• Turbocharging, diesels, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric drivetrains stuffed onto one platform
  • More green and fuel-efficient choices than ever

When gas used to cost less than a dollar per gallon, it was easier to ignore the fuel pump. Back then, performance and comfort trumped all else as considerations for the car buyer, and the biggest deliberation was between the V6 or the V8. Fast forward to today, and fuel has come to the forefront, with volatile gas prices incessantly climbing to unheard-of levels, oil platforms exploding and destroying whole ecosystems and wars seemingly fought mainly over access to petroleum.

The average person is much more aware of gasoline-related issues than a generation ago and has begun demanding solutions. In response, carmakers have embarked on a massive effort to provide more choices of how your vehicle is powered. Turbocharged engines that behave like V6s yet deliver the fuel economy of a 4-cylinder; diesels that are clean, quiet and ultra-efficient; battery-powered family cars that never use a drop of oil - the choices are dazzling, but it can be bewildering to come to grips with it all.

Perhaps the most interesting trend is that manufacturers are increasingly making multiple power sources available with one platform. Among the early entrants to this trend was the Toyota Camry, which came in 4-cylinder, V6 and hybrid configurations. The 2013 Ford Fusion and the 2013 Volkswagen Jetta both carry this trend further, apparently trying to reach the limit of how many choices can be squeezed onto one platform.

When it goes on sale later this year, the 2013 Fusion will be available with a conventional 4-cylinder engine, two turbocharged EcoBoost engines and in two hybrid versions: a conventional hybrid and a plug-in hybrid system that lets you travel 20 to 40 miles on a wall charge before switching to gasoline. Ford expects the hybrid and plug-in hybrid to deliver more than 45 mpg combined fuel economy when burning gasoline. If all those choices aren't Swiss army knife enough for you, the Fusion will also be available with all-wheel drive, although not on the hybrid versions.

The Volkswagen Jetta has been available in both conventional gas and turbo-diesel configurations for some time, and now it will add a hybrid model for 2013. The diesel drivetrain is already a fuel champ, delivering nearly 40 mpg in combined driving, and it has successfully convinced Americans that diesel isn't a dirty word. Although exact numbers aren't yet available, VW expects the Jetta Hybrid to deliver 45 mpg in combined fuel economy.

Chevrolet is another company getting on the multiple-solutions bandwagon. The company already sells a conventional version of the Cruze, as well as a Cruze ECO that scrimps and saves every last drop to get 42 mpg on the highway. In 2013, Chevrolet's Cruze Diesel will be the first diesel passenger car sold in North America by a U.S. automaker. It's rumored to deliver as much as 50 mpg on the highway.

Even manufacturers are willing to admit that all of these drivetrain options can be confusing. But it's the way of the world now, and getting to know how the new options work, then figuring out which best meets your needs, will provide many benefits. Saving on fuel costs, reducing environmental impact, sending less of your money to regions of the world that may not have our best interests in mind: there's something in it for everybody.

What it means to you: Multiple drivetrain choices can be confusing, but more choices mean more ways to meet the needs of the modern consumer.

author photo

Nick Chambers is a "next generation" car enthusiast, recognized for his green automotive coverage in Gas 2.0, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, HybridCars.com and PluginCars.com. In addition, he's been syndicated in Matter Network, AP and Reuters.

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