The Green Car Olympics

With exciting hybrids and EVs hitting the market in 2011, we invite green cars everywhere to compete in the 2011 Green Car Olympics.

The era of the green car is finally here.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Our friends at NativeEnergy recently linked to the 170-year history of the electric vehicle, proving that the top green cars in the market today are the result of a long and interesting history of trial and error. What’s finally here, to be more precise, is the global acceptance of electric and hybrid cars as real, viable alternatives to traditional gas guzzlers.

The Chevrolet Volt was recently named the 2011 Motor Trend Car of the Year at the same time the Nissan LEAF was recognized as Europe’s Car of the Year. So what do these trendy new models have in common? Efficiency, low-to-no emissions, and perhaps most importantly in the brave new world of EVs and hybrids, affordability.

With all that said, we’d like to welcome you to the first-ever Esurance Green Car Olympics. Inspired by the Ancient Greeks’ admirably efficient modes of transportation like the chariot and the long walk, we’re handing out a gold, a silver, and a bronze to our favorite eco-conscious rides of 2011.

The Bronze Medal: 2011 Toyota Prius

Mpg: 51 city, 48 highway
Base price range: $23,810–$29,080

By any standard, 2010 was a tough year for Toyota as millions of recalled cars affected the company’s hard-earned reputation for dependability and safety. But it wasn’t enough to bring down a decade of hybrid progress. The Prius continued to remain the most popular hybrid on the market, and in Japan, 2010 models sold more than 300,000 units (a national record).

The new model continues to tweak and refine its technology. At 51 mpg, the 2011 Prius is the official leader in efficiency according to an EPA report (which didn’t include the LEAF or Volt). In other words, as the Car Connection’s review reminds us, “The 2011 Toyota Prius gets the highest mileage of any gasoline-powered vehicle you can’t plug in.”

And it comes with a wide range of sci-fi-sounding features designed to appeal to the eco-loving techie in all of us, including Intelligent Parking Assist and an optional moon roof equipped with solar panels.

The new edition also marks a subtle change for the Prius dynasty: What used to be the Prius III in years past will now be called the Prius Three. At the risk of reading too far into it, this small tweak may reflect a back-to-basics approach to the innovative engineering and safety measures that made the Toyota Prius so successful in the first place.

The Silver Medal: 2011 Chevrolet Volt

Mpg equivalent: 105 (more info on this tricky calculation)
Base price: $41,000

After a rough decade for the U.S. auto industry, it’s hard to overstate the significance of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

The Volt won the Los Angeles Auto Show’s prestigious Green Car of the Year award in addition to an even heftier feather in the cap: Motor Trend Car of the Year. It’s quite an accomplishment for a green car like the Volt to join this illustrious club — past winners of this award include a GTO, a Mustang, a Camaro, and 2 Corvettes.

In practice, the Volt is an electric car with a small gas engine, which extends the car’s range when the batteries are low. It’s the first of its kind because it can operate as an EV or hybrid in order to maximize efficiency — it’s the first “intelligent hybrid” according to Motor Trend.

It’s also cool-looking, the acceleration is good for its class (8.8 seconds from 0-60), and the reviews have been universally positive. So get ready to see it in a lane near you — GM foresees 45,000 Volts cruising the roads by 2012.

The Gold Medal: 2011 Nissan LEAF

Mpg equivalent: 99 (more on this tricky calculation)
Base price range: $32,780–$35,240

We’re smitten by the Chevy Volt, but we have unabashed reverence for the inaugural Green Car Olympic’s champion (and Europe’s Car of the Year), the Nissan LEAF.

With an official range of 75 miles and efficiency equivalent to 99 mpg, the LEAF (which is an acronym for Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable Family car…sort of) is the only all-electric car from a major automaker available to U.S. drivers in 2011. And perhaps more importantly, its driving experience holds up against traditional cars. As Car and Driver reports, “It feels like a real car.”

While going green is a driving factor behind many LEAF purchases, the car also saves green. According to the EPA, the average annual electricity cost for the LEAF is $561, or roughly $1,000 less per year than it costs to fill up a typical Nissan Versa.

Plugging the LEAF’s battery in for a charge is easy, and when the battery gets low, the car can send a reminder. That’s right: the LEAF can even text.

For all these reasons and more, we’re happy to say congratulations, Nissan LEAF. It’s a gold medal well deserved.

Questions or comments on this post? We’d love to hear from you! Send us an email at communications@esurance.com.

More green-driving resources:
GreenCarReports.com’s best car to buy in 2011
NativeEnergy’s 3 electric car myths
The Nissan LEAF: Europe’s official Car of the Year (Wired)
The 2011 Fuel Economy Guide

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