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What Are the Greenest 2012 Cars?

What Are the Greenest 2012 Cars?

By Jeff Youngs, December 29, 2012
Changing weather patterns, coupled with a measured increase in severe weather events--not only in North America but around the globe--has resulted in increased buzz surrounding global warming and other environmental issues. This, in turn, has many consumers wondering about the most environmentally friendly or "greenest" 2012 cars.

The absolute greenest 2012 car is the Honda FCX Clarity. Available in limited quantities and only to Southern California residents whose names are on a waiting list to lease the car, the Honda FCX Clarity is a hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle that converts the most plentiful element in the universe--hydrogen--into electricity, which in turn powers an electric motor to move the vehicle. The process emits nothing but water vapor from the FCX Clarity's tailpipe.

Shell Oil Co. has built a handful of hydrogen filling stations where FCX Clarity owners can fill their vehicle using a process similar to a conventional gasoline pump. For now, the Honda FCX Clarity and the small network of California hydrogen filling stations are only an experiment, but they point to a potentially emissions-free future.

Until fuel-cell vehicles and hydrogen infrastructure become available to a much broader audience, the greenest 2012 cars are primarily electric or gas/electric hybrid models. Many of these vehicles qualify for federal tax rebates of up to $7,500, which helps to lower their actual cost to the vehicle owner, and some cities reserve preferred parking spaces for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Furthermore, because an electric vehicle's torque is available the moment the accelerator is pressed, these types of vehicles are quick and responsive, especially in urban driving situations.

Based on EPA miles-per-gallon equivalent (MPGe) ratings, the following models are the 10 greenest 2012 cars available.

2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV
Due to its 112 MPGe rating, the 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV is the greenest car of 2012. The i-MiEV is a tall, narrow, lightweight 4-passenger electric car equipped with an electric motor generating 66 horsepower and 145 lb.-ft. of torque. The electric motor powers the rear wheels and the travel range is 62 miles. The i-MiEV can be recharged in less than 24 hours using a standard 120-volt household outlet. The optional 240-volt home charging station cuts recharge time to 7 hours.

Mitsubishi Car & Truck Ratings

2013 Mitsubishi Buyer's Guide

2012 Ford Focus Electric
According to the EPA, the 2012 Ford Focus Electric provides a 105 MPGe rating, making it the second-greenest car of 2012. Based on the Focus 5-door hatchback, the Focus Electric is a 5-passenger vehicle equipped with an electric engine delivering 141 horsepower and 184 lb.-ft. of torque to the front wheels. Ford claims a 76-mile driving range, and says that when using a standard 120-volt household power outlet, the car recharges in 20 hours. Opt for the 240-volt home recharging station, and the battery is topped off in less than 4 hours.

2013 Ford Focus Hatchback Summary, Photos & Specs
2012 Ford Focus Electric Ratings

Ford Car & Truck Ratings

2013 Ford Cars Buyer's Guide
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2012 Nissan Leaf
The 2012 Nissan Leaf is a 5-door, 5-passenger hatchback estimated to get 99 MPGe by the EPA. Nissan says the Leaf provides a 100-mile range from its electric drivetrain, which powers the front wheels and generates 107 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque. Using a standard 120-volt household power outlet, the Leaf recharges overnight in 8 hours. Opt for a 240-volt home charging station, and the Leaf's battery pack is re-energized in 4 hours.

2012 Nissan Leaf Ratings

Nissan Car & Truck Ratings

2013 Nissan Cars Buyer's Guide
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The 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in is a gas-electric hybrid with limited pure-electric capability. Like a regular Prius, the Prius Plug-in has both a gasoline engine and an electric motor powered by a rechargeable battery pack. Unlike a regular Prius, the Prius Plug-in can operate purely on electricity at speeds up to 62 mph and over a distance of up to 15 miles. The gasoline engine engages at speeds above 62 mph or at distances beyond 15 miles.

This type of powertrain is useful to consumers who travel short distances and to those who prefer unlimited vehicle range. The Prius Plug-in has a 95 MPGe rating from the EPA and can be fully recharged in 3 hours using a standard 120-volt power outlet.

Toyota Car & Truck Ratings

2013 Toyota Cars Buyer's Guide
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2012 Chevrolet Volt
Like the Toyota Prius Plug-in, the 2012 Chevrolet Volt contains an electric drivetrain and a gasoline engine. Unlike the Toyota Prius Plug-in, the Volt's gasoline engine rarely powers the Volt's wheels. Rather, the on-board gasoline engine serves as a range-extending generator.

When fully charged, which takes about 10 hours using a standard 120-volt household power outlet or 4 hours using the optional 240-volt home quick-charge station, the Volt offers 38 miles of electric driving range. After that, the gasoline engine engages, and its power is converted to electricity to power the Volt. On rare occasions, the gasoline engine will directly power the front wheels, such as when climbing mountain grades at a high elevation.

Total system output measures 150 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque, and the Volt receives a 94 MPGe rating from the EPA.

2013 Chevrolet Volt Summary, Photos & Specs
2012 Chevrolet Volt Ratings

Chevrolet Car & Truck Ratings

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2012 Tesla Model S
An electric luxury performance sedan, the rear-wheel-drive Tesla Model S is estimated to get 89 MPGe. Equipped with its standard 40-kWh battery pack, the Model S offers a minimum driving range of 160 miles, according to the manufacturer. An optional 60-kWh battery supplies 230 miles of range, according to Tesla, while the optional 85-kWh battery provides 300 miles of travel between visits to a power source. Using a standard 120-volt household outlet, Tesla says the 40-kWh battery pack recharges in 5.2 hours, while the optional 85-kWh battery pack requires 9.7 hours of recharging time. Quick-charge stations for the home are optional, and significantly reduce charging times.

Tesla Car & Truck Ratings

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV
Based on the previous-generation Toyota RAV4, the RAV4 EV is offered exclusively to California residents. The electric motor includes Normal and Sport driving modes and generates 154 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque. Driving range is 103 miles; the EPA rating is 76 MPGe; and Toyota says the RAV4 EV can be recharged in as little as 6 hours using an optional 240-volt home quick-charging station. Toyota says that the RAV4 EV offers the same amount of passenger and cargo space as a standard RAV4.

2012 Toyota RAV4 Ratings

Toyota Car & Truck Ratings

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2012 Coda Sedan
Based on a Chinese sedan called the Hafei Saibao, the Coda Sedan is an electric vehicle built by a privately held California company. It is equipped with an electric drivetrain offering 134 horsepower and 221 lb.-ft. of torque, and is rated 73 MPGe by the EPA. Recharging time using a 220-volt power outlet takes 6 hours, according to Coda Automotive, and the car offers a range of up to 125 miles according to its manufacturer.

2012 Toyota Prius c
The Toyota Prius c is a subcompact 5-door, 4-passenger hatchback equipped with a gas-electric hybrid powertrain estimated to deliver 99 combined horsepower. According to the EPA, the Prius c is expected to get 50 mpg in combined driving. The Prius c can travel short distances at low speeds operating purely on electricity from its battery pack.

Toyota Car & Truck Ratings

2013 Toyota Cars Buyer's Guide
2013 Toyota Trucks, Utilities & Vans Buyer's Guide

2012 Toyota Prius
The most popular model on this list of the greenest 2012 cars, the Toyota Prius is a midsize, 5-passenger, 5-door hatchback offering up to 21.6 cubic feet of cargo space with the back seat folded down. With 134 combined horsepower, this gas-electric hybrid can operate for short distances purely on electricity, but only at speeds up to 25 mph. The EPA says the Prius will return 50 mpg in combined driving.

2012 Toyota Prius Ratings

Toyota Car & Truck Ratings

2013 Toyota Cars Buyer's Guide
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