Gas prices might be low, but that’s not an excuse for skipping over a green car in favor of a guzzler. Electrification has forced us to rethink just what it means to be eco-friendly. Today’s frugal machines may be powered by gas engines that can turn themselves off automatically, they may have an electric motor that provides some assistance, or they may forgo internal combustion entirely.
It all boils down to what’s best for you, your budget, and the way you drive. In our reviews, we use EPA testing figures to determine a score from 1 to 10.
For 2018, all vehicles that can travel some or all of the time with no tailpipe emissions get a perfect score of 10. Below that, EPA fuel-efficiency ratings determine a score from 1 to 9 depending on where they fall.
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Here’s the thing, though: The energy efficiency of cars running on electricity is almost always far higher than even the most fuel-efficient vehicle. That is, a Tesla Model S is much more energy-efficient than the best Toyota Prius hybrid.
Want proof? The two most fuel-efficient hybrids on the market are the 2018 Hyundai Ioniq Blue Hybrid (58 mpg combined) and 2018 Toyota Prius Two Eco (56 mpg combined).
The energy efficiency of electric cars is measured in MPGe, or Miles Per Gallon Equivalent. It gives the distance a car can travel electrically on the amount of energy contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.
2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Limited, Catskill Mountains, NY, May 2017
2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric – frame from video road test
Turns out the 2018 Hyundai Ioniq Electric, the all-electric sibling to the Ioniq Hybrid, comes in at 136 MPGe, and the 2018 Toyota Prius Prime, the plug-in hybrid version of that Prius, just below it at 133 MPGe.
For buyers who don’t feel ready quite yet for an all-electric car, plug-in hybrids blend the frugality of a conventional hybrid with a battery you plug in to recharge that gives cheaper and more efficient all-electric travel for errands around town or daily commuting.
Even today’s SUVs with off-road and towing credentials are as frugal as mid-size sedans were a decade ago, but if you’re looking for the utmost in efficiency, you have to start with cars that plug in.
Here are the greenest cars of 2018 so far, with the caveat that a few eco-friendly 2018 models haven’t been rated by the EPA as of press time:
2018 Hyundai Ioniq Electric – 136 MPGe, 124 miles
Hyundai’s Ioniq may look and feel like a cut-rate Toyota Prius, but it beats that eco-friendly icon at its own game.
The Ioniq is available in electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid variants.
The greenest is exactly the one you’d expect: the Ioniq Electric. Its 136-MPGe rating beats every other vehicle for sale in the U.S. today on energy efficiency.
2018 Toyota Prius Prime – 133 MPGe, 25 miles in electric mode; 54 mpg combined
The Prime is the sole plug-in hybrid model in Toyota’s sprawling lineup, but it’s the second most-efficient car after the Ioniq Electric, and it eliminates any concerns over range anxiety.
Rated at 25 miles of electric range, the Prime defaults to being an all-electric car while there’s charge left in the battery—then turns into a conventional Prius when it’s gone.
Once it’s back into regular hybrid mode, it’s rated at 54 mpg combined—a bit higher than the standard Prius (52 mpg), a bit lower than the Prius Two Eco (56 mpg).
It also has a design that many consider less aggressively ugly than the standard Prius hybrid, though the Prime is limited to four seats against the hybrid’s five.
2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV – 119 MPGe, 238 miles
You’re looking at the biggest step yet toward the normalization of electric cars: the Chevy Bolt EV with its 200-mile-plus range.
While the Ioniq Electric gets part of its high efficency from a battery pack less than half the size of the Bolt EV’s
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So while the electric Ioniq is rated at 124 miles of range, the Bolt EV almost doubles that, with a 238-mile rating.
It’s the first mass-priced electric car with more than 200 miles of range that you can walk into a dealer and drive out today.
2018 Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid – 119 MPGe, 29 miles on electricity; 52 mpg combined
Remember the class leader with the highest energy efficiency of any car on sale? Here’s its plug-in sibling, which has a range limited only by gas stations.
Its range puts it a step down from the Volt and Clarity, though somewhat higher than the Prius Prime, for which it’s a more direct (and slightly less expensive) competitor.