If you’ve considered dumping the dinosaur in your garage for a more eco-friendly ride, but hesitated due to sticker shock or a persistent case of technophobia, 2012 may be the year to switch to a green technology/alternative fuel vehicle. With an eye toward balancing fuel economy and drivability, here are our picks for the 10 best green cars of the year:
Honda Civic Natural Gas
MPG: City 27/Hwy 38
Named by Green Car Journal as the 2012 Green Car of the Year, the 2012 Honda Civic is surprisingly fun to drive. A shortened wheelbase and increased low-end torque allow for some fleet-footed cornering, abetted by the seamless five-speed gearbox. The ride remains smooth and comfortable at highway speeds. Factor in the reduced cost of natural gas and the Civic’s multi-state HOV lane eligibility and top honors are well deserved.
MPG: Combined 99/City 106/Hwy 92
With a reservoir of torque, nimble off-the-line response and a top speed of 90 mph, the Nissan Leaf is a pugnacious and frugal urbanite. The Leaf’s ride quality can be a little stiff, but not out of place with the car’s runabout personality. Solid braking is another strong suit, making the Leaf a perfect choice for metro-bound, eco-minded drivers.
Ford Focus Electric
Range: Up to 100 miles
Ford’s first all-electric passenger car reaches a citation-dodging top speed of 84 mph and has been tuned to offer sharp handling and a refined ride. To combat reservations about the car’s limited range, the MyFord Mobile app allows owners to remotely monitor and program charging, start and stop the vehicle, locate charging stations and preheat or cool the car.
VW Passat TDI
MPG: City 30/Hwy 40
The clean diesel powered Passat TDI was born for the open road. The ride is glassy over road irregularities and highway cruising is smooth and quiet. In the city, steering is a bit sluggish, but braking is crisp and responsive. With an 18.5-gallon tank, Passat owners won’t be sweating the distance to the next diesel-equipped gas station.
The 2012 Mitsubishi i feels more stable than most small cars, especially when cornering. The engine delivers some punch at low speeds, but tops out at 81 mph. With a range of 75 miles on a full 12-hour charge, the i’s unabashed EV persona may not be for everyone, but Mitsubishi has delivered an efficient around-town vehicle in a simple, if strangely distinctive package
Toyota Prius v
MPG: City 44/Hwy 40
Because of its added heft, the 2012 Toyota Prius V feels reassuringly planted on the road. Acceleration is anemic, but selecting “power mode” from the three available driving modes adds some grunt for passing situations or hill climbing. Long-time Prius owners will appreciate the added interior room in the 2012 model.
Lexus CT 200h
MPG: City 43/Hwy 40
It may be similar to the Prius in design, but the Lexus CT 200h has a secret weapon under the hood: Sport mode. While it will certainly knock down the car’s fuel efficiency, driving in Sport mode sharpens the steering and adds punch to the throttle, allowing for some guilty pleasure as you blow past a Prius and into the Whole Foods lot.
MPG: City 95/Hwy 93 Electric (35/40 Gas)
In all-electric mode, the Volt delivers a ride that is quiet and smooth. Although it feels a little front-heavy when cornering, the Volt is stable and solid overall, befitting its five-star safety rating from the Feds. The Volt is a long-distance green machine, claiming a 300-mile range. Unfortunately, those long legs are reflected in the Volts hefty price tag.
2012 Honda Insight EX with Navigation
MPG: City 41/Hwy 44
Flashing updated styling cues and an improved navigation system, the hybrid Insight EX with Nav is more than capable of holding its own against the refreshed competition in its class. The 2012 Insight is quieter as well, with thicker noise suppression material quelling the 98-horespower engine.
Ford Fusion Hybrid
MPG: City 41/Hwy 36
The Ford Fusion Hybrid transitions between gas and electric power seamlessly. In pure electric mode, the Fusion Hybrid can reach an impressive 47 mpg. Combine that spec with a 700-mile per tank range and you have ample evidence to make this a top contender for green family sedan of the year. Agile cornering, smooth performance and a surprisingly sharp interior deliver the closing arguments.