What kind of car do you need? Coupe? Sedan? Sports car? Mini van? Something you can zip the kids to school in before you head to work? A small truck to help you cart around your merchandise when you make a sales call or delivery? Whatever your needs, you can probably find what you’re looking for not just in style, but in gas-sipping substance, too.
That’s the good news at the North American International Auto Show, currently under way in Detroit and soon to be visiting a city perhaps near you. Almost every car manufacturer seems to have gotten energy-saving religion. Big or small, snazzy or sedate, if you’re buying a new car, you will have lots of gas-sippers to choose from.
I went to the show as a guest of the Ford Motor Company, but I spent as much time looking at everyone else’s cars as I did at Ford’s. Overall, I came away encouraged. If people are going to drive (and they are, an average of 14,000 miles per year), they may as well get as many miles to a gallon of gasoline as they can. I’ve written here, here and here about the impact burning gas has on the environment and human health. The less fuel we use to get where we’re going, the better.
Plus, increasing your miles-per-gallon average can save you a ton of money. In the ten years I’ve owned my Prius, a car that on a bad day averages 37 or 38 mpg and more frequently gets in the mid to high 40s, I calculated recently that I’ve saved over $6,000 on gasoline. Even after replacing the car’s tires and batteries, I came out several thousand dollars ahead.
Here are a few gas-sippers I saw at NAIAS that I particularly liked:
Ford Fusion – In my book, the best vehicles achieve at least 40 mpg on average and are made with some percentage of recycled materials. I test drove the Fusion hybrid when it first entered the market; I updated the story recently with a report on the strides being made to maximize the use recycled materials in the car’s body and replace the plastic stuffing in seat cusions with biodegradable soy material. The 2013 model keeps pushing the limits further, averaging 47 mpg in the city or on the highway. The car’s Auto Start-Stop feature automatically powers down the car when you come to a stop, then gently starts it up again when you press on the gas. Regenerative braking means that every time you tap on the brakes, you’re sending energy back to the battery to recharge it. On the plug-in model, you can travel up to 62 miles on the power of the electric battery alone, more than enough for most commutes. Not for nothing was this car named 2013 Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal.
Ford C-MAX Hybrids – There are actually three models of the new C-Max to choose from. The standard C-MAX Hybrid, pictured above, is projected to operate electrically up to 62 mph, with the gasoline engine kicking in when extra power is needed. At maximum fuel efficiency, the car could attain an average of 47 mpg in the city or the highway, or over 570 miles per tank. The C-MAX Energi is a plug-in hybrid, or what Ford calls a “hybrid plus.” The plug-in capability allows drivers to charge fully in less than three hours using a 240-volt charging station, or overnight using a standard 120-volt oulet. The driver can choose to drive electric only, gasoline only, or a combination of gas and electric. Both the Hybrid and the Energi come with a “Smart Gauge with EcoGuide” (pictured at right) to help drivers maximize fuel efficiency. Third C-MAX, the SE, is also for sale. You can compare features of all three here. Note that prices range from $25,200 for the SE to $32,950 for the Energi, though that doesn’t include the $7,500 federal tax credit available when you purchase a hybrid or any related state tax credits.
Prius Hatchback -The Prius Hatchback, left, is a roomy hybrid option that is comparably priced to the Fusion or C-MAX. Like the Ford hybrid models it seats five; the hatchback gives it some nice storage space that could accommodate a family vacation, camping trip, or even the dog. Toyota claims the car will get as much as 53 mpg in the city and 46 mpg on the highway, for a combined average fuel efficiency rating of 50 mpg. Toyota also offers a Prius Plug-in with an estimated 95 miles on a charge, plus hybrids in its other popular models, including Camrys, Avalons, the RAV4, and the Highlander SUV.
Tesla Electric Vehicle - I have to say, I suffered a bit of car envy over the beautiful Tesla S (right), an all electric vehicle that is this year’s MotorTrend Car of the Year. The car can travel anywhere from 160 miles to 300 miles on electricity only, depending on the size of the battery that’s been installed in the car. I loved the big, clear computer screen sitting right next to the steering wheel on the front dashboard, which would be great for looking at a map. And it seems particularly clean, given that the battery pack is under the floor and there’s absolutely no engine front or back.
At $50k+, the car is waaaayyy out of my price range. But a girl can dream, right?
BOTTOM LINE: Almost any type of vehicle you’d need is now available in a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or electric option. Have fun the next time you go car shopping!