Some used cars are better bets than others.
And just as there are new hybrids you may want to consider avoiding, some used hybrids may be a more conservative bet than others.
A used Toyota Prius is by far the most familiar and most numerous hybrid, with a few million sold in the U.S. since 2000.
But there are also orphan hybrids showing up on used-car lots.
And just because it says “Hybrid” on the badge doesn’t mean that it will get particularly good gas mileage, or be a pleasant vehicle to drive.
So here’s our list of five used hybrids you should think twice about before digging into your wallet.
2010-2011 BMW ActiveHybrid X6
On the outside, except for a few badges, it looks just like a conventional BMW X6, or as BMW terms it, a “sports activity coupe”–essentially a fastback sport-utility crossover vehicle.
But the now-discontinued ActiveHybrid X6 used a modified version of GM’s Two-Mode Hybrid system for large, rear-wheel drive trucks and sport utilities, paired to a modified version of BMW’s 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8 engine putting out 407 hp.
Fuel efficiency? At 19 mpg, considerably better than the conventional 4.4-liter X6, which earned a combined 15 mpg rating. We saw 20.4 mpg during a launch-event driving test.
The goal was to “build the BMW of hybrids,” as one engineer put it at the introduction, with no compromise in power, performance, or driving experience. Total power output from the engine and two motor-generators was 485 hp.
In practice, BMW radically retuned the hybrid control software to mimic the driving experience of a seven-speed automatic transmission, using four direct-drive gears and three different electric assists. Behind the wheel, no one would know there were electric motors providing part of the torque.
The problem with the ActiveHybrid X6 is that it’s a very low-volume vehicle only built for two model years, and the Two-Mode Hybrid powertrain was reputed to have cost each maker that used it more than $10,000 per car.
BMW service can be pricey to begin with. Add to that a low-volume, discontinued hybrid system that BMW will never use again, and the risk of pricey repairs and unavailable parts could get high a few years down the road.
2008-2009 Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
One of two hybrid systems launched by GM a few years ago, the mild-hybrid Belt-Alternator-Starter system was used on several compact and mid-size models, mostly from Saturn (see next page).
The Chevy Malibu was offered with the so-called BAS system for just two years, paired to a 164-hp 2.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine. In 2009, the Malibu Hybrid was sold only to fleets.
The big challenge was that the Malibu Hybrid’s EPA ratings–24 mpg city, 32 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 27 mpg–were only slightly better than the same 2.4-liter engine when paired with a then-new six-speed automatic transmission.
That version of the Malibu offered a more familiar driving experience, equivalent highway mileage, and a combined rating of 25 mpg–for about $2,000 less. If the sticker didn’t close the deal, the far smoother driving experience did.
The two years of Malibu Hybrid are low-volume models with an unpleasant shudder in the drivetrain as the electric motor switched from providing torque to regenerative battery charging. And their real-world fuel economy was sometimes lower than conventional models.
The Malibu Hybrid quietly went away after the 2009 model year and GM’s bankruptcy and restructuring. For the record, the all-new 2013 Chevrolet Malibu Eco uses a thoroughly updated and smoother second generation of the same system.
One final warning: A number of Malibu Hybrids were used as New York City taxi cabs. If you see any yellow paint anywhere on one sitting on a used-car lot, run away.
2009 Dodge Durango Hybrid / 2009 Chrysler Aspen Hybrid
Well, it must have sounded like a great idea in the heyday of sport-utility vehicles: a hybrid SUV that also had a Hemi!
That’s exactly what the pre-bankruptcy Chrysler built, for a few short months in 2008 before it killed off its large SUV line and closed the Delaware assembly plant altogether.
Altogether, fewer than 1,000 Dodge Durango Hybrids–including its upmarket twin, the Chrysler Aspen Hybrid–were built.
And the hybrid-SUV pair are Chrysler’s only products ever to use the Two-Mode Hybrid system, originally developed jointly by GM, the then-DaimlerChrysler, and BMW.
Just as on the 2010-2011 BMW ActiveHybrid X6, that system is low-volume and the components were remarkably expensive. Between the large battery pack and the complex two-motor hybrid transmission, it was rumored to cost $10,000 or more per vehicle.
So while the 345-hp, 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 paired with the hybrid system returned a decent 21 mpg combined–far better than the non-hybrid Hemi version, at 15 mpg–it is now very much an orphan for the post-bankruptcy Chrysler.
And that makes it one to consider steering clear of.