Fall 2009 Auto Guide
New hybrid models enter marketplace

Direct injection forces a computer-controlled squirt of fuel under extremely high pressure into the engine's combustion chamber. The fuel is atomized into a precisely shaped burst of fuel-air mixture that explodes more powerfully for the amount of fuel than a conventional gasoline engine. That allows automakers to get more power out of the same size engine, or substitute a smaller, more fuel-efficient engine with no sacrifice in power.

For instance, Ford calls its direct-injection gasoline engines "EcoBoost." EcoBoost engines are also turbocharged for still more power. The net effect is a V-6 engine with the power of a V-8. Ford had no EcoBoost engines in 2008. It expects to offer EcoBoost engines in almost 25 percent of its lineup in 2010 and 90 percent of its lineup in 2013, according to Ford.

Other incremental improvements include six-speed automatic transmissions, which allow the engine to work at lower rpms at highway speeds, and electrically powered power steering, which uses less energy than hydraulic power steering.

Another positive change is the use of lighter materials to save weight, better aerodynamics and low-rolling resistance tires. Tires heat up when rolling down the highway, which represents energy that becomes "wasted" heat instead of power to drive the car, according to Michelin North America. The chemical composition of low-rolling resistance tires makes them less susceptible to producng that heat, and instead can improve mileage by about 1 mpg.

The following is a list of greener cars you can expect to see in 2010. It's a diverse list, that includes mass marketers and luxury brands, and cars and trucks. You'll also find diesel, gasoline, gasoline-electric and battery-powered hybrids.

1. Audi Q7 TDI

Starting price: $51,725
On sale: Now
Green technology: Clean diesel
EPA-estimated mpg: 17 city/25 highway

Audi and its mass-market sister Volkswagen are counting on a U.S. comeback for diesels. The clean-diesel technology in the Audi Q7 TDI provides 30 percent better fuel economy and 50 percent more torque than the same-size gasoline engine, Audi says. For the Audi Q7, that's an EPA-estimated 25 mpg highway and 406 foot-pounds of torque. Torque is the twisting force used to launch a car from a standing start or to accelerate on the highway.

2. BMW X6 ActiveHybrid

Starting price: Not yet released
On sale: November 2009
Green technology: Gasoline-electric hybrid
Estimated fuel savings: Estimated at about 20 percent better mileage than a gasoline model with the same size standard engine.

BMW adds its first-ever hybrid this fall, the BMW X6 ActiveHybrid. Two factors make it an "active" hybrid, BMW says. First, the hybrid system provides a boost of electric power at higher speeds than other hybrids. Second, a complex transmission gives a sportier ride, more like a conventional, gasoline-powered BMW.

3. Buick LaCrosse Ecotec

Starting price: Not yet released
On sale: Late fall 2009
Green technology: Direct-injection gasoline engines
EPA-estimated mpg: 20 city/30 highway

The all-new Buick LaCrosse is on sale now. Customers can order a LaCrosse with two V-6 engines. Both are fuel-efficient, direct-injection gasoline engines. In the fourth quarter, Buick will add a direct-injection, four-cylinder engine that's expected to get 30 mpg on the highway. Direct injection forces gasoline into the engine's combustion chambers at extremely high pressure to create a precise fuel-air mixture that gets more power out of a given amount of fuel.

4. Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan

Starting price: $19,999
On sale: Now
Green technology: Gasoline-electric hybrid
EPA-estimated mpg: 41 city/36 highway

The Ford Fusion and its twin, the Mercury Milan, join a growing number of hybrids with a dashboard display that tells the driver how well they're doing at achieving the best possible mileage. If the driver keeps the (virtual) needles in the "green" -- mostly by staying off the accelerator -- the display "rewards" the driver by adding green leaves to a picture of a plant.


5. Honda Insight

Starting price: $20,510
On sale: Now
Green technology: Gasoline-electric hybrid
EPA-estimated mpg: 40 city/43 highway

Ads touting the Honda Insight as the hybrid for everyone are a swipe at the more expensive Toyota Prius. However, the Honda Insight's exterior styling is similar to the Prius. Also, like the Prius, the Honda Insight is a hybrid-only model. One obvious Honda Insight innovation is that the driver can select an "Econ" mode to optimize gas mileage.


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