By Rick Newman

The electric vehicles coming soon are just one choice for green-minded drivers.

Automakers offer a range of high-mileage cars that don't entail inconveniences. Some of the options:


There are now more than a dozen hybrids, with additional newcomers, like the compact Honda CR-Z, on the way. Hybrids run on two power sources: a gas-powered engine and a battery-powered electric motor, with onboard computers automatically toggling between the two for best performance. There are no plugs or cords, and drivers don't have to do anything different--except stop for gas less often. Models like the Ford Fusion hybrid, Toyota Prius, Honda Insight, and Toyota Highlander have shown strong reliability, with mileage that's 50 to 100 percent higher than conventional counterparts.


New "clean diesel" technology offers strong performance and great mileage while trapping most of the pollutants that the engines produce. Diesel models cost a bit more, and the fuel costs about the same as premium gasoline. But mileage can be 35 percent higher. One popular model, the Volkswagen Jetta turbodiesel, offers a strong set of standard features and 34 miles per gallon for a starting price of about $24,000. VW offers three other diesels in the United States, and Audi, BMW, and Mercedes are rolling out an array of their own.


The corn-based fuel usually costs a bit less than gasoline, but it also generates lower mileage and doesn't typically save drivers money. But if the technology pans out, new "cellulosic" ethanol, made from grasses or other nonfood plants, could drop the cost to $1 per gallon in coming years. Many cars can be cheaply converted to "flex fuel" vehicles that run on gas or ethanol, and some domestic models already come that way for little or no extra cost.

Better gas engines

New six- and seven-speed transmissions, direct injection, turbochargers, cylinder-deactivation systems, and other enhancements are helping automakers get more power and better mileage from smaller engines. Instead of offering a V-8 on its seven-passenger Flex crossover, for instance, Ford has a powerful "Ecoboost" V-6 with mileage that's about 15 percent better. The four-cylinder Chevy Equinox SUV averages 26 mpg, thanks to a six-speed transmission and other refinements. Those numbers may not be radical, but tough gas-mileage requirements are forcing automakers to make continual improvements that will add up to real savings for drivers. Gas guzzlers may soon be a collector's item.



© U.S. News & World Report


Auto - Going the Extra Mile | Rick Newman