/ Motoring

Are eco cars about image as well as efficiency?

Toyota Ampera eco car in white

Do you have to compromise on performance and style when opting for the latest environmentally friendly car? Our research shows you can have a desirable car that also has good green credentials.

Bluemotion, Greenline, EfficientDynamics, Blue Drive… it seems like we’re all driving eco cars these days. Pretty much Mercedes’ entire range falls under the ‘BlueEfficiency’ banner, for example.

But while the car industry churns out thousands of increasingly fuel-efficient cars (enforced, admittedly, by punitive EU taxes), there are some cars that go further – sometimes literally. These are the truest eco cars – those that use electric power and advanced technology to eke out every possible mile-per-gallon.

Our latest group test brings together five such models: the Nissan Leaf, Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4, Renault Fluence, Toyota Prius Plug-In and Vauxhall Ampera. The Nissan and Renault are powered purely by batteries, the Toyota and Vauxhall are petrol/electric hybrids and the Peugeot is a diesel/electric hybrid. So which is best? Watch our video to find out:

Plugged in to electric cars

Well, the electric cars are both admirably quiet and easy to drive, but their limited range and high price tags still rule them out for most people. Unless you never venture more than 50 miles from home, you’d need to buy a second car – a normal car – and how green is that?

The hybrids get around this problem by using internal combustion engines to increase their range. Unlike conventional hybrids such as the Peugeot, the Prius and Ampera can also be plugged into the mains to boost their batteries while parked. It’s a ‘best of both worlds’ solution that means you won’t be left stranded if you can’t find a plug socket (or a long-enough extension lead!).

In truth, even the plug-in hybrids are no more economical in the real world than the latest fuel-efficient diesels – especially for motorway journeys. Factor-in those high purchase prices and none of them will necessarily save you money. But for many drivers, mpg is the new mph, and being green is a lifestyle choice.

Eco cars put through their paces

That’s why I’d pick the Ampera. The Toyota actually wins our group test for various, eminently sensible reasons, as our eco cars video explains. But the Vauxhall is fun to drive, looks great and has an interior that resembles a 1980s sci-fi vision of the future. It can’t quite match the Prius for fuel economy, but it does make you feel good about driving an eco car.

As a car enthusiast, the Ampera gives me hope that leaner, greener cars don’t have to be dull to look at and boring to drive. People buy cars to suit their wants as much as their needs (how else do you explain all the 4x4s and sports cars on our roads) and, at the moment, the Ampera is the only eco car I actually want to own.

What would influence your choice when buying a green car? Do any of our eco car reviews tempt you into joining the green club?


No and no.

Eco is for the smug, self-satisfied of us who all subscribe to the middle-class ideals (Man-made climate change, no problems with immigration, voting is worthwhile, be vegetarian etc).

I personally think that petrol is now at market value and so have no qualms about firing up my big V8 Jag when I fancy nipping into town. I like cars, so I hate eco cars as they are a half-baked way to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. Similarly, people think that all diesels offer better fuel economy, which in a small car, in a city, is not the case.

If you want to go electric, go electric, anything in between is a counter-productive, expensive, flawed, un-ecological mess.

My way to solve their “issue” with the combustion engine would be to have a removable battery for each electric car. Basically you drive round, then when you run out of juice, you simply go to a “filling station” and swap your battery out for a fresh, fully charged one.

Time to swap would take no more than filling a tank of fuel and I believe an Israeli company has already developed the concept.

[This comment has been edited to align with our commenting guidelines. Thanks, mods]


defo agree that a car is a car!. I too love cars in the same way as bikers love bikes – the speed, noise smell and sound. it is not just transport. Transport would be a Fiat Panda or a Smart Car or anything that Nick Cleg drives. Unfortunately I guess that eco cars will just become the norm as it becomes just too expensive to use oil and the car firms are too lazy to inovate. Also, fact is is that commercial electric cars suck or are too expensive at the moment. Also agree that trying for a hybrid is a waste of time and more out of the box thinking is needed with a no oil mentality.

Theres a reason Brian in Family Guy is scripted to drive a Prius! Bet he too likes Cous Cous.

Happen to like Clarkson, much like most of the country. Polls show it. He’s a no nonsense kind of guy who says things others would like to but are too afraid to in public. You’l just have to hope he never gets into politics else he would probably get in.

BTw.. the spell check on here is terrible! For a Dyslexic I’m having to use google 🙁


Hi Mose, we don’t have spell check on Which Convo. However, some browsers offer plugins with a spell check. I use Google Chrome and it has a spell checker included, allowing you to fix your spelling mistakes. Thanks.

par ailleurs says:
17 September 2012

What’s Jeremy Clarkson doing in Which? Good comedy writing but not exactly serious surely. Of course most ‘eco’ cars are nonsense, especially the fully electric, but we have to start somewhere. I actually like my modern, fuel-efficient and reliable Skoda with its 1.2 turbo petrol engine. I don’t want to go back to filling up too often and paying for excessive servicing as in the old days that Argus seems to miss. Any car is fine as a hobby car but modern technology is so much better.
I think Argus/Clarkson gives the game away in his anti immigration, anti vegeterian and even anti voting rant. Not a man to be taken seriously or become stuck in a lift with.


Thanks for proving my point

The most ignorant of middle-class eco warriors will always call someone a “Clarkson” if they can’t form an argument against the comments made. Those who have a sense of humour can see it for what it is and those that don’t become “outraged” after choking on their cous-cous. Just proves that Eco is all about ego, as the article suggests

With a modern petrol turbo engine like yours, I’ve read that they are very prone to coking. To save yourself from an engine rebuild every 30k you apparently have to drive the thing hard every now and again. I don’t know about you but having to either rebuild the engine or drive it hard will negate any savings I will have made on fuel.

What Car recently spoke to the design engineer of Fords new eco-boost engines after they tested the engine 5 times in real-life situations. The situation was the same every time 37mpg and the engineer agreed with them despite the PR telling him to keep it quiet.

In conclusion, eco engines are no more efficient that the engines of about 5 – 10 years old, they just produce less CO2 and cost more to repair when they coke up. Basically everything involving an internal combustion engine and efficiency savings has a net cost to your wallet.

The only way forward is FULLY ELECTRIC with either quick charging station or battery replacement centres.


By conforming Argus to a stereotype you’ve just made yourself one. Funny really.


Guys, lets not make things personal. Please stick to talking about one anothers’ points, rather than making jibes. Our community guidelines are there for a reason: https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines

par ailleurs says:
18 September 2012

Thanks for that Patrick. I fear that this thread is a lost cause though. I like good arguments with sensible and occasionally humorous asides. The original did worry me though. It had a very nasty undertone.
I’m not adding anything else here as I don’t think there’s any point.


Eco-cars have been fairly criticised, but that is because they are generally seen as direct replacements for conventional cars. Making an electric car that is powerful enough to achieve speeds of 70 mph and above takes a huge toll in battery life.

My solution is for car manufacturers to focus on electric city cars with a top speed of around 40 mph. These should appeal to families that own two cars, since they still have access to a larger, conventional car for longer distances at higher speeds.

I really don’t think that image matters.