To Those Who Wait
Didn't find your favorite vehicle on the mirror-image list? You might get lucky in '06. Aside from a much-hoped-for round of bigger numbers and better sales ahead, the automakers are also preparing to take the wraps off a series of new hybrids, including the Lexus GS 450h, the first hybrid luxury sedan. A hybrid Chevrolet Malibu sedan and a hybrid Nissan Altima are slated for 2007, and hybrid Chevy Tahoe and GMC Yukon SUVs are scheduled to hit the road in '08. Dodge may choose to offer its Ram hybrid, the first diesel/electric combo, to the general public; it's available only to fleet customers now.

GM, like its competitors, is also developing a fuel-cell technology that promises to take the fuel-efficiency drive to a whole new level. Until then, it looks like hybrid is here to stay.


1 Lexus RX 400h
The trick about transforming a Lexus RX 330 into a hybrid is that it forced engineers to think inside the box.

"If you scale [the Prius's hybrid technology] to be powerful enough for the RX, it gets big," Hermance says. "We had to redesign the transmission to make it more compact while powerful. You had to get the required power in the available space."
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In addition to the RX 330's features like high-end stereo equipment and luxe materials, the 400h has voice control for the onboard navigation unit and for hands-free operation of your cellphone, so you can dial any call without touching a button. (That's optional, but it's too cool to ignore.)

Suggested retail: Still to come, but with the RX 330 at a baseprice of $37,825 for the all-wheel-drive version, expect the all-option 400h to top $40,000.


2 Ford Escape
An SUV that gets 36 mpg in the city? Here it is.
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William Clay Ford, CEO, admitted years ago that SUVs were environmentally unfriendly, so he's touting the first domestic hybrid in its class. This Escape has the bring-the-family feel of a vehicle that seats five with plenty of cargo space, but with mileage that averages 36 in the city - 400 to 500 miles on a single tank. It's billed to deliver V6-like performance, 1,000 pounds of towing capability, and optional four-wheel drive, without sacrificing any creature comforts: leather seating, upgraded audio systems, and a new navigation system exclusive to Ford's line of hybrids (this is its first).

Suggested retail: $26,970 minus options, taxes, and delivery.