The countdown to zero-emission battery cars has begun, but very little of the rubber has hit the road yet. That means that, for the 2010 model year, hybrids (and a lone natural gas car) are the cleanest and greenest vehicles on the market. Each year, at Greenercars.org, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) presents its list of best and worst choices, and the news this year is not that Honda and Toyota are the stars of the show (that's been a given for more than a decade) but that American companies, Ford and Chevrolet, actually made the list (with the Fusion Hybrid, also known as the North American Car of the Year, and the soon-to-be-replaced Cobalt XPE).
ACEEE awards a green score based on fuel economy, emissions and other variables, including manufacturing practices. The low-emissions Honda Civic GX, which is the car that natural gas-loving billionaire T. Boone Pickens drives, is once again the top green scorer, at 57. The GX is the only natural gas vehicle on the U.S. market, however, in part because we have no significant public infrastructure for the fuel. The chances are, then, that you're looking for something a bit more mainstream.
It's no surprise that the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid are at the top of the list, and they're both excellent choices. Honda's newest hybrid, the Insight, is at #5, just below the Smart fortwo. I'm not a huge fan of either of these -- the Insight is bare-bones compared to the Prius and Civic, and the Smart is simply not the best small car choice: The top-rated Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Accent and Mini Cooper are better bets. The Nissan Altima Hybrid, also on the list, remains a good alternative.
Now the fun part: Not the greenest, but the "meanest" cars on the road. It may surprise you to learn that the winners here aren't for the most part huge, gas-guzzling SUVs but the kind of "supercars" routinely celebrated in the pages of Car and Driver and Motor Trend. The single worst environmental performer is the Lamborghini Murcielago and its roadster variant. Not only does this European boulevardier get only eight mpg in the city and 12 on the highway from its 6.5-liter V-12 engine, but it also does dismally in the emissions ratings.
The Bugatti Veyron (a whopping 16 cylinders and eight liters of displacement) is almost as bad, though it musters 14 mpg on the highway. Greens can take a grim pleasure in a YouTube video showing the owner of a brand-new Veyron accidentally dumping his car into a Texas salt marsh (below).
Other big offenders include the Bentley Azure/Brooklands, the Maybach 57S limo, the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti and the Mercedes ML63 AMG. I assume there's no Hummer on the list because it's slightly better than behemoths like the Chevrolet Suburban K2500 and the Dodge Ram 2500 Mega Cab, but the sale of the brand to China may have something to do with it.
Here's the top six from both lists, followed by the cars' green scores.
Top photo: The Honda Civic GX, powered by natural gas.
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