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Diesels, Hybrids and EVs: How Fuel-Saving Technologies Compare

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author photo by Nick Palermo November 2013

Shoppers who want a fuel-efficient vehicle have more choices than ever, thanks to a range of technologies that allow modern vehicles to travel farther while using less energy. That's important to drivers. Many new-car shoppers cite good fuel economy among their top factors when deciding what to drive.

Conventional gas-powered vehicles are reaping benefits from new technology, but leading the way in high fuel efficiency are hybrids, diesels and electric vehicles (EVs). Drivers who want to maximize fuel economy should consider one of these green choices, which can reduce emissions and lower the costs of driving. Of course, each one has its benefits and drawbacks. Choosing the right one for a driver's particular needs can deliver not only better efficiency but also greater satisfaction.

Diesel has long provided an alternative to conventional gasoline power, and new innovations mean diesel engines are more efficient than ever. Hybrids are another fuel-saving choice. These vehicles pair a gasoline engine with an electric motor and battery pack to capture otherwise wasted energy and improve fuel economy. Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) take that formula one step further by allowing drivers to charge up batteries using a wall outlet or vehicle charging station. Finally, pure electric vehicles use only electricity from the power grid, with no gasoline or other liquid fuel.

For some drivers, diesels are the ideal choice. For others, an EV or PHEV makes the most sense. Find out below which fuel-saving technology is right for you.

Diesels

If you haven't thought about diesel in a decade or more, forget what you know. Gone are the noisy, smelly, sluggish diesels of the 1980s. Diesels now available from both European and domestic brands are clean and quiet, smooth and powerful. Plus, they're terrifically efficient, especially for highway drivers.

In fact, diesels really shine on the open road, boasting impressive highway fuel economy backed by real-world performance. For drivers who travel mostly on the highway and want better fuel economy and lower operational costs, diesels are tough to beat.

There are a few drawbacks, though. Diesel engine options can be pricey compared to conventional gas motors, and diesel fuel itself is typically pricier than regular unleaded gasoline. Plus, diesel fuel can be difficult to find since not all gas stations sell it. That's less of a problem on interstate highways, where plenty of stations cater to big, diesel-powered trucks. Moreover, diesels typically boast long range, meaning they can travel long distances without refueling. That's one of the attributes that further solidifies the diesel as the best long-haul green choice.

Hybrids

Some gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles boast identical Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy ratings for city and highway driving, while others achieve their best efficiency in stop-and-go city traffic. Either way, hybrid vehicles are a versatile green vehicle that will save drivers money on fuel and reduce emissions.

Compared to diesels, hybrids have a distinct advantage in the number of brand and model choices. Almost every automaker sells one or more hybrid models, and buyers can get everything from a basic subcompact hatchback to a luxurious 3-row crossover vehicle with the technology. Also, hybrids typically have a driving range similar to or better than a conventional vehicle. But as with diesel, hybrid buyers pay a premium up front for the future cost savings of lower fuel expenses.

Most drivers easily make up that extra cost at the pump. In fact, drivers who log high miles annually could offset the extra cost within a few years. Drivers who want a range of model choices along with better fuel economy in most driving conditions may find that hybrids are ideal for their needs.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles have a few important advantages over other hybrids. First, PHEV drivers can plug in using a wall outlet or charging station, providing inexpensive energy to fuel the vehicle. Plus, PHEVs typically have much greater electric-only driving range compared to non-plug-in hybrids.

That's advantageous for a couple of reasons. First, it means reduced operating costs when running only on electricity from the grid. Running on electric power can cost just 10 to 15 percent of the cost of running on gas. Second, good electric-only range means reduced tailpipe emissions.

When the battery runs low, PHEV vehicles use a gasoline engine to provide power. Gasoline power is not nearly as cost-efficient as electricity alone, but it does allow these vehicles to offer driving range similar to that of a conventional car.

Electric Vehicles

That conventional-car range is something that pure EVs -- cars that run on electricity from the grid alone -- cannot match. In fact, limited range is a major reason that keeps more people from going electric. Although some electric vehicles can travel 200 miles or more without recharging, a range of 100 miles or less is more common.

For that reason, pure electric vehicles are ideal for city and suburban driving. Because electricity is so inexpensive, operating costs for EVs are very low. Plus, tailpipe emissions are always zero, and tax incentives help to offset the premium automakers charge for EV technology.

There is no one green vehicle for every buyer. Automakers bring an array of green-car choices and let drivers pick the best ones for their needs. If lower fuel costs and reduced emissions are among your priorities, consider putting one of these green vehicles on your car shopping list.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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