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  • Guide to buying a Environmentally Friendly Car

    Pick a responsible car

    For most of us, ditching the car altogether isn’t a viable alternative. So we should try to choose a cleaner car. Focus on a car’s emissions (expressed as grams per kilometre of carbon dioxide, or g/km of CO2) and its economy (miles per gallon, or mpg). Low emissions, high economy is the name of the game.

    Think about the manufacturing

    Try to pick a make of car with a track record for environmental performance. Not all manufacturers are as green as they would like you to think.

    Pick a clean-fuel car

    Test-drive a hybrid petrol-electric car, or check out cars with Stop & Start. You’d be surprised how good these new technologies are.

    Keep your car for long periods

    Pull out of the rat-race and don’t buy a new car every year. Pick one you’ll run for years and years, reducing the environmental cost of manufacturing.

    The Top 10 Green Cars

    The Environment Site Top 10 Green Cars are chosen because the manufacturers have made some form of special effort to improve fuel consumption (such as using hybrid technology) or some other environmental initiative (such as running on biofuels to help us kick our addiction to crude oil). Some of the cars may not be as practical as others for everyday family use, but the cars appear in here because we feel that manufacturers should be rewarded for leading the field and making an effort to produce more environmentally-friendly vehicles. Remember to check back soon, as there are new green cars being announced on a regular basis!

    1. G-Wiz – Until recently the G-Wiz has been the only electric car available in the UK. Virtually all G-Wiz’s live in London, as it is exempt from the Congestion Charge, it enjoys free parking in central London (it can park sideways in most spaces!) and doesn’t pay any road tax.There are now 2 models – the ‘original’ DC drive offers 40 mph and a range of up to 40 miles; the new AC drive offers 45 mph, up to 48 miles range and 50% extra torque over 20 mph. It’s very small and its styling just doesn’t look as cool and trendy as a Smart car or a Toyota Aygo, although it is gaining somewhat of a cult status in certain quarters.It’s been claimed to be the greenest car available but that is strictly only true if it is recharged from renewable energy sources. It’s also claimed that the full purchase, running and maintenance cost of a G-Wiz can easily be recovered in under 12 months. Made in India from plastics, the G-Wiz has become the world’s best selling electric car, with over 1,200 sold to date and over 500 in London alone, where it is becoming a common sight. It has four seats, although the rear ones are suitable only for children.What’s it like to live with? Well firstly you have to plug it into the mains to recharge the battery. That means you really need to have a drive or some form of secure off street parking facility to recharge the car overnight, which costs about 30p, depending on your electricity tariff. The maximum range of 40 miles is dependent upon the time of year (the batteries don’t last as long in winter), whether you use the heater (which reduces the already low range by a further 10 miles) and whether you drive in the “economy” or “full-power” (42mph) mode in the automatic gearbox.The G-Wiz is a very important ground-breaking car and the company behind it, GoinGreen, should be applauded for their efforts, but the car will only appeal to a certain audience as it has seriously limited practicality for the majority of people..
    2. Toyota Prius – Since its launch the latest generation Prius hybrid has been pretty much universally regarded as the most environmentally-friendly production car, and celebrities ranging from Leonardo di Caprio to Cameron Diaz have been passionate advocates. The world’s best-selling hybrid has recently just undergone minor revisions including to its styling and chassis.The five-door Prius hatchback uses battery power to back up a 1.5-litre petrol engine and it emits just 104g/km of CO2, the lowest of any production car on sale. The battery is recharged during braking and coasting, and it can propel the Prius in silence at urban speeds. The car switches between petrol and electric power almost seamlessly, and it has reasonable get-up-and-go under acceleration.The battery pack is hidden under the floor behind the rear seats and it kicks into action when additional power is required and recharges when the brakes are applied. Unlike the Civic you can switch to running the car solely on electric power, but you can’t travel much more than a mile on electric. The car’s parts are guaranteed for eight years.Achieving the official 65.7mpg seems difficult in real-life driving; however, annual road tax is very low, there are savings for company car drivers, and it’s exempt from London’s Congestion Charge. It’s also roomy and well-equipped.Some people see the Prius as expensive, but take into account the savings in fuel and taxes, its advanced technology and its feel-good factor, together with its potential resale value as petrol becomes more expensive, and it’s better value than people imagine. Although a diesel Aygo is marginally more economical, there is nothing to touch the Prius for its economy in relation to its size and practicality.
    3. Honda Civic Hybrid – The Civic Hybrid is the UK’s only competitor to the Toyota Prius, and has recently undergone a major overhaul. Now into its third generation, Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system is well proven. In order to extract the maximum fuel consumption from the new model, Honda has fitted a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT).The hybrid Civic is only available as a saloon, which is a strange decision given that Brits don’t buy saloons of this size. Honda UK are well aware of this too, and were assuring us 18 months ago that the new hybrid would be offered in UK friendly hatchback form. The decision is all the more galling given the futuristic design of the hatch compared to the rather more conservatively styled hybrid.Still, the new hybrid is a major step forward compared to the previous model. More power, more torque and better economy are the headlines, but there is more to it than that. The interior is very well finished and space is impressive too with a genuine 5 adult capability and a decent boot.The Civic is always going to be compared to the Prius, even though they are very different cars. They have similar fuel consumption, similar performance and both have state of the art hybrid systems. However, on the road the old Civic was deeply disappointing to drive, the new one is genuinely entertaining. The chassis is well balanced thanks to its independent rear suspension. By contrast the hatch has to make do with a less sophisticated torsion beam set-up. This means that the Hybrid is light on its feet, and the more direct steering and sharper handling is better than the Prius.The fantastic fuel consumption, which is better than the diesels in this class, is also achieved without the air quality-damaging emissions that are a by-product of diesel engines. The Civic is therefore the most environmental option. It is also a very accomplished cruiser with nicely damped suspension and a quiet and comfortable cabin.
    4. Toyota Aygo – The Citroen C1/Peugeot 107/Toyota Aygo are all based on the same car. The diesel option gives the best fuel consumption, but the petrol is not far behind, and comparison of fuel consumption figures under different driving conditions makes interesting reading. If you predominantly drive in urban areas – as would be expected with a ‘city car’ – then the diesel will return 53.3mpg whereas the petrol will come within 2mpg at 51.4mpg. Add on the extra cost of diesel and there’s hardly anything between them in terms of fuel running costs. And both have the same emissions of 109g/km.So you’re left with a choice between the cheaper and nippier petrol, or the more expensive and noisier diesel. And if you really do want to do your bit for the environment, then there’s something else you should know. The petrol has drastically (by a factor of 24!) lower emissions of NOx (0.010g/km) whereas the diesel has NOx emissions of 0.240g/km – therefore in terms of an environmental choice, we would suggest that the petrol version gets the edge over the diesel option. (NOx emissions are oxides of nitrogen which react in the atmosphere to form nitrogen dioxide, which can have adverse effects on health, particularly among people with respiratory illness. NOx also contributes to smog formation, acid rain and can damage vegetation).The Aygo is great to drive, it has a cheeky design, and it’s cheap. On the downside it’s small – particularly in the boot department – although it’s larger and more economical than a Smart car – and it’s not the best car for long motorway journeys.Just in case you need any more convincing about how good this car is, BBC Top Gear magazine awarded its 2005 Car of the Year title jointly to the £8000 Toyota Aygo and the £800,000 Bugatti Veyron!
    5. Smart Fortwo– At 60mpg (with a CO2 output of 113g/km) the Smart car is one of the most economical non-hybrid petrol cars available – but so it should be – it’s very small, with only two seats and a very small boot, and only has a 698cc three-cylinder petrol engine. Therefore it’s great for nipping around cities, but no good for fitting lots of stuff in, or for long journeys, when it’s noisy.Its design, which has been around for a while now, is still trendy, inside and out, and perhaps the designers of the electric G-Wiz could learn a thing or two from the Smart about how to style a cool city car!The engine is located in the boot which means that it can be noisy. Performance is reasonably good around town and although Smarts are seen regularly on our motorways, it’s not the best choice of car for long spells of this type of driving.Its semi-automatic gearbox has always been seen as a weak point of the car; the six-speed box has improved but still doesn’t change particularly smoothly.The Pure is the base model, and be aware that power steering is only optional, and this is really needed for an easy life when parking in cities. Other options include cruise control and steering-wheel mounted paddles for shifting gears. Anti-lock brakes, a stability control system and driver and passenger airbags are included.Running costs are low and an average of 50mpg should be a reasonable expectation.
    6. Lexus GS 450h – Lexus has rapidly become a force to be reckoned with in the executive car market. Toyota realised some years ago that they needed a new brand if they were to be successful in taking sales from the Germans and so Lexus was born.The GS is a fine car but in 450h spec it is astonishing. Lexus wanted to use the excellent hybrid technology that Toyota has developed, but they knew that to fit in with the Lexus brand it had to offer performance as well as frugality. The result is the world’s first executive sports saloon.By combining a 3.5 litre petrol engine with a 199bhp electric motor performance is strong. 0-60 mph is achieved in under 6 seconds, but this really doesn’t tell the full story. Electric motors produce maximum torque instantly which allows the electric motor to fill in the gaps of the petrol unit. The result is instant push-in-the-back acceleration at any speed.Whilst the performance is attention-grabbing, the GS performs all the usual Lexus tricks with amazing refinement on offer. At any speed the interior remains whisper quiet. The ride is good whilst body roll is well controlled. The Lexus feels very surefooted thanks to a next generation stability programme which integrates all of the existing systems, although keen drivers will be disappointed to learn that the system can’t be switched off.The GS450h moves hybrid technology into a new area, it isn’t the most expensive model in the range and yet it is quicker than the 4.3 V8 and more efficient than the 3.0 V6. For the first time this is a hybrid which you can buy with your heart as well as your head. Quiet, engaging, brilliantly put together, the best after-sales in the business, significantly cheaper than its diesel rivals once you take into account the excellent specification, with huge savings on fuel, company car tax and private car tax. A revelation.
    7. Lexus RX400h – Two years after its launch the Lexus remains the only 4×4 to be offered with a hybrid system, showing just how far Lexus are ahead of the competition.To get the most out of the hybrid system you do have to learn a certain driving style, this isn’t a get out of jail free card which allows you drive flat out everywhere and expect fantastic fuel consumption. However play to its strengths and the fuel consumption is hugely impressive.When you do want a turn of pace, that won’t disappoint either. The combination of the gutsy petrol engine and two electric motors (one for the front wheels and one for the rear) enables the Lexus to embarrass warm hatches at the traffic lights. The downside of so much torque going through the front wheels is surprising amounts of torque steer.The Lexus handles competently but the steering is rather numb, no doubt in an attempt to hide some of the torque steer. Refinement is up to the usual Lexus standards with the cabin remaining whisper quiet at all speeds. The hybrid uses a Continuously Variable Transmission (CVT) which ensures silky smooth progress. If you haven’t come across a CVT, don’t worry they’ve been around for 30 years or more; if you did come across a CVT 30 years ago, don’t worry, they’re a lot better now!Despite what the critics say, the Lexus achieves lower CO2 emissions than diesel rivals, and absolutely trounces them when it comes to the regulated emissions that lead to poor local air quality. Driven thoughtfully hybrids do work and are greener than diesels. If you want more proof, BMW and Mercedes said that they could achieve everything that hybrids could with a diesel and wouldn’t pursue hybrids; they’re now both introducing hybrids within the next two years.
    8. Saab 9-5 BioPower Linear 4 dr – Saab has introduced a 9-5 saloon to the UK that runs on regular unleaded or bioethanol, which is made from crops such as grain, sugar beet, or forest residue. Unfortunately there are only a handful of garages that dispense this fuel, and both these and other outlets that are planned in the near future are all in predominantly rural farming areas. However this car makes it into the top ten to reward Saab for making an effort to wean us off crude oil.The BioPower’s engine management system adjusts to compensate depending on whether it’s running on petrol or bioethanol. Duty on bioethanol has a 20p per litre discount, but production costs mean bioethanol ends up only 2p per litre cheaper at the pump than unleaded.The bioethanol is referred to as ‘E85’, which means it’s comprised of 85 per cent bioethanol and 15 per cent petrol. Overall, carbon dioxide levels are between 50 and 70 per cent lower than that of a conventional petrol car. There’s also a power increase – the fuel has a higher octane rating, so it can tolerate higher turbo boost pressures. The BioPower develops 180bhp rather than 150, but economy on E85 is around 20 per cent worse.Apart from the ability to run on bioethanol, the car is pretty much a standard 9-5; but £600 more expensive. In typical Saab tradition the car is turbocharged and front-wheel-drive, in our opinion not the best combination for putting the power down, and it’s certainly not the best car in its class to drive.Also in keeping with other Saabs, you’re surrounded by their distinctive curved dash, along with a good amount of standard equipment such as twin airbags, front side airbags and ABS. Saab hasn’t fared particularly well in reliability surveys over recent years, but the brand offers you the chance to make an individual statement.
    9. Ford Focus FFV (Flexi-Fuel Vehicle) – Although the fuel economy is not up there with the other petrol vehicles in this class, if you owned this car and Middle Eastern Crude oil stopped flowing tomorrow, you’d be more confident than most that you could get by. Because this Focus can run on unleaded petrol or bioethanol. This Focus is now available nationally, along with a C-MAX version.The 1.8-litre Focus FFV (Flexi-Fuel Vehicle) offers a 70 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions compared to the same petrol-only model. This is achieved by factoring in the CO2 absorbed by the crop as it grows before being harvested for bioethanol production. The car can run on either E85 bioethanol (blend of 85 per cent ethanol/15 per cent petrol) or petrol in the same fuel tank in any mix.This car faces the same problems as the Saab BioPower – for it to achieve its purpose of reducing our reliance on crude oil, you need to be based near one of the very few filling stations, or be able to set up a commercial bioethanol fuel supply arrangement.Aside from the clever engine management system that allows the car to run on either petrol or biofuel, this car has all the benefits of every other Focus – it’s not a top-selling car for nothing – it’s universally acknowledged as a great car to drive, with excellent handling – amongst the best in its class. Its engines are good and it also features spacious and practical interior packaging for a car of its size.As usual with Ford’s products, the Focus is good value, with low running costs. Durability and reliability of mechanicals is also traditionally a Ford strongpoint.
    10. Citroen C2 – The C2 mixes competent on road manners with contemporary looks to good effect. The small car sector has long been the preserve of the French manufacturers with iconic models littering the history books, and the C2 benefits from this accumulated knowledge.Despite being shorter than the Saxo that it replaced, the C2 manages to seat four adults in relative comfort. Citroen has wisely resisted the temptation of adding a third rear seatbelt, allowing two sensibly sized rear seats to be installed.Storage space is good, with large front door bins providing space for bottles. The rear hatch splits in two a la Range Rover, allowing easy access to the boot in tight spaces. Boot space itself is a little limited but most models offer folding rear seats giving added versatility.Build quality remains a concern with modern Citroens but apart from a few cheap plastics the C2 is reasonably well made and mechanically sound. The 1.4 diesel engine produce 114 lbs ft of torque providing brisk in gear acceleration. The C2 is only available as a 3 door which may put some off, but the funky styling, super efficient diesel engine and constant Citroen deals has helped them to find plenty of homes.Citroen also produce a petrol C2 with a ‘Stop & Start’ feature; its engine turns off when you come to a halt in traffic, thereby saving fuel. However the C2 Stop & Start costs about the same as this C2 1.4 diesel; if you achieved Citroen’s claimed 15 per cent mpg improvement in built-up areas, this would improve the urban average of the petrol by only around 5mpg to 41mpg – in contrast, the diesel returns 55mpg, therefore if you’re looking for maximum miles per gallon, it’s probably best to get the diesel instead.

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