Finally, fuel-sippers can be fun, fast and fashionable cars. For a price.
Sure, hybrids cost much less now. And diesels offer plenty of bang for the buck, saving lots of pennies at the pump.
But luxury is still luxury. And sometimes being green is worth a bit of extra green — from your wallet, that is.
Lexus ES 300h
Mpg: 40 city/39 highway
0-to-60 mph: 8.1 seconds
Cargo space: 15.2 cubic feet
No longer a gussied-up Camry, the ES is as large as Toyota’s flagship Avalon. That’s a good thing, because cargo room here is only average (thanks to the battery pack in the trunk). Yet this hybrid is only $3,000 more than the traditional gas model, and that won’t be hard to recoup if gas prices keep inching up. A “sport” mode adds zing to the plush ride and handling, eliminating any land-yacht feel (though you definitely won’t confuse this with a taut BMW). There are plenty of spiffy high-tech features, as well: lane-departure warning system, adaptive cruise control with pre-collision alert and blind-spot warning system with rear-traffic alert. Along with the iPod/USB interface, there’s also iTunes tagging. As one of the few hybrid sport sedans on the market, the ES is a good overall package, mixing fuel economy, reliability and luxe features with a very affordable price.
VW Touareg Hybrid
Mpg: 20 city/24 highway
0-to-60 mph: 5.8 seconds
Cargo space: 64 cubic feet
The ill-fated Phaeton was VW’s dismal attempt to out-luxe the high-end automakers. Lately, the automaker has been blasted for going too far the other way, with too little content in its base models (to make them more affordable and increase market share). Yet VW’s sweet spot has always been the ability to churn out mid-priced, full-featured vehicles. Most have been fuel-efficient, especially the TDI diesels. And now VW is offering hybrids, such as the Touareg. It’s surprisingly quick, though the diesel model has more torque, gets better mileage and costs about $16,000 less. Still, the hybrid comes fully loaded, with a heated steering wheel, power liftgate, LED taillights, rear-parking sensors/camera, premium stereo and a large, eight-inch touchscreen nav system. There’s plenty of cargo space, too. And the fit and finish inside is top-notch — another reason why VWs are considered (in a very good way) the poor-man’s Audi.
Porsche Cayenne Diesel
Mpg: 20 city/28 highway
0-to-60 mph: 7.4 seconds
Cargo space: 62.9 cubic feet
Why do fools fall in love? Because they test-drive a Porsche without looking at the sticker price. Sure, the base Cayenne Diesel — under $60,000! — seems like a bargain. The dark metallic paint is sparkly and stunning. And the stylish and form-fitting seats are like something out of a Bauhaus catalog — with plenty of legroom and headroom, even in back. Despite all the naysayers, this crossover accelerates, corners and brakes like a true racecar. Plus, the cabin is so soundproof and the audio system so pristine, it’s easy to feel like you’re in box seats at Lincoln Center. Even the ignition switch — located to the left of the steering wheel — is quirky-chic, not quirky-weird. But then comes reality. All those options (like heated/cooled seats, the height-adjustable chassis, even a nifty compass in the center of the dash) add another, gulp, $40,000 to the price. Expensive, yes. But for eco-conscious drivers with almost $100,000 to spare, the Cayenne Diesel is a seductive and enchanting ride.