Clean Machines

After years of leading us on, carmakers roll out the first generation of off-road-ready hybrids

Marty Padgett

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

SINCE THE INTRODUCTION of the Honda Insight to U.S. roads in 1999, hybrid vehicles, which pair electric and gas motors to boost fuel efficiency, have been great for saving cash at the pump but useless off pavement. That’ll change later this year, when manufacturers sell the first hybrids capable of hauling you to the edge of the wilderness and back. These SUVs and pickups will feature reduced emissions, travel up to 64 percent farther on a single tank, and (here’s the real kicker) have the same engine power as their gas-only counterparts. This is just the beginning. Walter McManus, an automotive analyst with J.D. Power and Associates, a market-research firm, estimates that by 2010, more than 50 percent of the 500,000 hybrids sold in the U.S. will be trucks. Why the surge? “Consumers want alternatives,” he says, “and SUVs and pickups remain the fastest-growing sectors of the automotive market. It only makes sense to invest this technology in vehicles people want to drive.” Here are three expected to be available in 2004.

Chevy Silverado/GMC Sierra
Estimated price, $27,500
The “mild hybrid” system in GM’s full-size 4WD truck boosts mileage up to 13 percent over the 15-mpg gas-only version by shutting the engine down when it’s not needed for propulsion. The electric motor handles key systems and also feeds four 120-volt outlets—bring your DVD player to Moab! ON SALE: Late summer

Ford Escape Hybrid
Est. $25,000
The all-wheel-drive Escape Hybrid will maintain the pep and 1,000-pound towing capacity of its gas-only predecessor, but deliver up to 35 miles per gallon in the city—a 72 percent improvement. And at 14.5 feet long and six feet wide, it’ll still leave room for those four bikes in your garage. ON SALE: Late summer

Lexus RX 400h
Est. $42,000 Combining a V-6 engine with two electric motors, the all-wheel drive 400h will get at least 27.5 mpg—better than the EPA average for compact sedans—allowing it to journey 600 miles on a tank. It’s expected to be rated a super ultra low-emission vehicle, one of California’s top scores. ON SALE: Late fall

COMING SOON: Hybrid Dodge Ram pickup in late 2004; and SUVs from Toyota (Highlander, 2005), Saturn (VUE, 2006), and Chevy (Tahoe and Yukon, 2007).

promo logo