Smart Electric Tops 2014 Greenest Cars List

Just the Facts:
  • The tiny, all-electric Smart ED topped last year's "greenest" car — Toyota's Prius C — in this year's ACEEE ranking of 2014 models' environmental friendliness.
  • There are two gasoline-powered cars among the top dozen green cars as rated by the environmental lobbying group American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
  • Diesel pickups, large vans and exotic sports cars tend to occupy the bottom of the list as ACEEE's environmentally "meanest" vehicles.

WASHINGTON A car that relatively few Americans will ever ride in and even fewer will own, Smart's low volume, two-seat, all-electric ED model, edged out Toyota's Prius C this year for the top spot in a widely followed annual rating of mass-production passenger vehicles' environmental friendliness.

The ratings, which have been published annually since 1998 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, favors hybrids and battery-electric cars among its top dozen choices.

But the top tier of the "greener cars" rankings for model year 2014 includes three internal combustion models with no electric assist, signaling that engines that burn carbon-based fuels shouldn't be dismissed by consumers seeking to make vehicle choices that will minimize their environmental impact.

One car conspicuously absent from the top-tier rankings is the all-electric Tesla Model S. Because the rating system uses vehicle and battery weight to help estimate emissions at the manufacturing level, the emissions charged against the 5,000-pound car with its 1,000-pound battery pack "are significant compared to the other electric vehicles," said Shruti Vaidyanathan, ACEEE's lead vehicle analyst.

As a result, the Model S with the large 85 kilowatt-hour battery scored 22 points lower on the ACEE's 100-point scale than the industry-leading Smart ED, while the Model S with the smaller 60 kwh battery did only slightly better at 38 points — the same score as that garnered by the conventionally powered six-cylinder Porsche Carrera S.

No domestic cars made the top dozen — a comedown from last year when the 2013 Ford Fusion and C-Max hybrids tied for 12th place.

It's not that the domestics got dirtier, but that the greenest cars got a little bit cleaner.

There's been such an increase in hybrid and electric vehicles in the past two years "that the race to earn a spot of the 'greenest' list is more competitive than ever, particularly for conventional vehicles," said Vaidyanathan.

The group not only ranks the overall greenest vehicles, it offers ratings by vehicle class. So even if your next vehicle will be a pickup truck, SUV or high-performance car — models that typically don't do well when judged against hybrid cars and EVs — you can find the greenest choices in those categories on the ACEEE's Web site. (For those too impatient to visit the site, the 2014 Ram 1500 HFE is the leading full-size pickup.)

Ratings in the "greener cars" listing, formerly called the ACEEE Green Book, are based on a weighted score derived from federal and state emissions and federal fuel-efficiency ratings as well as formulas used by government and industry to figure emissions at the factory.

The rankings also factor in the public health impacts of tailpipe emissions as well as the impact of recycling and disposing of vehicle components at the end of their useful lives, and the "upstream" impact of fuel production — including electricity. For hybrids and EVs, the environmental impact of battery materials production is taken into account.

The 2014 Smart ED placed 1st in the overall ratings with a green score of 59 out of a theoretical 100, followed at 57 points by last year's leader, the Prius C — which dropped one point from its 2013 score of 58.

In 3rd place at 55 points is the 2014 Nissan Leaf EV, followed by the standard Prius hybrid, Honda Civic Hybrid, Lexus CT 200H hybrid, Prius plug-in hybrid, the gasoline-burning Mitsubishi Mirage, Honda Civic Natural Gas, Honda Insight hybrid, gasoline-powered Smart ForTwo and the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. Just six points separates the 12th-place Jetta Hybrid from the top-ranked Smart ED.

ACEEE's "meanest" vehicles listing for the 2014 model year is led by the heavy-duty Ram 2500 pickup, followed by the Bugatti Veyron sports car and the Ford E-150 flex-fuel van.

The entire 2014 greener car ratings, along with ACEEE's choices for the greenest and meanest vehicles in the various classes, can be found on the group's Web site. The Washington-based organization charges a fee for full access to the listings.

Edmunds says: A list like this can help consumers identify vehicles with low environmental impact in various classes and price ranges, and can assist car dealers in matching environmentally conscious shoppers with cars and trucks that can make them smile.