10 Greenest Cars Of 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Ask an angry would-be Tesla buyer in New Jersey what a "green" car is and you'll get an earful about not only fuel-efficient vehicles, but the stack of green bills collected by independent dealers keeping those vehicles out of the marketplace.

The states can resist all they'd like, but those green vehicles and the new marketplace realities that accompany them are coming whether local governments like it or not. With new mileage restrictions coming just a few years down the road, more than two dozen vehicles in the U.S. achieve more than 40 miles per gallon in combined mileage. That means more plug and less pump if prospective car buyers in the U.S.can be convinced of the merits of vehicle ownership again.

The share of new cars being bought by Americans between 18 and 34 is down 30% in the past five years, according to auto pricing site Edmunds.com. A Pew Research Center study notes that people under 35 bought 12% fewer cars than they did in 2010. The Department of Transportation notes that just 28% of 16-year-olds had driver's licenses in 2010, with just 45% of 17-year-olds claiming the same. That's plummeted from 50% and 66% respectively in 1978. Overall, as DC Streets Blog and the Frontier Group and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund point out, Americans are driving roughly 6% fewer miles than in 2004.

The Department of Transportation notes that the U.S. driver, who had been racking up a steadily increasing number of miles since the 1970s, started cutting back in 2008 and never returned to the peak. Meanwhile, traffic information service Inrix notes that as average gas prices started spiking in 2010, average commute times during peak hours dropped from more than four hours to less than two.

Basically, not only do folks not want to burn up gas anymore but, when they have to, they want to put as little cash into that enterprise as possible. The folks at the American Council For An Energy Efficient Economy in Washington, D.C., understand this and came up with 11 such cars that hit the roads at 40 mpg or better in  the city and on highways. While there are few vehicles on the list that can hit the mark without any electric help, a slew of new hybrids and plug-ins are getting the job done.

We'll note that Tesla's Model S and its 94 miles per gallon equivalency in the city, 97 on the highway and electric charge range of 200 miles somehow didn't make the list, but here are a few offerings that come up big by keeping the mileage small:

10. 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
MSRP: $27,645
Miles per gallon: 48 city, 42 highway, 45 combined

Volkswagen wasn't going to get into the hybrid game with some underpowered urban grocery getter.

With up to 170 horsepower, a top speed of roughly 187 miles per hour and a seven-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.

9. 2014 Honda Insight
MSRP:
$18,725
Miles per gallon: 44 city, 41 highway, 42.5 combined

This poor, underloved hybrid never stood a chance. It had ugly wheel covers when it was introduced, watched Toyota's Prius eat up much of its market share and still can't get much love despite its low price, futuristic look and Bruce Willis commercials.

That said, the Insight is the lowest-priced hybrid on the road and is now among the better looking with its LED brake lights and blue headlamps. Despite competition from Toyota's new Prius compact, the insight still reigns among hybrids its size with 85 cubic feet of passenger space and 35 cubic feet of cargo room with the rear seats down. It's also stacked with tech features, including navigation, paddle shifters, Bluetooth and more.

8. 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage
MSRP:
$12,995
Miles per gallon: 37 city, 44 highway, 40.5 combined

No hybrid engine, no plug: Just a light little econobox that makes the most of its fuel.

We're going to stress that this is not a big car by any measure. About 12 feet long and little more than 5 feet wide, the Mirage doesn't even provide the illusion of space. But 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.

7. 2014 Toyota Prius Plug-In
MSRP:
$29,990
Miles per gallon: First 11 miles: 95 mpge combined. Next 529 miles: 50 mpg combined

The Prius Plug-In is a bit of a misnomer given its scant electric radius. A three-hour charge to go a scant 11 miles without using gas implies not only an impossibly short commute, but infinite patience.

Fortunately, the Prius makes up for its lack of electric mileage with 50 mpg hybrid mileage that's still near the top of its class. It also gets owners some sweet state and federal rebates for their trouble, as well as an occasional comfy solo ride in the carpool lane to go along with 21.6 cubic feet of trunk space, remote climate control, headed seats, navigation system and Entune app center.

6. 2014 Lexus CT 200H
MSRP:
$32,050
Miles per gallon: 43 city, 40 highway, 41.5 combined

Let's just get this out there right now: This is the Lexus Prius.

It gets less mileage than the Prius it's based on, though, and still takes a yawn-inducing 10 seconds to hit 60 miles per hour. Why are people buying this car again? Because the Prius hatch doesn't doesn't have this car's sportwagon look or come with standard perks such as key-detecting Smart Access, push-button starter, dual-zone climate control, personalized electronic settings, a safety package with assistance or a leather-trimmed steering wheel. Seem a little frivolous? That's kind of the whole point of the Lexus brand.

5. 2014 Honda Civic Hybrid
MSRP:
$24,635
Miles per gallon: 47 city, 44 highway, 45.5 combined

The Civic Hybrid's mileage has finally caught up to its hybrid name and premium price.

However, it's the Civic Hybrid's tech features that help it stand out from its gas-only sibling. A 7-inch touchscreen audio display, HondaLink information and entertainment system, Pandora compatibility, text message manager, rearview camera, Lane Watch blind spot camera, traffic updates, Bluetooth connection and pushbutton start help provide a lot of incentive to pay a little extra for added efficiency.

4. 2014 Toyota Prius
MSRP: $24,200
Miles per gallon: 51 city, 48 highway, 49.5 combined

The original-recipe Prius still has the one thing everyone wants out of its brand -- incredible mileage -- but it's all of the Prius' perks that keep buyers coming back even as the efficient car market gets increasingly crowded.

A relatively cavernous 21.6 cubic feet of cargo space that turns into 40 cubic feet with the seats down, a heads-up information display on the windshield, multimedia system with app suite, an available solar roof that powers an 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.

3. 2014 Nissan Leaf
MSRP: $21,480
Miles per gallon equivalent: 106 city, 92 highway, 99 combined

Nissan must have heard Americans complain once or twice that it's near-impossible to get a decent electric vehicle for less than $25,000.

Though it's hard to believe the Leaf has been around since 2010, the roughly $6,000 price drop for 2013 indicates Nissan is well aware that the lack of a supercharger dates this vehicle a bit. For folks lacking a long commute and living in such places as the West Coast towns along Interstate 5's electric corridor 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 similar to that of the higher-priced Volt. The Leaf is just as silent, though, and with a range of 73 miles, 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.

2. 2014 Toyota Prius c
MSRP: $19,080
Miles per gallon: 53 city, 46 highway, 49.5 combined

Ever see a Toyota Yaris and wonder what kind of mileage it would get if Toyota dropped a hybrid engine into it?

Meet the Prius c, which Toyota claims stands for "city" but we assure you means "compact." With just 87 cubic feet of seating capacity and 17 cubic feet of cargo room, the Prius c is an efficient and relatively inexpensive little urban grocery getter. That 53 miles per gallon on the highway, however, begs for a long, cozy ride on the open road.

1. 2014 Smart Fortwo Electric Drive Convertible/Coupe
MSRP: $12,490
Miles per gallon equivalent: 122 city, 93 highway, 107 combined

The Smart car is finally something resembling efficient.

The knock on this little urban two-seater is that, despite its diminutive size, its combustion-engine version didn't offer a whole lot of efficiency for the money. Available with a power convertible top or as a coupe with a panoramic roof, the electric smart is stocked with power heated exterior mirrors, rain and light sensors, a radio app and automatic temperature control, this electric model offers just a little more incentive. Granted, it can still take up to four and a half hours to charge from zero, but the Smart Car really isn't designed to suck up power. As a short-trip plug-in, the Smart may have finally found its purpose.

-- Written by Jason Notte in Portland, Ore.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, the Boston Phoenix, the Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent. He previously served as the political and global affairs editor for Metro U.S., layout editor for Boston Now, assistant news editor for the Herald News of West Paterson, N.J., editor of Go Out! Magazine in Hoboken, N.J., and copy editor and lifestyle editor at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City, N.J.

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