It’s clear by now that the planet doesn’t have an endless supply of dino-juice buried underground, and recent events in the Gulf of Mexico show what happens when something goes wrong pulling the remaining stuff out from under the sea. The writing is on the wall, boys and girls: the days of 400 horsepower hoon-mobiles that get eight miles to the gallon are numbered.
If you’re an enthusiast who also wants to save the planet, you’re options are limited. Sure, there’s the Tesla Roadster and the Commuter Cars Tango T600, but both are expensive and the Tango is just plain weird. Plus, you can’t hop in either one and do a trip from New York to California without recharging every hundred miles or so; in other words, electric cars haven’t yet reached the practicality of their internal combustion counterparts.
So what’s a green gear-head to do? Relax and continue reading, because your pals at RideLust have sorted through the current crop of eco-mobiles to pick the five tastiest examples for an enthusiast. Sure, there’s some compromise here, and none of the cars would stand on their own as a track day terror. Still, any one of these five will put a smile on your face, and all of them will allow you to drive coast to coast as many times as you’d like, fueled only by Snickers, Red Bull and the appropriate fossil fuel.
Without further ado, here is out list (ranked in order of desirability) of the top five green cars for drivers:
First Place: BMW 335d
The 2010 BMW 335d is as good as it gets for the eco-conscious driving enthusiast. It’s twin turbo diesel motor puts out 265 horsepower and an astonishing 425 foot pounds of torque, good enough to get it to 60 mph in under six seconds. The 335d returns a respectable 36 miles per gallon highway and 23 miles per gallon around town, so you can feel good about doing your part to save the planet. The 3 series platform is known for exceptional handling, and buyers of the 335d will want to check the option box next to “Sport Package” for an even better driving experience.
The downside, as with anything that wears the BMW roundel, is pricing. The 335d starts at $43,950, and I wish you the best of luck in finding one at that price. If you can find one on a dealer’s lot, expect ti to have the Premium and Nav packages installed, which will push the price to the $50k mark. If you can afford to write a check for that amount, there’s no need to read on. You’re shopping is done, except for finding a dealer with one on the lot.
Second Place: Volkswagen Jetta TDI Cup Street Edition
Likes: Great motor in a respectable platform at a reasonable price
Dislikes: Cult following of TDI makes dealers greedy and inventory scarce
Buy This Car If: You can’t afford a BMW 335d and want your environmental responsibility in sedan flavor
On paper, the TDI equipped Jetta doesn’t sound all that interesting. The turbo diesel motor, for example, only makes 140 horsepower and 236 foot pounds of torque. Zero to sixty happens in a leisurely 8.9 seconds, which is in the range of minivans and crossovers these days. Styling is conservative and even borders on bland, but that doesn’t stop me from lusting for one. First, they feel a lot quicker than the numbers on paper indicate. I drove a TDI-equipped Skoda Octavia (think VW Jetta Wagon) for two weeks in Germany, and it had no problem keeping up with traffic on the Autobahn. It also returned unbelievable fuel mileage, which is a big part of the TDI’s appeal. You may not go as fast as a four cylinder gasoline motor with a turbo, but you’re tanking up a whole lot less often. The VW Jetta TDI Cup Street Edition gets an estimated 41 MPG highway and 30 MPG city, and has a sticker price of just $24,990.
The TDI Cup Street Edition also comes with the sport suspension from the Jetta GLI, 18” wheels, a tasteful body kit and an upgraded interior. The only difficult part will be tracking one down and then finding a dealer that doesn’t expect an insane amount of ADM (Additional Dealer Markup, in case you didn’t know) for the privilege of taking your money. If you can’t afford the BMW 335d, the VW Jetta TDI Cup Street Edition is your next best choice.
Third Place: Audi A3 TDI
The Audi A3 TDI would be a great choice if it priced out at $30k; unfortunately, it starts at $29,950 and quickly gets expensive as the option packages stack up. As you’re likely to find it equipped on a dealer’s lot, the sticker price will be pushing $40,000, and that’s a deal-killer for me with this particular car. If it had Audi’s excellent Quattro AWD at that price I’d still be interested, but the A3 TDI only comes in FWD on this side of the pond. That’s a shame, because I love everything else about the compact wagon from Audi. It has the right mix of versatility, comfort and handling to make it my first choice for a daily driver if price were no object.
LIke the VW Jetta TDI, the four cylinder turbo diesel in the A3 makes 140 horsepower and 236 pound feet of torque, and the A3 gets a very similar fuel economy rating of 42 MPG highway and 30 MPG city. Zero to sixty times are comparable as well, coming in at around nine seconds.
If you want a fun-to-drive diesel wagon that’s more affordable, take a look at VW’s Jetta TDI SportWagen. It won’t have the A3’s interior, but it won’t have the A3’s sticker price, either.
Fourth Place: Ford Fusion Hybrid
The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid was voted the 2010 North American Car of the Year, and with good reason. It’s big enough to carry four adults comfortably, it gets 36 MPG on the highway and 41 MPG around town and it has a sticker price of $27,625. It’s combined gas / electric horsepower rating of 191 will get it to sixty miles per hour in 8.7 seconds, which is very respectable for a hybrid. You can equip it with amazing amount of technology, including voice activated navigation, blind spot detection, DVD video, Sirius radio with real time traffic updates and 10 GB of onboard music storage. You’d expect this from Lexus, but it’s pretty impressive on an entry level Ford.
So why didn’t the Ford Fusion Hybrid rate higher? To maximize fuel mileage, your only transmission option is a CVT, and I flat-out hate continuously variable transmissions. They’re noisy, they provide little driver feedback and they produce sluggish forward motion. On paper, it’s easy to see the advantages of a CVT over a manual transmission or an automatic transmission, but in the real world I just find them annoying to drive. If you can put up with the CVT, then look at the Fusion Hybrid; otherwise, choose your car from the list above.
Fifth Place: Lexus HS 250h
Likes: Lexus comfort and build quality
Dislikes: Also has CVT gearbox, pricey when optioned out
Buy This Car If: You’ve got a long commute, can put up with the CVT and can write a check to cover the price of admission
The 2010 Lexus HS 250h has been a sales disappointment to Lexus, who blames it on the brand equity that the Toyota Prius has built. I don’t think that’s the case at all; instead, Lexus hasn’t done a very good job of marketing the HS 250h to the correct audience. If you want an entry level luxury hybrid sedan, the HS 250h is your only option, but how many buyers have even heard of it?
The HS 250h comes equipped with a 187 horsepower hybrid drivetrain, which is good enough to get it to 60 miles per hour in 8.7 seconds, matching the Ford Fusion. The HS 250h gives up some mileage to the Ford, returning 34 MPG on the highway and 35 MPG around town. It’s fit and finish is what we’ve come to expect from Lexus, but it carries a price tag to match. The base model starts at $34,200, and if you add a few options (such as the navigation system, touring package, wide view monitor and heated seats) you can easily get it in the $40,000 range. Start with the Premium over the Base version, and you can escalate pricing into the mid $40k range.
If you have a long commute, the HS 250h may just be the best way to spend it. You won’t be tempted to autocross it on the weekends, but the handling is predictable and the car doesn’t have any bad habits when pushed to its limit. If you want luxury and fuel economy, and don’t mind the price of admission (or the CVT gearbox), then the HS 250h should definitely be on your short list.