The Best Green Cars Under $40,000

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Apr 28, 2017

I’ve spent the week with the new Kia Niro hybrid, and it seems I just can’t run it out of gas. Thanks to 50 mpg combined (52 city/49 highway) it is still offering me more than 200 miles of travel after two long trips and a week’s worth of around-town runs.

The Kia Niro just isn't going to run out of gas on you. (Jim Motavalli photo)

The Niro (which starts at $23,785) is middle-of-the-pack in the Kelley Blue Book 2017 list of “Best Hybrid Cars Under $40,000,” proving that the competition is fierce among hybrids. The Prius is hardly the only game in town these days, even though (with a $25,570 MSRP) it’s still Number One on KBB’s list.

KBB, which is tying its ratings into Earth Day April 22, also compares plug-in hybrids and battery electrics, and with entries like the Chevrolet Bolt and restyled Volt (as well as the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron and Volkswagen e-Golf) it’s not an all-Asian rivalry. Let’s start with the hybrid list, which includes some models that may be new to you (but are relative bargains and worth considering). The cars (all 2017s) are listed in order of their ranking:

Toyota Prius, $27,570, 52 mpg combined, 121 horsepower. “The competition has never been stiffer, but the proven Prius remains king of the hybrids.”

The Toyota Prius: Still the best, says KBB.

Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid, $23,035, 58 mpg combined, 139 horsepower. “The Ioniq debuts as nothing less than the most fuel-efficient hybrid on the market.”

 

Hyundai's Ioniq is the most fuel-efficient hybrid on the market.

 

Honda Accord Hybrid, $30,480, 48 mpg combined, 212 horsepower. The Accord “delivers all the comfort, convenience, and excellent resale value of its more established sibling [the Civic hybrid].”

Kia Niro, $23,785, 50 mpg  combined, 139 horsepower. “The new from-the-ground-up Kia Niro is a dedicated hybrid vehicle for efficiency-minded drivers who’d rather drive something that looks more like a regular car.”

Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, $26,835, 42 mpg combined, 193 horsepower. “It’s roomy, comfortable, and has one of the segment’s best designed and most practical interiors.”

The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid: Suburban cruiser and urban tee-totaler.

Toyota RAV4 Hybrid, $29,990, 32 mpg combined, 194 horsepower. With the Synergy Drive system from the Camry Hybrid, the AWD RAV4 “combines class-leading fuel economy with ride height, cargo flexibility and go-anywhere attitude.”

Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid, $28,750, 46 mpg combined, 182 horsepower. “[A]mong the most fuel-efficient midsize sedans on the market,” with the Volt’s hybrid architecture.

Chevy's Malibu Hybrid offers 46 mpg in a mid-sized sedan. It's hybrid stuff is borrowed from the Volt.

Toyota Camry Hybrid, $27,675, 40 mpg combined, 200 horsepower. “Start with the best-selling car in the country, add 40-mpg fuel economy, and you’ve got something special.”

Toyota Highlander Hybrid, $37,230, 29 mpg combined, 306 horsepower. “Three rows of seating, 30 mpg in the city and Toyota reliability make the Highlander Hybrid a tempting SUV.”

BATTERY ELECTRIC CARS

Chevrolet Bolt EV, $37,495, 119 MPGe, 238 miles of range, 9.3 hours charge time/240 volts. “The first all-electric car to combine a sub-$40,000 starting price with driving range of more than 200 miles.”

The Chevy Bolt won the race: First EV with more than 200 miles of range under $40,000.

Hyundai Ioniq Electric, $30,335, 136 MPGe, 124 miles of range, 4.4 hours/240 volts. “The most energy-efficient entry on this list is also the most affordable.”

Volkswagen e-Golf, price TBA, 119 MPGe, 125 miles of range, 5.3 hours/240 volts. “Arguably the most fun-to-drive car on this list.”

Kia Soul EV, $33,145, 105 MPGe, 93 miles of range, 4.8 hours/240 volts. “The gas-free Soul EV is the coolest Soul of all.”

Nissan Leaf, $31,545, 112 MPGe, 107 miles of range, six hours/240 volts. “The groundbreaking and ever-evolving Leaf has received several upgrades and enhancements over the years.”

The Nissan Leaf was the pioneer, and has received consistent improvements. It's challenge: Keeping up with the new competition.

PLUG-IN HYBRID CARS

Toyota Prius Prime, $27,985, 25 miles electric range (640 total), 54 mpg, 2.2 hours charge time/240 volts. The Prime “brings together the time-tested reliability of Toyota technology, a pleasantly rewarding drive, and easy-to-use efficiency.”

The Prius Prime is a bargain in 2017.

Chevrolet Volt, $34,095, 53 miles electric range (420 miles total), 42 mpg, 4.5 hours/240 volts. “Beyond efficiency, the Chevrolet Volt is fun to drive…the interior is both more conventional and more high-tech than before, and it looks great.”

Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid, $36,105, 29 miles electric range (610 total), 40 mpg, 3 hours/240 volts. “The Optima Plug-In shares its gas-powered sibling’s good looks and elegant interior, but adds 29 miles of all-electric range followed by 40-mpg fuel economy.”

With the Kia Optima Plug-In Hybrid, you get 29 miles on battery power alone.

Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid, $35,435, 27 miles electric range (590 miles total), 39 mpg, 3 hours/240 volts. “Baked into the Sonata Plug-In Hybrid is the same value proposition you’d expect with any Sonata: standard features include a hands-free smart trunk, eight-inch touchscreen with navigation, seven airbags, heated seats, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capability.”

Audi A3 Sportback e-tron, $39,850, 16 miles electric range (380 total), 34 mpg, 2.3 hours/240 volts. Combines “the sportiness, handling and high-tech cabin of the Audi A3, plus an efficient 1.4-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with an electric motor, for 204 combined horsepower.”

All the delights of the Audi A3, plus green cred.

These are lists that will bring smiles to the faces of General Motors, Hyundai/Kia, Honda and Toyota executives, with nods to the Euro entries. What’s clear is that the consumer has extremely viable choices for green cars below $40,000. And gas isn’t that cheap. The one category missing here is fuel-cell cars, and if you live in California, the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity Fuel Cell and Hyundai Tucson are zero-emission options.


Get the Car Talk Newsletter