Guide to Green Cars > The Ultimate Green Car Buyer’s Guide

The Ultimate Green Car Buyer’s Guide, 2012

With 54 great green cars that get 35 mpg or better, car buyers interested in fuel economy now have more options than ever. 


Compiled by Megan E. Phelps, John Rockhold,
Hannah Kincaid,
Emily Glover,
Bradley Berman and Zach McDonald

When choosing the vehicles for this section, we started with one simple criterion: Which cars on the market today are rated at 35 mpg or better, whether for the city, the highway or both? Just a few years ago, that would have been a mighty short list. But when we started checking the numbers, we easily came up with more than 50 vehicles from the 2012 model year. And while you’ll quickly discover a recurring theme (think compact), there is a surprising range of options.

In this guide you’ll find it all, from practical economy models to luxury dream machines. You’ll also find the full range of fuel options available for vehicles today: gasoline and diesel, hybrid and pure electric, fuel cell and natural gas. Some of these vehicles are not yet widely available, but altogether it’s a comprehensive picture of current options for high-mpg cars.

The “What the Numbers Mean” section at the end of this article is a full description of the metrics we collected for each model. Other features of the car buyer’s guide include the “Good to Know” section of facts about each vehicle, as well as quotes from the automotive media and reports from real-world drivers like you.

We’d like to take this opportunity to thank the MOTHER EARTH NEWS readers and many other people who responded to our vehicle surveys. We heard from hundreds of drivers of a wide range of vehicles, and your reports helped us shape the entire issue, but in particular, this buyer’s guide.

Good luck to all of you out there looking for your perfect vehicle. We hope this section will help you better navigate the wide range of options in high-mpg cars that are currently on the market.

Green Cars by Automaker

AudiBest Green Cars
Mini Cooper

What the Numbers Mean

Price Range: The lowest price is the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for the most basic trim, plus the destination fee (which we all end up paying). The higher number is the base price for the most expensive trim plus the destination fee. Note that you will end up paying more if you start adding optional extras.

City/Hwy/Combined MPG: These are the EPA estimates for fuel economy. In the case of electric cars, the figure used is MPGe, or miles per gallon equivalent. Your mileage may vary.

Annual Fuel Cost: This amount is calculated assuming 15,000 miles with 45 percent highway driving and 55 percent city driving. We used these fuel prices:

  • $3.75 regular unleaded gas
  • $4.00 premium gas
  • $4.05 diesel
  • $3.20 E85
  • $2.10 CNG
  • Electricity at 12 cents per kwh

You can find annual fuel costs at current prices or enter your own at

EPA Scores: The EPA rates both Air Pollution and Greenhouse Gases on a scale from zero to 10, with zero indicating the most emissions and 10 the least.

ACEEE Ranking: The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy publishes annual rankings for automobiles. Its Green Score considers fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions, manufacturing, and other contributions to air pollution and turns out one handy number to measure a car’s “greenness.” The scale is zero to 100, although the best vehicles currently on the list rank in the 50s. Class Ranking compares this vehicle with other similar models. For more information, go to

Safety Ratings: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives vehicles an overall crash test rating of zero to five stars. We’ve also noted if a vehicle was a 2012 top pick by the nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Space: Most car manufacturers give measurements of interior space in terms of cubic feet of passenger volume (cu. ft. p.v.). This figure, combined with the number of seats, is a good measure of how roomy a vehicle is.

Drive Score: Longtime automotive writer Todd Kaho gave every vehicle in our car buyer’s guide a drive score of one to five. Higher scores reflect better handling and on-the-road comfort, as well as a more enjoyable driving experience.

Similar Used: Some of the cars described here are new for 2012, but other models are essentially the same as they were last year, or even for the past few years. For these vehicles we’ve listed the older models in which you can expect to find essentially the same design and features as the 2012 model.

Photo by Kayla Stallbaumer 

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