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The best bowser beaters

Lean and green: the Toyota Prius.

We live in strange times — or at least under a Federal Government that has some strange ideas about things on four wheels.

A big, heavy luxury SUV cops less tax than a more efficient, cleaner imported car. Diesel is less expensive to produce than petrol yet costs more at the pump than premium unleaded. Diesel cars are more fuel efficient than petrol equivalents, yet continue to command a price premium.

Perhaps the only surprise is that Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan hasn't stuck an import duty on the cars we present here for being too efficient. It would be in keeping with the logic of his budget.

All cars listed here offer official or claimed fuel consumption of less than five litres per 100km (56 miles per gallon by the old measure) in ideal conditions.

Fiat 500 1.3 JTD Pop

$25,990

4.2L/100km

Such was the demand for diesel that Fiat Australia has expanded its availability to the top of the 500 range's Lounge trim.

If the existing Pop lacks the Lounge level of spec, it has all its desirability and efficiency. In fact, official figures place this immensely cute and quite practical re-born 500 as the most fuel-efficient auto on the Australian market.

The smallest of the Fiat Group's turbo diesel, the 1.3 is a shade laggedly but winds up nicely to provide a cruisability that belies itscapacity.

The DINK's city car par excellence: if the 500 doesn't raise a smile, then it's you that's wrong.

Citroen C3 HDi

$23,990

4.4L/100km

While the French marque's reputation for reliability gets nowhere near Japanese surety, Citroen does chic in a way that, shall we say, Toyota doesn't.

That Prius-equalling consumption is achieved with 65kW/215Nm 1.6-litre turbo diesel that utterly erases the petrol C3s for efficiency and performance.

It typifies the “downsizing but upspeccing” paradigm that has seen sales of light and small cars overwhelm the “Falcodores”.

While we do try to be enlightened, we gotta to say that if the C3 is chic, it's also for chicks. Sorry.

Toyota Prius II

$37,400

4.4L/100km

The world's most successful automotive marketing exercise, one which has caused denuded whole forests for paper devoted to its praise, the Prius is synonymous with lean and green motoring.

Another paradox is that being as visually appealing as a chunk of cheddar has enhanced rather than damaged its appeal. It's distinctive and that's what counts. What's the point of making an eco-statement if no one knows you're making one?

The Prius comes into its own in commuter traffic, where the constant throttle needed to extract the best return from diesel is hard to maintain. If anodyne to drive in the Toyota fashion, it's by no means awful with quite responsive and reasonably direct handling. Too dear, though.

Fiat Punto 1.3 JTD

$25,490

4.5L/100km

Rather more practical than the 500, the larger Fiat achieves its frugal consumption via a robotised six-speed sequential manual; one that does without a clutch pedal and provides an automatic drive mode, minimising the emission spikes that occur when gear changing in a conventional manual.

If you can do without the rear seat headroom and don't mind joining a queue, take the 500. Fiat have invested too much in this car for it to flop qualitively.

The Punto's interior does not inspire the same confidence.

Audi A3 1.9 TDIe

$38,900

diesel 4.5L/100km

This hugely efficient and incredibly clean (119g of CO2/km) turbo diesel is absolutely a Prius rival, both in terms of its figures and mad pricing.

An eco-conscience can come with a considerable cost but, in this instance, at least you get a decent badge for your splodge (never you mind that it's all Volkswagen Golf underneath).

We've yet to test this particular car — that comes in a few weeks — but on the basis of other Golf/A3 diesels, the 77kW/250Nm provided by this unit promises to make being green slightly easier to bear.

Citroen C4 SX HDi

$30,990

diesel 4.5L/100km

Again you've got to go for the sequential/robotised transmission to realise this figure from the 1.6-litre 80kW/240Nm diesel — which is probably no hardship given how most of you bleat about having to change gears for yourself. Harden the frack up, Australia ...

Anyway, this version of Peugeot's 307 in a smarter suit is a cleverly-designed number that manages to afford more usable passenger space than certain bigger cars.

You'll not quickly tire of instruments and features that initially appear quirky but are indeed highly practical.

Though not the most composed drive on RTA roads and never in danger of providing excitement, the C4 would probably be the family pick from those here.

Honda Civic Hybrid

$32,990

4.6L/100km

This Honda would run the Citroen close, though.

A 1.3-litre petrol-electric hybrid that's much cheaper than the Prius, the Civic attracts infinitely less attention just by virtue of the fact it looks like a common-or-garden Civic, rather than an advertisement for itself.

A good but almost forgotten thing, we'll be revisiting the hybrid Honda in depth in the coming weeks.

Hyundai i30 SX CRDi

$21,490

4.7L/100km

Carsguide's Car of 2007, in case we haven't mentioned it recently, at least with the $1300 safety pack that includes stability control and the full complement of airbags.

With its responsive 85kW/2455Nm 1.6-litre diesel, the i30 is a spacious, European-designed hatch that dispels any lingering notions about Korean cars. If such doubts do linger, there's always its five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.

Steering feel and standard rubber leave something to be desired, but we liked it. So will you.

 

What do you think about hybrid cars, bio fuels and all things green? Have your say.

 

 

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