Top 10 Tech Cars: Slenderized

This year’s cars do more with less weight

It’s official: Guzzling gas is out of style. In August, the Obama administration finalized U.S. standards that will nearly double the average fuel mileage of cars and trucks by 2025. The rule slices auto greenhouse emissions in half, virtually matching the European Union’s proposed 2020 target of 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven.

But how are we going to get there? Electric cars and plug-in hybrids have so far fizzled with rank-and-file consumers, due to a familiar trio of obstacles: high cost, short pure-electric driving ranges, and long recharging times. And yet among this year’s Top 10 Tech Cars, one model did stake a bold new claim for the viability of electric cars: the groundbreaking Tesla Model S.

Even so, IEEE Spectrum’s 10-car convoy proves that there are other ways to wring more miles from a liter of fuel. A trend of “lightweighting” has begun sweeping the global industry, as automakers seek to reverse decades of bloat caused by modern crash protections and deluxe amenities. The brainpower of cars is also rapidly expanding, with a Japanese sport sedan taking a small but important step toward automated cars: It has a full “drive-by-wire” steering system that backs up the driver. Turning the stereotypes on their heads, there’s a whopper of a British SUV and a bite-size Chevrolet. What they have in common is a high ratio of driving pleasure to fuel burned.

Listen to an interview with author Lawrence Ulrich.

All photos provided by manufacturers.

About the Author

For Spectrum’s annual review of top tech cars, Lawrence Ulrich took to the roads of Italy and Morocco. But he says the all-electric Tesla Model S he test-drove in Chicago is technologically the most significant of the bunch. “It’s hard writing about electrics,” he says. “They have a different mix of strengths and weaknesses than we’re used to. It’s good that they’re so quiet, but it can also be bad, both for the rev-hungry driver and for timorous pedestrians.”

 

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