Choosing a ‘greener’ car

The annual ‘greenest car’ list includes an assortment of small and alternativeenergy cars, though the ‘meanest’ list might actually be more fun to drive

By Jim Gorzelany
CTW Features

 2015 TOYOTA PRIUS C 2015 TOYOTA PRIUS C The diminutive two-seat Smart ForTwo Electric Drive coupe and convertible have been named the “greenest” cars sold in the U.S. for the second year running, according to the annual environmental ratings issued by American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) in Washington, D.C. And while the “meanest” car in America is usually an overpowered and unobtainable exotic sports car, for 2015 that designation instead goes to the otherwise honest and hard-working Ram 2500 full-size pickup truck.

The ACEEE’s list of the most environmentally gracious rides on the road is again packed with small and/or alternate-fuel cars, with six of the top 12 being plug-in models. Unfortunately, a few of them — including the ForTwo Electric Drive, Chevrolet Spark EV and the Fiat 500e — are available only in limited areas, typically California (where major automakers are required to offer at least one zero-emissions model) and perhaps a handful of other states that are considered major EV/alt-fuel markets.

 2015 CHEVROLET SPARK EV 2015 CHEVROLET SPARK EV As evidence of how non-electrified vehicles have become cleaner and more fuel-efficient in recent years, there’s even a high-mileage “clean diesel” model among the list of greenest rides (the Volkswagen Jetta TDI compact sedan), along with a conventionally powered car (the Mitsubishi Mirage subcompact) and one that runs on natural gas (the Honda Civic Natural Gas). The list also includes two midsize cars (albeit smallish ones), the Nissan Leaf EV and Toyota Prius Plug-In, which, as the ACEEE release on the topic says, indicates “green need not be small.”

No one automaker dominates the ACEEE’s greenest cars list this year, with 10 separate brands represented, though Toyota/Lexus comes the closest with three entries honored, the Toyota Prius c and Prius Plug-In and the Lexus CT 200h. “As the electric vehicle market continues to develop, we’re seeing a number of different options from a variety of automakers, including several from American manufacturers,” says ACEEE lead vehicle analyst Shruti Vaidyanathan. Recognizing that not everyone’s needs — or budgets — are best served by electric or hybrid-powered small cars, the ACEEE has also compiled a list of “greener” choices among all conventionally powered model categories on its website. The runners up list for 2015 includes the subcompact Honda Fit and Chevrolet Spark, the Chevrolet Trax crossover SUV, Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon midsize trucks and, in the industry’s inherently “meanest” category of full-size trucks, the Ford F-150.

While largely based on a given model’s fuel economy and tailpipe emissions – including smog-forming airborne pollutants and so-called greenhouse gases – the ACEEE’s ranking process also takes into consideration “cradle to grave” factors like emissions generated during a vehicle’s manufacturing process, its eventual disposal impact and (where applicable) natural gas extraction practices and the sources of energy used to generate power for electric cars.

So what about the worst polluters? Aside from the aforementioned Ram 2500 heavy-duty pickup, the remaining slots are split between fuel-vaporizing exotic cars and big, burly SUVs. We’re featuring both the “greenest” and “meanest” car lists in the accompanying box, with each model’s “Green Score,” as determined by the ACEEE.

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‘Greenest’ cars for 2015

Make/Model Green Score
1. Smart ForTwo Electric Drive 61
2. Chevrolet Spark EV 59
3. Fiat 500e 59
4. Toyota Prius c 57
5. Nissan Leaf 57
6. Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid 54
7. Lexus CT 200h 54
8. Honda Civic Hybrid 54
9. Honda Civic Natural Gas 54
10. Mitsubishi Mirage 54
11. Ford Focus Electric 53
12. Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid 53