Tesla made some serious waves last week when it debuted its Model 3 electric car. These weren’t your “gently lapping the shoreline” waves, either. Think “Laird Hamilton monstrous big-time waves.” We’re a data-driven, internet-focused company, so to demonstrate this point, we ran some basic Google searches. “Chevrolet Bolt” (the Model 3’s most direct competitor, and a car set to beat it to market by almost 2 years) returned 2.3 million results. “Nissan Leaf” (by and large the most popular electric car currently on sale) yields 4.9 million results. “Tesla Model 3?” 90.4 million results. So yeah… tidal waves.
Of course, as we mentioned earlier, the Model 3 isn’t coming to dealer lots anytime soon. Tesla’s big night was simply an unveiling, and even the company’s CEO isn’t pretending the cars revealed are finished products. So what does a green-car-shopper do if he or she simply can’t wait for the Model 3? Well, we’d recommend checking out the CarGurus research pages and sifting through the more than 30,000 used electric and hybrid vehicles currently listed on the site. Need a place to start? Here are our picks for the 10 best green cars currently for sale on the used market.
The 2016 Nissan Leaf received a nice battery boost over the outgoing model, and now offers 107 miles of range in SV and SL trims, but we’re exclusively looking at used cars, so a Leaf means 84 miles of range. That seems pretty light in comparison to the Model 3’s projected 200+ miles, but should work for a typical commute and, as Mike Perkins found out, might even be all right for some quick road trips, assuming you can find a charging port. If our sunny outlook on the Leaf isn’t enough to sway you, maybe the price is: lightly used versions can easily be found in the $10,000 range.
Hyundai’s early U.S. success was rooted in low-cost cars, but the brand has grown and flourished over the ensuing 40 years, even introducing a new Genesis luxury marque late last year. We look forward to seeing how the upcoming Ioniq, which will be available with hybrid, electric, and plug-in hybrid powertrains, gets received, but we know the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid has earned strong reviews since its 2011 debut, particularly following its 2013 redesign. The 2013 Sonata Hybrid dumped the previous year’s 34kW battery pack for a smaller, lighter 47kW version, and got more powerful motors, improving its mileage estimates to 36 mpg city/40 highway. Those numbers aren’t the greenest available, but the car earned strongly positive reactions from journalists and owners, as well as strong safety ratings from the NHTSA and IIHS.
The Ford C-Max hybrid has always had to deal with ugly duckling-syndrome here in the United States (they’re oddly popular in Europe), but we actually like it a lot. The C-Max seems to invite criticism: shoppers (understandably) tend to compare the it to the Prius V. That’s reasonable – they’re both larger hatchback/wagons aimed at efficiency. Compared with the bigger Prius, the Ford falls short in most categories: it returns worse fuel economy and offers 14.7 fewer cubic feet of cargo volume. In reality, though, the C-Max isn’t built to directly compete with Toyota’s hybrid wagon. It’s nearly 10 inches shorter and built on the Focus’s underpinnings. This means more engaging driving dynamics and, thanks to a stronger engine, more than 50 extra horsepower heading to the wheels than in the Prius V. Now, compare the C-Max with the Focus it was built on, and you’ll find a much more compelling set of wheels: 28 more horsepower, 16 more city mpg, and 7.8 more cubic feet of max cargo volume.
Many enthusiasts still have a chip on their shoulder about the early Prius’ distinctive looks and less-than-exciting performance. But three of the fastest supercars released in the last few years – the Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1, and Porsche 918 Spyder – have hybrid powertrains, so we hope even track-day regulars are opening their eyes to greener possibilities. Hybrids are one approach to driving green, but German makers have focused their green efforts on diesel powertrains. Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal has taken its popular, great-driving diesels off any real green shopper’s list, but BMW’s diesel-powered vehicles offer plenty of driving excitement with much greater efficiency than gas-powered equivalents. The BMW 335d arrived for the 2009 model year in the U.S., continuing through 2011. It has a dated infotainment system, but many critics loved driving it, and its straight six got significantly better mileage than gas-powered 3s despite producing more torque than the V8 in that year’s M3. The BMW 328d arrived in the U.S. for 2014 and won’t come cheap or be easy to find, but its 4-cylinder is more refined, and the car has earned plenty of praise from auto journalists as a great driver.
With the Accord Hybrid, Honda wanted to truly raise the bar for hybrid sedans. It took the already highly fuel-efficient Accord and threw in its VCM (Variable Cylinder Management) hybrid engine. Though the Accord Hybrid had some success during its two years of production, Honda decided to temporarily discontinue the model, along with the Civic Hybrid and Civic GX (Honda’s compressed-natural-gas variant of the Civic), as its conventional engines already had decent fuel economy. And the hybrids weren’t selling particularly well, either. But Honda has hinted at a new 2- and 3-motor hybrid Accord coming in the very near future to further its fuel-economy aspirations. With the news of what’s to come around the corner from Honda, you can bet you’ll find a good deal on one of the best hybrids available.
As we noted above, genuinely clean diesels have given automakers a new way to approach building greener vehicles. And because diesel engines offer abundant torque, they can often tow considerably more and/or get better mileage than similar-size gas engines. Ford and GM offer diesel pickup engines, but only in their heavy-duty trucks. Nissan now offers a turbodiesel in its Titan, but that engine’s available only in the burly HD version. The light-duty 2016 Ram 1500 half-ton truck can be had with a 3.0-liter 6-cylinder turbodiesel that puts out 240 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque, topping the torque output of a much larger 5.7-liter Hemi V8 by 10 lb-ft. The EcoDiesel can’t quite match the Hemi’s towing capacity, but it gets over 30% better mileage, giving most truck shoppers an alternative light-duty truck with generous towing power and about 20% better mileage than a similar Ford or Chevy.
With more than a quarter-million orders placed in three days, Tesla’s hotly anticipated new Model 3 won’t get delivered until at least next year, but the company’s breakthrough Model S can now be bought used. New versions start at around $70k, and used buyers can’t recoup any of their investment via tax credits, so a used Model S doesn’t provide a cost-effective option to shoppers looking for a green vehicle, but it does offer top-notch performance and a virtual link to Elon Musk’s disruptive genius. And its tablet-size infotainment screen and ability to receive software improvements electronically put the Model S ahead of most other green cars, tech-wise. Tesla’s new CPO program will even let you buy a used Model S with a 4-year, 50,000-mile warranty.
Toyota unveiled the new 2017 Prius Prime at the 2016 New York International Show. It looks great, offers best-ever fuel economy, and will be available in all 50 states… toward the end of 2016. Luckily, if you’re looking for a plug-in hybrid with tons of useable space and some serious name-recognition, the Prius Plug-in can be found used across the country today. The plug-in version of the incredible (and ubiquitous) Prius debuted in 2012, and manages to blend already-stunning efficiency figures with an even smaller carbon footprint, thanks to its ability to drive on electricity alone. Sure, the older Prius Plug-in isn’t in quite the same league as the brand new Prius Prime (there’s a reason Toyota picked “Prime” for the model name, after all), but if you can’t wait for your green machine, it’s still a very good option.
Easily the most unique BMW to ever come out of Bavaria (though BMW’s adoption and manufacture of Iso Autocarro’s bubble car, the Isetta, is certainly a contender), the BMW i3 marked the beginning of “Project i,” BMW’s electric- and hybrid-vehicle sub-brand. Initially, the i3 was met with mixed criticism. Funky looks aside, it became clear that its cost-effectiveness was a bit hard to justify. The i3 did fall well below the price tag of other luxury EVs, but its range was unfortunately just a third the range of the Model S. Still, the i3 is a great city car, and it boasts the fastest 0-30 mph time of any BMW. The i3 isn’t BMW’s only foray into the green vehicle segment. BMW’s hybrid luxury sports car, the i8, would also be an excellent car to pick up if you have the means. There have even been rumors floating that an all-electric family sedan, presumably named the BMW i5, will soon be introduced as a true potential competitor to Tesla. It’s safe to say that BMW is just getting started in the EV market, and it’s becoming increasingly easy to jump on the electric-luxury bandwagon with a used i3.
The Chevrolet Volt is a great demonstration of what a modern green car can accomplish. It is the perfect bridge between an everyday gasoline-powered car and a practical EV. The Volt has twice the range of other plug-in hybrid vehicles, which means you’ll end up spending significantly less on gasoline. It could even theoretically provide more than 1,000 miles on a single tank of gasoline as long as you recharge it whenever the electric charge runs low. For potential EV aspirants with range anxiety, the Volt is the best choice out there. At the moment, a plug-in hybrid with the range and capability of the Chevy Volt seems to be the best choice for a green yet practical and anxiety-free vehicle. That’s not to say GM is settling on gas power for all its future vehicles; the 200-mile-range all-electric Chevrolet Bolt is expected to make at least a splash in the EV market in the coming year.
What “green” car are you interested in finding for a cheaper price?
–John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran
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