“Green” Vehicles, “Mean” Vehicles, and the Ones in Between

I am not a fan of the term “green vehicle” unless we’re talking about an electric bus or train. They all use fuel and contribute to a variety of pollution in some way. But the nonprofit American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has nevertheless put out its latest report on those passenger vehicles that do the least harm to the environment overall.

It is important to remember that it’s not just about the amount of energy the car sucks up that counts toward a green rating. It’s also about the amount of pollution that comes out, not only when you’re driving it, but while it is being manufactured and deconstructed when your jalopy meets its heavenly (or maybe Detroit, Japan or Bavaria) maker at life’s end.

Not every model, by far, in ACEEE’s top ten list of greenest cars is a hybrid or an all-electric. Have you heard of the i-MiEV? I don’t even know how to pronounce it. It’s from Mitsubishi. And it’s the highest rated set of wheels, with an ACEEE Green Score of 58. I find this ironic because

Most fuel-efficient vehicle

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV has an estimated driving range of 62 miles.

Mitsubishi is a mega-conglomerate that has had its share of controversy for not being a very green company.

You’re probably thinking that Nissan’s all-electric Leaf has to be somewhere near the top of the list. It’s actually tied with – no, not the Prius, the Honda – no, not the Civic Hybrid, but the Civic Natural Gas, with scores of 55.

The Prius trails them by one point (54 – but the new Prius V station wagon gets a 51), followed by the Honda Insight and the Smart FourTwo (53), the Civic Hybrid (52) respectively. Then come a few surprises. The Toyota Camry Hybrid ties the Civic and the Lexus CT 200h trails them by only a point.

Here are some very important variants to consider, however. The Smart ForTwo is the least expensive of the bunch but it’s slightly more roomy than my home recycle bin and Consumer Reports is not fond of its performance. Hybrids sell at a premium and electric cars cost even more – a lot more.

Only three of the 27 hybrids tested have a total cost of ownership over a five-year period that would make them less expensive to own than their all gasoline brethren. For me, that’s not very important because I keep my cars until they plead to be euthanized. The three are the Camry, the Insight and, hold onto your hat, the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. The latter is so only because it saves on operating costs compared to other luxury vehicles.

This stuff can be more complicated than you might otherwise guess. So allow me to guide you to the Green Cars site, where you can peruse the data in detail: www.greenercars.org.

If you are looking to do the right thing environmentally speaking, that’s the place to go.

Oh yes, the worst offenders? The Chevy and Ford big trucks and the Bugatti Veyron with its 8 liter engine (really?). I guess the Bugatti is vying for a role in the space program.

My advice? Check out a two-year-old Prius or Insight that’s still under warranty. Happy shopping.