Are Green Cars Worth the Gas Savings?
By: Staff

By Richard Posluszny, TheStreet

Drivers wary of high gas prices are choosing smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles. Last May, sales of Honda’s gas-sipping Civic (Stock Quote: HMC) sky-rocketed snatching first place from the perennial favorite, the Ford F150 pick-up truck (Stock Quote: F) in terms of U.S. sales.

Are you in the market for a new, greener, fuel-efficient vehicle? What alternative energy vehicles achieve the best bang for the buck?

MainStreet gave three alternative energy vehicles a test drive and then looked at the numbers. Here's what we found:

1. Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
Chevrolet’s midsize offering, the Malibu Hybrid (pictured), is impressive. Boasting an electric motor, which aids the gasoline engine, it improves fuel efficiency to a road-tested 26 miles per gallon. Although on paper the specifications are not exciting, the Malibu Hybrid surprises once you get it on the road.

Acceleration comes on relatively quick and makes you believe this 164 horsepower motor is truly making 260 horsepower. The vehicle absorbs bumps well. Steering feel is nicely balanced, not too heavy or light.

Here are the nitty-gritty numbers: The Malibu Hybrid's 26 mpg is somewhat higher than the EPA’s estimates of the generic Malibu, which obtains an average 21.5 mpg. With both versions having the same gas tank size, the hybrid achieves a longer range. This aids its annual fuel costs by saving approximately $240 per year (assuming 15,000 miles driven and a gas price of $1.90).

Currently, hybrid models generally cost anywhere from $2,000 to $4,000 more than a generic, gasoline variant. Considering recent gas prices, it would take the Malibu Hybrid more than eight years to account for this price differential.

2. Audi Q7 3.0 TDI
With hybrid models invading the market from both domestic and Japanese manufacturers, Europe has diesel powered vehicles. Diesel power has a tremendous future in the U.S. With no fumes or odors and significantly better miles per gallon, diesel cars are hot.

Audi’s Q7 3.0 TDI achieved nearly 28 mpg in a recent 1,800 mile cross country jaunt. This is an 11 mpg improvement over the gasoline variant. With both of Audi’s Q7s specified with a cavernous 26 gallon tank, the TDI’s range extends more than 700 miles on one tank of fuel. With current diesel prices near $2.70 per gallon, the TDI accounts for fuel savings of $205 yearly, assuming 15,000 miles are driven.

3. Brabus Smart For Two CDI
MainStreet also recently tested the Brabus Smart For Two CDI, which is not yet available in the U.S. Although the Smart achieves a mind-bending 58 mpg, the car’s puny 5.8-gallon fuel tank and higher diesel prices negate its significant gains over a gasoline fueled Smart.

So Which Car Won Out?
Let's say the price of gas creeps back near the levels of last summer. When you factor the cost savings with these three hybrid or diesel vehicles, the results are worth noting.

Assuming a gas price of $3.50 per gallon and eight years of driving, the Malibu Hybrid saves approximately $3,600, effectively negating the initial premium for the hybrid variant. Along the same lines, the Smart CDI would net nearly $2,500 in savings. However, the real star of these changes was the Q7 TDI. It would net an approximate $6,000 in fuel savings. Wow!

Clearly, alternative energy vehicles have plenty to offer. They are cleaner and achieve significant mpg savings; however, their value is correlated with the price of fuel versus initial premium to buy the vehicle. Hopefully, the premium for hybrid and diesel motors will decrease in time.


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