Buying an economical car once meant you were poor, nerdy, or both. When models like Prius, Tesla and Volt started invading upscale trendy parking lots, that all changed. You and your friends will swoon when you’re behind the wheel of one of these.
Comedy Central’s “South Park” once dedicated an entire episode to mocking apocalyptic “smug clouds” created by Prius people. Well, those people will have more fuel for their smugness with the all-new model that boasts 51/48 mpg city/highway—enabled by a tiny four-cylinder engine, batteries, and active aerodynamics. Reflecting Prius’ iconic high-hatch shape, styling is more aggressive, with LEDs up front and lit batwings at the back. A simplified interior adds a new color heads-up display, passenger-recognizing A/C that automatically adjusts airflow, dynamic cruise control, and all the latest collision avoidance systems. It may make Prius people even smugger.
Base price: $24,200
Volt is to range-extended electric cars what Prius is to hybrids: The gold standard. Re-styled inside and out, Volt looks the part of a next-decade trendsetter. The powertrain was re-engineered with upgraded batteries and motors that extend fossil-less driving from 38 miles to 53 miles, after which the gas engine fires up to keep the vehicle going (for a total of 420 miles). Recharge in 4.5 hours. Interiors are more logically rendered and feature 4G Wi-Fi, Apple CarPlay, and standard rear-vision camera. Available Lane Keep Assist, Side Blind Zone Alert, Forward Collision Alert, and front automatic braking options help avoid accidents. It’s a high-tech electric car when you want it and a long-distance gas-sipper when you need it.
Base price: $33,120
Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid
Imagine a mega-fast four-seat luxury sedan that conjures 416 horsepower to reach 167 mph. You could imagine that with a Porsche emblem, right? What if that same sedan also achieves 50 mpg and can go 15 miles on just electricity after 2.5 hours of charging? That’s the Panamera E-Hybrid. That magic comes from a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 engine and lithium-ion batteries. Beyond that electronic wizardry, the car is loaded with an adaptive air suspension and cabin swathed with leather, divine audio, and crash avoidance tech. Monitor charging via a smartphone app.
Base price: $96,100
Mercedes C350 Plug-In Hybrid
Take a class-leading compact luxury sedan, outfit it with a standard air suspension, and install a plug. Meet the C350 Plug-In Hybrid that can go 20 miles in all-electric mode. A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, lithium-ion batteries, and 7-speed automatic transmission deliver a combined 275 horsepower and 443 foot-pounds of torque for Autobahn-stomping performance. Driver selectable driving modes configure the powertrain, chassis, steering, and climate control for Individual, Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+; each is more aggressive than the last. Press eSave to save your batteries’ charge for later. Except for that fender plug, only drivers will know how special this car really is. Sales begin this fall.
Base price (est.): $45,000
Tesla Model X
Just when the world is getting used to Tesla’s all-electric cruise missile, the Model S, here comes a bigger rocket—a proper three-row crossover with falcon wing doors, seating for seven, and 250 miles of all-electric range. It can even pull a 5,000-lb. trailer—enough for a boat or parade float. A futuristic tablet-centric dashboard, sweet leather, and tomb quiet driving echo the Model S. It even has a medical grade HEPA air filter to remove pollution from the cabin and create positive pressure in case of a bio-attack or the apocalypse. You’ll have to wait until next year to plug into the Model X, but all indications are it will be worth the wait.
Base price: $75,000