Has there ever been a more logical automotive pairing than green technology and sport-utility?
Americans have always had a love affair with spacious, versatile rides that feature lots of bells and whistles. Factor in eco-friendly fuel economy, and green drivetrains deliver the whole package in a big way. Surveys by J.D. Power and Associates show that U.S. drivers overwhelmingly prefer larger green rides over subcompact gas-sippers by a 69% to 18% margin.
“Americans like the idea of going places, doing things and bringing along a lot of stuff like camping gear and bikes, while still getting good fuel economy,” said Mike Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain forecasting at LMC Automotive.
Manufacturers have responded by rolling out exciting, attractive new green crossovers, trucks and SUVs packed with the latest technology and amenities. Let's look over some of the top contenders from the class of 2014.
Green to the max
The buzzed-about 2014 Ford C-Max compact utility vehicle is everything a crossover enthusiast could crave, and it comes in a pair of green configurations: The aerodynamically streamlined hybrid gets a combined (and recently revised) 43 miles per gallon, while the Energi plug-in gets an equivalent of up to 108 mpg in city driving. Both share advanced tech, like a hands-free liftgate that opens with the wave of a foot.
"Ford is absolutely committed to being a leader in the hybrid market and to top fuel efficiency across our lineup," said Raj Nair, Ford's group vice president of global product development. "We are taking actions with our popular C-Max Hybrid so that customers are even more satisfied with the vehicle's on-road fuel efficiency performance."
Green is no stranger to husky full-size SUVs like the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid, a roomy eight-seat ride with GM's two-mode system that can run entirely on electricity up to 30 mph. At full power, the 6-liter V-8 generates 332 horsepower and tows up to 6,200 pounds. And it's awash in high-end features like touchscreen navigation and low-weight 18-inch aluminum wheels.
Pickup fans are advised to jump now on mainstay GMC's Sierra 1500 Hybrid, which won't be returning in 2014. The stately Sierra 1500 Hybrid — America's first two-mode full-size hybrid pickup truck — is available in a more basic 3HA model as well as a swanky 3HB with Bose premium speaker system and NavTraffic navigation. Either way you go, this hybrid pickup promises a maximum payload just above the 1,500-pound range, 6,100 pounds of towing power and a wallet-friendly 20 city/23 highway mpg rating, making the 1500 Hybrid 33% more fuel-efficient than the average non-hybrid pickup.
Stepping up in class, the Porsche Cayenne Hybrid presents a fast, muscular profile, offering more power and better mileage than earlier models: up to 24 mpg and 333 horsepower through an eight-speed automatic with auto-manual shifting for deft sport handling.
Audi's well-received Q5 Hybrid is a sweet all-wheel-drive compact crossover with all the extras found on the standard Q5, outfitted with a turbocharged 2-liter four-cylinder engine that teams with an electric motor to get 245 horsepower and up to 30 mpg. And an all-new diesel Q5 packs a 3-liter V-6 rated at 31 mpg highway.
The Q5 is a smaller sibling of the Audi Q7, offered as a clean-diesel TDI option. The Q7 TDI proved that a full-size crossover can be big and beautiful – and green as the leaves. This seven-seat luxury ride produces exceptionally low emissions through a 3-liter V-6 that generates 406 pound-feet of torque and gets 28 mpg highway. Go ahead and opt for the panoramic moonroof and Audi's voice-controlled Multi Media Interface.
Mercedes-Benz jump-started clean diesel in the U.S. in 2006 with its BlueTec brand, weighted heavily toward crossovers including the GL350, which was recently redesigned with a sleeker look, more interior space and a tweaked, turbocharged 3-liter V-6 diesel engine rated up to 26 mpg. The seven-seat GL350 is a shapely beast to behold, packed with features such as adjustable air suspension and a proprietary multimedia navigation system.
"The BlueTec campaign expresses our ambitious targets for the U.S. We want to make diesel driving popular here … especially for SUVs," said Thomas Weber, Mercedes-Benz's head of research and development.