If you want the most frugal car that's also fun, these are your best options.
Picking our best Save The Planet Car should be an easy decision - just look at mpg figures (or range for EVs) and pick the best one. But where's the fun in that? We wanted our award to not only be based on a car's overall efficiency but also on how it manages to deliver an enjoyable experience and drive forward the appeal of owning an economy-minded car. What good is saving the planet if you have to be miserable doing it, right?
Two cars that just missed the cut include the Porsche Taycan and Toyota Corolla Hybrid. We wanted to hold off on including the Taycan because we haven't driven it yet and the first examples are only just starting to arrive at dealerships in the US. The Corolla Hybrid is fabulous but another car we drove this year fills the "handsome sedan" role and there's another Toyota hybrid we feel is just a bit more important this year.
The Tesla Model 3 is probably the most obvious car on this list... and for good reason. No other electric car at this price can match the Model 3 on driving range or performance. The Long Range model can travel up to 325 miles on a single charge and the speedy Performance model can rip off a 0-60 mph run in just 3.2 seconds. Inside, Tesla has some of the most advanced interior technology on the market, which is why the Model 3 also finished as a finalist for our Tech Lover's Dream award.
So why hasn't the Model 3 won this category? Well, the supposed $35,000 base model Tesla promised didn't stick around for long, meaning the least expensive Model 3 you can get costs closer to $40,000 before incentives. This isn't too far off the average purchase price of a new car in 2019 (around $36,000), but we wanted our Save The Planet Award to go to a more affordable vehicle. Plus, we don't think everyone is ready to make the switch to an electric car just yet, as evidenced by EVs representing less than 2% of the overall market in the US.
Remember the second-generation Honda Insight? Yeah, the ugly Prius knockoff. Honda would prefer you to forget it, which is why the new third-generation Insight now looks like a beautiful cross between a Civic and an Accord. No longer a frumpy hatchback, the Insight replaces the now-discontinued Civic Hybrid in Honda's lineup. It is powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which combines with an electric motor to produce 151 horsepower. That's not a ton of power, but the Insight does get to 60 mph in a scant 7.7 seconds, which is about two seconds quicker than a Toyota Prius.
Not only does the Insight have more spunk than the Prius, but it also looks more attractive. It's more fun to drive too. Whereas the Prius pitches and rolls like a city bus, the Insight handles gracefully like a Civic. There's not even a major trade-off in fuel economy because the Insight achieves up to 55-mpg in the city and 49-mpg on the highway. It is also very affordable with a starting MSRP of $22,930.
As the best-selling non-truck in America, the 2019 Toyota RAV4 should finish as the fourth best-selling vehicle in the US, behind only the Ford F-150, Ram 1500, and Chevrolet Silverado. When we first drove the latest fifth-generation RAV4, we weren't very impressed by the gasoline model but found ourselves blown away by the hybrid. This is because Toyota took the bold strategy of making the hybrid model the performance option in the lineup.
The gas RAV4 uses a 203 horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder and eight-speed automatic combination that feels noisy and underpowered. In the hybrid, the four-cylinder only produces 179 hp but it is supplemented by an electric motor to output a meatier 215 hp through a smoother CVT.
While the gas model is pretty efficient with up to 26 mpg in the city and 35 mpg on the highway, the hybrid does even better with 41 mpg in the city and 38 mpg on the highway.
Since the RAV4 is the only SUV on this list, it is by far the most practical with over 37 cubic feet of storage behind the second row or just under 70 cubic feet with the seats folded. It is also pretty affordable with a starting MSRP of $28,350. As the most efficient version of the most popular car in the US, the RAV4 Hybrid saves the planet in style.