Here are the Top 5 New Clean Cars for 2015 and 2016

February 6, 2015 | 11:51 am
Josh Goldman
Former Contributor

In the market for a new vehicle that can save you money on fuel while reducing global warming pollution? Here are some clean vehicles I recently checked out at the Washington, D.C. auto show that are coming to a showroom near you.

2016 Chevrolet Volt

The latest Chevy Volt, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that has both electric and gas motors, includes some significant upgrades over its older siblings. The 2016 Volt will have an 18.4 kWh battery pack, a 7 percent increase from the previous model that gives the new Volt an estimated 50 miles of all-electric range. Chevy claims that Volt owners can expect over 1,000 miles before filling-up with gasoline, as long as users regularly charge their Volt. Overall, the 2016 Volt has a range of over 400 miles, and an estimated 41 combined mpg, though this can be significantly better if you drive only on electricity.

Check out more about the new Volt on Chevy’s website. The 2015 Volt will set you back around $35,000 and the 2016 model will likely debut at a similar price point. But don’t forget; Volt buyers can qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit, additional state tax credits, and driving on electricity saves you money. UCS analysis has found that driving 100 miles on electricity in 2013 cost an average of $3.45 whereas driving the same distance on gasoline would have set you back $13.52.

The new Volt sports a larger battery pack, updated styling, and longer all-electric range.

2016 Toyota Mirai

Toyota is getting in the fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) game, and for good reason. FCEVs are similar to other electric vehicles, but instead of plugging into an outlet to charge battery packs, FCEVs use hydrogen to produce electricity. This important distinction allows FCEVs to have all-electric ranges similar to the driving range we have come to expect from gasoline-powered vehicles. The 2016 Toyota Mirai, for example, can be driven an estimated 300 miles before needing to stop for a 5 minute fill-up at a hydrogen filling station, which are beginning to pop up across the U.S.

Automakers and other companies are trying to alleviate the FCEV chicken-and-egg problem (which comes first, FCEVs or hydrogen fueling stations?) by producing vehicles while simultaneously promoting the infrastructure needed to fuel FCEVs from coast-to-coast. Toyota, for example, has announced plans to develop hydrogen infrastructure across Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island, and Hyundai has been working to expand hydrogen infrastructure in California. The federal government could also help out by extending the tax credit for FCEVs, which expired at the beginning of 2015. Interested in FCEVs? Read more about the emissions performance of this exciting technology and additional distinctions between FCEVs and other electric vehicles.

Toyota is gearing up to introduce a fuel cell electric vehicle to select markets in 2016.

 2015 Ford Focus Electric

The biggest selling point about the 2015 Ford Focus Electric may be the price. The 2015 model got a major price cut of $6,000, bringing the suggested retail price to $29,170 – similar to the best-selling Nissan LEAF. As Car and Driver puts it, “think of the Focus Electric as a Tesla Model S for the 99 percent.” This battery electric vehicle has an EPA-estimated range of 76 miles, within the daily driving distance of 75 percent of drivers UCS surveyed along with Consumers Union in 2013. The Focus Electric can charge in as little as 3.5 hours if using a 240-volt charger, and like any other EV can be charged via a regular 120-volt outlet too.

Aside from a reasonable price, the Ford Focus Electric can be squeaky clean, though exactly how clean depends on where you plug it in. Battery electric vehicles like the Focus Electric produce no tailpipe emissions but there are emissions associated with the generation of electricity used to charge the vehicle’s batteries.

How this electricity is produced matters when comparing the emissions of EVs to gasoline-powered vehicles. When paired with renewable electricity, for example, the emissions of a battery electric vehicle are comparable to the emissions of a gasoline-powered vehicle that gets 500 miles per gallon. Even if you live in a region that has a relatively dirty electricity grid, an EV is still linked to fewer global warming emissions than an average compact conventional vehicle. And, perhaps most importantly, the electric vehicles on the road today can get cleaner over time if the U.S. replaces power generated from coal with power generated from renewable resources like solar or wind.

This Ford battery electric vehicle recently got a $6,000 price cut.

This Ford battery electric vehicle recently got a $6,000 price cut.

2015 BMW i8

If the Ford Focus Electric was for the 99 percent, the BMW i8 is for the 1 percent (read: not me). Sure it starts at $136,500, but it also goes 0-60 in 3.8 seconds and tops out at 155 mph while potentially achieving Prius-like efficiency. Why you would ever need to flex these stats outside the race track is beyond me, but aside from dusting the doors of gas vehicles on the track, I suspect the main reason to drive the i8 is to turn heads. The car is simply gorgeous. It’s futuristic looking without looking like something out of the Jetsons or a crazy Lady Gaga outfit, and its advanced powertrain combines an electric motor with a tiny 3 cylinder, 1.5L turbocharged engine to produce the equivalent of 357 horsepower and 420 lbs/ft of torque. Matt Burns over at loved his test drive of the i8, and this will likely be a fan favorite in the BMW fleet for years to come. Be on the lookout for the i8 on the road. It will be hard to miss.

You're going to want to be seen in the new BMW i8. Image via:

You’re going to want to be seen in the new BMW i8. Image via Wikimedia

2015 Kia Soul EV

Starting as low as $26,200 after a federal tax incentive, the 2015 Kia Soul EV is geared toward younger drivers who want to roll around in a hip vehicle promoted by anthropomorphized hamsters who love Maroon 5. Suggestive dancing hamsters not your thing? No problem. The Soul EV includes options that are attractive for any driver including an EPA-estimated driving range of 93 miles, a combined mpge (miles per gallon equivalent) of 105, and a 27 kWH battery pack that can be fully charged in as little as 4 to 5 hours using a 240V charger. The Soul also incorporates regenerative braking, helping extend battery life, and is a Green Car Reports “Best Car to Buy in 2015” nominee. The black and red color scheme also looks great in person, and should be a nice addition to the Nissan LEAF and other mid-range battery electric vehicles on the market.

The 2015 Kia Soul EV paired with a charger at the DC auto show

The 2015 Kia Soul EV paired with a charger at the DC auto show