10 Best Cars for the Planet

Green has become the most important color of the decade. While the environmental movement may have started out with select activists, it has spread to all kinds of people around the world. The actions that will have the most positive impact on our planet are small changes in things we do every day, like choosing an eco-friendly way to get to work. Not everyone has the option to bike or ride a train, but driving a car with lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions can help a great deal. It doesn't hurt that it will save you a little green, too. Here are 10 of the best cars for the earth.

  1. Nissan Leaf

    The 2011 Leaf has been regarded by many as the most eco-friendly car available and was named the 2011 World Car of the Year at the New York International Auto Show. What makes the Leaf so amazing is that it's a completely electric, zero-emission car made for a wide audience. Though the availability is still relatively small in the U.S., it will no doubt become more popular as electric technology evolves. The Leaf gets 73 miles per charge, which is the equivalent of about 99 miles per gallon, an amount unheard of in gas-run cars. The car releases no tailpipe emissions to harm the environment while still offering a five-passenger car that can reach speeds of 90 mph: this car having seats made of partially recycled fabric is just the cherry on top.

  2. Toyota Prius

    This car has long been associated with left-wing environmentalists as a political status symbol, but as fuel efficiency becomes more important to buyers, the Prius is quickly becoming a car for all types of Americans. The 2011 Prius was named Consumer Reports Top Green Car of the Year, largely due to its great fuel economy — 44 mpg, more than any other vehicle in its class. The fuel efficiency is due in part to its low weight, an electric water pump, and exhaust gas recovery, and is combined with a longer range for electric driving than past models. It's no wonder that the Prius has become Toyota's third-best-selling model in the U.S.

  3. Chevy Volt

    AS the 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year, the Volt can run gas-free on its electric battery for 35 miles, and can then make a tank of gas last up to 340 miles by using an onboard generator to convert the gas to electricity. This is the perfect solution for the range anxiety, or fear of the electricity running out, that many potential electric-car drivers experience. The Volt has three driving settings to give you the best power for your needs. Normal, Sport, and Mountain modes allow you to focus the energy on the electric drive or acceleration, or save energy for steep climbs. The Volt also has a cost-saving feature allowing you to set it to charge at off-peak hours when the rates are lowest.

  4. Honda Insight

    Another award-winning hybrid, this vehicle ranked No. 1 for mileage in 2009 by Car and Driver and gets 40 city mpg and 43 highway mpg. Besides just saving on gas, the Insight has a lower priced model for those who have a budget. Some of the eco-friendly components of this car include the continuously variable transmission and the Eco Assist system, and the transmission adjusts constantly to ensure the most efficient performance. The Eco Assist system provides feedback on the driver's performance, such as braking and acceleration, so you can learn to drive more efficiently and make the least impact on the environment.

  5. Hyundai Elantra

    If you're not ready to jump on board with a hybrid just yet, the Hyundai Elantra could be a better fit for you while still minimizing your carbon footprint. The 2011 Hyundai Elantra has received attention for its sleek new design and low price tag compared to other brands' similar compact models. This version of the car is lighter, has more power, and gets better gas mileage than the previous make. At 40 mpg, the Elantra also gets the best mileage in the compact car class. Kelley Blue Book named it one of its Top 10 Green Cars of 2011.

  6. Ford Fusion Hybrid

    This gasoline-electric hybrid is an alternative to the gasoline-only version of the Fusion. An electric engine powered by a nickel-metal-hydride battery and a gas engine work together to give you the power you need without wasting gas you don't need. The Fusion Hybrid can accelerate to 47 mph with the electric engine alone, and the gas engine will kick in when you need an extra boost, like when merging or passing someone. On the dash, you can see how many miles before your tank is empty, and green leaves appear to show when you are driving efficiently.

  7. Fiat 500

    The first Fiat 500 was made in Europe in the late '50s to provide a more economical option after the war, and it was brought back 50 years later to fill a similar need. This adorable Italian car is now available, though not widely, in the U.S. under the Chrysler umbrella. The Fiat 500 has a lower price tag than many other European cars, and its MultiAir technology makes it an eco-friendly option. The MultiAir system reduces fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 10% while increasing power and torque compared to similar engines without this technology.

  8. Lexus CT 200h

    Lexus has staked its claim in the world of hybrids with the Lexus CT 200h, the world's first full hybrid luxury compact car. This car has a full electric mode that can be used at low speeds and provides a smooth ride for drivers who want the quality of a Lexus without the environmental cost of a gas-only car. The CT 200h has a petrol/electric hybrid engine, which is cleaner than a diesel/electric hybrid because it doesn't produce as much soot-causing particulate matter. Even as a hybrid, this Lexus accelerates well and handles curves with a sporty agility that you won't get from just any compact car.

  9. Volkswagen Golf TDI

    This version of the Volkswagen Golf offers a clean diesel version of the car, an option Kelley Blue Book named one of its top green cars of 2010. Clean diesel technology is an alternative to hybrid vehicles and allows the use of diesel fuel with less sulfur content. Engines that use clean diesel use 30% less fuel than conventional engines and reduce the emission of nasty gases. The Golf also has an electromechanical steering system that is not only safer and easier than traditional hydraulic power steering, but is also more fuel efficient.

  10. Tesla Roadster

    If you ever worried that your macho image might suffer from driving an electric car, look no further than the Tesla Roadster. The sleek sports car would fit well in any car lover's garage and is pushing the boundaries of electric technology. In 2010, the Roadster was the first electric vehicle to win the Monte Carlo Alternative Energy Rally, among other races. It can get 244 miles on a single charge of its lithium-ion battery and has set the record for most miles driven on one charge of a production electric car, cruising through 311 miles without having to plug in. With excellent responsiveness and the ability to go from 0 to 60 mph in less than four seconds, the Roadster could make anyone happy to switch to electric technology.

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