NEW YORK (MainStreet) – Volkswagen just ended diesel's long trip from dirty truck fuel to favored environmentally friendly alternative with a crash.
Long favored on European roads, diesel vehicles saw double-digit sales growth here compared to single-digit growth for the rest of the U.S. auto market, according to data compiled by hybrid Cars.com and Baum and Associates. Diesel vehicle registrations in the U.S. have increased 30% since 2010 compared to a 3.6% uptick in vehicle sales during that same period, according to vehicle data group IHS Automotive.
Allen Schaeffer, the executive director of the diesel-backing auto industry group Diesel Technology Forum, argued that today's diesel vehicles are 30% more fuel-efficient than their gas counterparts and will play a big role in reaching new federal fuel efficiency standards that will require a 54.5 miles-per-gallon average by 2025. It's about the one fuel U.S. drivers are embracing. However, that was all before Volkswagen cheated on emissions testing, opened itself up to about $18 billion in penalties, forced its CEO out, tanked its stock and may have doomed diesel fuel. At a time when more automakers are getting roped into Volkswagen's diesel drama, it may be worth investigating some other options:
10. 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage
Miles per gallon: 37 city, 44 highway, 40.5 combined
No hybrid engine, no plug and no diesel. It's just an old-school, lightweight subcompact.
Oh, and it's really small. About 12 feet long and little more than five feet wide, the Mirage doesn't even provide the illusion of space. However, its 17 cubic feet of trunk space is larger than the Jetta's and increases to 47 cubic feet with the hatchback's seats down. Throw in a pushbutton starter, hands-free phone, available navigation system and automatic climate control, and you're getting a whole lot in this little package.
9. 2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
Miles per gallon: 48 city, 42 highway, 45 combined
We couldn't put this list together without noting that some of the diesel automakers -- especially Volkswagen -- actually make efficient vehicles that don't have to take great pains to cheat their fuel source. That said, we understand completely if your trust of VW isn't all it could be.
With up to 170 horsepower, a top speed of roughly 187 miles per hour and a 7-speed transmission that's 20% more efficient than most automatic transmissions, the Jetta Hybrid wants to be driven and not just used. Also, its keyless access, push-button starter, rearview camera, xenon headlights, heated front seats, touchscreen entertainment and information system and 15.5 cubic feet of trunk space cut the mileage without paring down the amenities.
8. 2016 Chevrolet Volt
Starting price: $25,670
Miles per gallon: 43 city, 42 highway, 42.5 combined
All-electric Battery range: 53 miles
The long-anticipated Volt redesign is finally here, and boy is it necessary.
In previous years, if you took the Volt out for more than 35 miles, you basically ended up with a very costly, somewhat inefficient hybrid. However, extended electric mileage and a silent interior are the foundation for its 2016 redesign that adds more battery capacity, subtracts weight and increases its all-electric range from 38 miles to more than 50. It also adds in-car Wi-Fi, Apple's CarPlay apps system and a redesigned body that makes it look a whole lot less like a surplus municipal vehicle.
7. 2015 Toyota Prius
Starting price: $24,200
Miles per gallon: 51 city, 48 highway, 49.5 combined
The Prius isn't used to begging for sales, but with a new, more efficient model coming and gas prices the lowest they've been in a decade, it's being offered at a bit of a discount.
That said, buyers are still getting a steal out of this vehicle. A relatively cavernous 21.6 cubic feet of cargo space that turns into 40 cubic feet with the seats down, a head-up information display on the windshield, multimedia system with app suite, an available solar roof that powers and internal fan to cool your car's interior while you're away and an available remote air conditioning system all continue to make the Prius the eco-friendly status symbol of choice. Oh, and those nearly 50 miles per gallon isn't too shabby, either.
6. 2016 Ford Focus Electric
MSRP: $29,170 (with incentives)
Miles per gallon equivalent: 110 city, 99 highway, 105 combined
Electric charge range: 76 miles
By taking the frame of its popular, existing Focus, stripping out the combustion engine and giving it all the cool electronic and mobile-based features EV owners have come to expect, Ford's begun the arduous task of carving a niche for itself in this increasingly crowded market.
How do you do that, you ask? By taking aim at the other cost-effective electric car on the road. While the Focus Electric is a full $11,000 more expensive than the Nissan LEAF, the company takes great pains to point out that its high-capacity charger can juice up the Focus in half the time it takes the LEAF to get a full charge. During a time when electric vehicle advancements are occurring incrementally and U.S. drivers' patience with both range and charging is still being tested, the Focus's familiarity and fast charging speed may be the deciding factor.
5. 2016 Volkswagen e-Golf
MSRP: $21,495 after incentives
Miles per gallon equivalent: 126 city, 105 highway, 115.5 combined
Electric charge range: 83 miles
We're going to offer Volkswagen one last shot by letting it do what it once did best: make a more fuel-efficient version of an already capable car. The Golf hatchback was a great choice for a Volkswagen e-makeover. Its standard features including an electrically heated windshield, full LED headlights with LED Daytime Running Lights, rearview camera, Media Device Interface (MDI) with iPod cable, navigation system with 5.8" touchscreen with proximity sensors and voice control, Volkswagen Car-Net connected car features with e-Golf functions, keyless access with push-button start and heated front seats just blend in seemlessly. The 115-horsepower engine may seem a little pokey for those used to a little more high-octane German engineering, but a four-hour “slow” charge and a 30-minute direct-current quick charge more than make up for the lack of muscle.
4. 2015 Nissan LEAF
MSRP: $21,510 with incentives
Miles per gallon: 126 city, 101 highway, 114 combined
Electric charge range: 84 miles
Though it's hard to believe the LEAF has been around since 2010, the roughly $6,000 price drop for 2013 indicated Nissan is well aware that the lack of a supercharger dates this vehicle a bit. For folks lacking a long commute and living along electric corridors with loads of access to chargers, however, it's a dream.
A bevy of audio, navigation and app support features – including maps of nearby charging station -- are now fairly standard among the competition. The LEAF is just as silent, though, and is still one of the best EV options available for the money, even if advancing EV technology makes it seem like the rest of the field is passing it by.
3. 2015 Fiat 500e
MSRP: $25,800 with incentives
Miles per gallon: 122 city, 108 highway, 116 combined
Electric charge range: 87 miles
That 111 horsepower is kind of astonishing for the Pope's car of choice.
Drivers still get all the speed, handling and fun colors of the standard Cinquecento. This one just happens to come with and electronic push-button shifter, TomTom navigation with voice-activated commands, a FIAT mobile app with with telematics and assistance, BLUE&ME hands-free communication, seven airbags, rear parking assist, heated seats and mirrors, stability control and Sirius XM satellite radio. Pedestrian alert, hill assist and a four-year warranty on all electric parts are just a bonus.
That price tag isn't cheap, but Fiat didn't strip out any of the 500's fun to make it electric. It's all the zippiness and features with none of the gasoline.
2. 2015 BMW i3
Starting price: $34,900 with incentives
Miles per gallon equivalent: 137 city, 111 highway, 124 combined
Electric charge range: 81 miles
With its diesels under scrutiny, BMW could use some good news.
It comes in the form of this vehicles that's incredibly efficient even without an available, on-board gas generator that doubles the vehicle's 81-mile range -- which we have to note is still well below the Tesla's 270 miles. Made with lightweight aluminum and carbon fiber, the i3 far lighter than most other EVs and requires a smaller battery consuming less energy. Thus, its 124 miles per gallon equivalent is actually far more efficient than the Model S's 100 mpge, even if the latter has greater range. The crew at Edmunds managed to get 96 miles worth of range out of the standard battery and 150 with the extender.
The i3 also packs 170 horsepower of performance and tons of interior space in an electric ride rivaled in speed by only the Tesla Model S. There is room for four full-size adults to fit comfortably, while the fold-flat makes the i3 surprisingly practical. With lots of luxury amenities that BMW customers have come to expect, the i3 beats the Model S in one big area: price. That $34,900 still isn't cheap, but it has some upside.
1. 2015 Tesla Model S 85D
Starting price: $77,500 with incentives
Miles per gallon: 106 city, 95 highway, 100 combined
Electric charge range: 270 miles
There isn't a whole lot of downside to the Tesla other than price. The 376-horsepower motor, 5.2-second 0-60 and 155 mph top speed all add up to more performance than any other electric vehicle can manage. Meanwhile, while not as efficient as some other EVs, that 270-mile range, supercharger and eight-year, unlimited mile warranty are unmatched. Granted, it took Tesla a while to get its charger-oriented navigation down, but when you're going to offer self-driving “autopilot” by the end of the year, that's a minor quibble.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.