It used to be that the Toyota Prius - whose venerable first generation included a dashboard-mounted joystick only a true believer could love - only had to compete against cars like Honda's Civic hybrid and its Insight, a cylindrical two-seater with the highest mileage of any vehicle from the big automakers. But the new generation of hybrids is bigger, plusher, and faster - some of them faster than their apparent twins. They're just like your favorite vehicles, only greener. Just think: No more nagging doubts about hogging a disproportionate share of the earth's resources to make your car or SUV go vroom in the passing lane of life.

"The basic idea was to provide a guiltless performance vehicle," says Dave Hermance, Lexus's executive engineer for environmental engineering, for people who didn't want their neighbors to label them conspicuous consumers. And frankly, he adds, a hybrid like the RX gives up some potential fuel economy for much-sought-after performance.

By last count in early 2005, that was good enough to entice about 11,000 buyers for the RX 400h, months before manufacturing had begun or niggling details like price were worked out. "Lexus customers aren't quite as cost-sensitive" as some others in the market, observes Hermance. Those who are might consider the $2,000 federal tax credit that is available for the hybrid versions of the Ford Escape, Honda Civic, and Honda Accord, and for the hybrid-only Toyota Prius and Honda Insight this year. (For more information on the deduction, see www.irs.gov.)

At a time when gas prices seem to refuse to climb down significantly, this trend is quickly picking up speed. Even the Prius has a more stylish, comfortable model slated to roll later this year, along with a hybrid Toyota Highlander, Saturn Vue - even Chevy heavyweights like the Yukon and Tahoe. Read on to find out if (and when) your favorite vehicle will join them.