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Don Adair's Seat Time

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
 
Impressions
 
EVs
 
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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