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Green on the Inside: Cars That Are Green But Don't Shout it

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author photo by Nick Chambers November 2011

There was a time when "green" was a very specific niche in the automotive world. If you owned a hybrid - particularly the Toyota Prius - you were part of a small club of green aficionados. But times are changing, and people are finding themselves wanting to be green but not wanting to scream it to the world.

Sensing this trend, automakers have found that by including green technology, but wrapping it in a different package without the traditional hallmarks of the green club, many people are more comfortable with it. In fact, these days you may be driving a car with green technology and not even know.

Here are the top new technologies and cars that are green and increase fuel economy, but don't have the word "hybrid" emblazoned on the sheet metal or require you to change your lifestyle to get in on the action.

Ford EcoBoost

Over the past several years Ford has accelerated a plan to bring a diverse array of new fuel saving technologies to market, including hybrids and electric vehicles. But while the media buzz has been about those electrified cars, the company's biggest green investment has been in their more mundane EcoBoost platform.

EcoBoost uses two trusty and time-tested technologies, turbocharging and direct injection, to improve fuel economy by 20 to 30 percent in regular old combustion engines. Smaller four cylinder engines equipped with EcoBoost can provide the power and performance of a V6, and, likewise, V6 engines with it behave like V8s.

The technology is already available on the Flex, Taurus and F-150, and is currently rolling out on the Edge and Explorer. Next year the company will shift the EcoBoost strategy into overdrive by making a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder version of it the standard engine on the brand new Escape. In fact, the Escape will be the first SUV to be sold in the U.S. with nothing but four-cylinder engines, including two EcoBoost options. Look for EcoBoost to show up on an increasing amount of Fords over the next few years.

Volkswagen Diesels

With their granddad's old belchers from the 70s as a persistent memory, Americans are still a bit gun-shy when it comes to diesels. However, the new "clean" diesels are completely different beasts than those cars of yore. Turbocharged and direct-injected, much like Ford's EcoBoost, the new diesel engines provide great acceleration and are extremely efficient.

In the U.S. no company has been more aggressive about bringing diesels back to the people than Volkswagen. In fact, every one of VW's most popular models now has a diesel option, including the Touareg, Passat, Jetta and Golf. There are grumblings that the all-new Beetle will eventually get the diesel treatment as well. VW's diesel engines deliver a 30 to 40 percent improvement in fuel economy compared to their gasoline counterparts, so even though diesel fuel is about 10 to 15 percent more expensive than gas you still save between 15 and 30 percent at the pump.

General Motors eAssist

Without a doubt GM's flagship green car is the incredibly engineered Chevy Volt, but with its $40,000 price tag it's a car that is clearly out of the reach of most of the buying public. In order to bring green technology to the rest of us at a more affordable price, the company is pursuing what's called "light electrification" technology, which, as might be guessed, is a very simple type of hybrid. In fact, it's so simple that GM has decided to ditch the "hybrid" name altogether.

By mounting what is essentially a large starter motor to the drivetrain and mating it with a lithium-ion battery stored in the trunk, GM's so-called "eAssist" technology can increase fuel economy by as much as 30 percent. To achieve the higher efficiency, eAssist-equipped vehicles use regenerative braking to charge the battery when coming to a stop and use the beefy starter motor to provide an electric boost when accelerating. In addition, the system turns the engine completely off when coming to a stop, uses only electricity when stopped, and instantaneously starts up the engine when the driver's foot is lifted from the brakes.

The system is already available on Buick's LaCrosse and Regal - in fact, it is now the standard drivetrain on the base LaCrosse - and GM is planning on using the tech in an ever-increasing number of vehicles. The next car to get the eAssist treatment will be the Chevy Malibu Eco during the early part of next year.

Other Fuel Saving Technologies

In addition to the brand-specific items above, many manufacturers are adding green tech to cars in even more subtle ways using rather mundane technology. These types of cars typically carry special badging and can improve fuel economy by up to 15 percent. Examples include the Ford Focus SFE, Ford Fiesta SFE, Chevy Cruze Eco, Honda Civic HF, Kia Soul Eco, and Kia Forte Eco.

Efficiency-improving elements that these types of cars carry can include:

-Shuttered grills that close at high speeds and below certain temperatures for better aerodynamics and cold weather performance.

-Low rolling resistance tires that allow the car to move along the ground with less friction.

-Lowered ride heights and ground clearance to cut down on wind resistance.

-Lower overall weight by jettisoning "frivolous" things such as rear armrests and extra metal.

-Stop-Start systems to turn the engine off when the car is stopped and turn it back on automatically when needed.

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.
Green on the Inside: Cars That Are Green But Don't Shout it - Autotrader