By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
The Green Car of the Year Awards is an important part of the Green Car Journal’s mission to showcase environmental progress in the auto industry. Since 1992, the Green Car Journal has focused on the intersection of automobiles, energy, and environment. Today, the magazine is considered the premier source of information on high fuel efficiency, low emission, advanced technology, and alternative fuel vehicles. Finalists are selected for their achievements in raising the bar in environmental performance, and must be available for sale by January 1st of the award year.
This year’s finalists have been a great surprise, since this is the first time in several years that the awards haven’t been dominated by electric vehicles–in fact, there’s only one hybrid car amongst the five contestants.
2013 was the year during which many popular electric cars made their debut, such as the BMW i3 and Tesla Model S. Last year, the Green Car Contest was won by the Ford Fusion and saw two other hybrids and three gas-powered cars. Whereas 2012 marked a victory for the natural-gas powered Honda Civic, against two pure electrics, a hybrid and a diesel model; and 2011 saw the excellent Chevrolet Volt crowned champion, beating out an EV, two hybrids and a gas-powered model.
However, in terms of being green, 2014 seems to be the year of progress for diesel motors, which have increased in efficiency and diminished in pollution. Sustainability in cars seems to be heading in a variety of new directions, as Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of Green Car Journal has pointed out “The diversity of this field of finalists illustrates not only that green has gone mainstream, but also that there is no single approach to achieving ever higher levels of fuel efficiency and environmental performance. There’s something for everyone in this year’s field of finalists, including clean diesel, high efficiency gasoline, and hybrid/plug-in hybrid power featured in mainstream, sporty, and executive models.”
Let’s take a closer look at the five finalists:
Audi A6 TDI
Audi’s 2014 A6 TDI blends excellent green credentials with unexpected levels of performance in a high efficiency vehicle. Its 3.0 litre, 6 cylinder TDI clean diesel engine with tiptronic transmission and four all-wheel drive provides 240 horsepower and 428 lb-ft torque, achieving 0-60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. A start-stop system aids efficiency, as does a lightweight body that makes extensive use of aluminium body panels. This sedan features an EPA estimated 38 highway mpg that enables over 700 miles of highway driving range.
Featuring the first 4-cylinder BMW diesel engine in the U.S., the new 328d combines exceptionally high fuel efficiency with the performance expected of BMW models. EPA estimated 45 mpg highway fuel economy is achieved with this sedan’s 2.0 litre TwinPower clean diesel power-plant, which produces 180 horsepower and 280 lb-ft torque. Efficiency is enhanced with engine auto start-stop and brake energy regeneration. A 328d Sports Wagon is also available. The models are offered in rear wheel drive or with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system.
Honda’s popular Accord sedan aims to lead in the efficiency space with an array of efficient power-plant choices including four-cylinder, V-6, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid versions. Even the V-6, the largest engine option, nets 34 highway mpg with the four-cylinder rated at up to 36 highway mpg. The bar raises considerably with the Accord Hybrid at 50 city and 47 highway mpg, and the Accord Plug-In with its 47 city and 46 highway mpg on hybrid power. The Plug-In also offers an EPA rating of 115 MPGe, the highest of any mid-size hybrid sedan in the country.
The all-new third generation Mazda3, this automaker’s best-selling model worldwide, is lighter, more efficient, and packed with advanced electronics. The 2014 Mazda3 features an appealing new design and has been built from the ground-up with Mazda’s award-winning SKYACTIV technology. The 2.0 litre powered Mazda3 four-door sedan offers best-in-class 41 mpg highway fuel economy, with the five-door hatch coming in at up to 40 mpg. A more powerful 2.5 litre engine with an i-ELOOP capacitor-based regenerative engine braking system gets 38 mpg.
The Toyota Corolla
The Corolla has long been a best-seller due to its blend of efficiency and affordability. With the all-new 2014 Corolla, Toyota adds visual excitement, improved driving dynamics, and even greater efficiency to its popular compact sedan, achieving up to 42 highway mpg delivered by the model’s Eco version. This level of efficiency is achieved with a 1.8 litre, 140 horsepower engine featuring the first use of Toyota’s Valvematic technology in this country. A driver selectable ECO function moderates acceleration and optimises on-board systems to enhance mpg.
All are quite green, for different reasons. Which one would you choose?