Buying a hybrid car is not the only way to solve the problems of high fuel costs and environmental damage.

No matter how many miles a gas-electric hybrid can squeeze out of a gallon of gas, some people just don’t like them. And not all hybrids make financial sense.

But there are alternatives. Although not as trendy as hybrid technology, a new crop of 50-state-certified clean diesels and a second group of high-mpg, low-emission gasoline-fueled vehicles — part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay brand — provide solid fuel economy and lower-than-expected tailpipe emissions.

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Diesels

Nearly everyone older than age 40 shares the collective memory of the diesel cars of the 1970s and 1980s. It was a tossup whether the noise, the smell or the billowing cloud of black smoke would be your first indication a diesel automobile was approaching. Although the cost of a gallon of diesel at the time was considerably less than a gallon of gas and a diesel car traveled 5 miles to 10 miles farther on a gallon, the cost advantage wasn’t sufficient motivation for most of us to live with one of those atrocious, underpowered relics.

Well, times have changed and so has diesel technology.

While the U.S. consumer gave up on diesels long ago, nearly 60 percent of cars sold in western Europe today are diesels — compared with less than 10 percent in this country. There have not been many models available in the U.S. because they don’t meet the stringent California emission standards and so could not be sold in Vermont, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Florida, Maryland or New Jersey either.

That is no longer the case. Utilizing technology developed with Audi and Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen brought the first 50-state-compliant diesel automobile to market — the 2009 Jetta TDI — last year. It was just the first of several clean-diesel vehicles now on sale in the U.S.

The new clean diesels are based on a technology called BlueTec by Mercedes-Benz and BluePerformance by BMW. Oversimplified, it significantly reduces nitrogen oxides, or NOx, in the exhaust. In four-cylinder diesel engines — like that used in the Jetta TDI — it’s done by using a modified catalytic converter. In six-cylinder engines, the exhaust passes first through a device that reduces hydrocarbons and carbon monoxide and then a filter which reduces particulate emissions by 98 percent. Next, a water-based additive called urea is added to the exhaust, creating ammonia. Finally, another device converts the ammonia into nitrogen and water — both safe and both found in the air.

As they have incorporated BlueTec, or BluePerformance, into their diesels, European automakers have been exporting them to North America. Following the Jetta TDI is a rush of clean diesels with more to come. Unlike hybrids, diesels don’t necessarily cost more than their comparable gasoline-fueled siblings. Consequently, some research and a little math may be required to estimate actual cost savings. Also to be considered in the value equation is that several of these clean diesels have been certified by the Internal Revenue Service as “advanced lean-burn technology vehicles,” qualifying them for the federal income tax alternative motor vehicle tax credit that can be as much as $1,800.

Here’s a look at some of the more popular alternatives available in the U.S.

Volkswagen Jetta TDI – MSRP $22,970

From August 2008 through March 2009, the Jetta TDI was responsible for 25 percent of total U.S. Jetta sales. It is also available in station wagon form as the SportWagen TDI. The standard transmission for ushering power to the front wheels is a six-speed manual. It collaborates with the 140-horsepower, 2-liter, four-cylinder turbo-diesel to deliver an EPA-rated fuel economy of 30 miles per gallon in the city and 41 mpg on the highway. This is a 9-mpg and 10-mpg improvement, respectively, over the gas-fueled version of the same engine.

The Jetta TDI is fun to drive and represents the new clean diesel as well as any of the more expensive diesels. It’s quiet, quick and can go as far as 590 miles between fill ups. Its standard features list is expansive, featuring full power accessories, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, air conditioning, cruise control, and a 10-speaker audio system with an in-dash six-CD changer and an auxiliary input jack.

BMW 335d – MSRP $44,725

BMW chose to wrap its first 50-state-compliant, passenger-car diesel technology in America’s best-selling luxury car according to Edmunds.com, the 3 Series. Providing all the spot-on handling of the gasoline-fueled 3 Series, the 335d clocks 23 mpg city and 36 mpg highway — beating the 335i’s EPA fuel numbers by 6 mpg and 10 mpg, respectively. Its engine is a 265-horsepower, 3-liter, in-line, six-cylinder twin turbo. Using a two-stage turbo system at different rpms, the 335d provides explosive acceleration with virtually no turbo lag. It sprints to 60 mph from a standing stop in 6 seconds, according to BMW’s stopwatch. A driver-shiftable, six-speed automatic transmission hustles engine production to the rear wheels.

Standard features include full power accessories, rain-sensing wipers, dynamic cruise control, trip computer, six air bags, and an audio system with a CD player and auxiliary input jack.

Volkswagen Touareg 2 TDI – MSRP $43,550

Costing about $3,500 more than the gasoline-fueled V-8 version, the TDI wrings 17 miles in the city and 25 miles on the highway out of a gallon of fuel. The V-8’s EPA rating is 13 mpg city and 18 mpg highway. Capable of towing up to 7,716 pounds, the TDI dashes from zero to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, according to Volkswagen. Generating the go is a 221-horsepower, 3-liter, turbocharged diesel V-6. A six-speed automatic transmission sends engine output to all four wheels. It has a low-range gear for off-road travel. The TDI and V-8 share standard equipment that includes speed-sensitive, rain-sensing wipers; power sunroof; six air bags; eight-way, power front seats; tilt and telescoping steering wheel with redundant audio controls; dual-zone, automatic climate controls; and a 10-speaker audio system with CD player and auxiliary input jack.

SmartWay vehicles

Saving some coin at the pump and leaving less of a carbon footprint doesn’t need to involve cutting-edge technology. If you are willing to pilot a smaller car and do a little homework — and we’ve done most of it for you — you can get good mileage and minimize emissions without paying a higher purchase price for a hybrid or extra at the pump for diesel fuel.

The EPA has designated a group of automobiles as SmartWay. These are cars that not only achieve good fuel economy, but release less tailpipe emissions into the air.

To qualify as a SmartWay vehicle, cars must meet certain emission levels and fuel-economy values. Two different emission criteria are used:

  • Air pollution score.
  • Greenhouse gas score.

The air pollution score is based on the amount of certain pollutants discharged into the atmosphere. They include hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide and the like. These are what contribute to smog and haze. The greenhouse gas score is really a function of a vehicle’s mpg. The amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that a vehicle releases are tied directly to how many miles a vehicle gets to the gallon — the fewer mpg, the more greenhouse gases that vehicle discharges traveling from point A to point B.

Vehicles are rated on each of the air pollution and greenhouse gas scores on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being best. To receive the SmartWay designation a vehicle must score at least a 6 on each and have a total combined score of at least 13. Because we are concentrating on vehicles that are alternatives to hybrids, we have eliminated those that don’t get at least 21 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. There were several automobiles included on the EPA’s list that just missed ours. Subaru, for example, has several SmartWay entries that missed our list by 1 mpg or 2 mpg. You can find the complete EPA list at www.epa.gov/greenvehicles.

Volkswagen Touareg 2 TDI – MSRP $43,550

Costing about $3,500 more than the gasoline-fueled V-8 version, the TDI wrings 17 miles in the city and 25 miles on the highway out of a gallon of fuel. The V-8’s EPA rating is 13 mpg city and 18 mpg highway. Capable of towing up to 7,716 pounds, the TDI dashes from zero to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, according to Volkswagen. Generating the go is a 221-horsepower, 3-liter, turbocharged diesel V-6. A six-speed automatic transmission sends engine output to all four wheels. It has a low-range gear for off-road travel. The TDI and V-8 share standard equipment that includes speed-sensitive, rain-sensing wipers; power sunroof; six air bags; eight-way, power front seats; tilt and telescoping steering wheel with redundant audio controls; dual-zone, automatic climate controls; and a 10-speaker audio system with CD player and auxiliary input jack.

SmartWay vehicles

Saving some coin at the pump and leaving less of a carbon footprint doesn’t need to involve cutting-edge technology. If you are willing to pilot a smaller car and do a little homework — and we’ve done most of it for you — you can get good mileage and minimize emissions without paying a higher purchase price for a hybrid or extra at the pump for diesel fuel.

The EPA has designated a group of automobiles as SmartWay. These are cars that not only achieve good fuel economy, but release less tailpipe emissions into the air.

To qualify as a SmartWay vehicle, cars must meet certain emission levels and fuel-economy values. Two different emission criteria are used:

  • Air pollution score.
  • Greenhouse gas score.

The air pollution score is based on the amount of certain pollutants discharged into the atmosphere. They include hydrocarbons, nitrous oxides, carbon monoxide and the like. These are what contribute to smog and haze. The greenhouse gas score is really a function of a vehicle’s mpg. The amount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that a vehicle releases are tied directly to how many miles a vehicle gets to the gallon — the fewer mpg, the more greenhouse gases that vehicle discharges traveling from point A to point B.

Vehicles are rated on each of the air pollution and greenhouse gas scores on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being best. To receive the SmartWay designation a vehicle must score at least a 6 on each and have a total combined score of at least 13. Because we are concentrating on vehicles that are alternatives to hybrids, we have eliminated those that don’t get at least 21 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. There were several automobiles included on the EPA’s list that just missed ours. Subaru, for example, has several SmartWay entries that missed our list by 1 mpg or 2 mpg. You can find the complete EPA list at www.epa.gov/greenvehicles.

Although most of the cars listed are compacts or subcompacts, there are a few midsize entries, such as the Chevrolet Malibu, Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Avenger, Honda Accord, Hyundai Sonata, Mazda6, Nissan Altima, Pontiac G6, Toyota Camry and Volkswagen Passat CC. Being stingy on fuel consumption doesn’t always mean small.

SmartWay vehicles
Model1 Engine/Trans2 Fuel Grade3 MPG4 AFC5 SmartWay
Audi TT Roadster 2.0-A P 22/30 $1,386 14
Audi TT Coupe 2.0-A P 23/31 $1,334 13
Audi A3 2.0-M P 21/30 $1,445 13
Audi A4 Cabriolet 2.0-C P 23/30 $1,386 13
Chevrolet Aveo 1.6-A R 25/34 $1,114 14
Chevrolet Aveo 1.6-M R 27/34 $1,039 14
Chevrolet Cobalt 2.0-M R 22/30 $1,248 13
Chevrolet Cobalt 2.2-A R 24/33 $1,154 13
Chevrolet Cobalt 2.2-M R 25/35 $1,076 14
Chevrolet HHR 2.2-A R 22/30 $1,248 13
Chevrolet HHR 2.2-M R 22/32 $1,248 14
Chevrolet Malibu 2.4-A R 22/30 $1,248 13
Chrysler Sebring 2.4-A R 21/30 $1,301 14
Dodge Avenger 2.4-A R 21/30 $1,301 14
Dodge Caliber 1.8-M R 24/30 $1,154 13
Ford Focus 2.0-A R 24/33 $1,154 15
Ford Focus 2.0-M R 24/35 $1,114 15
Honda Accord 2.4-A R 21/30 $1,301 13
Honda Accord 2.4-M R 22/31 $1,248 13
Honda Civic 1.8-A R 25/36 $1,076 14
Honda Civic 1.8-M R 26/34 $1,076 14
Honda Fit 1.5-A R 28/35 $1,008 14
Honda Fit 1.5-M R 27/33 $1,076 14
Hyundai Accent 1.6-A R 26/35 $1,076 14
Hyundai Accent 1.6-M R 27/33 $1,076 14
Hyundai Elantra 2.0-A R 25/33 $1,114 14
Hyundai Elantra 2.0-M R 24/33 $1,154 14
Hyundai Elantra Touring 2.0-A R 23/30 $1,201 13
Hyundai Elantra Touring 2.0-M R 23/31 $1,201 13
Hyundai Sonata 2.4-A R 22/32 $1,248 13
Hyundai Sonata 2.4-M R 21/32 $1,248 13
Kia Optima 2.4-A R 22/32 $1,248 13
Kia Optima 2.4-M R 22/32 $1,248 13
Kia Rio 1.6-A R 26/35 $1,039 14
Kia Rio 1.6-M R 27/33 $1,039 14
Kia Spectra 1.6-A R 24/32 $1,154 13
Kia Spectra 2.0-M R 23/30 $1,201 13
Mazda3 2.0-A R 22/30 $1,248 13
Mazda3 2.0-M R 24/32 $1,154 13
Mazda6 2.0-A R 21/30 $1,301 13
More on next page …
1All model information is for versions meeting federal standards rather than California or regional standards. California-certified versions have higher SmartWay scores.
2Engine displacement in liters. A: Automatic; M: Manual; C: Continuous variable transmission.
3Manufacturer’s recommended fuel grade. P: Premium; R: Regular.
4EPA fuel economy estimate.
5EPA estimated annual fuel cost based on 15,000 miles per year at $2.08 per gallon.
SmartWay vehicles (continued)
Model1 Engine/Trans2 Fuel Grade3 MPG4 AFC5 SmartWay
Mini Cooper/ Clubman 1.6-A P 25/34 $1,195 14
Mini Cooper/ Clubman 1.6-M P 25/34 $1,085 14
Mini Cooper S/Clubman S 1.6-A P 28/37 $1,334 13
Mini Cooper S/Clubman S 1.6-M P 28/37 $1,195 14
Mitsubishi Lancer 2.0-M R 22/30 $1,248 13
Nissan Altima 2.5-A R 23/31 $1,201 13
Nissan Altima 2.5-M R 23/32 $1,201 14
Nissan Versa 1.8-C R 27/33 $1,076 14
Nissan Versa 1.8-A R 24/32 $1,154 13
Nissan Versa 1.8-M R 26/31 $1,114 14
Pontiac G3 1.6-A R 25/34 $1,114 14
Pontiac G3 1.6-M R 25/34 $1,039 14
Pontiac G5 2.2-A R 24/33 $1,154 13
Pontiac G5 2.2-M R 25/35 $1,076 14
Pontiac G5 GT 2.2-A R 23/32 $1,201 13
Pontiac G5 GT 2.2-M R 25/35 $1,076 13
Pontiac G5 XFE 2.2-M R 25/37 $1,039 14
Pontiac G6 2.4-A R 22/33 $1,201 13
Pontiac Vibe 1.8-A R 26/31 $1,114 14
Pontiac Vibe 1.8-M R 26/32 $1,114 14
Saturn Astra 1.8-A R 24/30 $1,154 13
Saturn Astra 1.8-M R 24/32 $1,154 13
Saturn Aura 2.4-A R 22/33 $1,201 13
Scion xD 1.8-A R 26/32 $1,114 14
Scion xD 1.8-M R 27/33 $1,076 14
Suzuki SX4 2.0-A R 23/31 $1,201 13
Suzuki SX4 2.0-M R 22/30 $1,248 13
Toyota Camry 2.4-A R 21/31 $1,248 13
Toyota Camry 2.4-M R 23/31 $1,248 13
Toyota Corolla 1.8-A R 27/35 $1,039 14
Toyota Corolla 1.8-M R 26/35 $1,039 14
Toyota Corolla 2.4-A R 22/30 $1,248 13
Toyota Corolla 2.4-M R 22/30 $1,248 13
Kia Rio 1.6-A R 26/35 $1,039 14
Toyota Matrix 1.8-A R 25/31 $1,114 14
Toyota Matrix 1.8-M R 26/32 $1,114 14
Toyota Yaris 1.5-A R 29/35 $1,008 14
Toyota Yaris 1.5-M R 29/36 $977 14
Volkswagen EOS 2.0-M P 21/31 $1,386 13
Volkswagen GTi 2.0-M P 21/31 $1,386 13
Volkswagen Jetta 2.0-M P 21/31 $1,386 13
Volkswagen Jetta 2.5-M P 21/30 $1,301 13
Volkswagen Passat CC 2.0-M P 21/31 $1,386 13
Volkswagen Rabbit 2.5-M R 21/30 $1,301 13
1All model information is for versions meeting federal standards rather than California or regional standards. California-certified versions have higher SmartWay scores.
2Engine displacement in liters. A: Automatic; M: Manual; C: Continuous variable transmission.
3Manufacturer’s recommended fuel grade. P: Premium; R: Regular.
4EPA fuel economy estimate.
5EPA estimated annual fuel cost based on 15,000 miles per year at $2.08 per gallon.

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