Top 5 Eco-friendly Cars

Looking to drive—literally—energy efficiency? Check out these lean, green machines.

March 18 2013 by William J. Holstein and Bill Visnic

Environmentally Correct Performance: 2013 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid

The geniuses at Porsche have defied conventional wisdom yet again. They first surprised the skeptics by moving beyond the two-door sports car to introduce an SUV, the Cayenne, doomed to fail—or so the Cassandras said. Then, Porsche created a four-door sedan called the Panamera—an anathema to purist Porsche fanatics. Now, they’ve equipped the Panamera with a hybrid engine system that gets 30 mpg on the highway. Yes, driving a Porsche is now environmentally correct.

Porsche achieved that mileage without sacrificing the heart of the Porsche driving experience by combining a V6 internal combustion engine with an electric motor in a system it calls E-boost. Much like a Prius, the electric motor assists the gasoline engine at certain times and the engine kicks off—imperceptibly—when the vehicle is coasting or at stop. The Panamera S Hybrid is eerily silent when stopped at a red light because only the electric motor is functioning. The battery pack is built with an old-fashioned technology, nickel-metal hydride.

Porsche designers also added features, such as a rear vision parking-assist camera, coffee cup holders that swivel out from beneath the glove compartment and a Bose surround sound system. It’s a lovely way to protect Mother Nature.

A Technological Marvel: 2013 Chevrolet Volt

The Chevrolet Volt makes a bold statement. It is powered primarily by an electric engine relying on advanced lithium ion batteries, which represent a generational change over older nickel metal hybrid batteries. However, to relieve range anxiety, GM has included a “range extending” gasoline generator that can be used to operate the car if the battery is depleted.

Two power systems give the driver the opportunity to make decisions about whether to recharge the battery overnight or simply put more gasoline in the tank. Displays on the dashboard, in front of the driver, indicate how many miles are left on the battery and how many miles are left for the gasoline generator. You can manage and monitor the Volt remotely using on a smartphone. Unlike other vehicles that are essentially idiot-proof, the Volt demands engagement.

A driver who mixes city and highway driving now can use a “hold” mode to tell the car when to use its gas generator and when to rely on the more energy-efficient electric engine. When driven on the battery alone, the car has zero emissions, which is one reason why it now qualifies for High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes in California and New York. While other drivers are stuck in traffic in their gas guzzlers, you could be cruising, knowing you have one of the smartest, most efficient vehicles on the road.