The Best Eco-Friendly Cars You Can Find
Hanna Kielar6-minute read
PUBLISHED: April 28, 2022 | UPDATED: December 12, 2022
Buying an eco-friendly car can cut your fuel spending while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But what makes some cars greener than others, and what do you need to know to buy the right eco-friendly car for your needs?
We compiled information about the best cars for reducing carbon emissions and providing the best fuel economy – all without making a huge impact on your lifestyle and driving habits. Let’s take a look at some good MPG cars worthy of consideration. Please note that all-electric vehicles will list an MPGe, which stands for miles per gallon of gas-equivalent.
Types Of Green Cars
Eco-friendly cars reduce harm to the environment by burning less fuel and generating fewer greenhouse gas emissions than conventional vehicle engines that use gasoline or diesel. Today’s most-accessible eco-friendly cars are hybrids or electric vehicles.
Thanks to the Toyota Prius, many drivers are familiar with the concept of a hybrid. In case you’re not aware: Hybrids use internal combustion engines but also feed energy recaptured through regenerative braking into a battery when they coast or brake. This energy helps them accelerate without using the gas motor.
Newer types of hybrids fuse the latest technology of battery electric vehicles (EVs) with gas motors. They’ll run on battery power alone until the battery is nearly depleted – at which point, a gas motor will kick in to recharge the battery or drive the wheels directly until you can recharge the battery. Both options are great for long-distance commuters, rural drivers or drivers who may not have easy access to charging infrastructure.
Electric vehicles run 100% on electricity. The technology and charging structure are still evolving, so there are no clear-cut answers to how long they take to charge or how far they can go on a single charge. Still, recent advances have made electric vehicles easier to own and maintain, as you’ll see later in this article.
Best Hybrid Cars
Toyota and Kia offer efficient, high-tech hybrids for a good price. Many other vehicles in the hybrid segment are more luxurious and versatile, but these two are among the top choices for efficiency.
Since hybrid technology is nothing new, you can choose from plenty of options. Below are the best hybrid cars and the best hybrid SUV and minivan to help reduce your environmental impact.
You’ll notice the Kia Niro lists two different efficiencies because it’s a plug-in hybrid. The vehicles’ efficiency when the battery is driving the wheels is expressed as MPGe.
Efficiency: 51 – 59 MPG city | 47 – 53 MPG highway
The first name in hybrid cars is still one of the best. It’s still near the top for efficiency, and it’s also roomy for its size. The Prius continues to be a solid value, meaning you could get even more car for your dollar by finding one used.
Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid
Efficiency: 105 MPGe | 46 MPG
The hybrid version of the Kia Niro crossover can run on battery power alone for 26 miles, which is nearly enough to cover the average daily commute. If your workplace has a charging station or a 110-volt wall outlet, you could go for days without using the Niro Hybrid’s gas motor. It’s also spacious inside and handles well on rough surfaces. Keep in mind that there’s an all-electric version of the Niro in addition to the hybrid model.
Top Choices For A Green SUV Or Minivan
Not all hybrids are hatchbacks or sedans. Now, drivers who need an SUV, minivan or even a pickup truck can reap the benefits of hybrid technology. Best of all, they can do it without compromising on performance or ability.
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
Efficiency: 41 MPG city | 38 MPG highway
Even with standard all-wheel drive, the RAV4 Hybrid is plenty capable. It ranks near the top of its class for efficiency while also providing plenty of passenger comfort and a solid infotainment system. New and used models are priced reasonably, putting a hybrid SUV with few compromises in many buyers’ price range.
Efficiency: 82 MPGe | 30 MPG
The Chrysler Pacifica is changing perceptions about minivans, from its fuel efficiency to its towing ability. It has 32 miles of electric range and received an interior and exterior refresh in 2021, while Chrysler released the oldest models in 2017. You will almost certainly like the sharp handling and plush ride quality.
Electric Vehicles: The Ultimate Green Vehicle
Cars that run on all battery power represent the most-efficient vehicles. Electric motors use their power source far more efficiently than gas motors, with estimates at nearly 80% for electric versus about 12% – 30% for gas.
With the power grid getting cleaner every year thanks to more renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power, EVs are an effective way to reduce emissions and dependence on fossil fuels. Even though EVs are often more expensive than similar conventional cars, some are still eligible for federal tax credits and local incentives.
While there are many other capable electric cars and SUVs, this list of electric vehicles includes the leaders in efficiency. All efficiency ratings are expressed in MPGe because these electric vehicles don’t use gas.
Tesla Model 3 Long Range
Efficiency: 118 – 150 MPGe city | 107 – 133 MPGe highway
Tesla arguably turned public perception of EVs from novelty, oversized golf carts to high-performance machines, from the flagship Model S luxury sedan to the Model 3 midsize sedan. The Tesla brand has managed to do this while scoring high marks for fuel efficiency. The entry-level Model 3 and even used Teslas fetch a premium price. That’s to be expected from a luxury car that gets up to 358 miles from a charge and is packed with the latest technology.
Efficiency: 124 MPGe city | 102 MPGe highway
Like you’d expect from a BMW, the i3 has an upscale interior with carbon fiber accents. The polarizing shape also gives it excellent interior space. New, the i3 BMW Hybrid car gets approximately 150 miles of range. With the current generation of electric vehicles sporting cheaper sticker prices and greater range, it’s possible to land a good deal on a used, green BMW i3.
Efficiency: 114 – 123 MPGe city | 94 – 99 MPGe highway
Dating back to 2011, the Nissan Leaf has provided a moderately priced vector for getting drivers into electric vehicles. It has some compromises, such as small size, an air-cooled battery and short range for the base models. Top models reach 226 miles of range and offer high-quality safety features, adaptive cruise control and quick acceleration.
What Are The Most Reliable Electric Cars?
With fewer moving parts, electric vehicles hold an advantage in reliability. When EVs have reliability issues, they're more likely to be related to infotainment systems and other high-tech features rather than powertrain or battery.
The fairly bare-bones Nissan Leaf has consistently earned high marks from owners and auto industry insiders. The dependable Leaf isn’t packed with gadgets, so it’s less likely to experience failures.
What about Tesla? Most of the issues that owners report are misaligned body panels, sensor failures, water leaks and faulty heat pumps. Many consider the Model 3 to be the brand’s top pick for reliability. It has fewer bells and whistles than Models S and X, and it’s been around longer than the Model Y, allowing Tesla to work out any early manufacturing issues.
The Bottom Line: There’s An Efficient Eco Car For Nearly Everyone
While this article is heavily weighted toward smaller, more-efficient vehicles, many drivers can take advantage of recent green technology to cut back on using fossil fuels. Though some options will have more upfront costs, many drivers can save long term by paying less for fueling or powering their cars.
You can save on that upfront investment by shopping for some of the best MPG cars on the used market.
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