Five Best Used Green Cars To Buy

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2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

2006 Honda Civic Hybrid

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As cars get more reliable and last longer, the case for buying "gently used" cars gets stronger and stronger.

But suppose you want to drive green, and you're aware that the newest cars get the best gas mileage.

What used cars can you buy that will let you drive green and deliver the highest fuel efficiency?

This piece is the introduction to a list of five cars we'll feature--one per day--over the coming week.

They're our picks for five ways to buy the greenest cars from U.S. used-car lots.

As always, carefully check over any used car, and consider whether the reassurance of a certified used car from a dealer outweighs the higher prices those carefully-checked vehicles command.

2009 Toyota Prius

2009 Toyota Prius

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(1) 2004-2009 Toyota Prius: 46 MPG

The second generation of the quintessential hybrid car, the one that America thinks of when it thinks of "good gas mileage" (and perhaps "annoying progressive green types"?), is by far the most plentiful green car at used-car dealers.

Their owners tend to hang onto them and rack up lots of miles, however, so you may have to do some hunting to find a low-mileage used Prius.

Still, if you want a combined EPA rating of 46 mpg in a five-door hatchback that's classified as a mid-size car by interior space, this is your only option.

(2) 2006-2011 Honda Civic Hybrid: 41 MPG

Honda just launched its third generation of the Civic Hybrid for 2012, but we're suggesting the second generation as a good used buy. It's EPA-rated at 41 mpg combined.

There have been some issues with recalls around battery life, so proceed with caution.

But our driving experiences with the second-generation Civic Hybrid were, perversely, more than enjoyable than those with the latest edition.

And unlike the Prius, no one will know you're driving a hybrid if you get the hybrid Civic--only Honda fanatics can tell the difference between it and the garden-variety versions of Honda's compact four-door sedan.

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

2009 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

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(3) Volkswagen Jetta TDI: 34 MPG

Volkswagen diesels have diehard fans, and the Jetta TDI has long been VW's best-selling diesel vehicle in the U.S.

It vanished from the market in 2007 and 2008 due to stiffer emissions requirements, but it returned for 2009 and is the mainstay of an expanding lineup of VW diesels from the Golf hatchback to the big, expensive Touareg sport utility vehicle.

Diesel Jettas are widely acknowledged to exceed their EPA ratings (34 mpg combined for 2010), and if you cover a lot of highway miles, this may well be more fuel-efficient than a similarly sized hybrid--and it's absolutely more fun to drive.

(4) 2004-2011 Ford Escape Hybrid: 29 MPG

Long a favorite of ours, and of eco-conscious suburban moms everywhere, the Escape Hybrid has steadily improved over the years.

Through two restylings and many upgrades to its control software--plus the addition of electric air-conditioning for 2010--the hybrid Escape delivers compact crossover utility and a combined EPA rating of 29 mpg (for 2011) in either front-wheel or all-wheel drive models.

And their batteries last too: Many Ford Escape Hybrid taxis have logged 300,000 miles or more.

2009 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid

2009 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid

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(5) 2008-2011 Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid: 21 MPG

OK, OK, stop howling. Yes, some people really DO need the size, capacity, and brute-force strength of a full-size truck-based sport utility vehicle.

For those people, the hybrid version of the Chevy Tahoe is by far the greenest choice on the market. They don't sell many--a few thousand a year--but we've tested the big hybrid SUV, and it does a superb job.

If, that is, you really do need a full-size SUV. They can be hard to park, they have all the aerodynamic grace of a small municipal hospital, and no one will know you're driving green.

But if you really do need a big SUV, this is the greenest one, at a combined EPA rating of 21 mpg (for 2011)--versus just 17 mpg for the best standard model.


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Comments (12)
  1. Let's see a negative characterization of Prius drivers and a defense of Tahoe drivers? Really, Is this the editorial direction we are going for here?

  2. Oh, C'MON, John ... didn't your irony alert go off there? [sigh]

  3. Ah, Humor, I get it...I think.

  4. John B., I really hope you're kidding here... John V. is making fun of those who hate people just for driving vehicles like the Prius, not the drivers themselves. At least that's the way I read it...

    And, yes, for some people, a big beast like a Tahoe is absolutely necessary. Not for most drivers of them, I'd guess, but for many, anyway, so again, it's better to have better choices in each segment of the market. When my father coached baseball and we took the whole team in two Tahoes/Yukons, should we have driven 3-4 Prii?

    Please don't get defensive here, it's not like anyone is actually suggesting people buy a Tahoe, only that if a big beast is truly needed, at least the Tahoe version saves a lot of fuel.

  5. Ever had someone say, that shirt looks really ugly, and then say "just kidding." So were they just kidding? or did they really think the shirt looked ugly. My guess would be the latter, but it is open to interpretation.

    But credit to Voelcker if he can pass off an insult as "just joking", that is a real skill and shows his gifts with words.

    As for the 2 Tahoes or 4 Prius. Well at 15 mpg for the Tahoe and 51 mpg for the Prius, the 4 Prius use less gasoline and the price of 4 Prius is about equal to 2 Tahoes. So there is the answer.

    Trucks are now more than 50% of the market and used to be less than 20%. It seems clear that many many people do not need these SUVs. And it got that way by people suggesting SUVs are needed.

  6. I agree whole heartedly with the comment about people thinking SUVs are needed. Not only are there more trucks and SUVs but they have absolutely exploded in size. Look at an older pickup truck compared to todays average truck. It's ridiculous what people think they NEED. I'm 30 and all my friends popped out 1 kid and they all decided that cars just aren't built big enough anymore. We drive a Yaris sedan and it's more than enough for our family of 4.

  7. I when for a minivan soon after the kids came along. So it was a bit of a battle to get my wife to accept the Prius while we still had kids. However, it has worked out fine. We can do vacations together and everything.

    The only think I miss is being able to carry a 4x8 sheet of plywood.

  8. John: Oh, fer crissakes! How many hundreds of times have we mentioned on this site that the Toyota Prius, at 50 mpg, gets the best fuel economy of any non-plug-in passenger vehicle sold in the U.S.?

    It is a FACT that a large portion of the electorate views Priuses and the people who drive them with a mix of skepticism, condescension, and contempt. My own mother insists on describing the car as "the Pious," per the notorious South Park episode.

    I'm sorry you doubt our motives, though as a faithful reader & commenter, that's certainly your right. But I assure you, that was a gentle tongue-in-cheek allusion to a fact of the car market.

    If I wanted to say the Prius is ugly, I would have.

  9. And these "incorrect views" (present company suspected) of the "large portion of the electorate" are enforced by repeating the same stereotype (tongue in check or not) by the media. It is unhelpful.

    Hybrid owners are about 3 percent of the US population. There is another minority that is about 3% of the US population that you support with a passion. Would you tolerate "jokes" and "stereotypes" about that group of people on GCR. After all my own mother believes in stereotypes about that group of people, so it must be OK. And it would be fine to stereotype about that group of people. Because if you hear a stereotype often enough it becomes the truth.

  10. As for insulting the Prius by saying it is ugly, you have transcended that and gone directly to insulting their owners. Well done, but very very funny, I am sure.

  11. In any case, humor could also be served by "joking" about hybrid Tahoe drivers and defending Prius drivers. Just sayin'

  12. Like anything specialized hybrid vehicles require an involved operator. The difference in MPGs in our 2008 Mercury Mariner hybrid, a version of the Escape, when I drive it compare to my noticeable. Driving with "average" driving skills renders the technology less efficient. Those who buy hybrids without accepting this fact do pay more for gasoline and may become unhappy. It is not the tool but the craftsman that counts!

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