Tag Archives: alt fuels

2014 Green Car of the Year Finalists Named

Every year at the LA Auto Show, Green Car Journal bestows the laurel wreath of green-ness and car-ness on a notable vehicle. Pickings used to be slim for this award, but there are slew of contenders anymore. This year, the five finalists include diesels, hybrids, and even a couple of plain-old gas-powered cars that have technological tricks that up their fuel economy into hybrid-like numbers.

Here’s the short list:

  • Audi A6 TDI: diesel sports sedan with a 38 mpg highway rating and 240 hp
  • BMW 328d: diesel sedan with a 45 mpg highway rating and regenerative brakes
  • Honda Accord: makes the list for having an efficient gasoline engine, a hybrid, and a plug-in version
  • Mazda3: gasoline sedan that ekes out 41 mpg on the highway via tech improvements
  • Toyota Corolla: gasoline sedan gets 42 mpg when you push the Eco button

Poll: What Weirds You Out When It Comes to Alternative Fuels?

I’m working on a new e-book to help women navigate the strange forest of green(ish) vehicles on the market, and I’m wondering what you might be wondering.

For instance, what if anything worries you about owning an electric car? What mystifies you about plug-in hybrids? Are you down with diesels? If you’ve got questions or concerns that you’d like to have answered before the new year in a new e-book, let me know!

You can email your answers to khallgeisler [at] gmail [dot] com, or head over to the Take the Wheel Facebook page, or tweet it to me; I’m @kristenhg.

Thanks for the input, ladies!

Fast Fight! Fiat 500e vs. Chevy Spark Electric

It has been a zero-emissions whirlwind at Llyfr Da Publishing lately. The number-one lesson I’ve learned after driving a total of nearly two dozen green cars is that manufacturers have heard your concerns and they are rolling out eco-friendlier cars that don’t compromise on comfort, power, or handling. Real back seats, quick acceleration, easy-to-understand information right in front of your eyes are all part of the modern electric car.

Chevy Spark EVs waiting patiently for their journalists.

Chevy Spark EVs waiting patiently for their journalists.

Two in particular seem poised to go head-to-head for the title of funnest little EV on the planet: the Fiat 500e and the Chevy Spark EV. Here’s what they have in common.

  • Both are based on gasoline-powered cars that already exist.
  • Both are all electric powered — no gasoline or diesel at all.
  • Both have a range of 80+ miles on a full charge.
  • Both have an estimated annual fuel cost of $500, according to the EPA.
  • Both are more expensive than their gas-powered sisters.
  • Both are eligible for bunches of tax credits and incentives.

But here’s the thing: the engineers in both cases took great pains to make these cars fun, not fussy or fuddy-duddy. The battery placement in the Fiat 500e evens out the balance between the front and rear so it’s nearly perfect, meaning it handles like a little sports car. And the Chevy Spark EV has a whopping 400 lb-ft of torque, for neck-snapping starts, if you like that kind of thing. I do.

These cars also come with all kinds of bells and whistles so you don’t have to some kind of self-flagellating eco-monk to drive one. For instance, the 500e has all kinds of airbags, rear park assist, power everything, a nav system, a/c, heated front seats, and more. The Spark EV has remote start, a/c, heated seats, and Chevy’s MyLink hands-free smartphone integration.

The Fiat 500e shown nearly full size.

The nearly-full size Fiat 500e.

Now for the differences. The Fiat is the design champ here, with its distinctive Italian flair inside and out. The Chevy Spark is cute, but it lacks panache. The Spark EV does have usable back seats, which the Fiat 500e definitely lacks. The Spark EV also has a confidence gauge that gives you all the range information you need clearly and quickly, a plus as we all adjust to range anxiety and ways to get rid of it. The 2013 Fiat 500e won the NW Automotive Press Association’s first ever “Top Electric Vehicle” award, but the Spark EV wasn’t quite ready for prime time the week that event was held and did not compete. The Spark EV I tested lists at $27,010, while the 500e with special-edition orange paint and white interior was $33,495. And the Spark EV will be available later in 2013 with optional DC fast charging, which gets you from empty to 80% charged in about 20 minutes.

But this is a fight to the fun, not to the fastest charge, and in that case, the Fiat 500e is the winner. The Spark EV has all that zippy torque, but the Fiat looks like it’s having a great time even while sitting still, and it handles far better than its gasoline counterpart. As a matter of fact, if you’re deciding between the gas Fiat and the EV, go electric (as long as you live in California, the only state where it’s available for now). The Fiat 500e is the funnest.

Portland Journalists Pick the Three Top Alt-Fuel Vehicles

The Northwest Automotive Press Association, of which I am a member, got together in Portland, Oregon, last week and tested 17 alternative-fuel cars — hybrids, electric cars, and diesels. There were city commuters and luxury land yachts, and they all competed on the same drives by the same drivers all day long. At the end of the sunny summer afternoon, we had a winner in each category.

  1. Best Electric Car: Fiat 500e Believe it or not, the electric version of this little guy has more power and more torque than the gasoline version, and a better weight balance. All of that means its more fun to drive. The drawback: It’s only available in California so far.
  2. Best Hybrid Car: Chevy Volt This isn’t a new car, but it is an improved car. It helps that the idea of an extended-range plug-in hybrid car (the gas-powered engine generates extra electricity when you need it) isn’t so weird anymore. America is coming around.
  3. Best Clean Diesel: Chevy Cruze Turbo Diesel Chevrolet racks up its second category win with this quiet clean diesel car. The bright-red paint of the test car spoke to its sporty feel, thanks to the turbochargers under the hood.

The fact that we had 17 cars to test in three categories show how far we’ve come in the green-car arena. No longer are we relegated to the Prius or the electric car converted in your friend’s garage with a kit you ordered over the internet. We’ve got options!

Reviews of the other cars in the lineup worth noting will be coming soon, so stay tuned, or sign up for the newsletter to get the reviews in your inbox.