If Earth Day has you thinking green, perhaps it’s time to start with your vehicle. Eco-friendly cars have come a long way in the past few years. They’re no longer undersized and underpowered: they’re completely ordinary vehicles in looks, features and functionality. And with pricing down and mileage up, electric and hybrid vehicles are practical ways to get around — plus they can help you save on gas bills without much more expense than a conventional car.
What are my green vehicle options?
If you’re accustomed to a standard gasoline car, some of the terminology around green cars may be confusing. Here’s what you need to know about the different types of eco-friendly cars on the market:
- Hybrid vehicles have both a gasoline engine and an electric engine, which means they offer both the energy-efficiency of an all- electric car with the convenience of a gasoline-powered car. Batteries for the electric engine are charged by the gasoline engine and regenerative breaking, which gives your battery a little boost whenever you hit the breaks. Though you still have a gas tank to fill up, having an electric engine means you get more miles per gallon, while the gasoline engine means you don’t have to plug in to charge or worry about your electric engine’s range.
- Plug-in hybrids are similar to hybrids, except they have bigger batteries which let the car run in an all-electric mode. The car will run on the electric engine until the batteries run out of juice, and then switch to gasoline when needed. The bigger battery means you need to plug your car in to charge, but many plug-in hybrids can drive far enough on a charge to handle your daily commute — meaning you only need to gas up for long road trips. That can take a big bite out of your gas bill without any need to worry about running your battery dead.
- All-electric vehicles are exactly what the name implies: they only have an electric engine that you have to plug in to charge. Comparing the cost of gas to electricity, these vehicles typically get hundreds of “miles per gallon,” which is great news for your monthly budget. However, you’ll have to pay attention to how far you’re driving to be sure you don’t run out of power — because you can’t just stop at a gas station to fill up. This makes some people nervous, but most electric vehicles have the battery power to run hundreds of miles, meaning they can handle a lot of driving before you’re in trouble.
The latest trends in green vehicles
If you’re car shopping, you’ve probably noticed that lots of standard car models offer hybrid and even electric options. There are even green options for larger vehicles like SUVs. You can find eco-friendly versions of Chevy’s Malibu, Ford’s Focus, Honda’s Accord, Toyota’s Camry and Highlander, and lots more. If you want to go green, you have more options than ever: from budget-friendly to high-end, every brand offers its own hybrid or electric vehicles.
On top of that, green vehicles are becoming increasingly affordable. Even top-tier green brands like Tesla have options: the new Tesla Model 3 starts at $35,000, which makes it even cheaper than Chevy’s all-electric Bolt ($36,620). Toyota’s hybrid Prius C is an even more affordable green option, starting at $20,150. Though these are still more expensive than the ordinary gasoline options, they’re no longer out of reach.
The best in green cars
So which green car should you buy? If you’re looking for a high-quality, affordable vehicle that will cut down on your gas bill, these are great options for any driver:
- Toyota Prius C Hybrid ($20,150) is a smaller version of the Prius and is the most budget-friendly version of this reliable hybrid. You can upgrade to the Prius ($24,685) for a bigger sedan with better mileage or the plug-in hybrid Prius Prime ($27,100). They’re all solid options.
- Ford C-Max Energi SE ($27,120) is a plug-in hybrid sized for families. Not quite a wagon and not quite an SUV, this high-roofed wagon comfortably seats five with a good amount of storage space — and great gas mileage (averaging 43 mpg between the gas and electric engines) to boot.
- Chevrolet Volt ($33,220) a plug-in hybrid with a 53-mile range on its electric engine that means your commute is probably covered without a gas bill. For an electric vehicle that versatile, it’s a good buy.
- Toyota Highlander Hybrid ($36,270) is a roomy SUV with plenty of performance with its 3.5-liter V6 engine, on-demand all wheel drive, and 3500lb towing capacity. It’s an ideal vehicle for active families who occasionally go on off-road camping adventures. The downside is that you won’t get the mpg of a smaller hybrid: the Highlander tops out at 30 mpg.
But while these four vehicles cover a lot of driving needs, you’ll find plenty of other eco-friendly options on the market if these aren’t quite right for you.
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