what are the best "green" automobiles?
April 12, 2005 12:29 PM   Subscribe

What are the most efficient cars readily available in the United States? Mileage, fuel & emissions and size are all important criteria.
posted by luriete to Technology (27 answers total)
 
On the http://www.fueleconomy.gov/ site they have a great database of MPG by car, including the best and worst list.

I used the site extensively last year to find a new small suv/truck that got decent mileage. Almost everything in that class barely gets up to 20MPG, but I eventually settled on a Honda Element that regularly gets 25 MPG at the pump.
posted by mathowie at 12:34 PM on April 12, 2005


My dad's 2004 Civic LX gets 38 to 40mpg on the highway. Personally, I'd avoid hybrids because of the bad news I've heard about them -- less than advertised performance, much more complicated to work on, more expensive than standard combustion engines.

Also diesel is a great way to go, especially with the cleaner-burning diesel fuel that will be in the USA this year. Volkswagen makes a bunch of diesel cars.
posted by knave at 12:49 PM on April 12, 2005


BTW, I own a diesel jetta wagon and like it. It'll likely get replaced with a diesel passat wagon when our family grows.
posted by mathowie at 12:50 PM on April 12, 2005


The site #1 linked also has pollution ratings, although the setup is a little wierd, with the higher number meaning the better score.
posted by OmieWise at 12:57 PM on April 12, 2005


BTW, you can run biodiesel in the diesel jetta (or passat) making it superenvirofriendly.
posted by jmgorman at 1:12 PM on April 12, 2005


If you're dead set on a car, then this advice won't help (or if you live in Seattle or Denver). But think about two wheeled transportation if you can. Many bikes get 50 to 60 miles per gallon. Many scooters get upwards of 70 mpg. I rode my Vespa for $2 / week for a year. Did 50-60 miles / week and the most I ever paid to "fillerup" was $2.46.
posted by zpousman at 1:15 PM on April 12, 2005


I'm very happy with my Civic Hybrid, though I'm getting closer to 43 MPG than the 48 listed on the .gov site...and I haven't had to have it worked on yet (bought it Dec 2003). Maybe the repair cost shock will never come.

It's very small though, the trunk and backseat especially, still our family of four make it work for us.

I followed a greasecar around the DC beltway during this morning's commute. The exhaust was a little more smokie than average, but it seemed to run right along.
posted by If I Had An Anus at 1:18 PM on April 12, 2005


I have a 2003 Jetta TDI (i.e. Diesel) station wagon which averages ~48mpg in mixed urban/highway driving.
posted by buxtonbluecat at 1:18 PM on April 12, 2005


But think about two wheeled transportation if you can. Many bikes get 50 to 60 miles per gallon. Many scooters get upwards of 70 mpg.

They almost all pollute far, far worse than cars, though.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:49 PM on April 12, 2005


FFF: pollute more per gallon or more per mile?
posted by sexymofo at 3:06 PM on April 12, 2005


Regarding diesel fuel ratings: diesel engines get higher MPG's because diesel is not the same as gas, more so than because they are more efficient. Diesel is a "heavier" fuel that contains more energy per gallon.

Regarding biodiesel: is it really more environmentally friendly? It's not using up a (potentially limited) fossil fuel, but is the output (CO2, etc) any better? What about the long term mass acceptance of biodiesel, that is, compared to diesel or gasoline, how much energy does it take to produce a gallon of acceptable biodiesel? I might add that the inventor of the diesel engine expected people to use peanut oil and corn alchohol or some such.

What I've always wondered about the hybrids that get wicked gas mileage is: how much is due to the hybrid-ness and how much is due to design changes that are specifically targeted at increasing performance.
posted by RustyBrooks at 3:30 PM on April 12, 2005


Pure biodiesel has (about) no net CO2 output. Almost all the carbon in the biodiesel was sucked out of the air by plants, releasing O2 in the process. When you burn it, you're just putting the C and the O2 back together again.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:50 PM on April 12, 2005


Rusty - the fundamental difference between the CO2 emitted by biodiesel and that from fossil fuel is that the plants initially grown to make the BD in the first place will have absorbed a similar amount of CO2 from the atmosphere when growing. Fossil fuel CO2 has been locked in the bowels of the earth for ages - therefore burning it adds to atmospheric levels of CO2 and greenhouse effect. BD/ bio-mass fuels are the only way to drive without adding to gloobal warming, although there can still be issues around other forms of pollution.

or, on preview what Rou_X.. said
posted by prentiz at 4:31 PM on April 12, 2005


> But think about two wheeled transportation if you can. Many bikes get 50 to 60 miles per gallon. Many scooters get upwards of 70 mpg.

They almost all pollute far, far worse than cars, though.


Two-cycle scooters, maybe, but what about four cycle scooters and bikes?
posted by b1tr0t at 5:44 PM on April 12, 2005


Toyota Prius or Honda Insight hybrids. I leased my first Toyota Prius for 3 years with NO problems. I bought my current Prius when the lease was up on the first. So far NO problems. I haven't heard of any problems encountered by anyone who actually has a Prius. Same for the Honda Insight. 50 mpg. Super low emissions. Great cars. Reasonably priced. Tax breaks too. The people who complain here about hybrids need to either go get one or quit complaining about that which they know not. My 2 cents.
posted by madandal at 6:07 PM on April 12, 2005


>> But think about two wheeled transportation if you can. Many bikes get 50 to 60 miles per gallon. Many scooters get upwards of 70 mpg.
>They almost all pollute far, far worse than cars, though.
Two-cycle scooters, maybe, but what about four cycle scooters and bikes?


That goes for four-stroke as well, but it's per gallon... unfortunately, with many bikes and cars such as the hybrids and TDIs having such similar MPG figures these days, it ends up being per mile. Bikes don't have catalytic converters and have much tighter performance tolerances. Almost all adjustments on a motorcycle are also manual, so valve adjustments aren't necessary on most modern cars due to hydraulic lifters but are on bikes due to shim-under-bucket designs still used on high-performance production motorcycles.
posted by SpecialK at 6:08 PM on April 12, 2005


Oh, and those who have hybrids need to stop bragging about what they know not. Their cars cost about twice the amount that a usual car and three times what a motorcycle costs in actual production costs (such as energy and materials consumed to produce the complicated drivetrains, for which they burn fossil fuels...), and don't even get me started about the disposal costs of consumables like the batteries. I heard somewhere that both Honda and Toyota sold their first generation hybrids, like the insight, at a loss, and their profit margins are almost nonexistient on current model hybrids.
posted by SpecialK at 6:12 PM on April 12, 2005


Oh, the impact of the bike's tight performance tolerances is that they're almost always in a poor state of tune due to simple wear, and they don't readjust themselves like cars do. Newer fuel-injected bikes are much better about this than old carbeurated bikes... but carbeurated bikes running open pipes (like 99% of harleys) that weren't re-jetted for open pipes are a big emissions problem.
posted by SpecialK at 6:14 PM on April 12, 2005


I side with madandal. I'm not sure why people feel the need to abuse the hybrids, but most people who do so do it from a rather uninformed, or even misinformed, position.

I'm not sure about the US, but in Australia, the two top cars for fuel efficiency are the Prius, because of its technology, and the Swatch Smart, because of its general small size and light weight. They achieve roughly the same "gas milage", the A$10,000 difference is really for the second row of seats in the Prius.
posted by krisjohn at 6:33 PM on April 12, 2005


BD/ bio-mass fuels are the only way to drive without adding to gloobal warming, although there can still be issues around other forms of pollution.

How much CO2 is produced in the refining process and transportation of bio-mass fuels?
posted by euphorb at 6:44 PM on April 12, 2005


#1's info is very helpful, but I would love to see a rating of emissions by car. I am under the impression (wrong?) that there are a number of vehicles out there that don't necessarily have the highest MPG of those on the fueleconomy.gov list, but do have substantially lower emissions.
posted by luriete at 7:56 PM on April 12, 2005


I've heard very good things about the Honda Civic Hybrid and I think that's what my next car will be when the time comes. If I remember correctly, the Prius is generally tops in fuel efficiency. (I don't like the way it looks, though.)
posted by SisterHavana at 8:04 PM on April 12, 2005


I have my eye on the Scion by Toyota. Not the ugly xB, although that's the one you want if you like room. No, I like the xA, which gets 31 mpg city/38 mpg hwy with an automatic, and fits my 6'-2" frame.
posted by Doohickie at 8:12 PM on April 12, 2005


How much CO2 is produced in the refining process and transportation of bio-mass fuels?

Unclear at this point, mostly because there is no one way to produce biofuels, which is a rather fuzzy category anyway. Is an ethanol blend a biofuel? Do you mean pure biodiesel or does a 20% blend (B20) count?

Anyway, the best figures I've seen are in the 140% range for current biofuels. That is, roughly 1.4 L/gal/whatever of fuel is consumed to make 1 equivalent of biofuel (fertilizer, transport, conversion costs). The goal, of course, is to get that below 100%, at which point you're cycle-neutral. There's the side argument that biodiesel from wastes are "free", mostly by attributing all production costs to the first use of the product. That's both kind of specious, you should count lifecycle costs, in my opinion, and irrelevant, since there's not enough waste biodiesel capacity to make up even a couple of percent of the total diesel demand.
posted by bonehead at 6:54 AM on April 13, 2005


While mulling over the diesel vs. biodiesel CO2 numbers argument/justification (about which I am as yet unconvinced), lets not forget that particulate from diesel engines is a contributor to cancers/emphysema, etc., so don't just assume that overall it's a more envirofriendly approach until you look at the whole picture.
posted by Pressed Rat at 8:44 AM on April 13, 2005


I thought the particulate problem had been solved for modern diesal automobile engines.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:43 AM on April 13, 2005


krisjohn - This is somewhat off-topic, but Swatch's involvement in Smart ended in 1998 when their share was bought out by Daimler-Benz. MCC Smart is now completely owned by Daimler-Chrysler.
posted by Monk at 10:53 AM on April 13, 2005


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