2012 Lexus CT 200h F-SportEnlarge Photo
Up to $30,000
Lexus CT 200h, $29,120, 42 mpg combined
The Lexus CT 200h may not be the obvious "fun" choice, but considering the car it's based on--Toyota's Prius--Lexus has done an impressive job of turning the CT into a fairly sporty drive.
It looks good for a start--even more so with the newly-announced 2013 F SPORT package, likely to be over the $30K limit--and although it makes do with the same 134-horsepower 1.8-liter hybrid drivetrain, in Sport mode it's actually quite responsive. It feels more nimble than the Prius too, though you do sacrifice some economy. Nevertheless, 43 mpg city and 40 highway isn't to be sniffed at.
Up to $50,000
Chevrolet Volt, $39,145 (pre-incentives), 94/37 mpg combined
Unfortunately, all of the more potent hybrids on the market--the Infiniti M, Lexus GS 450h, Porsche Panamera, BMW ActiveHybrid 5--all come in at over $50K. So instead, we've gone for a curve ball.
No, the Volt is no sport compact, and its weight rules out the kind of cornering you'd enjoy in a Volkswagen GTI, but drivers are still very keen on their Volts. The electric motor provides sprightly acceleration, for a start, and the low center of gravity means it hangs on in the corners too. At 94 MPG-equivalent in electric mode and up to 40mpg on the highway using the range-extender, it doesn't use much gas either. In fact, almost two thirds of all Volt miles have been done on electricity alone...
2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011Wildcard
Tesla Model S Performance, $84,900, 89 mpg-equivalent
2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011Enlarge Photo
We couldn't resist putting this one in here. In fact, you can technically get a Model S for below $50,000, if you go for the 40 kWh battery pack--but the quicker, longer-range Model S Performance would be hard to resist.
Plant foot to carpet and you'll reach 60mph in a scant 4.4 seconds, and go on to 130mph. Driven more gently, you may even see 300 miles--though EPA range is 265 miles, and Motor Trend recently achieved just under 240, still an impressive figure.
What's more, the Model S corners well, looks fantastic and is high on equipment. Money no object, it's the one we'd have - and it doesn't use any gas, making it the greenest car here.