Best Green Cars, 2012

Here are the best bets for driving and saving green: a great American invention (the Chevrolet Volt); the Prius (shrunken and stretched into the Prius C and Prius V); the most successful electric car to date (the Nissan Leaf); a clean diesel sedan fit for the whole family (the Volkswagen Passat TDI); and the least expensive electric car yet (the Mitsubishi i). These landmark vehicles are raising the bar for greener, more affordable transportation and will spark more innovation from the auto industry. Whether you own one of these cars now, later or never, you’ll benefit from their influence. 


By John Rockhold 

Every year, it becomes more difficult to choose just six vehicles for the annual MOTHER EARTH NEWS Best Green Cars list. That’s great news for you — the harder my job is, the more options you have to choose from when you’re looking for an energy-efficient, practical, reliable, safe, eco-friendly, money-saving and fun-to-drive car.

Right now we’re in the early stages of radical change in the auto industry. Hybrid cars have become ordinary. Electric cars are really here. Diesel is back and far better than ever. Even the internal-combustion gasoline engine has new life thanks to efficiency improvements. The American automakers have emerged from the auto bailout and now offer significantly better products. Given demands from the public (motivated by rising gas prices and environmental concerns) and the federal government (increasing fuel economy standards), every automaker will have to significantly improve the efficiency of its fleet over the next several years. At the same time, energy-efficient transportation technologies — especially batteries — are improving rapidly.

Given all of these influences, the pace of change within automobiles could soon accelerate from 70 mph to warp speed. It’s possible that the numbers (such as miles per gallon, electric range) for today’s top green cars, as good as they are now, will be laughably low within two to three years. That will be good news for everybody who needs to drive and wants to spend as little money as possible in doing so — which is just about all of us, these days.