Green Cars have come at a price premium over regular internal-combustion models, but between lower daily operation costs and high resale value, the best among them will save you thousands over your total time of ownership. With every dollar you save on gas, you can also feel good about doing one small part to improve air quality and combat global warming.
Not all hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric cars are created equal. Some automakers charge several thousand extra yet have only managed the same fuel efficiency of a four-cylinder gas-powered car. Several of today's electrics and plug-in hybrids are more expensive status symbols than truly useful. But the best green cars are engineered so that you don't even feel like you're driving something packed with advanced fuel-saving technology.
Here are our top choices for Green Cars for the 2014 model year, including four great hybrids and one battery-electric. Any of these will serve you well for many years to come.
Now in its third generation, the Prius has been synonymous with 'hybrid car' for more than a decade. For several years the Prius was the only credible hybrid car on the market, and although there are now dozens of options from nearly every major automaker, Toyota's compact-midsize hatchback fuel efficiency champ is still the best all-around choice. With 51 city/48 highway/50 combined mpg, constant fluctuations in gas prices will simply be no longer a concern. Hybrid Synergy Drive in the Prius means a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, dual electric motors and a CVT transmission for total peak system output of 134 horsepower. That's enough for 0-60 mph in 10.1 seconds, but the Prius can travel for short distances at moderate acceleration on electric power alone, further saving fuel if you learn how to maximize your efficiency.
As for features, the approximately $25k Prius Two model (the Prius One is for fleet sales only) already comes extremely well-equipped. You'll find heated power side mirrors, keyless entry and ignition, automatic climate control, a touchscreen infotainment interface, and Bluetooth phone and streaming audio support. At the upscale Four and Five trim levels, the Prius can be ordered equipped like a technologically advanced luxury car, with navigation, a solar roof that helps improve performance by taking load off the powertrain, a JBL GreenEdge 8-speaker premium audio system, Toyota Entune infotainment with dozens of convenience apps, and top active safety features like adaptive cruise control and a head-up display.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 51 city / 48 highway / 50 combined mpg.
The Jetta Hybrid is an all-new model for 2014, as VW's gas-electric technology is finally ready for prime time. A carmaker known for highly efficient diesels enters the hybrid arena with a built-like-a-tank compact offering that still manages 42 city/48 highway/45 combined mpg, thanks to a 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and 20-kW electric motor making combined peak figures of 170 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque. A standout feature: the 7-speed sequential automatic transmission with manual shift control, instead of the CVT used by most hybrids, bringing a sportier and less-unnerving drive that feels just like the regular gas-powered Jetta. Performance is excellent for a green car, both on straight roads and through the canyons.
Like every Jetta, the Hybrid comes with a high-quality interior with typical solid German engineering plus tons of rear seat space for a compact. The 60/40 split-folding rear seat allows tall items to pass through from the trunk, and true seating for 5 makes the Prius c feel tiny by comparison. Though the interior tech can't match Ford or Toyota's offerings, everything is placed well and works as it should. As for cost, at around $25k to start you'll be paying the same as larger midsize hybrids. Drive a ton of miles, and you'll quickly make up the difference over a well-equipped standard Jetta.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 42 city / 48 highway / 45 combined mpg.
The first series-production electric car from a mainstream automaker and on sale since the 2011 model year, the Nissan LEAF is still the best overall choice. Its attractive, streamlined hatchback body style could pass for a regular gas-powered car, and offers decent utility and passenger space. For 2014, Nissan has made a number of changes and improvements coupled with a huge drop in price. The LEAF now starts at around $29,000. In States like California that add cash on the hood in addition to the $7,500 Federal electric car tax credit, your out-the-door price can easily be below $20k. Once it's in the garage, you'll never have to buy a drop of $5-per-gallon gas. Ever.
Further improvements include longer driving range, now around 85 miles, plus a more robust 6.6-kW on-board charger (SE and SL) that cuts charging time in half, now around 4 hours using a home 220-volt charging station, or as little as 30 minutes to 80% capacity with a Level 3 public station. As for performance, there's just 107 horses on tap, so don't expect sport sedan acceleration or handling. That said, the LEAF can keep up with highway traffic without complaint. The number of EVs on the market is growing, but the new changes have helped keep the LEAF at the front of the pack, and the price is right.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 106 city / 92 highway mpg.
After setting sales charts on fire since its late-2012 introduction, the newest Honda Accord has been universally praised by critics and buyers alike. Coming next month, Honda’s highly-anticpated 2014 Accord Hybrid represents a huge leap forward in powertrain technology and fuel efficiency.
Here’s what you’re surely wanting to know: the 2014 Accord Hybrid has been rated by the EPA at 50 city/45 highway/47 combined mpg, to significantly outpace the Toyota Camry Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima Hybrids, and match the Ford Fusion Hybrid‘s 47 combined mpg rating. And that magic 50 comes where the majority of drivers will use their daily drivers the most—in the city.
With the ability to travel for short distances at up to 60 mph without burning gasoline, the Accord Hybrid’s powerful primary electric motor makes it a solid performer in both power and efficiency. A secondary electric motor is built into the transaxle to charge the batteries under regenerative braking and provide a smoother drive. The well-equipped and very efficient Honda Accord Hybrid should find plenty of good homes.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 50 city / 45 highway / 47 combined mpg.
Tying the familiar Prius for the top fuel efficiency of all new cars without a plug, the Yaris-based 2014 Toyota Prius c hatchback attains outstanding EPA ratings of 53 city/46 highway/50 combined mpg. The EPA says the 'c' will save you over $6,500 in fuel costs over 5 years when compared with the average new car. Match that with a $19,000 base price well-equipped, great projected resale value and Toyota's legendary reliability, and the mighty little hybrid will likely have the lowest total cost of ownership of any car on the market. Power comes from a 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder, electric motor and CVT transmission working together in Toyota's industry-standard Hybrid Synergy Drive full hybrid system. Though the 'c' is even slower than the 3rd-gen Prius, it still manages to feel sprightly in daily driving thanks to stiffer spring rates and a more capable ride.
If the Prius c has one flaw, it's that interior material quality and comfort make the hybrid's economy-car roots clear. There's a surprising among of space for such a small vehicle, but with hard plastic surfaces, thin seats, ever-present wind noise and a ride that can be quite jarring at times, drivers used to a Cadillac will want to look elsewhere. But the true green faithful won't care, as reports continue to flood in of efficiency touching 55 mpg or more in the hands of the right driver.
EPA-rated fuel economy: 53 city / 46 highway / 50 combined mpg