Gas prices might be low, but that's not an excuse for skipping over a green car in favor of a guzzler. Electrification has forced us to rethink just what it means to be eco-friendly. Today's frugal machines may be powered by gas engines that can turn themselves off automatically, they may have an electric motor that provides some assistance, or they may forgo internal combustion entirely.
It all boils down to what's best for you, your budget, and the way you drive. In our reviews, we use EPA testing figures to determine a score from 1 to 10.
For 2018, all vehicles that can travel some or all of the time with no tailpipe emissions get a perfect score of 10. Below that, EPA fuel-efficiency ratings determine a score from 1 to 9 depending on where they fall.
Here's the thing, though: The energy efficiency of cars running on electricity is almost always far higher than even the most fuel-efficient vehicle. That is, a Tesla Model S is much more energy-efficient than the best Toyota Prius hybrid.
Want proof? The two most fuel-efficient hybrids on the market are the 2018 Hyundai Ioniq Blue Hybrid (58 mpg combined) and 2018 Toyota Prius Two Eco (56 mpg combined).
The energy efficiency of electric cars is measured in MPGe, or Miles Per Gallon Equivalent. It gives the distance a car can travel electrically on the amount of energy contained in 1 gallon of gasoline.
2017 Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Limited, Catskill Mountains, NY, May 2017
2016 Toyota Prius Two Eco
2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric - frame from video road test
2017 Toyota Prius Prime Premium
Turns out the 2018 Hyundai Ioniq Electric, the all-electric sibling to the Ioniq Hybrid, comes in at 136 MPGe, and the 2018 Toyota Prius Prime, the plug-in hybrid version of that Prius, just below it at 133 MPGe.
For buyers who don't feel ready quite yet for an all-electric car, plug-in hybrids blend the frugality of a conventional hybrid with a battery you plug in to recharge that gives cheaper and more efficient all-electric travel for errands around town or daily commuting.
Even today's SUVs with off-road and towing credentials are as frugal as mid-size sedans were a decade ago, but if you're looking for the utmost in efficiency, you have to start with cars that plug in.
Here are the greenest cars of 2018 so far, with the caveat that a few eco-friendly 2018 models haven't been rated by the EPA as of press time:
2018 Hyundai Ioniq
2018 Hyundai Ioniq Electric - 136 MPGe, 124 miles
Hyundai's Ioniq may look and feel like a cut-rate Toyota Prius, but it beats that eco-friendly icon at its own game.
The Ioniq is available in electric, plug-in hybrid, and hybrid variants.
The greenest is exactly the one you'd expect: the Ioniq Electric. Its 136-MPGe rating beats every other vehicle for sale in the U.S. today on energy efficiency.
2017 Toyota Prius Prime Premium
2018 Toyota Prius Prime - 133 MPGe, 25 miles in electric mode; 54 mpg combined
The Prime is the sole plug-in hybrid model in Toyota's sprawling lineup, but it's the second most-efficient car after the Ioniq Electric, and it eliminates any concerns over range anxiety.
Rated at 25 miles of electric range, the Prime defaults to being an all-electric car while there's charge left in the battery—then turns into a conventional Prius when it's gone.
Once it's back into regular hybrid mode, it's rated at 54 mpg combined—a bit higher than the standard Prius (52 mpg), a bit lower than the Prius Two Eco (56 mpg).
It also has a design that many consider less aggressively ugly than the standard Prius hybrid, though the Prime is limited to four seats against the hybrid's five.
2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV
2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV
2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV - 119 MPGe, 238 miles
You're looking at the biggest step yet toward the normalization of electric cars: the Chevy Bolt EV with its 200-mile-plus range.
While the Ioniq Electric gets part of its high efficency from a battery pack less than half the size of the Bolt EV's
So while the electric Ioniq is rated at 124 miles of range, the Bolt EV almost doubles that, with a 238-mile rating.
It's the first mass-priced electric car with more than 200 miles of range that you can walk into a dealer and drive out today.
2018 Hyundai Ioniq
2018 Hyundai Ioniq Plug-in Hybrid - 119 MPGe, 29 miles on electricity; 52 mpg combined
Remember the class leader with the highest energy efficiency of any car on sale? Here's its plug-in sibling, which has a range limited only by gas stations.
Its range puts it a step down from the Volt and Clarity, though somewhat higher than the Prius Prime, for which it's a more direct (and slightly less expensive) competitor.
2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid
2018 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid - 110 MPGe and 47 miles in electric mode, 42 mpg combined
Like the Ioniq, the Honda Clarity is part of a multi-prong approach to efficiency. The most frugal model is the all-electric version, but its 93 miles of range and limited distribution are deal-breakers for many.
The high-volume model is the Clarity Plug-In Hybrid, which almost matches the pioneering Chevy Volt's figures, but in a larger, five-seat sedan body (with, admittedly, unusual lines).
The three-way battle this year among the Prius Prime, the Volt, and the new Clarity Plug-In Hybrid should be a boon for every consumer who wants to plug in for daily driving without worrying about range for longer trips.
2017 Kia Soul EV
2018 Kia Soul EV - 108 MPGe, 111 miles
The highly efficient Kia Soul EV is a rare sight, as it's only available in a handful of states and even then it's not sold by every Kia dealer.
But its tall-wagon format has found friends and buyers, and this year's 111-mile rated range is up slightly on the 93 miles of previous years.
2018 Smart ForTwo Cabriolet Electric Drive
2018 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive - 108 MPGe, 58 miles
Although its range is pretty limited, the Smart Fortwo's pert dimensions make it a terrific in-town runabout. On the electric car scale, it's the Chevy Bolt EV's polar opposite.
Its Cabrio variant (at 102 MPGe) is also the only electric car with a soft top you can buy this year.
Range? Ehhhh, well, remember it's an urban car: how about 57 or 58 miles?
2018 Chevrolet Volt
2018 Chevrolet Volt - 106 MPGe, 53 miles in electric mode; 42 mpg combined
The Chevy Volt and the Toyota Prius Prime have been neck-and-neck for the plug-in hybrid sales crown all during 2017, ending with the Prius less than 600 units ahead.
The Volt was the first plug-in hybrid sold in the U.S. and this second-generation model keeps everything owners liked about the first one and fixes most of what they didn't.
It has more battery range (53 miles) than any other plug-in hybrid except the pricey and oddball BMW i3 REx, and it's good-looking, peppy, fun to drive, and a halo car for Chevrolet.
Two issues: the fifth "seating position" is an awkward and uncomfortable padded hump on the battery box, and Chevy has never really figured out how to explain the advantages of plug-in hybrids.
2018 Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid
2018 Kia Niro Plug-in Hybrid - 105 MPGe, 26 miles on electricity; 46 mpg combined
Kia's not-quite-a-crossover Niro is thrifty, in certain configurations, but its sorta-SUV wagon shape may prove more practical for buyers than the raft of plug-in hybrid five-door hatchbacks.
The Niro shares underpinnings with the Hyundai Ioniq, in fact, but the Niro lineup is selling more than twice the number of Ioniqs Hyundai has managed to move—indicating that Kia may just be onto a good idea.
2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
2018 Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid - 84 MPGe, 33 miles on electricity; 32 mpg combined
While it has the lowest energy efficiency on our list of 10 cars, the Chrysler Pacifica (plug-in) Hybrid is the sole 7-seat minivan you can buy that plugs in.
Its electric range is real, it's the same excellent Pacifica you know and love, and as much as we hate to say it, even if you never plug in, it's rated at 32 mpg combined against the 22 mpg combined of the regular model.
But you should plug it in: It's that good.