The greenest way to get around is walking. But let’s face it, walking is too slow for most places we need to go—that’s why people started using horses and carriages, and then trains, and then cars. And of all those modes of surface travel, the personal car has opened up the world to us like no other form of transportation, including the airplane. You can hop in your car and go wherever you want to go without having to wait for other passengers or line your schedule up with what some transportation company has arranged. Freedom!
But so many cars mean so much pollution. How can we keep our freedom while keeping our carbon footprint to a minimum?
It’s long been known that in terms of air pollution, the cleanest option is the electric car. They’re also better for energy efficiency. Electric vehicles convert 60% of their energy into driving power, while conventional cars only convert 20% of the energy stored in the fuel into driving power. The rest is wasted in the combustion process itself, as heat, or by the friction from all the gears and moving parts it takes to transfer the energy to the wheels.
The problem with electrics thus far has been how to store that energy. Batteries are heavy and take a long time to recharge. But new battery technologies are beginning to overcome that disadvantage, and better motor designs are also giving electric cars performance comparable to conventional ones.
If you’re interested in making the change to something greener, here are some lean, mean electrics to check out:
The Smart EV, a 2-door hatchback, has a range of 90 miles, giving you 107 MPGe (the EPA’s gas consumption equivalency measurement, so you can compare electrics with hybrids and conventional cars). It’s also quite affordable at just over $25,000, an amount you can bring down to almost $18,000 with a rebate.
The Focus Electric has a slightly longer range (76 miles) with an only marginally lower MPGe of 105. This 2-door comes in at about $4,000 higher than the Smart, with both the sticker price and the post-rebate price—but by today’s car prices, that’s still reasonable.
The BMW i3—a 2-door hatchback—often tops the lists of most efficient car because it gives you a whopping 124 MPGe. It also offers one of the longest ranges on one charge of any electric: 81 miles. But here the rule, “you get what you pay for” holds true. All these good numbers cost just over $43,000. For many, the long-term savings are worth it.
Volkswagen lovers now also have an electric option: the Volkswagen e-Golf. This is the Golf with an electric motor, so it offers the same handling and similar get up and go as its conventional sibling. It has a range of 83 miles and 116 MPGe. At $35,450, the cost is also much like other VWs.
The biggest seller among the electrics to date is the Nissan Leaf, and no wonder. With a range of 84 miles and an MPGe of 114 it ranks right up there with the best. Pricewise, it is also still reasonable at $29,010.