As recalls reset consumer confidence in 425,000 Priuses with braking issues, is a no-frills utilitarian hybrid still the best way to be green and be seen? If not, Toyota's recalls just widened the lanes for luxury "clean diesel" vehicles from overseas and high-end hybrid/electrics from both the U.S. and abroad.
There are arguments for each alternative-energy source, but
here are six alternatives that are eco-friendly without feeling economy-class>>
MPG: N/A-67 mpg
For a plug-in hybrid, it's pretty sexy. This sleek sedan can travel 50 miles on electricity alone and features a solar-panel roof as one of its options. While not as quick as the Tesla -- 0 to 60 takes a pokey 5.8 seconds -- it still tops out at 125 mph. In "Sport Drive," the car's hybrid setting, Fisker claims the vehicle can get up to 100 mpg within a 300-mile range. The leather-and-wood interior elements are a nice touch as well.
The all-electric performance car that's spawned more "Greased Lightning" puns than the human mind can comprehend also claims to go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.7 seconds while consuming energy equivalent to 127 mpg. The big draw may be going 244 miles on a three-and-a-half-hour charge (though the power cord will cost you an extra $3,000), but the push-button gear shift, top speed of 125 mph and little toys like a navigation screen and JVC stereo make it as friendly to the driver as it is to its surroundings.
BMW Active Hybrid X6 and 7 2010
MPG: 17-19 mpg
We know, we know: That miles-per-gallon figure doesn't come anywhere close to the Prius', or even the 26 mpg gas-powered X5. That said, it's still about 20% better than the strictly gas-guzzling X6 and 7 models.
It's also not every day you see a hybrid with a 485-horsepower V8 engine or BMW's full complement of lux options like Bluetooth,
satellite radio, HD radio and DVD players.
Price: $81,937-$115,000 (U.K. only)
MPG: 53.5 mpg
Sadly, the U.S. has to miss out on this diesel-sipping dream of a ride.
Sure, Americans get the built-in hard drive, the navigation system and all the other tech perks, but they don't hold as much satisfaction when you're going through fuel more than twice as fast as your U.K. counterparts.
Sure, Americans still get from 0 to 50 in 5.5 seconds behind 420 to 550 horsepower -- they just might not like what they see on the fuel gauge when they get there.
Price: $48,050-$85,070 (Europe only)
MPG: 39-44 mpg
Scoff at its four cylinders all you like, but you're getting the same heated and cooled leather seats, satellite radio and navigation as the folks who drive their luxury vehicles as if they're commuting through LeMans.
OK, so this is America and our Mercedes are supposed to have V-8s, 500 horsepower and the ability to survive action-movie sequences. That's fine, but the next time you're sitting in summer traffic with the A/C turned up and the gas needle on "E," Stefan from Stuttgart will be having a good laugh at your expense across the pond.
Audi A3 2.0 TDI 2010
MPG: 30-42 mpg
We were going to slide the Alfa Romeo Giulietta into this slot, but with Alfas not returning stateside until 2012 at the earliest and the Giulietta priced roughly the same as an A3 available stateside, why pay the freight?
Maybe $30,000 isn't exactly the standard for luxury, but all its toys (navigation, Bluetooth, Sirius XM satellite, sunroof/moonroof) feel a lot more luxurious when you're driving a Euro-style rally car around town for more than a week without stopping to fill up and can fit more than your backpack and a prayer into the rear storage space.
-- Reported by Jason Notte in Boston.
Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, The Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.