Between rising gas prices and the ever-present issue of climate change, there’s never been a better time to consider environmentally friendly cars. Once relegated to only a small sliver of the population, improved technology means eco-friendly cars are beginning to overcome many of the typical stereotypes they’re associated with. Here are three of the best choices to help you minimize your impact on the environment.
Honda Civic GX
Although hybrid and electric vehicles garner most of the public’s attention, Honda’s natural-gas-powered Civic GX leads the pack in emission standards. The Civic GX has won the American Council for Energy-Efficient Economy’s “Greenest Vehicle of the Year” award for eight consecutive years. Since it is fueled entirely by natural gas, the GX is the cleanest internal combustion vehicle ever tested by the EPA, and meets federal zero evaporative emissions standards.
The Civic GX does differ from traditional gasoline vehicles in some key ways, however. The reduced energy density of natural gas results in slightly less power to the engine, though the drop isn’t significantly noticeable during city driving.
The GX also requires filling at specially designed natural gas filling stations, which are uncommon across most of the United States. Honda does offer a solution for this problem, however, with a home filling station that fills the car’s tank overnight. A full tank provides a driving range of approximately 200 miles, depending on driving conditions.
The first fully electric car to be marketed to mainstream consumers, the Nissan Leaf allows drivers to cut ties with gas stations for good. Because the Leaf is powered entirely by electricity, there’s no tailpipe and zero emissions. The Leaf works by drawing power from laminated lithium-ion batteries to run an electric motor.
The batteries can be charged in a variety of ways, from “quick-charge” electric stations, to home chargers, and even a standard wall outlet. While savings over gasoline may depend on local electricity prices, the reduced impact on the environment is unquestionable.
As with other electric cars, however, there are some differences to keep in mind. The Leaf’s electric motor is less powerful than internal combustion engines, leading to significantly reduced, though functional, top speed. The driving range on a full charge is also a primary consideration, averaging around 73 miles. This makes the Leaf primarily suitable only for city driving, short commutes, or residents who have regular access to charging stations.
Long considered the face of the hybrid vehicle, the Toyota Prius has a well-earned reputation as an exceptional blend of fuel economy, reduced emissions, and snappy performance. Unlike fully electric vehicles, the Prius utilizes a gasoline engine as well as two electric motors to generate power.
While under full acceleration, the Prius uses both power sources to produce a respectable 134 horsepower. When less power is required, such as during high-traffic city driving, the Prius alternates between the two power sources, often relying on battery power alone. This helps to reduce fuel consumption and dramatically decrease emissions, while still retaining sufficient performance.
Like full-electric cars, the Toyota Prius requires recharging to power its electric motors, although the recharging time is considerably faster. The Prius can be charged in about three hours from a standard 110-volt wall outlet, and the time drops to an hour and a half with a 220-volt plug. The sophisticated drive train of the Prius can also lead to much costlier repairs, although some potential losses may be recouped at the pump thanks to the hybrid’s extraordinary fuel efficiency.
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