Our 13 favorite green cars for Earth Day 2013

Consumer Reports News: April 22, 2013 03:08 PM

Green cars don't have to have gray personalities. Too many gas misers range from dull and dowdy to downright dreary to drive. And yet it's still true that the best way to help the environment, minimize your own contribution to global warming, and clean up the air is to burn less fuel. So we've compiled a list of the 13 nicest cars to drive that beat 35 mpg in our testing.

These are all cars that we've found enjoyable to drive to one degree or another. Most are hybrids, with a couple of fuel-efficient diesels thrown in for good measure. (See our guide to fuel economy.)

Model Type Tested price Overall mpg
Ford Focus Electric Fuel efficient hatchbacks $40,990 107*
Nissan Leaf Fuel efficient hatchbacks $35,430 106*
Tesla Model S+ Luxury sedans $89,650 84*
Chevrolet Volt Fuel efficient hatchbacks $43,700 61
Toyota Prius Fuel efficient hatchbacks $26,750 44
Toyota Prius V Three Wagons $28,217 41
Ford Fusion SE Hybrid Family sedans $28,290 39
Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE Family sedans $29,052 38
Volkswagen Golf TDI Fuel efficient hatchbacks $24,764 38
Ford C-MAX Hybrid SE Wagons $26,685 37
Volkswagen Passat TDI SE Family sedans $28,665 37
Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid Fuel efficient hatchbacks $28,055 37
Lexus ES 300h Luxury/luxury sedans $44,107 36

* Electric cars are rated in MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) calculated based on the same amount of energy in one gallon of gasoline. + The Tesla Model S is still in testing.

Learn more about hybrids, EVs and green cars in our guide to alternative fuels.

We're nearly finished testing the Tesla Model S, a revolutionary car that could change your mind about what an electric car can and can't do. We don't have final numbers yet, but our testers have found the car exhilarating to drive, while being very practical and efficient.

If you want something more conventional and less expensive, the Toyota Camry Hybrid and the Ford Fusion Hybrid get impressive mileage while still being richly appointed and pleasurable to drive. In particular, the Fusion is one of the nicest-driving hybrids we've experienced. Still in testing, the similar Lincoln MKZ Hybrid shares many of its attributes. Judging from reaction on the street, both are true head turners. (See our guide to hybrids and EVs.)

Another approach is the big, comfortable Volkswagen Passat TDI. We found it quick and nicely finished, and while it's not as nice to drive as previous Passats, it can go almost 700 miles on a fill-up with a stunning 51-mpg on the highway.

Volkswagen isn't known for hybrids, but we found the Hybrid version of the Jetta to be smooth and refined. Plus, it gets better fuel economy than the Jetta TDI.

The Ford C-Max and the Toyota Prius V are both roomy hatchbacks that can carry a lot of stuff and get excellent gas mileage. The C-Max isn't quite as roomy, but European-like road manners give it distinct appeal. The Prius V definitely concedes driving thrills for its space and efficiency.

The ubiquitous Toyota Prius is still our mileage champ for cars that run on gasoline. It's roomy and comfortable, though the engine can sometimes be grating and the handling is secure, if a bit dull. (The Prius topped our list of best values. See the complete report.)

If you want an all-electric car, and don't want to pay Tesla prices (starting around $70,000), the Ford Focus Electric and the Nissan Leaf get among the best energy efficiency of any cars we've ever tested. We found the Electric to be the nicest version of the Focus, and the Leaf proved very competent. But both are limited to a range of about 80 miles.

Finally, if you want to drive on electricity and don't want to worry about range, the Chevrolet Volt gets electric-car efficiency when the battery is charged, and it can run on gasoline when necessary. It's not as nice to drive as the Tesla, but it costs about half as much.

There are an increasing number of "green" choices on the market, addressing the many definitions of green. If save fuel and/or owner costs is your goal, these are some appealing choices, but you might also consider some the thriftiest small and midsized cars. (Learn how to get the most mpg right now.)

See our list of best and worst cars for fuel economy.

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Eric Evarts

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