If ever a time existed that underscored there is no single approach to offering ‘greener’ personal transportation, that would be now. The 2014 Green Car of the Year® program gives the Green Car Journal staff an opportunity to step back and examine all possible vehicles that exemplify green leadership and innovation, a daunting challenge that literally involves dozens and dozens of models that must be explored, examined, and dissected to determine their ‘greenness’ and importance in raising the bar in environmental performance.
Some would assume these vehicles to be exclusively electric, or perhaps ones that achieve the highest fuel economy in a given class. These considerations are important since higher efficiency not only reduces petroleum consumption but also has a direct correlation with lower CO2 emissions. However, criteria for the Green Car of the Year® program is more expansive and involves much more than fuel economy or energy use. Important, too, is the potential for a candidate to bring about substantial change and significant environmental improvement in the real world. That element gives additional weight to a model’s sales volume.
Among many other considerations is the requirement that candidates be a 2014 model on sale by January 1 of the award year. Price and availability are important since nominees must be approachable to buyers. Some models are priced at entry levels while others are more aspirational, a reflection of the market. Vehicles being considered are more compelling if they are all-new or in the early years of their model lifecycle. Models vetted in a previous award year are only considered in a new award year if truly significant changes to that model have occurred, such as an all-new redesign, a much more efficient powerplant, or the availability of a new hybrid or alternative fuel option.
At one time this was a straightforward and relatively simple process. When the Green Car of the Year program was launched in 2005, the number of ‘green’ vehicles to consider was easily managed since this was a relatively new category for automakers. Times have changed with wide-ranging ‘green’ choices now available to consumers at new car showrooms. The process of identifying five finalists is much more challenging, but also more gratifying since this means the auto industry has made a serious commitment to developing more environmentally positive vehicles.
With painstaking effort and an eye toward recognizing the brightest and the best, Green Car Journal editors present the deserving finalists for 2014 Green Car of the Year, models that also happen to be the magazine’s Top 5 Green Cars for 2014 and recipients of the Green Car Products of Excellence distinction.
Audi’s 2014 A6 TDI blends excellent ‘green’ credentials with unexpected levels of performance in a high efficiency vehicle. Its 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder TDI clean diesel engine with tiptronic transmission and quattro all-wheel drive provides 240 horsepower and 428 lb-ft torque, achieving 0-60 mph in just 5.5 seconds. A start-stop system aids efficiency, as does a lightweight body that makes extensive use of aluminum body panels. This sedan features an EPA estimated 38 highway mpg that enables over 700 miles of highway driving range.
Featuring the first 4-cylinder BMW diesel engine in the U.S., the new 328d combines exceptionally high fuel efficiency with the performance expected of BMW models. EPA estimated 45 mpg highway fuel economy is achieved with this sedan’s 2.0-liter TwinPower clean diesel powerplant, which produces 180 horsepower and 280 lb-ft torque. Efficiency is enhanced with engine auto start-stop and brake energy regeneration. A 328d Sports Wagon is also available. The models are offered in rear wheel drive or with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system.
Honda’s popular Accord sedan aims to lead in the efficiency space with an array of efficient powerplant choices including four-cylinder, V-6, hybrid, and plug-in hybrid versions. Even the V-6, the largest engine option, nets 34 highway mpg with the four-cylinder rated at up to 36 highway mpg. The bar raises considerably with the Accord Hybrid at 50 city and 47 highway mpg, and the Accord Plug-In with its 47 city and 46 highway mpg on hybrid power. The Plug-In also offers an EPA rating of 115 MPGe, the highest of any mid-size hybrid sedan in the country.
The all-new third generation Mazda3, this automaker’s best-selling model worldwide, is lighter, more efficient, and packed with advanced electronics. The 2014 Mazda3 features an appealing new design and has been built from the ground-up with Mazda’s award-winning SKYACTIV technology. The 2.0-liter powered Mazda3 four-door sedan offers best-in-class 41 mpg highway fuel economy, with the five-door hatch coming in at up to 40 mpg. A more powerful 2.5-liter engine with an i-ELOOP capacitor-based regenerative engine braking system gets 38 mpg.
The Toyota Corolla has long been a best-seller due to its blend of efficiency and affordability. With the all-new 2014 Corolla, Toyota adds visual excitement, improved driving dynamics, and even greater efficiency to its popular compact sedan, achieving up to 42 highway mpg delivered by the model’s Eco version. This level of efficiency is achieved with a 1.8-liter, 140 horsepower engine featuring the first use of Toyota’s Valvematic technology in this country. A driver selectable ECO function moderates acceleration and optimizes on-board systems to enhance mpg.
Green Car of the Year jurors include leaders of the nation’s major environmental organizations including Jean-Michel Cousteau, president of Ocean Futures Society; Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club; and Matt Petersen, board member of Global Green USA, plus auto enthusiast and Tonight Show host Jay Leno. Green Car Journal editors round out the 2014 Green Car of the Year jury.
The Green Car of the Year will be announced during media days at the L.A. Auto Show, so stay tuned.