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Green cars slug it out in Portland

Yesterday, members of the Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) gathered in Portland to drive and rate an assortment of “green cars.” What I learned tooling around downtown Portland:
  • Sustainability is high on the automotive agenda. We drove 17 hybrids, plug-in hybrids, clean diesels and electric vehicles from a variety of domestic and foreign makers.
  • In these early stages of the green-car game, efficiency-minded buyers pay a premium for their good intentions.
  • My mother was right: I have a champagne appetite on a beer budget.
The NWAPA Winners
EV: Fiat 500e
Diesel: Chevrolet Cruze Turbo Diesel
Hybrid: Chevrolet Volt
The EV field ranged from the cute-as-a-button, two-passenger Fiat 500e ($33,495) to Ford’s electronics-laden Focus Electric ($39,995). My top picks: the Focus and Nissan’s Leaf ($36,910), whose range, roominess and overall utility are first rank. Honorable mention -- based entirely on style points -- goes to the Fiat.
Notes: 1) All EVs are eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit; 2) Although GM calls the Volt an EV, the EPA calls it a hybrid, which is where NWAPA put it. 2) Honda’s new Fit EV impressed, but I DQed it for being available in only seven states, none of them Washington. 
Clean Diesels
This growing segment produces vehicles as diverse as Chevy’s new Cruze Turbo Diesel ($25,795) and Audi’s A8L Quattro Tiptronic ($99,445). My picks: the A8L which, despite its limo-like heft earns EPA ratings of 24 city/36 highway, and the VW Beetle TDI Convertible ($28,690), the only diesel convertible available in the States.
Notes: Today’s diesels are quiet and refined. They make bundles of torque while producing up to 30 percent fewer emissions than comparable gasoline engines.
Hybrids/Plug-in Hybrids
Both varieties of hybrid outsell the other categories by a wide margin -- and the competitors keep getting better. I liked the Volt ($45,540) and found it impossible to deny a spot to the Prius V ($35,704).
Notes: This segment produced the day’s most pricey competitor, the Lexus LS 600h L ($128,529), a lovely car whose 19/23 mileage ratings more or less defeat the purpose.
What Mom Said
Mom was right, of course. Of all the worthy cars I could have chosen as a personal favorite, I picked the over-the-top Audi Quattro diesel. A hoot to drive and the absolute pinnacle of diesel refinement.

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