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Let’s go electric

Two new cars will make driving way more eco-friendly.

chevy voltChevy Volt

Who it’s for: Parents who want an electric car—but don’t want any worries about running out of charge.

What it is: A hybrid, but unlike any other hybrid out there now (which alternate between gas and electricity as you drive). The electric motor keeps the wheels moving; after about 40 miles of petrol-free cruising, the gasoline-powered engine (good for 300 miles between fill-ups) kicks in like a generator to keep the electric motor going. To charge, it takes 10 hours from a standard household outlet, or 4 hours from a large-appliance outlet (the type that washers and dryers use).

How to get it: Available in late 2010 at participating dealers in California, New York City, and Austin, Texas; by March 2011 in Michigan, the rest of Texas and New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Price: $41,000, but will qualify for a $7,500 tax credit.

nissan leafNissan Leaf

Who it’s for: Green families on the go who need 5 seats, plus plenty of room for groceries and strollers.

What it is: The first zero-emission, 100 percent electric vehicle that’ll be available nationwide. The Leaf uses only an electric motor to propel the car up to 90 mph (watch out for cops!). You can drive up to 100 miles of errands before you need to plug it in. To charge, it takes 20 hours from a standard outlet, 8 hours from a large-appliance outlet, or 30 minutes from a 480V home-based quick-charge station.

How to get it: Pre-ordered cars in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and Tennessee will arrive in December; Texas and Hawaii follow in January. Nissan projects a nationwide Leaf launch by the end of 2011. Look for the Drive Electric Tour to do a test drive (nissanusa.com).

Price: $33,720, but will also qualify for the $7,500 tax credit

Sticking with gas (for now)

Think smaller: How much car do you really need?

mazda5Mazda5

Who it’s for: Families who need 6 seats but don’t like the gas mileage of minivans.

What it is: A compact minivan with dual side sliding doors, 3-row seating, and cargo room that rivals that of small SUVs and station wagons (which have fewer seats). You can expect at least 28 mpg on the highway and 22 mpg around town(that’s a pretty impressive 5 mpg better than a full-size SUV or minivan, which offer a similar number of seats).

How to get it: From dealers in 2011.

Price: $18,500 to $24,000

ford fiestaFord Fiesta

Who it’s for: Families who want to scale down and get good mileage.

What it is: A fun-to-drive small car with a hatchback, push-button start, and keyless entry. The Fiesta is a (relatively) lowprice car, but it drives like a much pricier vehicle. The best part? You could sit in stop-and-go traffic all day and still get 29 mpg. Expect 40 mpg on the open road.

How to get it: Available now.

Price: $13,995 to $17,795

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