Green cars are so pervasive it hardly seems possible that they’ve been around for only about 15 years.
These days, they come in all shapes and sizes, from crossovers to pickups, compact commuters to loaded luxury rides. On one end of the price and performance spectrum are the Prius c and Honda Insight, on the other are the Infiniti M35h and Porsche Panamera Hybrid.
Now all-electric vehicles are making fast inroads. After two years of market dominance, the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf will soon face new competition. And clean-diesel’s ranks have swollen considerably since the first Mercedes-Benz BlueTEC models arrived in 2006. Audi, BMW and Volkswagen offer a wide range of diesel rides.
Such variety is key to current success and continued growth, said Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of the Green Car Journal and GreenCar.com.
“We’re seeing ... green cars emerging at all levels, from entry-level cars to luxury models, and even performance cars and SUVs/crossovers,” Cogan said. “Greater choice provides buyers a personal stake in lessening environmental impact, and that’s important.”
It’s a far cry from 2000, when the lonely Toyota Prius seemed more a novelty act than a pioneer. Along came $4 gas and growing environmental concerns, not to mention massive strides in technology and design. No surprise that alternative fuel rides are flying off lots in 2012.
Showcasing all that this fast-evolving segment has to offer, the 2013 model year offers a bumper crop of new green entries — and a few surprises.
European brands are coming on strong in the green-car market. Case in point: Mercedes-Benz introduces the 2013 E400 Hybrid, the latest entry in the acclaimed E-Class lineup. The German beauty offers all the refined elements and amenities you’d expect, ventilated seats with massage included, plus the mbrace2 control system that syncs with smartphones.
All that and a 302-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 that joins with the electric motor to get up to 31 mpg highway, 27 combined.
“[W]e are now continuing our comprehensive hybrid offensive,” said Thomas Weber, Daimler board member for group research and head of Mercedes-Benz Cars Development. “The E-Class hybrid provides a clear reduction in [fuel] consumption as well as a very impressive driving experience — hybrid motoring at the premium level.”
Another upscale entry, the 2013 BMW ActiveHybrid 3 is an all-new gas-electric version of the iconic 3 Series sedan that encapsulates the strides made by hybrid technology. This rear-wheel-drive beauty can move at up to 47 mph on its electric motor alone.
The ActiveHybrid 3 retains the look and performance of the 3 Series: The 3-liter engine has 335 horsepower and goes zero to 60 in a tick more than five seconds. It joins an expanding BMW ActiveHybrid lineup, including 750 and X6 models.
Acura has chimed in with its all-new ILX Hybrid, an entry-level luxury compact sedan with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that gets up to 38 mpg. The Premium and Technology packages drop in leather seating and upgraded communications and audio packages, with digital music storage and a wide-range backup camera.
One of the more exciting and innovative green rides, Ford’s new C-Max compact utility vehicle — a five-passenger mash-up of hatchback and crossover — is available in Hybrid and Energi modes.
The C-Max Hybrid is expected to get up to 45 mpg with its advanced gas-electric powertrain, while the Energi is a plug-in that doubles as a straight-up EV with an overnight charge through a standard 120-volt household outlet.
Unlike many plug-ins, the Energi’s gas engine kicks in at higher speeds, offering considerable assistance to the EV motor — basically the reverse of how a regular hybrid system works. Both C-Max models feature ample interior space and advanced technology — hands-free liftgate, park-assist and voice-command control included.
A dramatically redesigned Kia Optima now comes in a hybrid package, and the 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid has been restyled, with 20% improved fuel efficiency.
The Ford Focus Electric is an EV version of the new-look Focus compact hatchback. Ford claims that it can go 100 miles on a full charge off an advanced liquid-cooled battery pack. And the hot new Tesla Model S is a long and curvy mix of sport and luxury, an all-electric beast that goes from zero to 60 in less than six seconds.
Honda’s new Fit EV carves out its own green niche with extreme energy savings: The EPA estimates an annual fuel cost of only $500 and a miles-per-gallon equivalency of 118. And it takes a full charge in less than three hours.
Like the popular gas version of the Fit, this all-electric buggy — with a range of 82 miles per charge — sports a subcompact cool factor with hatchback versatility and tech features such as charging and cabin cooling that are controlled via smartphone.
The Fit EV is offered for lease in Southern California, and it rolls out to the East Coast in early 2013.
“Just as important as the industry-leading fuel-efficiency and fast recharging time ... the 2013 Fit EV will be an absolute kick to drive,” said Steve Center, vice president of the American Honda Environmental Business Development Office.
In today’s diverse green-car market, that’s no small attraction.
—Bob Young, Custom Publishing Writer