The Most Eco Friendly Cars, 2012

by Nicola Temple on May 2, 2012

I finally got around to watching the film ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?’; mainly so I could watch the more recent ‘Revenge of the Electric Car’. It’s got me thinking about cars and as a result I’ve compiled a list of the most eco friendly cars for 2012.

I have to admit that I haven’t been terribly involved in our last three vehicle purchases (we’ve moved around a lot in the last 15 years). I’m simply not all that fussy.

However, I would have to say that in the last few years my husband’s criteria for a vehicle have deviated from mine more and more.

His priority is how much stuff in terms of surfboards, bikes, kayaks, camping gear etc can be strapped and stuffed onto and into the vehicle. My priority is efficiency.

The reality is, for us, we only use the vehicle for longer excursions on weekends, and otherwise it’s parked in the driveway. We’re not commuters, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be worried about our emissions and fossil fuel consumption.

So, I turned to the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) website as they rank the most efficient cars each year. Their rankings are based on combined city and highway fuel economy estimates with a slightly heavier weighting toward city driving efficiency.

I’ve listed the top vehicles in the main class groupings of vehicles; however, the EPA also gives a straight top 10 list, regardless of the style of vehicle, here if you’re interested.

As expected, many of the top vehicles are electric vehicles (they are getting their revenge after all) and because electricity is clearly not measured in gallons, the EPA uses a conversion factor to translate the fuel economy  into a miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent (MPGe) so that they can be directly compared with fuel driven vehicles.

For each of the cars below I’ve provided the combined estimated fuel efficiency as well as city and highway mileage. I also provide the starting price as listed on each of the company websites, to give you a feel for what the basic model is going to run you.

The most eco friendly compact cars (and smaller):

In top efficiency place is the Mitsubishi i-Miev, an all electric automatic subcompact car. It gets 112 MPGe combined driving, or 126 MPGe in the city and 99 MPGe on the highway. A common argument against electric cars is that there are clearly carbon dioxide emissions produced in the generation of power, however even accounting for this the i-Miev emits only approx 30% of the CO2 of a gasoline minicar.  They start from $27,990.

eco friendly cars 2012

The Chevrolet Volt is one of the most eco friendly cars on the market for 2012. CC image courtesy of NRMA Motoring and Services on Flickr.

For those who aren’t quite willing to let go of gasoline all together, the Chevrolet Volt is the answer. The Volt comes in at #4 in the EPA’s top 10 list and it is an automatic plug-in hybrid which runs on electricity and gasoline. It gets 60 combined/58 city/62 hwy MPGe. You can run completely on the electric motor for about 35 miles and then after that the gasoline engine kicks in to charge the battery, which in turn runs the electric motor to give you a 375-mile range. This car was named 2011 North American Car of the Year and 2012 European Car of the Year and Chevy has put in many bonus extras to appeal to those who like a little luxury in their vehicle. It starts at $31,645 (after Federal Tax credits). Another appealing feature is that it is a domestic vehicle, assembled in the US from US and globally-sourced parts.

If you aren’t ready to plug-in at all then the Scion iQ is the most efficient traditional gasoline car in this size range. It’s an automatic with 37combined/36 city/37 hwy MPG and it starts at a cool $15,995.

The most eco friendly mid-size cars:

Top in this category and #2 overall on the top 10 list is the Nissan Leaf. Of course, I was confused at first by the fact that the EPA places this car in the mid-size category even though the Volt is actually longer and a little wider than the Leaf. However, the Leaf has an extra 4” in height over the Volt and the cars are classed based on volume capacity…so the taller Leaf gets moved up in size class. This is an automatic all electric hatchback that can seat five adults and can travel about 100 miles on a single charge. It doesn’t have the back-up gasoline that the Volt has, but this means that it’s about 400 pounds lighter helping it achieve that greater range. It gets 99combined/106 city/92 hwy MPGe and starts at about $25,000.

Again, for people not willing to go fully electric, the next most efficient car in this size class and sitting at #5 overall on the top 10 list is the well-known Toyota Prius. This hybrid gets 50 combined/51 city/48 hwy MPG and starts at about $24,000.

If you want to stick with a traditional fuel powered vehicle, the Volkswagen Passat is the most efficient in this size range. The manual diesel will get 35 combined/31 city/43 hwy MPG and they start at $25,995.

The most eco friendly large car:

The Hyundai Sonata is the leader in this class with Hyundai aiming to build lighter vehicles with more efficient drive trains to help improve overall efficiency. This vehicle gets 28 combined/24 city/35 hwy MPG and the starting price is $20,895.

The most eco friendly sport utility vehicle:

If you simply can’t get away from the SUV lifestyle, carrying around kids and sports equipment and goodness knows what else, then have a look at the Ford Escape Hybrid FWD. The automatic gets 32 combined/34 city/31 hwy MPG and starts at $30,570.

The most eco friendly utility van:

If you’re a tradesperson or run a business that requires a utility van but you want to improve your footprint and bottom line, then have a look at the Azure Dynamics Transit Connect Electric Van/Wagon. This is the most efficient utility van out there and it also comes in at #3 on the EPA’s top 10 most efficient list. It gets 62 MPGe right across the board and has a top speed of 75 mph. Depending on driving style, it gets a charge range of between 50-80 miles and can be charged using either a 240-volt or 120-volt outlet.

Here’s an interview with green car expert Nick Chambers from at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show answering some questions regarding eco friendly car trends for this year:

We’ll probably be in the market for a different car within the next few years, but I’m going to keep my eye on trends starting now. Hopefully by the time we’re ready to buy there might be a few used Volts or Leafs out there on the market, but I doubt it. People tend to hang onto a good thing when they get it.

A word of advice if you’re out there looking….be aware that most advertising uses the base cost after federal tax credits are applied. Most of the models I’ve listed above are eligible for a $7,500USD Federal Tax credit. So, when you are price comparing, note whether the price listed is before or after tax credits.

Finally, the guys from review their top 7 eco friendly cars for 2012 in this video. It’s fairly long, but they cover many of the cars on this list including the Nissan Leaf, Hyundai Sonata, VW Passat, and Chevrolet Volt. They also throw in a few surprises including a 1957 Porsche 356 Speedster replica that’s been converted to electric. Enjoy!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: