Dear Umbra,

I read the New York Times article that reported auto manufacturers are using hybrid technology to boost power rather than improve mileage. It specifically mentioned the Honda Accord, claiming that the mileage difference between the six-cylinder and the hybrid is minimal. What are the facts here? Is there a hybrid that really, actually, no-foolin’-around, gives really good mileage, represents a significant improvement over the regular version, is reasonably safe, and still drives well enough that one may venture onto the interstate without undue fear?

Kalamazoo, Mich.

Dearest Jim,

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I’m glad you wrote. That article stirred some people up, but the answer to your question is yes: true hybrids still exist.

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No guts, no glory.

Photo: Wieck Media.

As you’ll recall from the article, the hybrid’s electric motor gives it greater power. The apparent trouble with the pseudo-hybrids, as I call them, is that some models are using the technology for acceleration and not for the rest of the true-hybrid functions. What makes a true hybrid? A hybrid car has a large-capacity battery and a large-capacity electric motor. The electric motor runs the car at idle, picks up kinetic energy off the brakes and stores it in the battery, provides power assistance to the engine, and sometimes just plain old moves the car forward all by its lonesome. When the electric motor does all of these things, and not just one or two, the car is a true hybrid.

I’ve just experienced such a vehicle, in fact. You’ve heard of Boston Drivers, I assume? I was driving amidst them, in a Toyota Prius that belongs to one of them. It gets really good mileage — I drove 70 miles with no change in the gas gauge. It is also coated with air bags, covered with high-tech readouts, and has no “regular” version. Excellent handling is a prerequisite for survival in that city, and the Prius delivered.

But why listen to me when you can luxuriate in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Hybrid Center? (Yes, I am obsessed with UCS, is that so bad? Beats my obsession with becoming Jude Law’s next nanny.) You are going to love it: you’ll find reviews, a buyer’s guide, a blog, and — mwah! — a searchable vehicle-science database. You can learn how a hybrid works, fill out surveys to see which type might best fit your lifestyle, and meet a few proud owners. Spend hours on the computer, in short. If you use this resource, you will avoid ersatz hybrids and confidently make your eco-consumer mark.

By the way, when you drive your true hybrid, please be extra careful around bicyclists. The electric motor is eerily silent, and we cannot hear it coming.