Will 2015 be the year electric vehicles and hybrids take the U.S. by storm?
Probably not. Between low gas prices expected to hold through the summer and a lack of long-range EVs on the mass market, we expect more steady growth but no overwhelming gains for the electric car movement this year.
On the other hand, fuel economy is getting better across the board, helped by more diesel options as well as standard (i.e., non-plug-in) hybrids and your old-fashioned economical cars (think: Mazda3) running on gasoline. EVs have not yet arrived en masse, but green automobiles — comprising plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, pure EVs, regular hybrids, and clean diesel cars — are a force in the industry. Coinciding with Earth Day every year, Kelley Blue Book rounds up the most efficient vehicles and rates each model on fuel economy, value, and general appeal for auto consumers.
Here are the 10 best green cars of the 2015 model year according to Kelley Blue Book rankings.
10. Volkswagen Jetta TDI
How can a diesel car be green? A combination of cleaner fuel, better engines, and emissions control technology does the job. With the 2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, the proof is clear. In the 2.0-liter four-cylinder manual model ($21,640), efficiency is rated at 46 miles per gallon on the highway (36 miles per gallon combined) with an output of 236 pounds-feet of torque. Comparing gas cars in the price range, Jetta TDI has less in the way of emissions than a 2.0-liter Ford Focus. Only the 1.0-liter EcoBoost beats the incredibly light amount of carbon emitted by this VW, according to fueleconomy.gov. The tradeoff: a 1.0-liter Focus offers 123 pounds-feet of torque, a fraction of the Jetta’s.
9. Ford C-Max Hybrid
Kelley Blue Book gives Ford’s ground-up hybrid ($24,170) points on style, versatility, and driving experience. With 40 miles per gallon combined, most consumers choose C-Max models for their superior efficiency in highway or city driving. Plug-in hybrid Energi models ($31,770) deliver an even higher standard of green specs: 19 miles of pure electric driving at the equivalent of 88 miles per gallon.
8. Toyota Camry Hybrid
It may not be publicized all that much, but the gas-electric Toyota Camry ($26,790) was No. 2 on the list of best-selling hybrids in the U.S. for 2014. KBB.com lauds the flagship sedan’s hybrid variant for its upgraded interior and better handling for the 2015 model year. With 43 miles per gallon in city driving, this entry speaks for itself on the topic of fuel economy.
7. Chevrolet Volt
There will soon be a new Chevy Volt for the 2016 model year, and the General says there will be 50 miles of pure electric range. That would give the top plug-in hybrid (as far as range is concerned) another 12 miles to boast over the competition. In 2015 versions ($34,170), drivers get 38 miles of electric range and a combined 37 miles per gallon once the gas engine kicks into gear. With upgrades to the Volt, the arrival of the Chevy Malibu hybrid, and the Chevrolet Bolt EV in the pipeline, you can say GM has reversed its course on fuel economy in a major way.
6. Tesla Model S
If you have a hard time keeping track of the constantly updating Tesla Model S, we don’t blame you. In the latest (as of press time) update to the company’s flagship vehicle, Tesla has eliminated the base 60 kWh Model S with rear-wheel drive and 208 miles of range in favor of the Model S 70D ($75,000) capable of 240 miles of range with all-wheel drive. The considerable upgrade cost less than $5,000, so bravo once again to Tesla on delivering value in its lofty price bracket. Horsepower jumped from 302 to 329 horses with the front wheels now propelling the car as well.
Kelley Blue Book loves the overall impact of the Tesla, from its quick acceleration to its comfort and technology on the dash. Making a great thing better, Model S 70D now offers 101 miles per gallon equivalent combined.
5. Honda Accord Hybrid
KBB.com editors rave about the driving experience of the Honda Accord hybrid model, saying its acceleration and braking power deliver some of the best performance in the segment. Then there is that stunning fuel economy rating of 50 miles per gallon in city driving. The only drawback here is the considerable separation between the price of the hybrid ($29,305) and the standard model ($22,105). That’s a heavy lift for most consumers.
4. Toyota Prius
America’s best-selling hybrid (207,372 units in 2014) has multiple options for consumers ranging from 42 miles per gallon in the Prius V ($30,005) to 50 miles per gallon combined in the standard Prius ($24,200). This car set the tone for green cars back in the day and remains one of the best values on the market for the astounding durability consumers get. Consumer Reports found there are more models of Prius with at least 200,000 miles than any other car on the road. So much for the risks of your battery pack going haywire.
3. Nissan Leaf
In terms of gasoline saved, no car can lay claim to the title like the Nissan Leaf ($29,010), the world leader in lifetime electric vehicle sales. Leafs offer 84 miles of electric range, seating for five people, and a price point most families can afford (in some states, Leafs cost below $20,000 after incentives). Its economy is stellar: 126 miles per gallon in the city, 114 miles per gallon combined.
2. Volkswagen e-Golf
For the 2015 model year, Volkswagen brought out its first electric vehicle with the new line of Golfs. Capable of 83 miles on a full charge and 116 miles per gallon combined equivalent, the e-Golf ($33,450) slots in among the leaders in range and economy on U.S. roads. KBB.com loved this new German EV’s refined interior and engaging driving experience, enough to give it second place for 2015.
1. BMW i3
BMW took a different path than most automakers when it designed the i3 from the ground up rather than as a variant of an existing model. Looking at the returns after a year plus on the market, we’d say that formula has worked out fine for the luxury brand. The i3 has landed numerous awards (including World Green Car 2014) and has been performing well on sales charts. (In 2015, only the Leaf and Tesla have done better.)
A 2015 BMW i3 ($42,400) can cover 81 miles of range on a full charge and boasts the equivalent of 137 miles per gallon in city driving — best of any vehicle on American roads. Factor in the sustainable production model BMW created for its greenest car and Kelley Blue Book had it easy naming i3 the best of 2015.
Source: Kelley Blue Book