What Are The Most Eco-Friendly Cars in 2022?

As concern over the impact of burning fossil fuels grows, many people are looking to reduce their carbon footprint, in a variety of ways.

So, if you are looking to replace your old vehicle with something greener, what are your most eco-friendly options in 2022?

What Types of Eco-friendly Vehicles Are There?

When in comes to choosing an eco-friendly vehicle there are several types currently available.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, these many include:

All-electric or battery-electric vehicles (EVs or BEVs): Vehicles powered solely by batteries that are charged from the grid and other off-board power sources. They produce no tailpipe emissions.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs): These vehicles combine a battery-powered electric motor that can be recharged like BEVs and a gasoline engine. They can operate in all-electric mode but can switch to the gas engine when needed.

Hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs): These are powered by an internal combustion engine and one or more electric motors that uses energy stored in a battery. Gasoline powers the combustion engine, while the battery is charged through regenerative braking, not by plugging in.

Man charging an electric vehicle
Stock image: A man plugging in an electric vehicle. Which car is the most eco-friendly in 2022? iStock

Flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs): These vehicles have an internal combustion engine and are capable of operating on gasoline and any blend of gasoline and ethanol up to 83 percent. This blended fuel, known as E85, can be found at more than 4,000 stations nationwide.

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs): These vehicles are powered by pure hydrogen gas stored in a tank. The gas is converted to electricity by the fuel cell, which produces no harmful tailpipe emissions—only water vapor and warm air. But the infrastructure to fuel these vehicles is still in its early stages.

Natural gas vehicles (NGVs): These vehicles run on either compressed or liquified natural gas. There are more than 175,000 of them in the U.S. Some only run on natural gas, while others may have two separate fueling systems that enables then to use gasoline as well. They tend to have reduced greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles.

What Are the Most Eco-friendly Cars in 2022?

Earlier this year, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released its 25th annual GreenerCars ranking, which lists the most eco-friendly cars in the U.S. for the model year 2022.

Each car receives a Green Score based on an environmental damage index, based on fuel economy and emissions, as well as pollution associated with vehicle manufacturing and disposal, the production and distribution of fuel or electricity, and vehicle tailpipes.

The 2022 list saw a rise in the number of hybrid vehicles in the top spots, in part because of a shift toward larger and heavier EVs that are less environmentally friendly, according to the ACEEE.

In addition, three of the previous top EVs—Hyundai Ioniq electric, BMW i3s, and Kia Soul electric—are no longer sold in the U.S.

The top vehicles in the ACEEE GreenerCars rankings for 2022 are:

  1. Toyota Prius Prime (PHEV)
  2. Hyundai Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV)
  3. Mini Cooper SE Hardtop 2 Door (EV)
  4. Nissan Leaf (EV)
  5. Kia Niro Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV)
  6. Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Blue (HEV/Gasoline Hybrid)
  7. Mazda Mx-30 (EV)
  8. Toyota Corolla Hybrid (HEV/Gasoline Hybrid)
  9. Honda Insight (HEV/Gasoline Hybrid)
  10. Toyota Camry Hybrid LE (HEV/Gasoline Hybrid)

"The top three vehicles in our 2022 greenest list have the lowest life-cycle environmental impact due to the exceptional fuel-efficiency of the two plug-in hybrids and due to the Mini Cooper SE Hardtop 2 Door EV having the lowest embedded emissions of any EV we scored," Peter Huether, ACEEE senior research analyst for transportation, told Newsweek.

"The Prius Prime has the highest fuel-efficiency of any plug-in hybrid and the Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid has the second-highest. The Prius Prime has the lowest embedded emissions of any plug-in hybrid and the Ioniq Plug-In Hybrid has the second lowest. Both of these plug-in hybrids have light battery packs and are very light vehicles overall. The Mini Cooper SE Hardtop 2 Door EV has the lightest battery and is the lightest EV overall, largely contributing to its low embedded emissions."

Embedded emissions, often from battery packs, can form a large component of the environmental impact of EVs given their low emissions from the electricity they run on, according to Huether. The embedded emissions come from mining, mineral processing and vehicle production.

Other Notable Mentions

Alan Jenn, an assistant professional researcher at the Plug-in Hybrid and Electric Vehicle group of the Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, also provided Newsweek with his top picks for cars that are on the market today (not necessarily with a 2022 model year).

  • Tesla Model 3: "From the perspective of Environmental Protection Agency efficiency ratings, the Tesla Model 3 remains one of the most efficient vehicles on a miles per kilowatt hour (kWh) basis. Tesla actually opts into an optional procedure with the tests that determine efficiency, which ends up adding upwards of 30 miles of range on the label, but even disregarding this bonus the vehicle remains one of the most efficient on the market. For years, Tesla has been miles ahead of the game in terms of its motor and battery technology—but other automakers are finally starting to catch up."
  • Ford F-150 Lightning: "This might be a surprising pick to some, after all: how can a massive truck be eco-friendly? Decarbonizing transportation was never going to happen by forcing all consumers to drive tiny two-seater SMART cars. And if we have to transition while keeping consumer preferences, switching a consumer from a gasoline F-150 to an electric F-150 Lightning is actually saves substantially more energy than switching someone from an already clean Toyota Prius to a Tesla Model 3."
  • Toyota RAV4 Prime: "For those that aren't yet comfortable with going fully electric, a plug-in hybrid that has both a battery and an engine can help ease the transition away from a pure gas car. With a 40-mile range, we would expect that the majority of travel in the vehicle is actually electric (the average American drives about 30 miles a day). This is good both for the environment and for your wallet, especially with the high gas prices these days."