Any car you like, as long as it's green

As posturing politicians and embattled environmentalists meet in Kyoto to help save the planet, it's a good time to look at how we humble drivers can contribute to a greener, more cheerful, world.

Let's get straight to the point: what's the greenest car on sale in Britain? The most fuel-efficient car, according to EU fuel economy figures, is the Seat Ibiza 1.9 TDi, at 58.9 mpg.

But isn't that a diesel, and aren't diesels dirtier than petrol cars? They use less fuel, so create less carbon dioxide, the primary issue discussed in Kyoto. But they pump out more gases linked to respiratory illnesses. Mind you, modern car diesels are miles better than buses and taxis. Nowadays, they're pretty clean.

Fine, but I need something bigger than an Ibiza. And I don't want a car named after a chair. What's the most fuel-efficient car I can buy that can comfortably seat four people and carry some luggage? A Volkswagen Passat TDi (53.2 mpg). The turbodiesel Passat is not just the most fuel- frugal big family car, it's also one of the best. Nowadays, you don't lose any style or driving pleasure by buying economical cars.

I'm still not sure about a diesel though. The stuff is so smelly, and the only time I filled up a diesel car it stained my loafers. Then you're after petrol power. If you want to average over 40 mpg, there's a big list of good, small, petrol cars. You could try the Fiat Cinquecento Sporting (45.3 mpg) - which is a real hoot to drive. The Ford Ka (47.9 mpg) is also fun to drive and to look at, although the back seat is for kids only. And the Fiesta 1.25 (42.2 mpg) is a brilliant little machine, although it has a face that looks more like a carp than a car. If you need more room, the Fiat Punto 60 seats four easily and averages 41.5 mpg.

I've already told you: I need more space. Then buy one of the new Mitsubishi Carisma GDI models (45.6 mpg), which uses a newfangled direct-injection petrol engine, one of the new "Big Ideas" which should see petrol power soldier on for another couple of decades. It combines diesel economy and petrol performance. In a few years, most car makers will offer direct- injection petrol engines. It's the future, short- to medium-term.

And long-term? After all, surely petrol cars will always be dirty? Not necessarily. You'd be amazed how clean a modern car's exhaust is -- although it still pumps out carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas. But in terms of exhaust toxins, a modern car with catalytic converters and electronic engine management is about 20 times less polluting than a car from the late Seventies. Long term, petrol power will disappear, though. Some electric "hybrid" cars which use both petrol and electric power are about to go on sale in Japan, one from Toyota and one from Honda. They're greener than conventional petrol cars, although they're pricier.

Longer term, we'll almost certainly see hydrogen fuel cells. Most car makers agree it's the answer. Mercedes is probably at the cutting edge, although Bill Clinton recently hinted that the Yanks are at the forefront, as a way of mitigating their appalling environmental record. Mercedes reckons it will have a fuel-cell version of the A-class on sale in just over a decade.

In quick succession, other car makers will probably offer fuel-cell cars too. Potentially, these cars pump out no tailpipe pollution at all. The Kyoto delegates would love them.

How much do cars contribute to global warming, anyway? About 10 per cent of total carbon dioxide output, according to the OECD. But cars are the fasting growing source, owing to their explosion in the Third World. Buses and trains may be greener. But, as in the West, people would much rather use cars.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£15000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisors are r...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: SThree were established in 1986....

Recruitment Genius: Compliance Manager

£40000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Compliance Manager is require...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate