Target Price £16,811
The Volvo S40 had a very short-lived reign as our top green car, and this is the reason why: the new Toyota Prius. Naturally, its environmental credentials are top-notch – its CO2 emissions are so low that it's company car tax rate is just 10%, while the official average fuel economy is 72.4mpg. Crucially, though, the Prius is both a great green car and a great family car.
In other words, you can minimise your effect on the environment without making any compromises. You see, even without the green appeal, we'd like the Prius because it rivals the best family cars for practicality. There's an impressive amount of room in the front, and enough head- and legroom in the back to rival some executive cars'.
It's also a cinch to drive. The super-light steering makes it easy to get round town, there's plenty of grip and decent refinement, and the ride is nice and settled on the motorway. Best of all, you don't have worry about all the bits of the hybrid system getting on with their jobs. So smoothly do they blend together that you would barely know that the car's switching between petrol and electric.
The Prius isn't the cheapest car to buy, but the good news is that the entry-level T3 model is so well equipped that there's no need to buy a dearer version. The economy and emissions make it cheap to run and, if you want any more reassurance, the old Prius finished in second place in this year's JD Power customer satisfaction survey.
Target Price £16,652
The Grand Scénic doesn't quite beat the Citroën Grand C4 Picasso (see previous page), but it's a fine second best. It will seat seven, as long as everyone is happy to compromise a little. Where it loses out is that, while the rearmost seats fold flat into the floor, the centre ones won't.
Some may also find the ride is rather firm but, in most other respects, this is a fine car. The list prices are competitive and equipment levels are high: this Expression model, for example, has an electronic parking brake, a fancy dash-mounted digital instrument display and loads of convenience features.
The Grand Scénic is also good to drive, providing a fine compromise between a controlled ride and the sharp responses that will delight a keen driver. On top of that, you won't find a more refined car in its class, and the engine is both strong and economical, combining keen performance with the promise of more than 50mpg.
Target Price £18,028
No, that's not a misprint, the VW Scirocco does cost just over £19,000 – although you'd probably be happy to pay more for something that looks so stylish. It's also cracking to drive, with grippy, predictable handling and plenty of steering feel.
The real beauty of this model is that it's every bit as stylish as dearer Sciroccos, and offers average fuel economy of more than 40mpg. It's also a lot quicker than you might expect of a 1.4-litre car. In fact, the engine's a gem, and it can get the Scirocco to 60mph in less than eight seconds, which will be plenty quick enough for most people.
The only real drawback is the Scirocco's limited practicality but, if that's an issue, you probably shouldn't be looking at a coupé.
Target Price £17,985
It may seem odd to recommend a two-wheel-drive version of an SUV, but there are sound reasons. Above all, most people will rarely take this car off-road, so there's little need for four-wheel drive.
Once you remove all the 4x4 mechanical gubbins, you have a car that's lighter, quicker and cheaper to run than its four-wheel-drive counterparts. Yet it retains all that's good about the car, with its off-road style, fine driving dynamics and impressive comfort and practicality.
Target Price £15,626
Don't you just love having your cake and eating it? Well, that's what you can do with this Volvo, which was voted our Green Car of the Year in June.
This S40 model dispels any myths about green cars having to compromise on their performance or dynamics. Instead, this is a fully fledged small family car that will take five people and their luggage, yet it averages more than 70mpg and puts out just 104g/km of carbon dioxide – less than most superminis. On top of that, it also puts out just 0.164g/km of NOx and virtually no particulate emissions, which are both known to cause respiratory illnesses.
The key to that is its combination of fuel-saving programming in the engine management system, adjustments to the shape of the body that make it slip through the air with less effort, and a stop-start system that shuts off the engine when the car's stationary. Together, they create a car that lets you limit the impact you have on the environment without any sacrifice.
The engine produces 108bhp, so although it won't worry any hot hatches away from the lights, it has enough pull to get the car up to speed reasonably quickly. Thanks to the superb economy, you won't be visiting petrol stations all that often. Road tax is just £35 a year and company car tax rates are also temptingly low.
Target Price £15,387
This is the motoring equivalent of Ian Botham: one of the great all-rounders. Just think of anything you might reasonably expect a car to do, and the Golf does it – extremely well.
Take the way it drives. No other car in its class can mix fun and comfort as well. It's effortless to drive around town, superbly refined on the motorway and genuinely enjoyable when the road gets twisty.
Then there's practicality – and the Golf comes up with the goods here again. Thanks to the wide range of adjustment on the driver's seat and steering wheel, anyone can get comfortable behind the wheel, and it's a doddle to find your way around the clean and simple dashboard. Across the rear seat, both head- and legroom are generous enough to cater for three, and the boot is big and well shaped.
You may worry that a 1.4-litre engine isn't up to the job of hauling around a car of this size, but the little turbocharged powerplant is a cracker. It gives brisk performance, yet still averages more than 45mpg, while emitting just 144g/km of carbon dioxide. In fact, it's so good that it makes some of the more powerful engines seem like a needless expense.
Likewise, the SE trim gives you everything you really need, adding alloy wheels, an upgraded stereo and automatic lights and wipers to the basic spec, which already includes air-con and electric front windows.
Target Price £17,978
Cold-hearted logic will point you in the direction of an Avensis. You absolutely will not lust after it but, when you reel off all the things that it does very well, you'll soon see that it has a breadth of talent that few family cars can rival.
First of all, it's spacious; a little smaller than a Ford Mondeo, perhaps, but not by much. It will take five adults easily, yet it still has a massive boot. It's also superbly refined and comfortable, too, while the driving position is good and visibility excellent. Combined with light controls and a supple ride, the result is a car that's perfect for covering lots of miles – which is exactly what most Avensis owners will do.