Green Car Journal’s Green Car Awards, the annual awards program honoring the year’s most standout new ‘green’ models, was presented at the Virtual Greenbuild Conference + Expo in November this year. The 2021 virtual awards program was an innovation during an unusual year, amid the postponement and cancellation of international auto shows where the Green Car Awards typically take place.
Over the years, these high-profile awards have grown along with the expanding field of ‘green’ cars on the road. They now recognize not only the magazine’s signature Green Car of the Year, but also exceptional models that speak to families, city dwellers, luxury buyers, pickup enthusiasts, and those requiring the functionality of an SUV. All provide the traditional touchstones of safety, quality, value, style, and performance, plus that fun-to-drive quality important to most drivers. What they add are greater efficiency, lower carbon and tailpipe emissions, petroleum reduction or displacement, or operation on battery electric power.
GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR
This year’s candidates for 2021 Green Car of the Year reflect the auto industry’s transition toward electrification, even as it continues to make internal combustion ever-more efficient. Three of this year’s finalists, the Mustang Mach-E, MINI Cooper SE, and Volkswagen ID.4, drive exclusively on zero-emission battery power. The BMW 330e is a plug-in hybrid that drives up to 23 miles on battery power and hundreds more as a hybrid. The Hyundai Elantra is offered with either an efficient gasoline engine or a gas-electric hybrid achieving up to 50 miles per gallon.
Rising to the top of the field is Green Car Journal’s 2021 Green Car of the Year, Ford’s all-new Mustang Mach-E, a model that boasts an instantly-recognizable name and heritage, while breaking new ground as an all-electric crossover featuring up to 300 miles of range. Performance is part of the package, as is unmistakable style and all the latest advanced electronics.
The 2021 Green Car of the Year® is selected by a highly-respected jury comprised of energy and environmental leaders including Mindy Lubber, president of CERES; Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society; Dr. Alan Lloyd, president emeritus of the International Council on Clean Transportation and senior research fellow at the Energy Institute, University of Texas at Austin; Clay Nesler, interim president of the Alliance to Save Energy; and Matt Petersen, president and CEO of Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator and advisory board chair of Climate Mayors. Rounding out the Green Car of the Year jury is celebrity auto enthusiast Jay Leno and Green Car Journal editors .
LUXURY GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR
At a more premium price point, 2021 Luxury Green Car of the Year finalists also illustrate the momentum achieved by electric drive in the new car vehicle field. Four of these premium vehicles are all-electric models – the Audi e-tron Sportback, Polestar 2, Tesla Model Y, and Volvo XC40 Recharge. The fifth, the Lincoln Corsair Grand Touring, is the plug-in hybrid variant of Lincoln’s Corsair compact crossover that combines gas-electric hybrid and all-electric driving.
Honored as this year’s Luxury Green Car of the Year is the Polestar 2, a groundbreaking model from Polestar on many levels. This all-new premium vehicle is only the second of this new auto brand’s model offerings, and the first to be all-electric. This zero-emission, two-door fastback looks to the future even as it foregoes futuristic styling, instead choosing to offer an understated yet elegant and sophisticated design, tasteful appointments, and a nearly 300 mile range on battery power.
URBAN GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR
Urban environments pose their own unique challenges – tight spaces, often crowded streets, and hard-to-find parking. Here, smaller vehicles with a compact physical footprint and easy maneuverability are always top choices. The 2021 Urban Green Car of the Year award recognizes vehicles especially well-suited for life in the city. Top choices for this year’s award are the Hyundai Venue, Kia Seltos, Kia Soul, MINI Cooper SE, and Nissan Versa. Four are conventionally-powered – three of them crossover SUVs and one a compact sedan – with the fourth, the MINI Cooper SE, an all-electric crossover.
Taking top honors for 2021 Urban Green Car of the Year is the all-electric MINI Cooper SE. Standing out as an ideal vehicle for the city, the Cooper SE is compact in stature and big on features. Its represents what this brand all about: An iconic look, great maneuverability, and driving fun wrapped in a small package. Plus, electric power means zero localized emissions and no trips venturing out to the gas station in a crowded urban environment.
FAMILY GREEN CAR OF THE YEAR
While any model can serve family duty, those offering extra versatility and thoughtful family-friendly features are high on many shopping lists. Today, driving ‘green’ has also become a priority. Minivans have always been a solid choice, but these days three-row crossover SUVs can also do the job as family hauler. Finalists for 2021 Family Green Car of the Year are the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sorrento Hybrid, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, and Toyota Sienna. The Kia Sorrento Hybrid and Toyota Highlander Hybrid crossovers drive on efficient hybrid power. Honda’s Odyssey minivan features an efficient V-6 with variable cylinder management. The Toyota Sierra is exclusively a hybrid-powered minivan, while the Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan also offers plug-in hybrid power.
Standing out as Family Green Car of the Year is the Toyota Sienna, a minivan that seeks to set the standard for modern family haulers. The stylish and fuel-efficient Sienna offers premium sedan-like style, admirable hybrid fuel efficiency, and a thoughtful blend of family-desired features along with driver-centric characteristics not always associated with minivans. It shows Toyota’s keen grasp of how to make a modern minivan that not only serves up family functionality, but also premium car style and appeal.
GREEN SUV OF THE YEAR
The hottest segment in the automotive field today is the SUV, either full-size or compact, traditional or crossover, two-row or three, conventional, hybrid, or plug-in. There are no shortage of choices, which makes narrowing the field to five outstanding finalists no small challenge. The top five finalists emerging this year for Green SUV of the Year are the Audi Q5 55 TFSI e, BMW X3 xDrive 30e, Jeep Wrangler 4xe, Toyota RAV4 Prime, and Toyota Venza. Four of these –from Audi, BMW, Jeep, and Toyota – are plug-in hybrids with an all-electric driving range from 18 to 42 miles, and additional hundreds of miles on hybrid power. Toyota’s Venza is an all-wheel drive, tech-rich hybrid with exceptional fuel efficiency.
Taking top honors for the 2021 Green SUV of the Year title is the Jeep Wrangler 4xe, an SUV that’s different in many ways from others in its class. To some, it’s an SUV in the traditional sense with high functionality and loads of versatility that’s perfect for the diversity of everyday life. But to others, it’s that, plus a means of escape, heading toward the city one day and then driving the path less taken on another, a path often rough, unpaved, and pointed towards adventure.
GREEN TRUCK OF THE YEAR
This year’s Green Truck of the Year finalists embody all the workhorse capabilities expected of a modern pickup while offering passenger car-like comfort, advanced on-board electronics, and levels of fuel efficiency unheard of in pickups of just a decade ago. Pickups honored as finalists for Green Truck of the Year are the Chevrolet Colorado, Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, Jeep Gladiator EcoDiesel, and RAM 1500. All offer diverse powertrain choices, from gasoline and diesel internal combustion to variations of mild- and full-hybrid power.
Powering its way to well-deserved recognition as 2021 Green Truck of the Year is the Ford F-150, a pickup long distinguished as the best-selling model in the nation and a champion of innovation. Beyond its wide array of configurations, powertrain choices, payload capacities, and towing capabilities, it now adds such innovations as an efficient PowerBoost hybrid powerplant, fold-flat ‘sleeper’ seats, and an available Pro Power Onboard output system with outlets that allow the truck to function as a mobile generator at worksites or campsites.
The Green Car Awards™ program, presented annually since 2005, is an important part of Green Car Journal's mission to showcase environmental progress in the automotive field.
The 2021 all-electric Polestar 2 arrives in North America this year as the brand’s first pure electric vehicle, aiming to take on Tesla in a market that’s seeing increased interest in EVs. Produced in China through a collaboration of Volvo and Geely Motors, this 5-door midsize electric hatchback proudly forwards the Polestar nameplate that was formerly dedicated to Volvo’s performance arm. Now, Polestar represents the maker’s global electric car initiative as a stand-alone car brand.
At first glance, there’s no mistaking the Volvo pedigree of Polestar 2 as it embraces the design language of Volvo’s XC40. Manufactured on Volvo’s CMA (compact modular architecture) platform, it presents premium fit and finish seamlessly blended with the utmost in functionality. This eye-catching model gets high marks for attention to detail, clean lines, and an unapologetically conventional front facade and grille design that fits its persona, without giving way to the whims of those who seem convinced an electric must look decidedly different.
No performance is lost here in the transition to zero-emissions electric power. Polestar 2 is motivated by dual electric motors, one at each axle, producing a combined 408 horsepower and 487 ft-lb torque in the Performance Pack all-wheel drive variant. This delivers a claimed 0 to 60 sprint in just 4.5 seconds.
A 292 mile range is estimated on the electric’s 78 kWh LG Chem lithium-ion battery pack, which is said to be 10 percent more powerful than Audi and Jaguar offerings. Polestar integrates the battery module as a crash-protected unibody stress member, improving overall road handling characteristics through strategic weight distribution. There are multiple charging options with integrated dual inverters and AC/DC at-home and network charge capability. Charging to 80 percent capacity can be had in 45 minutes at a fast-charge station.
Polestar 2’s regenerative braking enables one-pedal driving, a feature pioneered by the BMW i3 some years back and now adopted in an increasing number of electric models. In effect, strong regenerative braking slows a vehicle down sufficiently to often allow coming to a gradual stop without using the brakes, a fun feature that enhances the joy of driving. Although not fully autonomous, Polestar 2 comes standard with the automaker’s Polestar Connect, Pilot Assist, and adaptive cruise control for Level 2 partial automation.
Inside, driver and passengers enjoy a more conventional cockpit and cabin environment than that presented by some competitors. Polestar 2 is minimalistic but also business class posh in its interior design, placing emphasis on low environmental impact manufacturing practices and materials like repurposed Birch and Black Ash wood accents, plus soft touch ‘vegan’ synthetic seat fabrics.
Heated and cooled seats, inductive cellphone charging, ample points for device connectivity, and a standard panoramic digitized sunroof are provided. Information is intelligently presented in the instrument cluster and a large center stack navigation/infotainment touchpad. A familiar center console select shift is used. Easy access to an ample cargo deck is afforded by a power lift rear hatch, with additional room provided by a fold-down second row seat.
The price of entry for Polestar 2 is $59,900 before federal or state incentives, with the model offered in three trim groups, five color combinations, and four add-on price upticks. It’s currently available for order in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. Buyers will discover a no-salesman showcase approach with a take-your-time-and-look buying and lease environment. As the market reacts, Volvo intends to make Polestar 2 available in all 50 states.