Skyrocketing gas prices, a weak economy, growing environmental consciousness… it’s no surprise that we’re seeing America’s roads getting greener by the day. While automakers are working feverishly to increase fuel efficiency across the board, there are already enough economical standouts in enough categories to meet the needs of almost any new-car shopper. We’ve picked the top 10.
In putting together our 2008 list of the Top 10 Green Cars, we looked at more than just fuel economy and price. As would any new-car buyer, we considered factors like comfort, performance, utility and technology. In addition to the three most fuel-friendly cars available today -- Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid and smart fortwo -- the list includes exceptionally efficient vehicles from a variety of categories, all the way up to a full-size SUV. The Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid returns not even half the fuel economy of the gas-champ Prius, for instance, but for a family that really needs all the capability only a full-size SUV can offer on a per-person-transported basis, the gasoline-electric Tahoe is as green as it gets.
Here, presented in order of combined EPA-estimated fuel economy, is Kelley Blue Book's 2008 list of the Top 10 Green Cars:
|2008 Toyota Prius | 46 mpg (48 city, 45 highway) |
Of all the vehicles sold in the U.S. by all the major manufacturers, none is more fuel-efficient than the Toyota Prius. Not surprisingly, the green-car poster child is also the best-selling hybrid on the market. With average fuel economy of 46 mpg, seating for five and options like a rearview camera and navigation, the Prius remains the “it” car for everyone from green-leaning celebrities to commuters just looking to save some green at the pump.
|2008 Honda Civic Hybrid | 42 mpg (40 city, 45 highway) |
Although the Civic Hybrid plays second fiddle to the Toyota Prius -- and only the Toyota Prius -- in terms of fuel economy, many buyers prefer the Civic’s more traditional sedan shape to the Prius’ “flashier” ovoid styling. Whether it pencils out financially compared with a gas-only Civic depends on a number of factors, but a Civic Hybrid owner will buy and burn around 30 percent less gasoline than his or her voltage-deficient counterpart.
|2008 smart fortwo | 36 mpg (33 city, 41 highway) |
Instead of horsepower and handling, it might be more useful these days to measure a vehicle’s “bang for the buck” in terms of its fuel economy. On that scale, the smart fortwo is without equal. The tiny two-seater delivers 41 highway miles per gallon for the low, low starting price of just over $12,000 (add about $2,000 for conveniences like a stereo, air conditioning and power windows). Starting around $17,000, the convertible version easily qualifies as the most fuel-efficient, lowest-priced drop top on the road today.
|2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid | 34 mpg (35 city, 33 highway) |
Using hybrid technology licensed from Toyota, the Nissan Altima Hybrid combines impressive fuel-economy with much of the same sporty character that has helped establish the Altima’s reputation as one of the most fun-to-drive mid-size sedans. The advanced technology isn’t confined to the engine bay, either, as the Altima Hybrid offers a slew of electronic and digital conveniences like push-button start, navigation with traffic info and a rearview camera.
|2008 MINI Cooper | 32 mpg (28 city, 37 highway) |
Cars that consume less fuel don’t necessarily have to sacrifice style or excitement. Need proof? You won’t find a more convincing argument than the lovable MINI Cooper. On the highway it can travel up to 37 miles on a single gallon. In the mountains, it demonstrates road-holding acumen on par with some much thirstier and pricier performance cars. Offering one of the most distinctive designs on the road to boot, the MINI Cooper is a smart choice for cost-cutting, fun-seeking and fashion-conscious buyers alike.
|2008 Ford Escape Hybrid | 32 mpg (34 city, 30 highway) |
Rising gas prices have been particularly troublesome for drivers who’ve grown accustomed to the raised seating position and added interior flexibility of SUVs. With the Ford Escape Hybrid, those so inclined can have their cake and haul it, too. The Escape Hybrid sweetens the sensible balance of a compact crossover with lower fuel costs and the amusement of all-electric operation in parking lots.
|2008 Honda Fit | 31 mpg (28 city, 34 highway) |
The littlest Honda isn’t the most fuel-efficient car in its class -- a distinction that belongs to the Toyota Yaris -- but it is the most versatile and most fun. An exceptionally flexible rear seat maximizes cargo- and people-hauling abilities, while an available Sport model offers a performance-tuned suspension and paddle shifters. Combined with a starting price of less than $15,000, the five-door Fit is a well-rounded economy car that’s good at everything from long commutes to long weekends.
|2008 Mercedes-Benz E320 BlueTEC | 26 mpg (23 city/32 hwy) |
“Mercedes diesel.” Can’t you just see, hear and smell it idling so obtrusively before you at the stoplight? Now, forget that ever happened and picture a smooth, quiet and clean E-Class diesel that returns 36-percent better combined fuel economy than its gasoline-swilling counterpart. Like many new diesels on the way, the E320 BlueTEC combines cleaner diesel fuel with new engine and emissions technologies to deliver all the punch and efficiency of a diesel powerplant, but without all the shake and soot.
|2008 Toyota Highlander Hybrid | 26 mpg (27 city, 25 highway) |
For families that demand the added capacity of three rows, the Highlander Hybrid is the most fuel-efficient option available. The gas-electric version of Toyota’s mid-size crossover SUV combines available seating for seven, impressive average fuel economy of 26 mpg and proven reliability. The standard equipment list even includes four-wheel drive, so you can commune with nature with the added peace of mind that you’re spewing less into the air.
|2008 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid | 21 mpg (21 city, 22 highway) |
Owners of full-size SUVs are suffering more than most at the pump, and many are trading the excess capacity for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. But what of the large, active families that really do need all the size and towing ability of a large SUV? Now there’s a hybrid for them, too. The Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid can be equipped with seating for eight, four-wheel drive and can tow over 8,000 pounds – all while seamlessly transitioning between gasoline and electric power and delivering 50-percent better city mileage than its gasoline-only counterpart.
Those are the standouts in 2008. What's on the way in 2009? More 50-state diesels. More hybrids. More small cars. What's the easiest way to stay on top of it all? By keeping up with KBB Green. Listening to the 13 million in-market car buyers that visit kbb.com every month allows us to focus on issues such as fuel economy and the environment in a manner that's more relevant to more shoppers. While you're here, be sure to check out the KBB Green homepage to browse stories on 10 mind-changing diesels, Ford's green turbocharging initiative and our time in Chevrolet's hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.