Green Car Buying Advice

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By Diana Budds
Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of Green Car Journal, dispenses buying advice for the latest fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly models.

What do you think are the biggest innovations for urban cars?

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Illustration by: Michael Jeter

Illustration by: Michael Jeter

The number one trend is downsizing: Urban cars are lighter and have higher fuel efficiency, and a smaller footprint means it’s easier to park. Number two is a smaller engine. With a lighter vehicle, you can have a smaller engine (and higher fuel efficiency). In the past, smaller vehicles tended to be spare by nature. Today they are very different: higher quality, more stylish, and packed with electronics.

Can you name a few examples of cars that typify the future of urban driving?

If you’re just going around town, there are lots of vehicles that fill that need, vehicles like the Honda Fit—models that are smaller, with very high fuel efficiency and a lot of functionality. And just because you live in an urban area doesn’t mean that you don’t need a crossover vehicle that seats five and carries a lot of gear for your kids. Instead of a large sport utility vehicle [SUV], people will own a midsize or compact SUV, like the Mazda CX-5.

If I’m a city dweller shopping for a car, what should I ask myself to guide the buying process?

First, what is my need? If your needs are 20 miles of driving per day in a city, mostly for commuting, a battery-electric vehicle might be perfect. If you have a long commute, then an electric vehicle is not for you—consider a plug-in hybrid or a range-extended hybrid, like the Chevy Volt. For highway commuting, diesel vehicles do very well in fuel efficiency. The Volkswagen Jetta TDI gets 42 miles per gallon [MPG]—now that’s hybrid territory. If most of your driving is city driving, clean diesels are still efficient, but that’s where hybrids shine.

Price range is second. How much can I afford? Do I want to buy or lease a vehicle? Then you want to start shopping actual models, different brands, and different types. See what appeals to you. Make sure it has the fuel efficiency that you need or want.

In the green car field, what are the most overlooked technologies?

Not enough credit is given to the vast improvements in conventional vehicles. There is a growing number of 40-MPG-plus standard vehicles that run on gasoline or clean diesel. Because the media focus on electrification so much—battery electrics, plug-ins, and hybrids—focus is taken away from conventional vehicles that are significantly more efficient than older models. As people think green and want to make a difference, it isn’t just about alternative fuels; it isn’t just electric. Mainstream vehicles are much better than before.

Can you recommend brands or models that people should look into?

Our 2013 Green Car of the Year was the Ford Fusion. It’s offered in multiple power trains, all very efficient. I recommend the Mazda vehicles that use SKYACTIV technology, so the CX-5, Mazda6, and Mazda3.

Fore more information, visit Cogan's website,, or pick up a copy of his quarterly publication, Green Car Journal. Visit for fuel efficiency comparisons.