There’s no question that it’s a car’s world. America is built around the highway system, with sprawling towns made up of business districts and residential areas all mixed up together. Living in a big city can make walking, biking, and using public transit more realistic, but that’s no consolation when you’ve got to go 20 blocks in the pouring rain.
We like the independence and validation of a personal car, and for many, going car-free is many years away from being a reality. But that doesn’t mean you should just be content to chug around in the gas-guzzler you’ve got parked in the garage. If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, a few extra hours of research could yield you a car that’s not only much better for the environment, it’s kind to your wallet as well.
On the following pages, you’ll find Kelly Blue Book’s picks for some of the greenest cars for the 2012 model year. Agree? Disagree? Share your thoughts and the picks they missed in the comments!
Note: there were 5 other cars on KBB’s top 10 list, but they irked me. There’s just something wrong about trying to pass off a brand new Lexus as a green car for the masses, I don’t care what kind of MPG it gets. If you want to see the cars that didn’t make my reality cut, click here.
5. 2012 Scion iQ
Continuing the happy tradition of compact-yet-sporty cars started by the Mini Cooper, the Scion iQ may look diminutive, but may surprise you. It’s perfect for those who need a little more leg room than a Smart car can provide, but hate having to pass up tiny parking spaces in the city.
What comes standard: Electronic rear-hatch locking system, a thumping 160-watt Pioneer audio system with HD technology, a USB input for your iPod, Bluetooth connectivity, 16-inch covered steel wheels, and a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT).
What’s under the hood:1.4-liter in-line 4, 94 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm, 89 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 36/37
2. 2012 Hyundai Elantra
Toyota and Honda might have the best reputations for fuel-efficient cars, but Hyundai isn’t letting them run away with the title. Most hybrids are hit or miss when it comes to meeting their MPG claims. Add a trim feature or change up the transmission type and the figure that sounded so good at the dealership goes right out the window. The completely redesigned 2012 Elantra, however, offers consistent fuel efficiency no matter which variation you choose.
What comes standard: Cruise control, air conditioning, power accessories, tilt steering wheel, 60/40 split-folding rear seats and a 6-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 sound system with Satellite Radio and USB/auxiliary input jacks, and an impressive array of safety equipment.
What’s under the hood: 1.8-liter in-line 4, 148 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm, 131 lb-ft of torque @ 4,700 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 29/40
3. 2012 Volkswagen Passat
We all know that smaller cars are generally more efficient. But a 2.5 seater like the Scion iQ just isn’t going to cut it if you’re on the tall side or have a growing family to think about. The new Passat is roomy, quiet, and provides a selection of modern features while maintaining a conservative price tag. But the best feature by far is the optional clean-burning diesel engine that can return nearly 800 miles per tankful.
What comes standard: Automatic dual-zone climate control, Bluetooth, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and a 3-year/36,000-mile maintenance program.
What’s under the hood: The 2012 VW Passat sedan offers three engine choices: A 2.5-liter in-line-5 shared with the smaller Jetta, a turbocharged 2.0-liter in-line-4 diesel with direct injection (TDI), and a 3.6-liter V6. The cleanest option is the turbodiesel which offers 140 horsepower @ 4,000 rpm and 236 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1,750 rpm.
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 31/43 (manual), 30/40 (DSG Automatic)
4. 2012 Honda Civic
The Honda Civic, known for its reliability and fuel-efficiency, is already America’s third best-selling car. But now that the company has rolled out a buffet line of seven different iterations of this popular car, that ranking may be headed upward. With a wide-ranging lineup that includes sedan and coupe body styles, a 201-horsepower sporty Civic Si version, a 45-mpg Civic hybrid variant, and a limited-availability natural-gas-powered version, each Civic is greener than the last.
What comes standard: Not much. But step it up to the LX or EX models, and you’ll get optional automatic transmission, oldies but goodies like A/C and a sound system, and a myriad of safety equipment.
What’s under the hood: As I mentioned, there are lots of Civic options. Of most interest to eco-drivers will be the Civic Hybrid, which packs a 1.5-liter in-line four cylinder + electric motor, 110 horsepower @ 5,500 rpm and 127 lb.-ft. of torque @ 1,000-3,500 rpm; and the Civic Natural Gas which offers 1.8-liter in-line four cylinder, 110 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm and 106 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,200 rpm.
EPA city/highway fuel economy: Hybrid – 44/44 (Continuously Variable Transmission), Natural Gas N/A
5. 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV
Convinced that you won’t be able to afford an electric vehicle for another 10 years? Think again. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV is a four-door hatchback that produces zero-emissions and costs less than any other EV on the American market–nearly $8,000 less than the Nissan Leaf.
What comes standard: A driver’s seat heater (a more energy-efficient way to get warm), a 50/50 split folding rear seat that reclines, a 100-watt, 4-speaker audio system, auxiliary 12-volt DC power outlet and power windows, mirrors and locks.
What’s under the hood: Actually, in this little car, the juicy stuff is actually behind the rear seat. AC synchronous permanent magnetic motor, 16 kWh lithium-ion battery pack, 66 horsepower @ 3,000-6,000 rpm, 145 lb-ft of torque @ 0-300 rpm. Projected per-charge range: 62 miles.
EPA city/highway fuel economy equivalent (MPGe): 126/99
Know of a super-green car that should have been on this list? Share it in a comment!
Top image via Thinkstock, others via respective car manufacturers