The Consumer Guide to E85 Ethanol Vehicles

President Bush and Detroit's automakers say that using E85 ethanol fuel puts America on the road to energy independence. If you agree -- and want to show your support with your checkbook -- you're in luck.

Alternative Fuel Vehicle Image Gallery

Mercedes-Benz C-Class
The Mercedes-Benz C-Class C230 gets 14/18 EPA mpg city/highway on E85 ethanol. See more alternative fuel vehicle pictures.

­The number of models that can run on the E85 ethanol is at an all time high. Choices include cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickup trucks. General Motors leads the industry in E85 ethanol-capable vehicles, with more than a dozen models for 2007. Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ford also field a selection, with Mercedes-Benz and Nissan represented as well.

E85 Ethanol Vehicles: Flexible in Price
and Power
There's a choice for nearly every budget on the 2007 roster of E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicles. And with 320-horsepower V8s among today's E85 ethanol flex-fuel engines, you won't have to give up muscle to go green.

In this report, two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive versions of a vehicle are counted as variants of the same model. Under that formula, our report on 2007 E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicles contains 27 entries: seven midsize and full-size cars, nine SUVs (all with V8 engines), eight pickup trucks (all with V8s) and three minivans.

Pricewise, the lineup starts with the $19,520 Touring-model edition of the Chrysler Sebring sedan with a 190-horsepower V6. At the high end is the $43,050 Nissan Armada full-size sport-utility vehicle with a 317-horsepower V8. (Prices quoted do not include destination charges.)

Horsepower ratings range from 201 in the V6 Mercedes-Benz C230 sedan, to the 320-hp V8 in General Motors' full-size pickup trucks and SUVs.

As for fuel economy, the most fuel-efficient E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicle for 2007 is the Chevrolet Impala sedan and its Monte Carlo coupe counterpart with the 211-horsepower V6. Their EPA rating is 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway. Trailing the pack is the Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck with the 235 horsepower V8. It's rated at 9 mpg city/13 highway. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates, fuel economy suffers by some 20 percent running on E85 ethanol versus conventional pump gasoline.

In all, 27 different 2007 models are E85 ethanol-capable. That's up from 20 for the 2006 model year, and more than triple the number available in 2000. Regardless of make, model, or engine all these vehicles can run on conventional gasoline or the E85-ethanol blend with no modification and no difference in performance.

It's this flexibility that gives them the nickname, flex-fuel vehicles.
No manufacturer charges extra for E85-ethanol capability versus a model's gasoline-only counterpart. And E85 ethanol fuel costs about the same per gallon as conventional 87-octane gasoline.

That's not to say that climbing aboard the E85 bandwagon is without some sacrifice. As we'll see in subsequent sections of this report, the benefits of using E85 ethanol are balanced by reduced fuel economy, scarcity of E85 ethanol fueling stations, and a flex-fuel vehicle fleet made up mostly of full-size trucks and SUVs.

E85 is shorthand for a blend of combustible motor-vehicle fuel that's 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent conventional unleaded gasoline. Ethanol is derived from plant material, corn mostly. Because its raw materials come mostly from U.S. farms and are distilled in U.S. refineries, ethanol is touted as a renewable energy source that has the potential to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.

E85 ethanol produces fewer harmful exhaust emissions than conventional gasoline. Proponents add that utilizing this renewable energy source helps stretch the earth's finite supply of fossil fuels. They also position E85 ethanol as a support for American jobs and agriculture. They also argue that the home-grown fuel helps the nation's trade balance and reduces tax dollars and military resources needed to secure our supply of foreign oil.

American automakers, stung by criticism that they lag their Japanese rivals in production of gas/electric hybrid vehicles, have embraced E85 ethanol under the umbrella of energy conservation and independence. Already having built several million E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicles over the last decade, GM, Ford, and the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep group say they plan to put a combined total of 2 million more on the road each year, starting in 2007. Their top executives have lobbied for increased government support of ethanol production. And the companies fund campaigns to promote the use of E85 ethanol and the installation of more E85 ethanol pumps at gas stations.

But not everyone is so enthusiastic about E85. Critics deride the millions of dollars in tax subsidies provided ethanol producers, labeling them government handouts that go primarily to giant agricultural interests and big-corporation refineries. Detractors doubt the environmental benefits, noting that lots of nonrenewable diesel and gas is consumed to grow, transport, and process corn that becomes ethanol. Some maintain it requires more energy to produce ethanol than ethanol itself provides. Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that putting more E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicles on the road could raise levels of some types of harmful air pollution.

That's just a sampling of a growing debate over E85 ethanol and flex-fuel vehicles. For anyone considering the purchase of an E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicle, still other questions may hit closer to home. Here are the topics we cover in this article:
  • The Pros of Buying an E85 Ethanol Vehicle
    There are a lot of pros to running your vehicle on E85 ethanol and many reasons to consider switching from a vehicle that runs on conventional to a flex-fuel vehicle. You won't pay extra for an E85 vehicle or suffer a performance deficit. Your car will pollute less, and you'll support America's energy independence. Many believe that E85 is one way to end America's dependence on fossil fuel. Read this page to learn more about the benefits of owning an E85 vehicle.

  • The Cons of Buying an E85 Ethanol Vehicle
    While owning an E85 vehicle certainly has its positives, there also are negatives. Miles per gallon suffer when you run on E85 ethanol because it doesn't contain as much energy as regular-grade gasoline. Also, simply finding a place to fill up on E85 ethanol is a challenge because most pumps are located in the Midwest or on private or government property. Lastly, if you're looking for an E85 flex-fuel subcompact or compact car, you're out of luck. Find out more about the cons of E85 vehicles in this section.
  • E85 Ethanol Vehicles for 2007
    We list every 2007 E85 flex-fuel model, including EPA fuel economy estimates for E85 vs. conventional gasoline. If you're thinking of purchasing an E85 vehicle, this page will serve as an important reference tool.