreview’s The Best Hybrid Vehicles of 2014.
Here is the CarPreview 2014 Luxury Hybrid Buying Guide
2014 Acura ILX Hybrid
Base-price range: $29,795-$35,495
Fuel-economy rating: 39/38/38 mpg city/highway/combined
It may share its platform and hybrid drivetrain with the Honda Civic Hybrid, but don’t dismiss the Acura ILX Hybrid as a dressed-up Civic with an Acura badge; there are noteworthy engineering changes and interior refinements. One thing that sets the ILX apart from the Civic that lets you know it’s in the entry luxury class is the quiet ride. Following Acura’s tradition, the ILX cabin coddles its passengers in comfort and offers plenty of luxury and high-tech features. While not quite sporty to drive, it is responsive with accurate steering. A smooth ride and steady handling should satisfy most shoppers. The ILX’s hybrid system is considered “mild,” meaning it cannot power the car solely under electric power. Instead, the electric motor assists the 1.5-liter gas engine when additional power is needed and converts braking energy into electricity to recharge the battery pack. There is a Civic Hybrid trait that’s hard to overlook: the shudder when the ILX engine restarts and gets up to speed after shutting down temporarily at stops. That’s a luxury demerit.
2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD
Base-price range: $55.000-$65.000 (estimated)
Fuel-economy rating: 28/32/30 mpg city/highway/combined
Building on Acura’s all-new RLX luxury flagship is the all-new 2014 RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD. It features a unique three motor hybrid system that is one of the most advanced and complex hybrid powertrains available. It starts with a direct injected 3.5-liter V-6 with cylinder deactivation, and is connected to a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission. Built into the transmission is a 47-horsepower electric motor that powers the front wheels. Two rear-mounted 36-horsepower motors turn the rear wheels. The system’s combined 377 horsepower launches the car to 60 mph in about 5.5 seconds. The all-wheel drive Hybrid’s driving performance is enhanced with a torque-vectoring system that can direct power from side to side when entering a curve. An extra-quiet and comfortable interior features generous passenger room front and rear. Bristling with driver-assistance features, the RLX Hybrid introduces new Acura amenities such as a push-button gear selector and head-up data display. With V-8-like performance, four-cylinder-like fuel efficiency, and exceptional handling performance, this variation on the new RLX proves “sport” and “hybrid” are no longer incongruent.
2014 BMW ActiveHybrid 3
Fuel-economy rating: 25/33/28 mpg city/highway/combined
BMW’s high-performance heritage isn’t lost with its ActiveHybrid 3. Apart from the hybrid powertrain, this is a BMW 335 sedan and pure BMW in its styling, interior design, and driving experience. A turbocharged 3.0-liter inline six cylinder engine and a BMW-built electric motor send a combined 335 horsepower to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission — no wimpy continuously variable transmission (CVT) for this Ultimate Driving Machine. Transmission shifts are buttery smooth and quickly grab the appropriate gear. Transitioning between gas and electric power is a non-event and quick acceleration is available from any speed. When fully charged, the 1.3-kilowatt lithium-ion battery pack has enough electrons for the 55-horsepower motor to power the ActiveHyrid 3 emissions-free up to 45 mph for around 2.5 miles. Fuel economy won’t excite a Prius buyer, but the Bavarian machine rips to 60 mph in a tick over five seconds, instead of the nearly 10 seconds for the Toyota. That’s an eternity in automotive time.