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Buying & Leasing a Car

The Pros and Cons of 5 Types of Green Cars

Considering purchasing a green car? Here's what you should know before you hit the dealer's lot.

If fuel economy is high on your list of specs for your new car, a number of technologies can satisfy that need. Which is best for you depends on your other goals. For example, do you want to be as green as possible? An electric vehicle (EV) is the answer. Want superb fuel economy without worrying about plugging in? A hybrid is a good choice. Do you crave power and the feel of gears shifting as you accelerate? If so, hybrids and EVs are likely out of contention, but diesels and turbocharged gas engines are good candidates.

SEE OUR COMPLETE GUIDE: Best New Car Values, 2012

Check out the green options and the pros and cons of each car featured below. To compare ownership costs for traditional versus green cars, use our Green Car Calculator. To compute annual fuel costs for plug-in vehicles for our rankings, we assumed 15,000 miles of city and highway driving a year, evenly spread out over five days a week with a two-week vacation.

Electrics, such as the Nissan Leaf

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How it works: A battery-powered electric motor runs all the car's systems. Charge the battery at home and you have about 100 miles to go before you need to recharge.

Why it's cool: Zero tailpipe emissions, plus pickup

Trade-offs: Limited range; few public charging stations

Nissan Leaf SV

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Sticker price: $36,050*

Invoice price: $34,557

Annual fuel cost#: $612 (electricity costs)

Other popular models: Mitsubishi iMiev, Smart electric drive

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*Qualifies for $7,500 federal tax credit. #Based on 15,000 miles of city and highway driving per year.

Plug-in Hybrids, such as the Chevrolet Volt

How it works: A battery-powered electric motor you can plug in at home operates for a limited number of miles. After the battery is depleted, a gas engine kicks in.†

Why it's cool: EV range, but without "range anxiety"

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Trade-offs: High price premium; often underpowered

Chevrolet Volt

Sticker price: $39,995*

Invoice price: $38,429

Annual fuel cost#: $1,000**

Other popular models: Toyota Prius Plug-in

*Qualifies for $7,500 federal tax credit. †The Volt’s gas engine acts as a generator to power the electric motor. Other plug-ins revert to hybrid mode after the battery is depleted. #Based on 15,000 miles of city and highway driving per year. **Fuel-efficiency depends on how often you charge.

Hybrids, such as the Toyota Prius

How it works: The battery-powered electric motor assists the engine and can recapture energy from braking. The engine shuts down when you stop, saving fuel.

Why it's cool: Eco-friendly without high price of a plug-in

Trade-offs: Often underpowered; battery reduces cargo area

Toyota Prius II

Sticker price: $24,760

Invoice price: NA

Annual fuel cost#: $968

Other popular models: Ford Fusion, Honda Civic, Lexus RX

#Based on 15,000 miles of city and highway driving per year.

Diesels, such as the Volkswagen Jetta TDI

How it works: Small but powerful engines plus diesel fuel’s high energy content make these vehicles up to 35% more efficient than comparable gas-powered vehicles.

Why it's cool: Powerful, yet fuel-thrifty

Trade-offs: Diesel fuel costs more than gasoline

Volkswagen Jetta TDI

Sticker price: $23,545

Invoice price: $22,634

Annual fuel cost#: $1,721

Other popular models: Audi A3, Mercedes E350 BlueTec

#Based on 15,000 miles of city and highway driving per year.

Turbocharged gas engines, such as the Chevrolet Cruze Eco

How it works: The exhaust from the engine powers a fan, which forces more air into the engine’s cylinders. This generates extra power, so smaller engines can be used.

Why it's cool: Cheapest way to go green

Trade-offs: Good but not stellar fuel economy

Chevrolet Cruze Eco

Sticker price: $19,995

Invoice price: $19,225

Annual fuel cost#: $1,457

Other popular models: Kia Optima 2.0T, Nissan Juke

#Based on 15,000 miles of city and highway driving per year.