By JIM PARKER

The Post and Courier

Even the person with the least desire to hug a tree could likely name the brand of car chosen as greenest by an energy think tank.

It was the Toyota Prius, in this case the compact “C” version. The model won the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy’s 15th yearly environmental ratings of cars and trucks.

But maybe the biggest news to come away from the group’s compilation of the nation’s greenest cars is the field was so competitive, with a host of hybrids and electric vehicles in the running.

Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz’s “smart” brand were among those in the mix. Toyota’s classic hybrid scored well across its lineup, with the original Prius placing third, new plug-in hybrid taking fourth and the Prius V — largest of the family — ranked 11th. In topping the charts the Prius C scored a 58 (the lowest score was a 17).

At the same time, a few green regulars such as the eight-time champion Honda Civic Natural Gas edition, were shut out from the organization’s top 12 list.

“The vehicles at the top of this year’s rankings are proof that automakers are really ramping up their offerings,” said Shruti Vaidyanathan, the council’s lead vehicle analyst.

“There are more hybrid and electric options on the market this year than ever before and the race for a spot on the Greenest list is increasingly competitive. Automakers have revamped their offerings to meet the growing demand for efficient vehicles and new fuel economy standards,” she says.

The full ratings, available at www.greenercars.org, show that high fuel mileage is important but so is maintaining the lowest volume in terms of pollution emissions.

Greenercars.org said that it sets out a criteria to examine the eco-performance of any 2013 model.

Cars and trucks are analyzed to come up with a Green Score. The tally consists of measurements on unhealthy tailpipe emissions, fuel consumption, and emissions of gases that contribute to climate change.

The group said it has updated its analytical standards this year “to more accurately estimate vehicles’ environmental impacts.” The council changed the way it scored emissions involved in manufacturing vehicles; the impact of gas, diesel and natural gas “upstream;” and the forecasted mix of fuels used to produce electricity to power electric cars.

All but three of the top 12 greener cars carry certifications from both the federal government and the state of California, which has the nation’s toughest emissions standards.

The council indicated that carmakers are revving up their environmental efforts a notch to meet “aggressive national fuel economy standards kicking in for model years 2012 to 2025.”

Top clean cars also included the Honda Fit electric vehicle in second place, the Honda Civic Hybrid at five and Ford’s Focus EV and Fusion and C-Max hybrids all in the top dozen. Volkswagen’s new Jetta hybrid and the smart fortwo placed seventh and eighth respectively, the analysis group said.

Just two “conventional” vehicles, those with gas only engines, made the list. They were the Scion iQ and smart fortwo.

While greenercars.org focused much of the attention is on the cleanest green cars, the website also lists “Greener Choices” for widely-available top models in each class including trucks and SUVs. Among winners in these categories are the Buick Encore, Chevrolet Equinox, Toyota Tacoma, Honda Odyssey, Chevrolet Spark and the conventional engine Honda Fit. Half of the top choices are built by domestic manufacturers,

Another rating is the “Meanest” list for brands seen as the least friendly to the environment. Heading the ranking this year were a number of heavier light-duty trucks, knocking all but a handful of European sports cars from the list.

The council describes itself as “a catalyst to advance energy efficiency policies, programs, technologies, investments, and behaviors.” For more information, visit www.aceee.org.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.

•Greenest Vehicles of 2013•

Toyota Prius C - 1.5-liter engine; meets federal, California emissions limits; 53 mpg city, 46 mpg highway

Honda Fit - electric; meets one standard; 3.9 miles per kilowatt hour city, 3.1 highway

Toyota Prius - 1.8-liter; meets two standards; 51 mpg city, 48 mpg highway

Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid - electric/1.8-liter; meets two standards; 3.9/51 mpg city, 3.0/49 mpg highway Honda Civic Hybrid - 1.5-liter; meets two standards; 44 mpg city, 44 mpg highway

Honda Insight - 1.3-liter; meets one standard; 41 mpg city, 44 mpg highway

Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid - 1.4-liter; meets two standards; 42 mpg city, 48 mpg highway

Mercedes-Benz smart fortwo - 1.0-liter; meets two standards; 34 mpg city, 38 mpg highway

Scion iQ - 1.3-liter; meets two standards; 36 mpg city, 37 mpg highway

Ford Focus - electric; meets two standards; 3.3 mpkwh city, 2.9 mpkwh highway

Toyota Prius V - 1.8-liter; meets two standards; 44 mpg city, 40 mpg highway

Ford Fusion/C-Max hybrids - 2.0-liter; meets one standard; 47 mpg city, 47 mpg highway