Uncool and expensive are two words that come to mind for many people when they hear the term “green car,” but not all green cars fall in to those categories.
Mix pious intentions with dreary mechanical bits and then stir in some driving misery, and the result is a “green car.” Green not in the color of its paint, but in the environmental virtue of its engineering and marketing. Green as in economical with fuel but stingy on fun, great with emissions but lousy to pilot. Green cars are hybrids, diesels, and electric cars stripped to the point of making a rotted ox cart seem luxurious. Except that was then—you know, like, three years ago—and this is the green car now.
The first- and second-generation greens sacrificed enjoyment on the altar of efficiency. But we’re into the third generation, and the technologies that have defined the greenies are being leveraged to produce better-driving cars—and even exciting ones. Some of the best cars in the world right now are bright green.
So with optimism beating in C/D‘s stainless-steel heart, here are 10 current production cars (arranged alphabetically) that mix all sorts of politically correct goodness with solid driving excitement. But wait, there’s more: We’ve also included two more cars from the 1980s that were ahead of their time. None of these green cars suck.
Audi A3 TDI Diesel
The sweet-driving A3—it beat both BMW and Benz in its first comparison test—begat the excellent S3 performance sedan. All A3s are based on the same MQB architecture as the equally good seventh-gen VW Golf. The TDI engine is the same 150-hp turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel used in so many other VW Group products. Plus, the A3 sedan looks adorable. No, we haven’t driven it as of this posting, but there’s no way this car sucks. (It’ll be available here as a five-door hatch next year, too.)
Since BMW introduced its “Neue Klasse” back in 1962, the company has zealously tried to—and largely succeeded—sustain a consistent character across its lineup. A 3-series drove much like a 5er that was a lot like the stately 7. But the new i3 throws all that out and starts over without any assumptions about what a BMW is or should be. The i3 has skinny tires on large diameter wheels, uses a structure made up of carbon fiber and aluminum, and the interior looks as if it were ripped out of a glass house perched over the Pacific at Big Sur. No, it’s not M3 fast, and the twin kidneys slapped on the front are just ironic, but this car is innovative and interesting in the ways all cars should be. All that and it still feels like a BMW at its core.