Originally published on August 20, 2012

Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

Photo Gallery:
2012 Fuel Efficient Cars Comparo

2012 Chevrolet Volt (range-extended electric car)
2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (Li-ion battery)
2013 Mazda CX-5 (SkyActiv-G)
2012 Toyota Prius (Hybrid, NiMH battery)
2012 Volkswagen Golf TDI (Clean Diesel)

This is a different kind of comparison.

2013 Mazda CX-5 (SkyActiv-G), 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid (Li-ion battery), 2012 Volkswagen Golf TDI (Clean Diesel), 2012 Toyota Prius (Hybrid, NiMH battery), 2012 Chevrolet Volt (range-extended electric car)
The Contenders: Golf TDI, Prius, CX-5, Sonata Hybrid, and Volt at Evergreen Brickworks. Click image to enlarge

These are not competitors in the strictest sense of the word. However, some compete in very hot segments, while others are essentially competing for the attention of thrifty drivers with a variety of needs. We excluded full electric vehicles because we wanted to focus on vehicles that we think can serve as the only vehicle for a single-car household.

The Prius needs no introduction, having brought look-at-me-I’m-green styling and efficient hybrid motoring to the masses. The Chevy Volt’s hype machine isn’t far behind in advertising its revolutionary drivetrain—essentially an electric car with an onboard generator to charge the battery. We even brought a second hybrid, the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, which doubles as an ordinary family sedan—okay, the styling is far from ordinary—and we chose it to see if the advantages of its Lithium-ion battery lived up to the billing. We even brought a couple vehicles with conventional drivetrains, the Mazda CX-5 compact crossover with a gasoline internal combustion engine, and a compact hatchback Volkswagen Golf TDI that uses a turbocharged compression-ignition diesel, an incredibly popular choice in Europe, though still rare on our shores.

2013 Mazda CX-5 (SkyActiv-G) 2012 Volkswagen Golf TDI (Clean Diesel)
Golf TDI Diesel and CX-5 SkyActiv-Gasoline. Click image to enlarge

In this comparison, we’ll explain how each technology works to save gas, as well as assess their more ordinary qualities like value and performance.

I am torn between claiming that these are all winners or that we are the true winners, with access to a variety of interesting and appealing cars that prove that driving efficiently doesn’t have to be a punishment. But both are tired clichés, so I’ll just move on to the real reason we assembled these cars: curiosity. Sure, AJAC organized an elaborate Eco-Run event that included many of these same vehicles to demonstrate the variety and range of various efficiency technologies, but we wanted to get our hands on some of these vehicles, drive them to and from work ourselves in more normal conditions and report on their real-world performance, both in terms of efficiency and as daily drivers.

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