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They’re inefficient. Undependable. Have no punch. Or pizzaz. Worst of all, they’re far more expensive than their counterparts.

For decades, critics have had a lot to say about the state-of-the-art in hybrid automotive technology…most of it less than flattering. However, in recent years, Ford has made these nay-sayers eat their words not just in one category, but three!

When it was introduced last year, it’s safe to say the Ford Fusion Hybrid set a dynamic new benchmark in hybrid technology. Right ‘out of the gate’, it won “North American Car Of The Year” honors at the 2010 Detroit Auto Show. And it didn’t just win on its good looks: a panel of 49 automotive journalists picked it based on factors including innovation, design, handling, safety, driver satisfaction, and overall value. Before a full month could go by, HybridCars.com gave the Fusion Hybrid its first-ever “Hermance Vehicle Efficiency Award”. Next, it was named Motor Trend’s “Car Of The Year”, and listed as one of Car and Driver magazine’s “10 Best Cars For 2010”. Not bad for a one-year old, huh?

“If it’s only attribute was reducing harmful emissions, the Ford Fusion Hybrid would be a great car,” says Lou Evans, General Sales Manager for Hassett Ford-Lincoln-Subaru, Long Island’s #1 Ford Lincoln volume dealer (based on 2010 calendar year retail sales for LI from the Ford sales report). “The fact that it’s also so much fun to drive, with remarkable handling and interior comfort, plus delivers a 41 city/36 highway mileage rating,  makes it easy to understand why it was the second best-selling hybrid car for 2010, beating out both the Honda Insight and Toyota Camry hybrid.

Ford has also obliterated the idea that there’s no such thing as a luxurious hybrid vehicle. Borrowing from the Fusion’s award-winning technology,  the new Lincoln MKZ Hybrid utilizes the company’s second-generation Hybrid Powersplit drive train featuring a 156hp, 2.5-liter high-efficiency Atkinson cycle gas engine that shares responsibilities with a 106hp AC electric motor. And because this Lincoln MKZ is a parallel hybrid automobile, it has the triple capability to automatically operate solely on electric power, on gas alone, or utilizing a combination of both.

At the same time, when it comes to luxury, the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid offers all the styling and amenities discriminating drivers expect from Lincoln. Restyled in 2010 to blend elegance with simplicity, it provides more room than the Lexus HS 250h, and superb climate-controlled “Bridge of Weir” leather seating. Motor Trend magazine stated bluntly that the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid “has more standard luxury, technology, and safety features than the Lexus.”

But perhaps the greatest statements being made about the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid concerns the fact that Ford has accomplished something no other carmaker has…put the same price tag on its Lincoln MKZ Hybrid as its gas-powered model. They’ve also managed to manufacture a luxury hybrid with an EPA fuel economy rating of 41mpg city/36mpg city, making it the most fuel efficient vehicle in its class on the road. “Leveling the ‘playing field’ in terms of price makes choosing a hybrid vehicle a viable choice for more drivers,” states Evans. “Now they can save money while helping protect the environment, and still enjoy the luxury and comfort which made Lincoln famous.”

Ford hasn’t overlooked the family when it comes to hybrid vehicles, either. With abundant space, comfort, and versatility — plus government fuel ratings of 34mpg city/31mpg highway (front-drive models) and 30 city/27 highway (all-wheel-drive models) — the 2011 Ford Escape (SUV) Hybrid is hands-down the most efficient hybrid SUV available today.

Several special features also put the Escape Hybrid in a class by itself, first and foremost the “MyKey” system that allows owners to limit a vehicle’s maximum speed and audio volume. Just any parent if they’d appreciate being able to do that. There’s also the new rearview camera system and optional “Active Park Assist” that makes parallel parking quick and easy. Maybe the most significant feature can be founded in the electric air conditioning unit, which can now be utilized without having to turn on the gas engine.

“However, what customers like most about the new Ford Escape SUV Hybrid is that it’s one of the most affordable hybrid SUVs,” Lou notes. “Well-equipped, the Escape is still considerably less expensive than the Toyota Highlander or Lexus RX 400h hybrid vehicles.” Add it all up, and you’ll agree with Kelly Blue Book, which said the Escape Hybrid “delivers a unique combination of hybrid fuel efficiency, SUV utility, and a sort of rugged, refined style that’s appropriate for both downtowns and campgrounds.”

If you are interested in any of Ford’s three remarkable new hybrid vehicles, remember that where you buy yours is as important as which model you choose. As Long Island’s largest Ford and Lincoln dealership, Hassett always offers the greatest availability and selection of hybrid models. Even more important, as the winner of Ford’s prestigious “President’s Award” for the last eight years running, you can be confident of getting the finest service and best deal on the one you want. The more you know about hybrids, the more you want Hassett of Wantagh.