Giddy environmentalists are chanting "We told you so!" with greater frequency than normal. It's not because the Hummer H2 is rumored to be endangered, it's not about saving the threatened yellow-legged dung beetle of Easter Island, and it isn't even about the president's motorcade running out of gas (although that would be hysterical). Instead, our earth-amorous friends are saying this because green cars are great ideas for more of us than ever before. Even Ferrari is hinting at developing a green car (well, green by Ferrari standards) with its FXX Mille-Chili engineering and design study.
Having said that, we figured it was time for a look at our favorite green cars, which means a rundown of the least-polluting cars with the highest mileage. We threw out discontinued and hiatus models plus concept cars. The green cars on this list are production models currently on the road, even if in limited numbers. And they're not just eco-friendly or hybrids and alt-fuels with good mileage and low emissions. No, to make the cut these cars also needed to be good cars that drivers could actually get excited about. Where does your favorite green car place?
10: 2008 Porsche Cayman
MPG: 29 highway/ 20 city
Now, before you even take a breath in protest, the EPA rates the 2008 5-speed model at 29 mpg highway. And yes, the emissions are also respectable. You were about to say? We're not always inclined to lust after closed cars more than their open counterparts, but it's a tough call with Porsche. Beyond a hardtop Boxster, the Cayman has its own personality. With subservient road manners in the city and surprisingly decent mileage on the open road, it begs for consideration as a daily driver.
9: 2008 Mini Cooper
MPG: 40 highway/ 32 city
Despite a recent redo inside and out, the Mini Cooper doesn't get 200 mpg on hamburger grease and HAL isn't riding under the hood judiciously alternating power between batteries and engine. Heck, the car isn't even designed to cater specifically to the green crowd. Nope, the Mini Cooper is just a fun car that happens to be green. You'll notice that our No. 9 car is not the turbocharged "S" model; even the base model is a great drive at eco-friendly speeds.
8: 2007 Mercedes-Benz E320 BlueTec
MPG: 34 highway/ 23 city
Though oil-burning Mercs from the '70s and '80s are in demand thanks to biodiesel conversions, they still deliver creepy-crawly acceleration -- in addition to now smelling like fried food. Being green isn't about quick getaways, but there comes a time when molasses-in-January-like speed is dangerous in traffic. To keep up with the Joneses in their Aveo and the world in general, Mercedes' E320 BlueTec diesel will amaze you. It's quicker, quieter and cleaner than the diesels you've driven in the past (though it's not 50-state certified, hence the No. 8 rank). Best of all, you don't have to fill your tank behind a restaurant.
7: 2008 Ford Escape Hybrid
MPG: 31 highway/ 36 city
Yes, that's right, an American SUV is offered as a hybrid -- and it's an efficient, well-built one at that. Now you know why Lucifer's in a snowsuit. After a rocky start and several recalls of the gas-only model many years ago, the Escape has become a mainstay of suburbia. Catering to the active lifestyle (if only in spirit for wannabe-active owners), the hybrid Escape is often considered to be the easiest hybrid of the bunch to live with. Drivers are comfortable with it because it doesn't have the odd looks of some of its competitors, and its interior layout and operation from the driver's seat largely mirror those of conventional vehicles. A little sad that it takes total familiarity before some are willing to accept a green car, but at least they're in the fold.
6: 2008 Nissan Altima Hybrid
MPG: 33 highway/ 35 city
The time it took Nissan to join its Japanese counterparts and offer a hybrid left us as impatient as Ted Knight in Caddyshack ("Well ... we're waiting!"). We suspected Nissan would get it right, but we were getting antsy nonetheless. A spin in the Altima Hybrid confirms the result was worth the wait. Now all you have to do is live in or travel to one of the select states where it's sold: California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Why them? They're the states with the toughest vehicle emissions laws. Anyway, if you do get your hands on one, you'll enjoy better mileage, leave cleaner emissions and still be able to enjoy driving an Altima -- not a bad deal.
5: 2008 Smart ForTwo
MPG: 40+ normal driving conditions
The U.S. will soon catch up to the rest of the world (what else is new?) when the Smart ForTwo begins hitting the streets in a few months. Here in the land that worships all that is supersized, we have our fingers crossed for the success of this micro car. We'll concede it will be an uphill battle, as long-held perceptions die hard. Anyhow, the ForTwo counts as a green car from the get-go. The French production factory is eco-friendly, and the car's materials are as well. In the finished product, U.S.-spec cars are expected to easily achieve 40-plus mpg.
4: 2008 Lexus GS 450h
MPG: 25 highway/ 22 city
Going green usually requires sacrifices in the name of style and/or power. Usually, but not always. Case in point: the mildly reworked GS hybrid for 2008. Looking better than ever, the often-overlooked car is a quick and entertaining companion on the highway, back roads or on the commute to work. However you're using it, your mileage will rival that of smaller sedans while continuing to feed your ego with the upscale image offered by the circled "L" on the grille. OK, vanity is involved in a green car purchase like this, but it's still better than buying a conventional luxury car with lower mileage and higher emissions.
3: 2008 Toyota Prius
MPG: 80 city -- projected
Time flies when you're being a responsible steward of Mother Earth. It's hard to believe that the Prius was introduced in Japan a decade ago. With the success of over a million on the road around the world today, changes have been minor and meaningful. It still has a polarizing style, but it's now a familiar and accepted sight, even in rural areas. Besides, Prius owners tend to embrace their cars' esthetics, so excess concession to mainstream looks would probably cause an upheaval. It's just as well. The Prius is not everything to everyone, but for a green car with outstanding mileage, it's still tough to beat.
2: 2008 Tesla Roadster
MPG: 245 miles per charge; 135 mpg equivalent
We'll confess, but we won't apologize: We know we have to be responsible, but our love of driving is indelible. If we said otherwise, we'd be lying. That's partially why we're so enthused about the Tesla Roadster. For once, here's an electric car that also happens to be a driver's car. Based on the semi-economical Lotus Elise, Tesla gives the little targa its own rear-mounted motor, but the performance is still amazing. In a major step forward for the segment, it also has range beyond a block and a half. You won't take long trips in this, but you can commute or even take it on the track without thinking twice.
1: 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
MPG: 45 highway/ 40 city
If Honda made food, we'd all be healthy and slim. If they were politicians, we'd actually have hope for the future. But since they make cars, we Americans can at least be fat and misled without being stranded on the roadside. There's hardly a thing we'd change about the Honda Civic in its standard form, so the hybrid version leaves little to be desired. It just works. Check that: It just works brilliantly. Some green cars get higher mileage, some are sportier to drive, some look hotter, and some are more luxurious, but as far as we're concerned, this is the only hybrid that is the ideal compromise of all of those qualities.
Honorable Mention: BMW Hydrogen 7
MPG: 17.7 hydrogen/ 16.9 gasoline
Call it the production car that's not for sale -- conflicting, but true, according to Munich. The Bavarians have undergone all the usual testing with the modified 7-Series sedan, just as they would with any model, but for the time being, only a select few will be able to experience the big rides. So if you happen to know Jay Leno, maybe you can hit him up for a buzz around the block. BMW entrusted him with one of their Hydrogen 7s, but there's no word whether Leno promised to refrain from joking about it. After all, German engineers don't take kindly to jokes about large conveyances and hydrogen.
It's a Little Easier Being Green
As you can tell, our favorite green cars aren't just a rigid countdown of rides with the cleanest emissions and highest fuel economy. Some will only shop by those figures, and we're happy for them, but our green cars have to have personality and work well with our lifestyles. Happily, we all have some common ground.