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Updated: April 22, 2014 11:00 AM

Our favorite green cars for Earth Day



Green cars don't have to have gray personalities. Too many gas misers range from dull and dowdy to downright dreary to drive. And yet it's still true that the best way to help the environment, minimize your own contribution to global warming, and clean up the air is to burn less fuel. So we've compiled a list of the 13 nicest cars to drive that beat 35 mpg in our testing.

These are all cars that we've found enjoyable to drive to one degree or another. A few are purely electric, most are hybrids, and we’ve thrown in a couple of fuel-efficient diesels for good measure. (See our guide to fuel economy.) And while many of these are the greenest of the green, check our ratings and comprehensive reliability data before making your final buying decision.

Overall, the Tesla Model S is our Top Pick of any car on the market. And even better, it gets the equivalent of 84 mpg using only clean electricity. Our testers found it exhilarating to drive, with excellent handling and abundant power, while still being very practical and efficient.

If you want something more conventional and less expensive, the Toyota Camry Hybrid and the Ford Fusion Hybrid get impressive mileage while still being richly appointed and pleasurable to drive. The Fusion, in particular, is one of the nicest-driving hybrids we've experienced. So is it’s upscale twin, the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. And judging from reaction on the street, both are true head turners. (See our guide to hybrids and EVs.)

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The Ford C-Max shares all the Fusion Hybrid’s European-car road manners in a roomy hatchback that can carry a lot of stuff. It doesn’t get the EPA-advertised 47 mpg, but its 37 mpg overall is still impressive compared with other small wagons.

If you want something a little more luxurious and still with proven top-notch reliability, you can’t go wrong with Toyota’s upscale hybrids based on the Camry. Check out the big Avalon Hybrid, with plenty of room to stretch out. Or, the slightly smaller but better appointed Lexus ES 300h. Both got 36 mpg overall in our tests.

Another consideration is the roomy and comfortable Volkswagen Passat TDI. We found it quick and nicely finished, and while it's not as nice to drive as previous Passats, it can go almost 700 miles on a fill-up with a stunning 51-mpg on the highway.

Volkswagen isn't known for hybrids, but we found the Hybrid version of the Jetta to be smooth and refined. Plus, it gets better fuel economy than the Jetta TDI--37 mpg overall vs. 34, respectively.

If you want an all-electric car, and don't want to pay Tesla prices (starting around $70,000), the Ford Focus Electric and the Nissan Leaf get among the best energy efficiency of any cars we've ever tested. We found the Electric to be the nicest version of the Focus, and the Leaf proved very competent. But both are limited to a range of about 75-80 miles.

Finally, if you want to drive on electricity and don't want to worry about EV range, the Chevrolet Volt gets electric-car efficiency when the battery is charged, and it can run on gasoline when necessary. It's not as nice to drive as the Tesla, but it costs about half as much. We averaged the equivalent of 99 mpg in electric mode and 32 mpg when it switched over to gasoline.

The ubiquitous Toyota Prius is still our mileage champ for gasoline cars—44 mpg overall. It's roomy and comfortable, though the engine can sometimes be grating and the handling is secure, if a bit dull. (The Prius topped our list of best values. See the complete report.)

There are an increasing number of "green" choices on the market, addressing the many definitions of green. If saving fuel and/or owner costs is your goal, these are some appealing choices, but you might also consider some the thriftiest small and midsized cars. (Learn how to get the most mpg right now.)

See our list of best and worst cars for fuel economy.

Ford Focus ElectricFuel efficient hatchbacks$40,990107*
Nissan LeafFuel efficient hatchbacks$35,430106*
Tesla Model SLuxury sedans$89,65084*
Chevrolet VoltFuel efficient hatchbacks$43,70061**
Toyota PriusFuel efficient hatchbacks$26,75044
Ford Fusion SE HybridFamily sedans$28,29039
Toyota Camry Hybrid XLEFamily sedans$29,05238
Ford C-MAX Hybrid SEWagons$26,68537
Volkswagen Passat TDI SEFamily sedans$28,66537
Volkswagen Jetta HybridFuel efficient hatchbacks$28,05537
Toyota Avalon HybridLarge sedans$42,50136
Lexus ES 300hLuxury/luxury sedans$44,10736
Lincoln MKZ HybridLuxury/luxury sedans$41,91535

*= MPGe
**= composite of electricity & gas

Electric cars 101
Electric cars FAQ
Hybrids 101
Guide to fuel economy
Guide to alternative fuels and cars




Consumer Reports' Spotlight on cars
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5 great cars that won't bust your budget

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