If only a similar rating system existed for automobiles. Unfortunately, such does not exist, leaving consumers to evaluate fuel type and fuel economy when determining which vehicle is best for the environment. Such determination is rarely scientific, and is based on a lot of assumptions, e.g. lists of top cars for the environment generated from twitter followers (how’s that for objectivity?) and lists including every electric car for sale in the U.S. (comprehensive, though shallow).
When we think of the environment, we need to think deeper than gas vs electric and MPG. We need to think about where goods and materials are sourced, how long a car will last, sustainable manufacturing processes, how far goods are shipped and an automaker’s overall commitment to the environment. This calculus is complicated, involving a lot of trade-offs and weighing of priorities.
So, for our list, rather than arbitrarily selecting what we believe are the top cars for the environment via application of a capricious formula, we are going to list vehicles built by manufacturers who we believe are making a firm commitment to environmental stewardship, and give some examples as to why these vehicles and the entities who manufacture them are demonstrating a commitment to the environment.
#8. Chevrolet Cruze
The 2019 Chevrolet Cruze is a fuel sipper that looks good. Tracking between 37 – 48 MPG on the highway and between 28 – 31 MPG in the city, the Cruze successfully balances fuel economy, space and features. Trunk is spacious, as is seating, which can accommodate 5 people. A 153 horsepower engine provides adequate power. The Cruze is manufactured in Youngstown, Ohio, using lean manufacturing processes and relying heavily on a local supply chain, which means lower carbon footprints used in the manufacturing process. With over 142 office and manufacturing sites that are landfill-free, including its iconic 5 tower headquarters in Downtown Detroit, GM’s commitment to a sustainable future extends beyond the manufacturing processes.
#7. Ford F-150
America’s best-selling vehicle for the first half of 2018, the Ford F-150 is a perennial favorite for the shopper seeking a truck that can rack up the miles, haul the big loads and comfortably fit a family in style. It should also be a favorite for those who value the environment while still needing to haul, carry and command the road regardless of condition. Case-in-point: an all-aluminum body that sheds about 700 pounds of weight, the F-150 is amongst the most fuel-efficient full-sized pick-up trucks available. Various engine options offer shoppers a choice between efficiency, power, and pep; we prefer the 6.4-liter PowerStroke clean-diesel which produces an impressive 350 horsepower. Manufactured in Dearborn Michigan in an assembly plant that is home to the world’s largest living roof, the Ford F-150 relies on local glass, steel, and componentry, reducing the carbon footprint used in the manufacturing process. Safety features include forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, which are standard for the 2019 model season. Also standard: Ford’s commitment to the environment, where it has been recognized year after year as a leader in reducing waste, it's carbon footprint while investing in green and renewable energy sources.
#6. Volkswagen Passat
Stylish, spacious, efficient and affordable, you will appreciate the 2019 Volkswagen Passat’s generous proportions as well as its handling. Powered by a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, the Passat delivers a smooth and peppy ride as well as an impressive 36 MPG highway / 25 MPG city. Manufactured at a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, TN that is regularily recognized for environmental excellence, the Passat also leads its class when it comes to safety, with forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert all standard for 2019. Combining value, styling and safety, the Passat is a top choice for drivers seeking an environmentally conscious, reliable, spacious vehicle that remains capable of making a statement and standing apart from the crowd.
#5. Tesla Model 3
Balancing efficiency, style, and luxury, Tesla's Model 3 sedan is Tesla’s entry-level vehicle. When most people talk electric, range anxiety comes to mind. No need to have anxiety with the Model 3, however – it can go 310 miles on a charge. While it takes 12 hours to charge on a standard 32-amp 240-volt connector, a network of superchargers provide quick, affordable charging for those on-the-go. Like all electric vehicles, acceleration is swift and handling is agile. Like all Tesla’s, the interior is uncluttered and neatly finished. As an added bonus, the Model 3 is manufactured in a re-purposed factory, thereby conserving materials and reusing existing infrastructure as opposed to unnecessarily building on a greenfield site.
#4. Chevrolet Bolt EV
Starting at a price point $10,000 less than the Model 3, the Chevrolet Bolt is GM’s bet on a clean and green future. Balancing efficiency and functionality, the Chevrolet Bolt is a distinctive hatchback that delivers the range and engaging driving experience. The range is 238 miles on a charge. Like all electric vehicles, acceleration is swift and handling is agile – the Bolt can deliver zero to 60 mph in under 6.8 seconds. Like its Chevrolet siblings, the Bolt is loaded with features, including an intuitive infotainment system. The Bolt is manufactured in Lake Orion, Michigan, using lean manufacturing processes and relying heavily on a local supply chain, which means lower carbon footprints used in the manufacturing process. With over 142 office and manufacturing sites that are landfill-free, including its iconic 5 tower headquarters in Downtown Detroit, GM’s commitment to a sustainable future extends beyond the manufacturing processes.
#3. Nissan LEAF
America’s best selling electric vehicle, the Nissan Leaf delivers value, range and Nissan’s signature flamboyant styling. Equipped with a 40-kWh battery, the range is 140 miles. An optional 60-kWh battery is under development and will offer a 200-mile range. Energy is conserved via an E-Pedal feature that decelerates the Leaf when the driver eases off the accelerator, sending energy back to the battery. Like its Nissan siblings, drive quality and handling is mundane but secure. Optional features such as ProPilot Assist can help keep the car in its lane and adjust its speed to keep track of surrounding traffic. Think of this optional feature as Tesla Autopilot “lite”. Forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking is standard.
#2. Kia Niro
Let’s talk about a product that marries space, efficiency, and affordability. Let’s talk about the KIA Niro. The only hybrid on our list of best cars for the environment, this sporty, capable front-wheel-drive vehicle uses a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that generates a combined 139 hp. Matched with a six-speed dual-clutch transmission, the Niro is surprisingly engaging to drive. While its MPG is not as respectable as a Prius, it still can reach 40 + MPG in combined driving conditions. A plethora of advanced safety features are available, including automatic emergency braking, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic warning. Coming soon to a dealership near you (or it may be already there): an EV version with a promised 239-mile range. Talk about the best of all worlds: space, quick acceleration, range, and good styling. We’re in.
#1. Chevrolet Equinox
The little crossover that could, the Chevrolet Equinox is roomy, efficient and safe. Vehicles that we tested approached a respectable 38 MPG on the highway and 30 + MPG in combined conditions. A 1.5-liter, turbo four-cylinder is paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission delivers adequate power, though driving enthusiasts should opt for the optional upgraded engine, which pumps an impressive 252 horsepower. Like its Chevrolet brethren, handling is responsive and the ride is secure. The MyLink infotainment system is surprisingly simple to use and the seats are quite comfortable. Available safety features include forward collision warning with low-speed automatic braking, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic warning are available. The Equinox is manufactured in Ingersoll, Ontario, using lean manufacturing processes and relying heavily on a local supply chain, which means lower carbon footprints used in the manufacturing process. With over 142 office and manufacturing sites that are landfill-free, including its iconic 5 tower headquarters in Downtown Detroit, GM’s commitment to a sustainable future extends beyond the manufacturing processes.