Beyond the Prius


Dear EarthTalk: Celebrities and billionaires are shelling out big bucks for cutting-edge green-friendly cars like the Tesla Roadster. But what are the rest of us — who live in the budgetconstrained real world — to do about buying a new car that does right by the environment?

— M.G., Stroudsburg, PA

With so many new energy-efficient cars in showrooms today, there’s never been a better time to go green with your next car purchase. A few years ago the Toyota Prius was the go-to model for those with an environmental conscience and up to $30,000 to pay for the privilege of getting 35-40 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 45-55 on the highway. But today there is such a wide selection of fuel-efficient and low-emissions vehicles that even those on a budget can afford to go green.

To wit, Honda’s new Insight is the first hybrid gasoline-electric car available new for less than $20,000 (starting at $19,800). With fuel efficiency ratings of 40 mpg in the city and 43 on the highway, the Insight surely won’t cost much to operate either.

There are plenty of other hybrids to choose from today, too, though most cost at least a few thousand dollars more than equivalent non-hybrid models. Toyota’s Prius, which is only available as a hybrid, still leads the pack as the world’s top-selling and most fuel-efficient hybrid. Its cost has dropped some, now starting at $22,400, and the “3rd generation” Prius 10 now claims an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) combined city/highway rating of 50 mpg. This most recent edition even features a whimsical solar panel on the roof to power a ventilation system that keeps the interior of the car cool even on scorching hot days. Hybrid versions of Honda’s Civic ($23,800), Nissan’s Altima ($26,780), Ford’s Fusion ($27,625) and Escape SUV ($31,500), Mercury’s Milan ($31,590) and Mariner SUV ($29,995), and Toyota’s Camry ($26,150) and Highlander SUV ($34,700) are also in showrooms in dealerships across the U.S.

Many smaller cars with regular gasoline engines also get great mileage with low emissions for even less money. Some examples include the Corolla ($15,350), Matrix ($16,550) and Yaris ($12,355) from Toyota, Honda’s Fit ($14,900), the Mazda 3 ($16,045), Chevy’s Aveo ($11,965) and Cobalt ($14,990), Hyundai’s Accent ($9,970) and Elantra ($14,145), Pontiac’s G3 ($14,335), the Kia Rio ($11,495), the MINI Cooper ($19,500), Ford’s Focus ($15,995), and Smart Car’s Fortwo ($11,990).

Diesel fuel is now cleaner than ever, and a few automakers are going down that road. Volkswagen’s Jetta TDI ($22,660), Audi’s A3 TDI ($29,950) and BMW’s 335d ($43,900) are three examples of high-performance vehicles with solid green credentials regarding fuel efficiency and emissions. An added bonus is that such cars can run on carbon-neutral biodiesel as well as petroleum-based diesel fuel.

Consumers just starting their search for a new ride should check out, which provides detailed information on the many greener vehicles available today as well as those on the horizon. Also, the federal government’s website provides detailed mileage and emissions information on dozens of new cars every year, and provides users with an easy and free way to compare different vehicles along the lines of environmental impact.

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