07/30/2012 02:59 pm ET Updated Sep 29, 2012

You Don't Need a Hybrid

As a quick fix to over-consumption and excess carbon output, you may be drawn to a hybrid like the Honda Insight or the Kia Optima Hybrid. However, just because you want to use fewer resources and pollute less, you don't need a hybrid. In fact, there are plenty of great alternatives out there that sip fuel, cost less and provide a better driving experience than a hybrid.

For example, a Honda Civic EX is $21,445 including destination fee, while a similarly equipped Civic Hybrid costs just under $25,000. Granted, the hybrid version includes features like an upgraded audio system, LED taillights, turn signals built into the outside mirrors and a rear spoiler, but the extra money mainly pays for the Civic Hybrid's complex gas/electric powertrain.

When it comes to using less gas, the Civic Hybrid does a fair job, with an EPA estimate of 44 mpg for both city and highway driving. But the Civic EX does well, too, with an EPA estimate of 28 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway. The estimated annual fuel cost for the non-hybrid Honda Civic is about $450 more than for the Civic Hybrid. At that rate, it would take about 10 years for the Hybrid's gas savings to cover its higher price.

Also, most hybrids can feel somewhat strange to drive. By definition, hybrids use a combination of two power sources. The transition between the gasoline engine and the electric motor is often noticeable. And the regenerative brakes on most hybrids can be grabby and overly sensitive, and they can be extra noisy as they capture lost energy and put it back into the batteries.

But there are plenty of cars that get great fuel economy without any of the inherent compromises of a hybrid. Here are just a few:

Ford essentially redefined what a small car could be with the Fiesta. Despite its base price of about $14,000, its interior is better than that of some more expensive cars. Ford's hands-free Sync system also makes it compelling. EPA estimates for a 2012 Ford Fiesta with a six-speed automatic transmission are 29 mpg in the city, 39 mpg on the highway. The available SFE package boosts highway mileage to an estimated 40 mpg.

The all-new Dodge Dart is a compact sedan with a base price of about $16,000. If you choose the right engine, the car is quick and a blast to drive hard. You can also get tons of great tech options. The Dart's available combination of a six-speed manual transmission and a turbocharged 1.4-liter engine earn it an EPA estimate of 27 mpg city and 39 mpg highway. Opt for the Aero version, and you're looking at 41 mpg on the highway.

Nissan's redesigned 2013 Altima is a decent-sized sedan with a top-notch interior, excellent handling and a sleek-looking body. It has a base price of $21,500 and gets an EPA fuel economy estimate of 27 mpg city, 38 mpg highway.

Volkswagen's Jetta TDI is priced at about $23,000. That might be a little on the high side if you're on a strict budget, but this car is worth every penny. The diesel engine makes the car feel powerful, and the Jetta has a look and feel that says premium sedan, not economy car. True, there are some hard plastic bits inside the Jetta, but overall, the interior is nicely done. The diesel engine nabs an EPA estimate of 32 mpg city and 42 mpg highway, and many people report even better fuel economy than those estimates.

And these are just a few examples. There are many more non-hybrids that get great fuel economy. For those who really want to cut down on consumption, you might want to consider getting a good used car -- no new manufacturing means that no new resources are consumed or pollution generated when you buy a used car.

If you really want to lessen your impact on the environment, but you still want all that a new car offers, resist the knee jerk reaction of buying a hybrid. At least check out some alternatives first. You may be surprised how little you have to spend and how much fun you can have behind the wheel of a car that's a real fuel sipper.