The AAA Automobile Club of Southern California has announced its top 10 car picks for environmentally friendly driving in its Green Car Guide, a roundup of miserly, low-emissions vehicles. Conducted by AAA’s Automobile Research Center, the 89-page study recognized the factors behind emissions and fuel economy in addition to the livability and functionality of cars and made lists based on overall ranking and value for the money.
It’s the “value for the money” criteria that leaves us scratching our heads. For example, in its top five positions, none of the vehicles making the cut cost less than $30,000, and only one vehicle costs less than $40,000. Taking the overall top spot, the 2011 Toyota Highlander Limited Hybrid, which starts at $44,605, including destination, gets an EPA-estimated 28 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. AAA says that at $4.30 per gallon and driving 15,000 miles a year, the hybrid will be more cost-effective than a similarly equipped conventionally powered Highlander. But the Highlander also starts at $28,900, including destination, if you can forgo pricey options like a navigation system, leather, and four-wheel drive. The gas-only Highlander Limited starts at $35,605.
Taking second place, the 2011 Volkswagen Touareg TSI Hybrid packs a host of standard features and returns an EPA-estimated 20 city/24 highway mpg with a supercharged 3.0-liter V-6 and battery-electric powertrain motivating the vehicle. But while it may out-power last year’s discontinued V-8 model, it’s also more expensive at $61,385 including destination, making it a value pick only for high-income earners.
Three Lexus models round out the next positions: The 2009 Lexus LS600h L full-size luxury sedan, the compact Lexus CT200h Hybrid, and the midsize 2010 RX450h crossover SUV. Of note, the LS600h L has a starting price of $113,125 before adding any options, and it achieves a modest 19 city/23 highway mpg rating, solidifying AAA’s report as a truly “let them eat cake”-like exercise.
Fortunately, on its best-value list, the Southern California Automobile Club picked much more reasonable cars including the 2011 Scion xD, 2011 Mazda2, and 2009 Honda Fit Sport subcompact cars as well as the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco compact and 2011 Smart ForTwo two-seater city car.
AAA rated all cars on a 1 to 10 scale for ride, acceleration, fuel economy, and interior noise among the 13 categories it used and divided by each respective car’s starting price. From the top 20 cars selected, only seven came from non-luxury makes and just three cost less than $30,000 before federal tax credits.