On July 19, members of the Northwest Automotive Press Association got together in Portland, Oregon, to drive 14 fuel-efficient and high-tech vehicles and compare them head to head. The overall winner was the 2017 Chevy Volt, which uses electricity plus a small gasoline generator engine and carries a price tag around $40,000. (No, Tesla did not send a vehicle to be tested.)
The second-generation Volt has 53 miles of all-electric range, with 420 miles of total driving range. A few journalists I talked to liked the Regen on Demand lever on the back side of the steering wheel, where you might otherwise expect a paddle shifter. It allows the driver to use regenerative braking when she wants to restore battery power. Regen braking takes some getting used to, and even then it can take some finesse to use well as both a way to stop the car and a way to get back some energy. The paddle makes that easy, and mileage freaks will become obsessed with it.
In the plug-in EV category, the 2016 VW e-Golf took the award for being fun to drive and less than $30,000. Some EVs were built to stand alone and stand out, like the Nissan Leaf (a favorite of mine in this category). VW chose to use its Golf hatchback as a platform for several variants, including the all-electric version, so if you like any other VW Golf, you’ll probably feel comfortable driving the e-Golf, which has an EPA-rated range of 83 miles. This car is likely to become very important for VW in the wake of the diesel settlement that was just approved.
The best hybrid award went to the 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid, which has an innovative drivetrain. It’s got an electric motor that drives the front wheels at low speeds for short distances. It has a second electric motor that is powered by the 2-liter gasoline engine to recharge the batteries that drive the first motor, which drives the car. And when you get onto the highway, a clutch engages to connect the gasoline engine and the first electric motor to drive the wheels at sustained high speed. This clever if complicated system returns 48 mpg for $37,000.
Saving the best (in some ways) for last, the 2017 Acura NSX took the prize for best green luxury vehicle, but let’s be honest. That hybrid system is not there to save the planet from a fiery climate-change-induced death. The two electric motors that power the front wheels are there for the power boost—and maybe to save a little fuel. Maybe. The twin-turbo V6 in the rear actually creates a ton of heat, despite all the venting, so you cannot bring your delicate chocolate sculptures home in the NSX’s tiny trunk. So calling the NSX a green car is pushing the definition of “green,” though the $200,000 price tag certainly points to luxury. But holy hell is this a fun, fast, and kind of insane car to drive.