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Fuel prices are the Achilles’ heel of cars. We’re constantly bombarded by grim news of U.S. oil dependence and the fact that it’s a non-renewable resource. Perhaps it’s for these reasons, and the increasing interest in carbon footprints and green-friendly, well, everything, that electric and hybrid cars are getting more attention.

With the popularity comes a plethora of options and price tags. We’ve chosen five of the newest, most popular and simply coolest electric and hybrid cars selling right now. From practicality to flashy, these cars will get your electric engines revving.

Nissan Leaf- This 100 percent electric car has no tailpipe, zero emissions and some major bragging rights. It was named 2011 World Car of the Year at the New York International Auto Show. Even Kelly Blue Book gave it high honors, placing it first for Top Green Cars. It’s built with an advanced IT system, connecting it to a global data center of support, information and entertainment, and it employs a timer so the driver can set charging times.
The Goods
Classification: Electric
MSRP: ~$37,000
100 miles/charge
Average full-charge time: 7 hours
Up to 90 mph
5-passenger seating capacity

Chevy Volt-General Motors’ hybrid is best known as an extended-range electric vehicle, which just means battery before gas. For the first 40 miles, (so chosen as studies prove most Americans drive about that distance each day) it operates solely by battery. The selling point is that it’s an electric car without anxiety; the car won’t stop moving once the battery is exhausted. Instead, the gasoline engine will kick in for an additional 340 miles, providing it’s full. But if you manage to avoid the gas tank long enough, the car will alert you when it’s time to run the engine to keep it lubricated.
The Goods
Classification: Plug-In Hybrid
MSRP: ~$40,000
40 miles/charge
Average full-charge charge time: 8 hours
Up to 100 mph
4-passenger seating capacity

Tesla Roadster- This ain’t your grandpa’s green car. Zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds. Zero emissions. And, it’s really pretty. The 3-Phase Alternating Current Induction Motor delivers 288 peak horsepower and a whole lot of torque. Tesla also eliminated complex gearshifts so all the driver has to do is simply drive, like, really fast. The car has been engineered to charge nearly anywhere, claiming that if you can charge your cell phone, then you can charge your Roadster. It took to the roads in 2008 as a limited time offer, but now, it’s changing the green car image.
The Goods
Classification: Electric
MSRP: ~$109,000
245 miles/charge
Average full-charge time: 4 hours
Up to 125 mph
2-passenger seating capacity

Toyota Prius-Perhaps considered the “classic” hybrid car, and the most-seen on the Eastside, it’s with good reason. The Prius is Toyota’s third-highest selling car. It’s also the only car available today that gets 50 miles to the gallon in combined city/highway driving. With a UV-reduction glass windshield and water-resistant driver and passenger windows, the car seems to love you back. Did we mention it has a radar system to keep you safely in your own lane?
The Goods
*Note this is the traditional Prius, not the upcoming 2012 plug-in Prius.
Classification: Hybrid
MSRP: ~$23,000
Up to 112 mph
5-passenger seating capacity.

Lexus CT- This car has four driving modes to suit whichever personality you’re wearing for the day. Choose from ev, eco, normal and sport. Ev is the only all-electric mode, but can’t exceed 25 miles per hour—rush hour traffic? Eco mode will get you the best gas mileage, about 40 miles per gallon. This smallest Lexus model has been praised for it’s excitable easy transitions between gasoline and electric power. Like all vehicles with the Lexus name, safety is a top priority. Eight airbags, knee airbags included, deploy at one of two speeds depending on car speed and severity of impact.
The Goods
Classification: Hybrid
MSRP: ~$30,000
Average full-charge charge time:
No plug-in necessary
Up to 113 mph
5-passenger seating capacity

2013 Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell- Whoa, mama. Now this is an electric car. With four electric motors (two on each axle) and zero to 60 in a mere four seconds, it’s the modern day DeLorean. It boasts a 571-horsepower engine and a 324 lithium-ion battery. The downside is there’s no set release date … yet. With a reduced weight, this car has aerodynamics created to fly! The batteries recharge during deceleration and are built to last long. Even if you have the green to pay for the green, you have to make the cut. Word is, the first customers will be hand-selected. Good luck!
The Goods
Classification: Electric
MSRP: ~$250,000 (estimated since car has not launched)
130-mile range expected /charge
Average full-charge time: AMG
engineers expect 8 hours
Up to 155 mph
2-passenger seating capacity

The terms electric and hybrid are thrown around so often, people use them interchangeably. But they in fact describe very different vehicles.

Electric Car: Powered by electricity using a rechargeable battery.

Hybrid Car: A car with a gasoline engine and an electric motor, each of which powers the car.

Plug-In Hybrid: A car that can be plugged in like an electric and runs as such up to a limited amount of miles before using gasoline, or runs on gasoline and uses an electric motor to increase efficiency.

All of these electric and hybrid cars are geared toward making an unstable environment a little better. Electric models are still pulling electricity and using batteries, while hybrids employ batteries and nature’s arch nemesis: gasoline. “There is no perfect fuel,” said Wayne Elson of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle. “For example, electric vehicles result in the increased mining of Lithium and bring new challenges for battery recycling. So yes, there can be adverse effects to any fuel; we just need to be strategic.”

Although cars can be plugged into the standard 110-volt home outlet, it’s not advised. Equipment can be damaged, fuses blown and charging takes much longer. Most dealerships will recommend consulting a technician and purchasing the proper equipment, which adds an average of $800-$1,500 to the bill.

But how much is all that extra electricity your electric car is guzzling going to cost you? According to a 2007 study done by the non-profit Electric Power Research Institute, not much. It estimates that the cost of electricity is the equivalent to 75 cents per gallon. Similarly, most car companies suggest it costs about $2 for a full charge, depending on your home voltage.

And the environment’s cost is far cheaper than that of gasoline. On average, a plug-in car charged from grid electricity results in a 70 percent reduction in CO2 emissions compared with a regular gas car. And if the power is drawn from a coal plant, the reduction is still 50 percent. “In Seattle, we have 90 percent hydropower so electricity is cleaner than in other parts of the country where there are more coal-fired power plants,” said Wayne.

But if the declining green-car prices are any indication, electric and hybrid vehicles are here to stay. “Electric vehicles will become more commonplace,” said Wayne. “But they will not fully replace gasoline vehicles due to performance needs for different applications. Electricity, as well as other alternative fuels, will displace gasoline as the prices become more competitive.”

Considering electric cars are built without a tailpipe, this also means a huge reduction in emissions—a stark difference from gasoline, which is polluting constantly. “Tailpipe emissions are zero for a battery electric and around 30 percent less for a gasoline electric hybrid,” said Wayne. “It should be noted that the transportation of gasoline is a source of pollution as it evaporates during transport.”

There’s also the issue of dependence on a non-renewable resource. According to the Set America Free Coalition, an advocacy group focused on energy independence, “If all cars on the road are hybrids and half are plug-in hybrid vehicles, U.S. oil imports would drop by 8 million barrels per day.”

Among the concerns of people interested in buying electric or plug-in cars, is being stuck without a charge.

Bellevue currently offers 15 stations for folks to replenish their batteries. Costing about $2 an hour, drivers can take advantage of the stations at Bellevue Square, Lincoln Square and Bellevue Place.

Renton is also reenergizing, unveiling the first of 15 public charging stations in the city center back in July. They will also eventually run $2-$2.50 an hour, and customers can pay with a card similar to the ORCA card.

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