If you want to know how green your car is, check out the lifecycle emissions data that researchers like Automotive Science Group (ASG) provide. They go way beyond miles per gallons to project a model’s emissions from pre-production to the end of its useful life. In 2016, Nissan Leaf once again topped the pack, but this EV’s green impact came with an impressive footnote: It beat Honda Fit, the study’s most economical gas car, by 47% in lifecycle emissions.
The study, released to coincide with Earth Day 2016, named Leaf the least-impactful car for the third consecutive year. Seven of the top 10 cars were plug-ins (including four of the top five), while no gasoline car cracked the top 20 for the 2016 model year. Honda Fit ranked No. 22 on the list, making it the best gasoline car as far as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and gross energy requirement (GER) are concerned.
The study reiterated the well-known fact that electric car production requires more resources than gasoline car production. However, the ultra-low emissions involved with operating an EV neutralizes the differences rather quickly. To get the full impact of the disparity, note the 41 miles per gallon highway economy the Fit has for an EPA rating. Few cars achieve a rating so high, and yet a Leaf ends up creating 47% less emissions over its life.
Other cars in the top 10 may come as surprises. At No. 2, Ford Focus Electric came close to the top with an environmental score of 95, well ahead of the Chevy Volt (81), Toyota Prius Two Eco (77), and Hyundai Sonata PHEV (74) that rounded out the top five. Tesla Model S 70 kWh landed sixth place with a score of 73.
Three other Ford models — C-Max Energi, Fusion Energi, and Fusion Hybrid — took places No. 8 through 10 for the 2016 model year, making the automaker the top performer among manufacturers. Consider it an endorsement of the Focus Electric we enjoyed in a 2015 test but has been much maligned (rightfully so, perhaps) among EV enthusiasts for its limited range and lack of fast-charging capabilities.
When Ford upgrades the electric Focus to a range over 100 miles with fast-charging later this year, we will see if the car’s reputation gets a bump on the U.S. market. As it stands, cars with fewer than 200 miles of promised range tend to cause yawns and rolls of the eyes. GM, Tesla, and Ford (in that order) plan to have solutions to this problem costing less than $40,000 on the market by 2018.
Currently, only the 2016 Nissan Leaf in SV trim gets over 100 miles per charge (107, to be exact) and costs in that ballpark ($34,200). It also happens to be the greenest car of any ASG studied for its latest report. At 124 MPGe in the city, it’s easy to see how. Drivers have limitations in charging time and total range with the current generation of affordable EVs, but as green transportation goes, it doesn’t get any better.