The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recently released its 18th-annual environmental ratings for new vehicles available for sale in North America. For the hypermiling geeks among us, these ratings catalog the most energy-efficient models you can buy in 2015 regardless of the form of energy consumed: gasoline, diesel, natural gas, electricity, bovine emissions or the tears of a bald eagle.
The ACEEE painstakingly crunched the numbers to ensure a fully electric vehicle like the Nissan Leaf could be compared directly with a gas-only Mitsubishi Mirage. Their “green scores” take into account a wide array of environmental factors, including lifecycle greenhouse gas and pollutant emissions, even nuclear clean-up costs. This year’s ratings coincide with the release of ACEEE’s greenercars.org website, which reveals every vehicle score from the model year 2000 and up. Here are their 10 greenest picks from the bumper crop of 2015.
The new lithium-ion battery pack mounted under the floor provides 120 kilometres of range in the city, which should relieve a lot of range anxiety. Indeed, with all the heavy bits lying low in the floorpan, the ForTwo ED handles better than its gasoline-powered equivalent. Come to think of it, Electric Drive makes the ForTwo a significantly better Smart car.
Its range on a full charge is 130 kilometres, and GM is introducing a quick DC charger that promises to fill the Spark’s lithium-ion battery pack in just 20 minutes (count on seven hours with your household 220-volt dryer connection). The Spark EV is built in South Korea by GM partner Daewoo, although its motor hails from Baltimore, of all places. Sadly, in Canada, the Spark EV is only available to fleet operators at this time.
Total output is just 99 horsepower, seven less than what you’ll find in the less expensive Yaris. Acceleration is leisurely, to put it mildly. At least the Prius C has a real back seat and can carry five consenting adults in reasonable comfort over short distances. And since it burns readily available gasoline, range anxiety never becomes an issue.
No EV provides the pilot with more comprehensive data than the Leaf does on its colourful display panel, from consumption history to recharge times based on various levels of charging power. Its AC permanent-magnet electric motor is good for 107 hp and a very useful 187 lb.-ft. of torque. The world’s best-selling electric vehicle is worthy of that big bear hug we’ve all seen on television.
With the extra electrons, the Prius Plug-In can travel farther and faster using electric power alone: typically 24 km and up to 100 km/h (briefly). Regardless, stomp on the accelerator and the gasoline engine will happily kick in. The Plug-In is also heavier by 55 kg. Beyond that, both Prii remain remarkably easy to live with, delivering the kind of fuss-free and dependable performance that’s made it a household name the world over.
The fat steering wheel feels good in your hands and the short-wheelbase hatchback seems tossable enough – until you summon the combined maximum of 134 horses from underhood. Unfortunately, that’s not nearly enough. The little Lexus takes 10.5 seconds to accelerate to highway velocity, underwhelming performance that’s out of whack with the car’s hot-hatch persona. At least it saves fuel like a champ.
7. Honda Civic Hybrid – The hybrid version of Canada’s favourite automobile hasn’t exactly set its own sales chart on fire, but the latest iteration promises to do more with less fuel. Now displacing 1.5 litres, the gasoline engine is tied to a 23-hp electric motor that combines to make a total of 110 hp and 127 lb-ft of torque. A lighter, more powerful lithium-ion battery pack replaces the old nickel-metal hydride chemistry.
Fuel consumption of just 5.6 litres/100 km is attainable in the city, even though the wee gasoline engine rarely stays off. Naturally, the Hybrid delivers on all the other familiar Civic attributes, including an airy cabin, nicely assembled furnishings, quick electric steering, as well as a quieter ride than ever before. Best of all, the previous Civic Hybrid’s aluminum pie-plate wheels have been replaced with expensive-looking alloys that actually contribute to the Civic’s curbside appeal. Amen to that.
Fortunately, the five-seater Mirage weighs just 937 kg, so it’s a reasonably adept handler on the open road. And, being a five-door hatchback, the back seats flop down to make more cargo space when the need arises. The rest of the time, the cabin is adequate for four friends, although decadent amenities – like a centre armrest – are in short supply. At least the Mirage comes in a rainbow of candy colours.
With its fast-acting transmission, this green Jetta can scoot to 97 km/h in just 7.9 seconds. Add to that the Jetta’s talent for drumming across rough asphalt and chewing up twisty roads, and what you have is an enjoyable driver’s car that seemingly does everything well, except save the most fuel – that’s why it’s ranked 10th and not first. On our list, this competent German would be tops.
All that mass bites into the battery’s capacity, providing little more than 100 km of range on a full charge. The car’s climate-control system can be an electron hog, too. The Focus earned kudos for its sophisticated display, which can coach the driver to stretch the car’s energy-saving capabilities. Best of all, it’s a quiet, comfortable and nice-driving Focus, one of the world’s best-selling cars.
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