Okay, I'm just going to say it: I hate the Prius.
I know, I know -- it's the poster-child for green motoring and a status symbol for the thousands of owners who drive one. Those two features, though, are precisely why I hate it. I commend Toyota for their hybrid technology -- it's smooth, efficient and it works reliably. In any other car, I could recommend it, applaud it, even.
In the Prius, though, I just can't. It's an offensively bland, un-daring thing which is neither a great car nor a particularly green one. Sure, its electric motor means that you can enjoy up to 11 miles of gas-free driving. Great! Unless you want to accelerate with any real progress, in which case the gas engine kicks in and nullifies the point. It switches the engine off at stop lights, though! Again, fantastic, but so do many other cars -- the Prius isn't unique here. What about the fact that it returns 51mpg in city driving? No. It doesn't. In real-world driving, your individual driving style plays a huge part in whether you'll come close to that number. And outside of the city? It's just a typical, 4-cylinder gas-engine car. There's nothing unique about that. And that's before I get started on the plastic interior, harsh ride, awful transmission and small trunk.
Worse still are the owners of the ever-bland Prius. The self-righteous attitude of many Prius owners can be annoying, if not downright insufferable. The Prius is now infamous for being green, so all owners feel like they're single-handedly saving the planet.
Newsflash -- they're not. They're still sucking in fossil fuels. If they truly wanted to be green, they'd get one of the seven cars on this list. Each offers truly usable, truly green motoring, and most will do so without making you feel like you're driving the car equivalent of beige wallpaper.
First, some quick facts: the Prius starts at $24,200, has a combined gas and electric 134 horsepower, gets 51/48 city/hwy MPG and travels just 11 miles in electric-only mode. Now, let's see how that stacks up...
1 - Nissan Leaf
Yes, the Leaf is only slightly less bland than the Prius to look at, but Nissan deserves kudos for it. Fully-electric, the Leaf is the highest-selling all-electric car in the USA, and -- if Nissan's reviews are anything to go by -- its owners love it. Offering a 107-hp electric motor, the Leaf offers the electric equivalent of 129/102 city/highway MPG and its batteries will give you an average range of 73 miles -- 2.5 times the average milage driven by Americans daily. Starting at $28,200, the Leaf can drop to as low as $21,300 after federal tax savings, and is great for those who want a thoroughly car-like electric-car, that doesn't feel too futuristic or extreme.
For city-dwellers, the Spark is ideal. Nimble, small, and with no reliance on a gas engine, the all-electric Spark EV can go up to 80 miles on a single charge. Even better, with 400 lb-ft of electric torque the Spark can hit 60mph in under 7.6 seconds. Plus, its small frame will cling to corners, so it's all-electric and great fun to boot. Starting at $26,685, the Spark drops as low as $19,185 after savings, and is perfect for darting through urban streets.
The Ford is already on strong footing, as it has a much sleeker face than the Prius. It adds to this with a large, practical interior, an average range of 76 miles and an eco-conscious design. Crafted from recycled materials and utilising plant-based fibres, the cabin of the Focus will feel familiar to anyone who has spent time in a modern Ford, and brings with it sharp driving dynamics and the electric motor's instant torque. The Focus Electric is pricier than the Prius, starting at $35,200, but qualifies for the $7,500 federal tax credit. It offers space and fun in equal measures.
4 - Chevrolet Volt
I know, another Chevy, but the Volt is a hybrid that runs rings around the Prius -- it still has a gas engine, but you could potentially never use it. Here the gas engine acts as a generator, its only function to give the battery extra charge when it's low. The Volt can be driven in purely electric mode for 38 miles -- more than sufficient for the average driver's daily commute of 29 miles. Need to go further? The engine is there to give you up to 380 miles of electric range. Volt drivers average 900 miles between fill-ups and have collectively driven 490 million miles, with 308 million of those miles using just the electric motor -- no gas supplement required. If you have a commute under 38 miles and charge the Volt every night, you could potentially never use the gas engine. That's a truly green hybrid.
5 - Cadillac ELR
If you're in the market for a green car, but want something a little more luxurious, let Cadillac seriously tempt you with its ELR hybrid. It uses the same electric motor and gas engine set-up as the Volt, with the ELR running for 35 miles on electricity and the gas engine extending that to 300 miles. Power is 207 hp and 295 lb-ft of torque, all available as soon as you press the gas pedal, letting the ELR hit 60 mph in under 8 seconds. Inside, it will offer stitched leather, burled-grain wood, carbon fiber and Cadillac's CUE infotainment system. Starting at $75,995, the ELR isn't cheap -- even after tax credits it's lowest price is $68,495 -- but if you're torn between a luxury sports coupe and going green, it could just be the answer.
6 - BMW i3
Launching in spring 2014 for $41,350 (before the $7,500 tax credit) the all-electric i3 represents a new direction for BMW. With a serious emphasis on sustainability and environmentally-friendly motoring, the i3 makes use of advanced materials, such as Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic, and responsibly-sourced natural resources to create a compact, fast, efficient and earth-conscious car. 0-60mph takes 7 seconds, it can charge in just 3 hours and offers up to 100 miles of range. Need more? For $4000, BMW will fit a small gas engine to double the battery's mileage. With ultra-modern styling, BMW's legendary driving ability and a green focus that impacts every area of construction, the i3 offers a glimpse at the future of sustainable motoring.
7 - Tesla Model S
If you want to see the future of motoring as a whole, look no further than the Model S. It's an electric car that offers none of the drawbacks of buying an electric car. There's no range anxiety -- the Model S can travel up to 300 miles on a charge. There's no charging worries -- Tesla owners can top up at any charging point and for free at Tesla Supercharger stations, which will be nationwide by the end of 2014. There's no impact on drive -- with 0-60 times as low as 4.2 seconds, a flat, sporty chassis, up to 416hp and top speeds up to 130 mph, the three available power variants of the Model S will each excite you. There's no engine, so you're completely gas-free. There's two cargo spaces, one in the trunk and one under the hood. It can seat 7, even though it's a sedan. It has a luxury, bespoke interior. It starts at $62,400 after federal tax credits. It earned the highest score Consumer Reports has ever given a car and carries their "Recommended" status. The Model is is all-electric, all-conquering and head and shoulders above rivals -- both gas and electrically-powered. It's the ultimate green car.