Lovers of luxury wheels rejoice: It's now possible to indulge in a bit of conspicuous consumption without sacrificing environmental commitment. Premium models are going green in a major way, proving that luxury vehicles don't have to be wasteful and that green cars don't have to be wimpy.
Clean-diesel lineups are positively dominated by luxury brands, giving diesel a hip and trendy sheen. Hybrid lines continue to expand their ranks with deluxe high-performance rides. And don't overlook those new electric cars.
The Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are getting all the attention, but check out the all-electric Roadster from Tesla Motors, a supercar that flies from zero to 60 in less than four seconds. Coming in 2012 is the Tesla S, a luxury sedan that goes 300 (very fast) miles on a single charge.
Another sexy new electric exotic, the plug-in Fisker Karma, with a top speed of 125 mph, burns no petrol whatsoever for the first 50 miles. Drivers who are able to charge it overnight can expect an average of around 100 mpg.
Green and clean
Diesel is perhaps the hottest green segment right now, having burst into the mainstream in recent years. Unlike the first hybrids to hit the U.S., diesel vehicles have managed to avoid being seen as bland and gutless.
Flashy and sporty from the get-go, diesel models such as the Mercedes-Benz ML320 BlueTec immediately rolled up alongside red carpets and into the celebrity driveways of supporters such as Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts.
Consider the new BMW X5 xDrive35d, a turbo-diesel crossover beauty with 265 horsepower and 26 mpg, restyled with more power and cleaner lines for 2011. Another significant introduction, the BMW 335d is a diesel model joining the iconic brand's most popular line, with a new six-cylinder engine that kicks up 265 horsepower and up to 36 mpg.
Audi chimes in with its premium diesel hatchback A3 TDI, stuffing 42 mpg efficiency and 140 horsepower into the already-popular A3 package. The A3 TDI produces about 30% less greenhouse gas and offers up to 50% better fuel economy than comparable gas-powered cars. Not surprisingly, the A3 TDI was named Green Car of the Year in 2009 by Green Car Journal.
Proving that green comes in all sizes, the posh and brawny diesel-fueled Audi Q7 3.0 TDI is a telling example of how even a spacious sport-utility can achieve good mileage — up to 26 mpg — and be kind to the planet at the same time.
Another sport-utility star of the luxury diesel set, the 2011 Mercedes–Benz GL350 BlueTec seats seven amid elegant wood and leather, with an advanced audio-and-video entertainment and communications system. It can even be locked and unlocked via smart phone. The 210 horsepower 3-liter V-6 generates 398 pound-feet of torque.
Can't overlook the newly redesigned 2011 VW Touareg crossover, a fresh combination of luxury looks and snarly outdoor attitude, larger and lighter than before — and now available as both a turbocharged diesel and a hybrid. The diesel Touareg clocks in with a 3-liter six-cylinder rated at 225 horses.
Gas-electric hybrids continue to evolve, with a recent emphasis on luxury and high performance.
Take the all-new 2011 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, a lush and spacious sedan sporting all the comfort and amenities long associated with this well-loved American luxury brand but with the fuel-efficiency of a subcompact — 41 mpg in city driving and 36 highway.
Showcasing how far hybrids have come, the BMW ActiveHybrid X6 carves its own niche as a sport-utility coupe, and one glance at this tall but sleek ride confirms its singular status: a luxury sports fastback that eschews genres in favor of a dramatic profile.
Now it's joined by the new BMW ActiveHybrid 7 with a 4.4-liter 455-horsepower twin-turbo V-8 (aided considerably by an electric motor) that accelerates from zero to 60 in less than five seconds and gets up to 26 mpg highway.
Foreshadowing the future is the Infiniti M35 Hybrid luxury sedan, set to debut in spring 2011 and crafted with plush amenities and sophisticated design cues. It owes its seamless gas-to-electric transition to a lithium-ion battery that's standard size yet twice as powerful as similar batteries. The electric power doesn't just kick in at slower speeds — it also assists the 3.5-liter V-6 in power-assist mode, when maximum acceleration is required.