Top 10 Green Cars

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While most of us think of environmentally friendly cars purely in terms of tailpipe emissions, there are other considerations that influence a vehicle’s “greenness.” These include the type of fuel used to power the car, the materials that are used to manufacture the car and the ultimate disposal and recycling of the vehicle.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) produces a ranking of all vehicles based on four specific data points for each vehicle: tailpipe emissions, given by the emissions standard to which a vehicle is certified; fuel economy, based on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) test cycles; vehicle mass (curb weight); and battery mass and composition (for hybrids and plug-in vehicles). These data are combined with fuel economy ratings and used to generate a GreenerCar rating for each vehicle on a scale of 0 to 100. While the top scoring vehicles in 2015 posted GreenerCar ratings of 61, the average was 37 and the worst were down around 17.

The ACEEE’s GreenerCar ratings, like some other ratings organizations such as Consumer’s Union, have removed Green Scores and ratings for all clean-diesel (TDI) models produced by Volkswagen through model year 2015. Looking back through the Internet Archive at a snapshot of the ratings dated September 8, the 2015 TDI Golf and Jetta scored 47 and received an “above average ranking,” the best score of any diesel-powered vehicle, while diesel-powered Passats and Beetles scored 46 and received an overall score of “average.” For comparison, the Tesla Model S with an 85 kWh battery also scored 46, but earned an “above average” ranking.

The average per-mile environmental damage index (EDX) number for 2015 vehicles is 2.08 cents. The ACEEE determines the EDX by combining the average emissions rate for each stage of a vehicle’s lifetime and then assessing an economic value to the damage those emissions cause to the environment.

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The top 10 ranked 2015 vehicles range in price from a low of around $14,000 to a high of more than $47,000. As you might expect, most (seven) of the greenest cars are all-electric vehicles (EV). Two are hybrids, and just one is powered by a conventional internal combustion, gasoline-burning engine.

In the following list, we’ve used Kelley Blue Book to give the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) for each car. The primary reason not to use manufacturers’ websites is that these have already switched to 2016 models. Fuel economy ratings were taken from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s 2015 Fuel Economy Guide.

Sales numbers for individual models come from the September 2015 Dashboard at HybridCars.com. For total sales through September for all types of a given model, we used the tally from Good Car Bad Car.

The full list of 2015 cars and their rankings is available at greenercars.org.

2015 smart forTwo Coupe EV

> GreenerCar score: 61
> Manufacturer: Mercedes-Benz
> MSRP: $28,750
> Fuel economy (city/highway/combined): 122/93/107 mpg equivalent
> U.S. sales through September 2015: 955 (includes convertible model)

The smart forTwo car is an all-electric vehicle equipped with a zero-emissions (ZEV) electric motor. The car’s range specifications are 76 miles in city driving, 59 in highway driving or 68 miles combined. Including the gasoline-powered smart forTwo models, U.S. sales through September total 5,432. The gasoline versions of the car with a manual transmission get GreenerCar scores of 53 and mpg ratings of 32 city, 39 highway and 36 combined.

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2015 smart forTwo Convertible EV

> GreenerCar score: 61
> Manufacturer: Mercedes-Benz
> MSRP: $28,750
> Fuel economy (city/highway): 122/93/107 mpg equivalent
> U.S. sales through September 2015: 955 (includes coupe)

The convertible is functionally equivalent to the coupe.