Earth-Friendliest Autos of 2009

A multitude of tumultuous national and global events during the last year — including gas prices that skyrocketed before teasingly settling back down — have brought many of us face-to-face with our profligate ways behind the wheel. The volatility and uncertainty of the future of fossil fuels has prompted rethinking around how we get from point A to point B.

Can our four-wheel choices make a real difference? With an estimated 2.5 billion vehicles on Earth’s roads by 2050, the answer, of course, is yes. If you’re one of the millions of Americans considering trading your gas-guzzler for a gas-sipper (or skipper) in 2009, then you’ve got a few big decisions ahead of you. Fortunately, some 90 vehicles on the market already achieve 30 miles per gallon, and improved technology is pushing that number higher. Here’s our roundup of the best and the brightest. (And if you need extra help, check out the Green Vehicles Guide on the EPA’s website,

Do or Diesel

While diesel vehicles suffered image problems several decades ago, today’s “clean diesels” are a completely new breed. Automakers will bring more than 20 models to the U.S. market in the next two years. We’ll have what Europeans have long been accustomed to — diesel engines that offer better fuel economy, while employing new technology that filters the smog-forming pollutants that have given diesels their bad rap in the past. More than 60 percent of vehicles in Europe run on diesel, which offers mileage gains of 25 to 40 percent over comparable gas models.

By 2010, all gas stations will be required by law to serve Ultra-Low Sulfur Diesel (ULSD), which is diesel excised of its major polluting component, sulfur. And of course, all diesel vehicles can run on biodiesel fuel — increasingly available at pumps across the nation — with absolutely no conversion necessary. Just make sure your biodiesel provider is hip to sourcing fuel that has been manufactured responsibly, i.e., without disturbing the food cycle or contributing to deforestation in developing nations — algae-mobiles, anyone? 

For the performance driver with a heart of green: 2009 BMW 335d

BMW AG prides itself on having reduced CO2 emissions more than any other carmaker in recent years. So they must be particularly proud to present the BMW 335d — the most fuel-efficient car they’ve ever offered to the United States — which goes for a premium over the gasoline-powered 3 Series. A front-engine, rear-wheel drive, five-passenger sports sedan, the BMW 335d features the award-winning sequential-turbo 3.0 liter diesel engine. It delivers the performance enthusiasts expect from a BMW (0 to 60 is 6 seconds) and a driving range of 570 miles to the next fill-up.

By the Numbers:

23 city | 36 hwy

Six-speed automatic transmission

Starting at $44,725

Extra eco-credit: BMW injects urea, a compound found in urine that can be synthesized from inorganic materials, into the exhaust stream to help “neutralize” tailpipe emissions into harmless water and nitrogen. The whole thing sounds much better when it’s called “BluePerformance.”

A green alternative with no concessions: 2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

One of Volkswagen’s “Clean Diesels in the USA,” the 2009 Jetta TDI offers high fuel efficiency, extremely low emissions and maximum performance. The Jetta TDI is quiet — an indicator of diesel technology advances — and it’s up to 35 percent more fuel efficient than similarly powered gasoline engines. This five-passenger family sedan is eligible for a $1,300 tax credit.

By the Numbers:

30 mpg city | 41 mpg hwy

Six-speed manual transmission

Starting at $21,990

Extra eco-credit: Averaging 58.82 mpg on travels throughout the U.S., this VW set a Guinness World Record for “Lowest Fuel Consumption,” prompting Green Car Journal to name it “2009 Green Car of the Year.”

Hybrid Times

Before gasoline prices took off, the premium paid for a hybrid vehicle wasn’t recouped in the fuel savings, so the cars attracted mostly buyers who felt the environmental benefits outweighed the extra cost. The situation is reversing, according to Consumer Reports, which reviewed 12 hybrids and determined that six of them could generate cost savings between $500 and $4,250. But as one sales rep. said, “… buy a hybrid for the right reasons … the ecological impact, not the savings.”

Of course, the Prius is still king in this arena; this stalwart continues to carry the banner for hybrids after 11 years, having racked up sales of more than one million units globally. In its third generation, the 2009 Prius continues to have the best fuel efficiency of any mid-size car: 48 mpg city and 45 mpg hwy. But that doesn’t mean it’s the only hybrid worth checking out…

For the driver who values economy and efficiency: 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid

The Civic helped Honda put roots in America in 1973, and has been a company staple since. Familiar to many in its sedan, coupe and hatchback iterations, the Civic Hybrid broadens the lineup for the customer who wants a smaller footprint.

Sporting a new stylin’ exterior, more bells and whistles (including XM satellite radio standard with the navigation system), heated front seats and side mirrors, and electronic stability control, the Civic Hybrid is as pretty as it performs. It’s designated an Advanced Technology Partial Zero-Emission Vehicle (AT-PZEV), meaning it meets the most stringent emissions standards of any U.S. gasoline-powered vehicles. It’s also listed in the top 10 models for best resale value, according to Kelley Blue Book.

 By the Numbers

40 mpg city | 45 mpg hwy

Continuously Variable Transmission

Starting at $23,550

More bang for your green: Comparable interior space to the BMW, for $20,000 less.

Advanced technology in a sporty, cool package: 2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid

Nissan’s first U.S. hybrid came to market in the 2007 model year. In the sporty package of its already popular mid-size sedan, there’s no sacrifice in appearance or safety with this hybrid; it shares the same platform, suspension, steering and braking systems and interior and safety features as its non-hybrid brethren.

Certified to meet California emissions requirements, the Altima Hybrid also is sold in states that have adopted the same regulations — Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. The Altima Hybrid is rated as an Advanced Technology-Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (AT-PZEV), emits almost no evaporative emissions and has a projected driving range of up to 700 miles between fill-ups.

By the Numbers

35 mpg city | 33 mpg hwy

Electronically Controlled Continuously Variable Transmission (eCVT)

Starting at $26,650

A Toyota Inside: Not an early adapter for hybrid thinking, at least Nissan knew to go to the source when they finally decided a hybrid made sense for their product lineup.

For the buyer committed to buying domestic: 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

With the Mercury Milan Hybrid and the Fusion Hybrid hitting dealerships this spring, along with other hybrids in its lineup, Ford is now the largest domestic hybrid producer in North America. The Fusion Hybrid features a new instrument panel — SmartGauge with EcoGuide — designed to give drivers better feedback to make the most of their hybrids, effectively “coaching” them to drive for maximum fuel efficiency. And Ford boasts its city mpg is at least six mpg better than the Camry Hybrid.

By the Numbers

(EPA-certified mpg not yet available)
Ford est. 39 mpg city | 37 hwy


Starting at $27,270

Extra eco-cred: Ambient lighting system will illuminate front and rear footwells, and front cup holders. The standard cloth seats are made from post-industrial material — stuff that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill, according to Ford.

Electric Avenue

 An inventor and engineer born in the Austrian Empire, Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) has been called the father of modern electricity — his work was the basis for alternating current (AC) electricity. So it’s fitting homage that the electric Tesla Roadster carries his name.

Built by Silicon Valley-based Tesla Motors, the 100 percent electric sports car is la crème de la crème of electric vehicle technology. With its sports car good looks, in 3.9 seconds it goes from 0 to 60 mph with zero emissions and will take you up to 244 miles before needing a recharge.

A $5,000 reservation fee grants you access to the “Drivers Area” of the Tesla Web site; a $55,000 reservation fee ensures you a slot for production of your very own electric roadster. The final total for the Tesla Roadster adds up to about $100,000.

Short of shelling out $100,000, what are your pure electric vehicle (EV) options? To get around the block, there are low-speed Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) cars, or the 80-mile-range Tango kit car, but otherwise an electric vehicle from a major automotive manufacturer that will take you down the freeway is pretty much in the future.

Testifying on Capitol Hill last year, the president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association said that the shift to electric drives will require continuing battery technology enhancements, new infrastructure, manufacturing investment and shifts in public policy.

Getting vehicles in test fleets is another element. Mitsubishi Motors is putting its four-passenger, lithium-ion-powered electric mini MiEV with Southern California Edison (SCE) for fleet testing. SCE is a leading utility supporter of electric vehicles and has a nationally recognized prototype testing and evaluation program.

Meanwhile, Nissan will be working with Sonoma County, California, to promote EVs, develop a charging network and cooperatively work on zero-emissions mobility. Nissan then plans to launch its first U.S. pure-electric car in 2010, with plans to mass-market electric vehicles globally by 2012.

BMW AG also is looking at electric and had the world premiere of the MINI E at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November. The company’s very popular MINI Cooper adapts well to an electric drive system. Outfitted with a lithium-ion battery that takes about two hours to charge, the MINI E has a range of about 156 miles, goes 0 to 62 in 8.5 seconds and has a top speed of 95 mph. BMW is lining up 500 customers in Los Angeles and New York City who will provide feedback on the car to help the manufacturer prepare for mass production.

Recently though, GM has been taking most of the electric spotlight with its talk of the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, due November 2010 and described as the company’s “version of the U.S. moon shot in the 1960s.” It’s expected to have a 40-mile all-electric range and recharge in three hours off a 240-volt outlet. The company says a full recharge should be cheaper than your favorite cuppa joe.

Even more recently, there was good news from Hawaii, which will be the first state ready with infrastructure to accommodate electric vehicles, a move Gov. Linda Lingle says will help get islanders off the gas habit. A California company will be building the charging stations that should be operational by 2011. Powered by wind and other renewable energy, potentially up to 100,000 charging locations will be up by 2012.

Look for more news on the electric vehicle front in the inevitable next round of gas price escalation — if not before — and as consumers demand more alternatives. (Think of the stress reduction if roads were traveled by nearly noiseless vehicles!) But for those who can’t wait, there are vehicle conversion specialty businesses to get drivers to kick the oil habit sooner. In San Francisco, for example, Carolyn Coquillette turns hybrids into all-electric vehicles at her Luscious Garage. At a top end of 15 miles on one charge and a conversion cost of $6,000, however, this is a choice for only those most committed to spurning oil.

Maria Fotopoulos is a Los Angeles-based writer who worked in the automotive industry for ten years. Contact her at Additional research was done by Karin Amour.

Reprinted courtesy of Whole Life Times


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thomatt12's picture
User offline. Last seen 6 years 27 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 02/06/2009

The 2009 Honda Civic Hybrid is really impressive. I've seen one in a carshow before and the auto body parts is really impressive. But I think the Civic hybrid has got a lot of catching up to do with the Toyota Prius.

ema's picture
User offline. Last seen 6 years 7 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 07/31/2009

Toyota Prius is really impressive that's why no wonder it has been dubbed as one of the most advance in the hybrid technology. It's also overwhelming to know how auto makers and their researchers can come up with innovations on engine cars that can work compatibly with existing engine parts. Anyway, Honda Hybrids is also a breakthrough in the line of EVs. I've also heard that the same marque developed a model called CFX which has zero emissions and uses domestic fuel. Really, it's just right to appreciate their efforts in improving the fuel efficiency of their products while still retaining the durability of the car.

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