There are lots of reasons to go green: Fuel is expensive, Pope Benedict XVI decreed environmental pollution is a mortal sin, and, surprise of all surprises, depending on how globally you consider the costs, it's cheaper in the long run. Since definitions of "doing the right thing" number like oxygen molecules in lungs full of fiery rhetoric, that concept won't even enter into the discussion.
You'll find no ethanol-burning vehicles on this list. Issues include the facts that fuel consumption increases by 25 percent when you burn E85 and that ethanol continues to be produced mostly from corn. The quantity of corn required to fill an SUV with ethanol could feed a person for a year, a point made all the more pertinent by the riots sparked by food shortages currently peppering the globe.
Before the letters roll in, let us say public transportation rocks, bicycles are great, green is good, and we take showers more frigid than Cruella de Vil's heart in order to reduce our carbon footprint.
If you're in the market for new wheels but have taken to knitting sweaters out of your cat's hair and have replaced all cleaning products in your house with Dr. Bronner's soap, consider the following choices that employ extremely different tactics in pursuit of a green agenda. A couple of these are only available for lease; the most environmentally friendly option here we'll give you if come get it the hell out of our parking lot. Of course, you could always buy a used 50-mpg 1994 Honda Civic VX, but if you need something new, here are nine green solutions.
2009 Honda FCX Clarity
With its understated shape, comfortable interior, and Accord-like ride, the only hint that the FCX Clarity is any sort of science experiment is the absence of virtually all sound while under way. The first company to bring a mass-market hybrid to U.S. streets, Honda is also one of the first to put hydrogen fuel cells in American driveways.
The FCX Clarity is indeed available but, in all likelihood, not to you. First, you must live close to Torrance, Irvine, or Santa Monica, California, where hydrogen is stored for your subsidized pumping pleasure. It also helps if you are likely to drive your Clarity to red-carpet events or if "of" precedes your last name.
The three-year, $600-a-month lease includes maintenance and insurance but no option to buy. The fuel-cell technology on board this spaceship is worth somewhere around the seven-figure asking price of the Bugatti Veyron, give or take a couple Ferrari F430s, and Honda wants it back.
Hydrogen costs five bucks a kilo, and the car holds 5.3 kilos. A $25 fill should give you 270 miles of real-world driving, making it a relative bargain. Once on the road, all you drop is a trickle of water from the tailpipe and a sizable chunk of dough for your monthly lease.
2008 Honda Civic GX
Buying the slowest available Civic with the least amount of cargo room and the steepest price might not initially smack of genius, but the $25,000 Civic GX has its upsides. First, according to the EPA, it is the greenest car for purchase in showrooms today (as long as those showrooms are in New York or California, the only states where the GX is sold). Second, it burns compressed natural gas, which is about two-thirds the cost of gasoline if you buy it at a pump (if you can find one -- do you know where your nearest CNG pump is?). Buy the in-home refueling device, the price of which is mostly offset through federal tax credit, and the cost drops further. Even using pump pricing, the EPA estimates it will cost you $1.47 to drive 25 miles in a Civic GX versus $1.91 in the gold-standard Prius.
Natural gas has lower energy density per unit than gasoline, but the Civic GX still manages an admirable 36 mpg on the highway, although acceleration suffers. Horsepower for the 1.8-liter engine falls from 140 to 113, and torque barely breaks into three digits with 109 pound-feet. The natural gas sits in a trunk-mounted tank that cuts available space in half; it and the associated hardware add more than 200 pounds to the Civic's curb weight.
Yes, the Civic GX gives up some functionality and grunt, but for about the same price as a Prius, you can buy something that pollutes less, will get you in the carpool lane in California -- an honor no longer conferred on newly purchased hybrids -- and doesn't come with the stigma of the Prius. Yes, Prius drivers, we appreciate that you're hoping to get your city mileage into the 60s by scarcely grazing the accelerator and keeping it under 40 mph; appreciate that your green fun makes people hate you.
2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI
The day the latest TDIs hit the showroom floor, VW dealerships will feature a longer line of eager customers than would a water vendor at a cracker-eating contest. The Jetta TDI is due to arrive in showrooms in all 50 states this summer and, judging from the very similar European model, should get something around 40 mpg on the highway. Welcome to the new face of diesel: stink-, soot-, and (mostly) rattle-free.
Volkswagen emphasizes this point by marketing the TDI Sportwagen that, in addition to being sporty-looking, will scoot to 60 mph in about eight seconds. Diesel prices are currently outpacing gasoline prices by about 20 percent, but this still doesn't negate the diesel's overall fuel saving. How quickly you negate the $2000 or so premium for the Jetta TDI's diesel engine depends on how many miles you drive.
2008 Tesla Roadster
Burnouts will never sound the same. The moment the first customer took delivery of a Tesla roadster, it became the only all-electric, highway-legal passenger vehicle available in this country in years. Given the several hundred people who've plunked down deposits of varying magnitudes for the six-figure roadster over the past couple of years, you might be waiting quite a while for your example, assuming speculators weren't early investors.
The Tesla is great to look at and, with 6831 lithium-ion cells serving up electric whoop-ass, fun to drive. It offers the possibility of the greenest driving experience around, depending on what generates the electricity feeding your outlets. What separates the Tesla roadster from other EVs, other than remarkable performance, is its range -- over 200 miles, more than enough to make it a "real" car. Still need more range? If you can afford a Tesla roadster, you can afford something else with a highly efficient internal-combustion powertrain to take you farther over hill and dale to Grandmother's house.