Alternative-fuel cars pass the pump in style
The first Mercedes diesel I ever drove was an early 1980s model 240D. It was glacially slow, incredibly loud, and smoked more than the Marlboro Man. Today’s diesels are vastly improved from their smelly beginnings. Which makes it a great time to be a luxury car buyer (isn’t it always?), as diesel joins electric and hybrid as options offering efficiency with comfort.
2012 Mercedes-Benz S350 BlueTEC 4MATIC
The new S350 BlueTEC features everything you expect in an S Class—incredible fit and finish, beautiful materials, and a dizzying array of technology and features—but with one major difference: fuel efficiency.
I recorded more than 32 mpg on a mostly highway trip and about 28 on my daily commute. In an S Class. Weighing 4,800 pounds. With massaging seats. And AWD. And ample room for Shaquille O’Neal and three friends. I really like this car. While it’s not the fastest Benz, the big car moves with urgency and handles better than expected for its size. And it’s incredibly quiet. Except for choosing a different pump at the station, you might never know you’re driving a diesel.
Porsche Panamera S Hybrid
For those buyers seeking serious performance with their efficiency, think Porsche. The Hybrid version gives you all that’s great about the Panamera in terms of comfort, quality, and handling, with only a slight decrease in acceleration over the standard S.
Porsche’s hybrid system is one of the best on the planet with seamless transitions between gas and electric modes while returning 30 mpg highway. The exterior design is a bit polarizing, but the interior is such a fantastic place to spend time, you won’t care.
2012 Fisker Karma
The all-new electric Fisker Karma is a stunningly beautiful high-tech sedan worthy of James Bond, with a shape that stops pedestrians in their tracks. The interior is gorgeous even by luxo car standards, and my test car featured reclaimed wood from the bottom of a lake. Topped by a full-length solar panel glass roof.
In electric-only stealth mode—while emitting a space-age warning sound to alert those pedestrians—the Karma can travel up to 50 miles and 95 mph. You could do your commute without ever using gas. The range and performance improves in gas-assisted sport mode. The Karma weighs a stout 5,300 pounds, but since the weight is carried so low, the car handles like a sports car and seems practically nimble. But wallflowers take note: you’re guaranteed to draw a crowd wherever you park it.
Infiniti M Hybrid
Infiniti calls the M the performance car of hybrids. It’s fast, comfortable, and good looking. While the performance and features are not up to the Panamera, the price comes in at only $65,000, and I saw an average of nearly 28 mpg highway.
BMW Active E
BMW also offers a hybrid version of the 7 series, which gives up some efficiency (24 mpg highway) for more power. I like the new Active E. It’s not a luxury car, but it is a great new choice in small plug-in electrics. Why? Because it drives like a BMW.