Low gas prices have curbed the enthusiasm for hybrids and electric vehicles. Yet some popular rides that have traditional gas engines are now much more fuel-efficient and these vehicles often are more affordable than true “green machines.”
Mpg: 22 city/30 highway
0-to-60 mph: 7.1 seconds
Ford is continuing its design renaissance with the spiffy Escape crossover, borrowing styling cues from Kia, which upped its creative chops by luring a top designer from Audi. No wonder it’s getting harder to differentiate between high-end cars and those for the hoi polloi. The compact Escape, built on the same platform as the little Ford Focus, has handling and braking akin to an Audi or BMW.
Cornering, even in heavy rain, is pleasantly precise. And the large cargo area has a hands-free liftgate operated by a nifty foot sensor. There’s a choice of three engines, including the lively 240-hp EcoBoost turbo. A quiet, stylish cabin boasts the new Sync 3 infotainment system, which lets you swipe through lists on the vehicle touchscreen and connects with your smartphone for remote access. And that optional panoramic sunroof would be right at home on a vehicle costing twice the price.
HYUNDAI SONATA ECO
Mpg: 28 city/38 highway
0-to-60 mph: 7.5 seconds
“Don’t mess with perfection” seems to be the motto at Hyundai, which explains why last year’s redesigned Sonata had a tasteful facelift but not major surgery. Gone is the annoying body roll — especially during fast cornering — replaced by a firm-but-still-comfortable suspension. And the touchscreen is now larger, which helps with the nav system and all those smartphone-integrated gizmos.
There are various trim levels, with the Eco model being the most fuel-efficient (not counting the pricier hybrid). It’s quiet, roomy and nicely appointed, with standard features such as a rearview camera, daytime running lights and heated mirrors. Also included is Hyundai’s emergency telematics system, which helps parents monitor speed and curfew limits for younger drivers. And the ginormous trunk means you can take as much luggage as you like on long summer trips.
RANGE ROVER DIESEL
Mpg: 22 city/28 highway
0-to-60 mph: 7.1 seconds
Now you can drive a large, chi-chi SUV and still be eco-chic. The Range Rover Sport Td6 — which seats seven people comfortably — has a quiet, clean turbo-diesel engine that gets almost 30 percent better mpg than the regular gas model. Yet punch the accelerator, and there’s still plenty of oomph. Along with high-quality fit and finish, you’ll find an acoustic windshield, double-paned side glass and an air suspension system to raise or lower the vehicle at the touch of a button.
Need more pampering? Try the heated steering wheel, heated/cooled sport seats (in front and back) and 16-way front seats with massage function. As if that weren’t enough, there’s also a quad-zone climate control, 23-speaker sound system and front console cooler box for beverages and such. Oh, and the clever self-parking system works for both parallel and perpendicular spaces.