Sean O'Grady: How carmakers are saving the planet. No, really

When it comes to saving the planet, who do we look to? The scientists? Yes, most of them. The politicians? Hmm, maybe some of the more sincere ones. OK, hardly any. Showbiz stars? If you say so.

The car industry? Yes, actually. Cars today are cleaner and greener than they have ever been. Years ago, the auto industry (in co-operation with the even more maligned oil giants) got rid of lead in petrol, most of those sooty carcinogenic bits in diesel and various other nasties. I admit a great deal of this has been as a result of official pressure, notably from the European Union, but the technical achievement is staggering. Who knows what the car makers will do next? We already see ever more efficient petrol and diesel/electric hybrids, hydrogen fuel cells and other energy sources (such as renewable biofuels), and more cleaner, greener kit is on the way. Richard Bremner writes about some of it on this page.

After 120 years, however, it would be a shame to junk the dear old internal-combustion engine. It still has life and development potential in it, as Volkswagen proves with its curiously named Polo BlueMotion ( below). This takes the existing Polo’s admirable economy to a still higher pitch; official figures suggest that 72mpg is possible. You can, if the hype is justified, drive from London to Edinburgh on £20 of fuel.

This Polo BlueMotion features revised aerodynamics (grille, tailgate spoiler), low kerb-weight, hard compound tyres to reduce rolling resistance, lightweight wheels, and an advanced three-cylinder diesel engine that is linked to optimised gear ratios for high economy and low emissions. They’ve “added lightness” and removed strain from the engine by deleting the air conditioning, the door-mirror electric motors and the remote central locking. You could live without those fripperies, though, surely?

So this Polo, a proper four-seater with the usual “baby tank” appeal, will deliver 102g/km of CO2. That’s lower than the two main hybrid offerings, the admittedly larger Toyota Prius (104g/km) and the Honda Civic Hybrid (109g/km), and the petrol Smarts (116g/km). Nor will you have to refuel much: the theoretical range of the Polo BlueMotion exceeds 700 miles.

This Polo, however, is no fireball. The 1.4-litre diesel unit makes its presence very well known, and I wouldn’t even bother trying to get frisky with it. It keeps up with congested modern traffic, urban and motorway; it should top 100mph, which is probably all you ought to be doing in it (and going that fast wastes a lot of fuel).

All this economy comes at a price, too: about £12,000 when it arrives in showrooms this summer. For much less (£10,675), you can buy the conventional 1.4 TDI 70S model, giving an average 60.1mpg. So you gain 10mpg for about £1,500, and that doesn’t make much financial sense. Maybe in the very long run, and when the price of fuel has doubled again, and when you’ve done vast mileages in your Polo BlueMotion, it’ll be worth it. Maybe.

Then again, you might consider one of the cute-sey Citroën C1/Toyota Aygo/Peugeot 107 trio, which can return a claimed 68.9mpg and cost about £4,000 less. The petrol versions of these three return a very respectable 61.4mpg (combined) and cost about £2,000 less.

So the car industry really has tried to make greener products – but do we have to pay so much? Why is the green premium so high?

PROMOTED VIDEO
Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
tech
Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week