A car’s fuel efficiency is obviously important to most people when making a buying decision. But its importance varies in inverse proportion (if you remember your high-school math) to the price of gas. Just one example: GM’s profits increased sharply in mid-2015, driven largely by higher sales of SUVs and crossover vehicles. Not coincidentally, the price of gasoline dropped sharply during that period.
And at least for the time being, buyers are shunning hybrid and electric cars. Edmunds.com reports that only about one-quarter of “alt vehicle” trade-ins are now being used to buy another electric or hybrid model, down 10% from one year ago. More and more often, those consumers are moving up to a crossover or SUV.
Want one more? We all remember the short, interesting history of the Hummer, the gas-guzzling, military-style, go-to vehicle for A-listers in the 1990s and early 2000s. Soaring gas prices turned the vehicle into such an albatross that only 325 were sold in 2009 and the brand was phased out shortly after that. But in the last couple years, demand for used Hummers has been on the upswing now that gas prices have dropped below $2 per gallon in many areas.
Gas prices won’t remain low forever, of course, and fuel efficiency is still an important metric in car buying. A study conducted by market research firm Kelton Global finds that an overwhelming number of car buyers consider miles-per-gallon an even more important factor in their decision than the price on the windshield, with the participants saying that fuel efficiency is more important to them now than it was five years ago.
Assuming that you’re one of those interested in cars with good gas mileage, here’s our complete guide to the best choices currently on the market; some research is courtesy of Kelley Blue Book, Consumer Reports, and of course, the EPA.
Most Fuel-Efficient SUVs
Those who would never think of driving anything but a Prius, Tesla or small import might think that “fuel-efficient” and “SUV” should never be used in the same sentence. Those who favor SUVs, though, know there’s a big difference in fuel efficiency from one model to the next. If you’re a die-hard green driver, feel free to skip ahead to the end of this article.
It was surprising even to us that the Explorer made this list, given its standard 3.5 liter V6 and reputation for decent but not great gas economy. In reality, the 3.5 can do 17/24 city/highway, and there’s now a 2.3 liter turbo inline-4 EcoBoost option with more torque and optional all-wheel drive, which increases those numbers to 19 city, 28 highway. There’s no longer any reason to shy away from the market-leader based on fuel costs, although the $35,000 list price may make you think twice.
The Pilot is a little smaller than in previous years, but still seats eight comfortably with good cargo space, so it remains an SUV in our minds. It’s luxurious (and comfortable) on the inside, and with its 3.5 liter V6 now capable of producing 280 horsepower (a definite improvement) the ride is more powerful while still being smooth. And the “Honda Sensing” system is a great addition, with lane-assist, rear detection and other safety features. The nine-speed automatic will get you 20 MPG city and 27 highway, right on par with the Explorer, for about $4,000 less.
Hyundai Santa Fe
We’re focusing on three-row, “family” SUVs in this category, and the Santa Fe has a lot going for it. Start with the seating for seven people and large cargo area, move on to the powerful 3.3 liter V6 pushing 290 horsepower that can accelerate quickly and tow up to 5,000 pounds, and add in very nice handling, and you’ve got a solid and versatile vehicle. Add in solid construction, an attractive interior with great panoramic view – and top it off with 18 MPG city/25 MPG highway at a base price of $31,000, and you have a welcome alternative.
Most Fuel Efficient Crossovers
Is it a SUV or a crossover? The answer to that question, like beauty, is in the eye of beholder. We’ve made some executive decisions, though, and classify these as the crossovers with the best gas mileage.
This compact crossover SUV, when outfitted with the standard 2.0 liter 235 hp turbo four-cylinder engine, rates as the most fuel-efficient SUV in the crossover category. The NX has modern, almost aggressive exterior styling (somewhat like a RAV4, and not what you’d expect from a Lexus) and a luxurious interior complete with body-conforming leather seats, LED interior lighting and a high-tech multi-section display screen with voice recognition. The NX has a large back seat but not an enormous amount of cargo space, as you might expect from a crossover, and sells in the $35,000 range. The numbers that matter most? 35 city, 31 highway.
New on the market for 2017, the HR-V is basically a smaller CR-V (Honda’s compact SUV) and a joy to drive. The 1.8 liter 4-cylinder only pushes 141 horses so you won’t get the power of the Lexus NX, but the handling of the HR-V is outstanding, making for a fun experience fun behind the wheel. As you’d expect in a Honda, the interior isn’t luxurious but it’s certainly comfortable, and you can upgrade to cool features like heated front seats and a moonroof. Not a bad deal for under $20,000, not to mention the 28/35 fuel efficiency (which Consumer Reports tested at 39 mpg highway, the reason we list the HR-V at #2).
And mileage of 30 city, 34 highway is why the Crosstrek comes in at #3, even though it’s one of the smaller crossovers on the market and isn’t oozing with power (2.0 liter boxer 4-cylinder, 148 hp and just 145 lb-ft of torque). Its key selling point, other than the mileage numbers, is that the Subaru’s symmetrical all-wheel drive system is engaged at all times, making this a versatile vehicle in both good and bad weather. Oh, one other selling point: the list price of the Crosstrek is just a bit over $20,000.
Most Fuel-Efficient Trucks
Car-buyers arrive at the dealership with a list (written or mental) of what they’d like in a new vehicle. Truck-buyers are more likely to arrive with a list of what they need. Even so, the industry-wide push toward fuel efficiency means there’s no longer a need to sacrifice gas economy for capacity, size or suspension. Here are this year’s most fuel efficient trucks.
Dodge Ram 1500 Quad Cab Turbodiesel
Dodge has upped its game with the new features added to the Ram 1500 over the last couple of years. The fuel-economical turbodiesel V6 pushes 240 hp with an impressive torque of 420 lb-ft, along with an eight-speed automatic transmission, air suspension for a lower yet quality ride along with less drag – and fuel efficiency of 21 city, 29 highway. It’s a good-looking, full-sized truck with a decent interior, although the seats could be more comfortable (and they can be, if you choose the 10-position power seat option). You can snag the base diesel model at around $30,000, although if you need more power, the 5.7 liter Hemi V8 will raise the price and lower the MPG.
Chevrolet Colorado Crew Cab
You can opt for the new Duramax 4-cylinder turbodiesel version of the Colorado Crew Cab for an extra $4K and get even better mileage. But the base 2.5 liter inline-4 is impressive enough to us at 20/27 city/highway, with the stripped-down model available at just over $20,000; even if you go for an extended cab, though, you’re still only going to pay about $26,000 (while shaving off a few MPG in the process). and you’ll get a smooth – although not overly luxurious – ride that’s becoming exceptionally popular in the mid-sized truck market.
Ford F150 Super Cab
We certainly don’t have tout the advantages of the redesigned full-sized F150, with its legendary power and comfort, stronger-than-ever frame and features like sway control and hill-start assist – it’s stuff like that has made this model so successful over the years. But even the standard 3.5 liter V6 (383 hp, 255 lb-ft of torque) will give you impressive gas mileage at 18/25, and you can goose those numbers an extra mile per gallon if you opt for the 2.7 liter twin turbo engine.
Most Fuel-Efficient Luxury Cars
We’re leaving out the hybrid options in this list; we’ll look at hybrids later on. But if you’re open to electric cars, the Tesla Model S and the BMW i3 are the way to go. We’re not including prices with some of these listings, since if you’re shopping for luxury cars, you probably know what you’ll be laying out for a BMW or Mercedes.
BMW 3 Series
Whether you want to go diesel or not, the 3 Series is one of the best mpg cars you’ll find in any category, let alone the luxury one. Quite honestly, BMW isn’t quite the gold standard it used to be when it comes to quality, but it’s still a great vehicle and the 3 Series will give you plenty of oomph to go along with the not-quite-a-Mercedes accoutrements inside. The best of the bunch when it comes to gas efficiency is the 328d 2.0 liter turbo diesel, with terrific ratings of 32/45 city/highway; even if you opt for the lower level 320 with its turbo inline-4, you’ll still get 36 MPG on the highway, and 24 in the city.
Audi A3 Diesel
The major advantage (other than the fuel economy) of the A3 is the same as its major disadvantage: it’s an Audi. You get the fun and sporty experience, the plethora of standard luxury options, and the quiet ride you’d expect from the brand, along with a price tag well below that of comparable BMWs and Mercedes. But you also get a car that, well, looks like an Audi. The fuel miser is the 2.0 liter turbo diesel inline-4; it only pumps out 150 hp but boasts an impressive 31 city/43 highway EPA rating at a price less than $35,000. (One warning: there’s no evidence that 2016 models are affected, but Audi is part of the EPA action against VW for altering its diesels to misrepresent mileage results in earlier years.)
Anyone need us to sell them on the E-Class? Didn’t think so; it defines quality and luxury for just about everyone in the position to buy one. Even in the base models, there’s power this-and-that and high-tech everything, although surprisingly, the seats aren’t leather. The best mileage is with the 2.1 liter turbo diesel with 195 horses but a strong 369 lb-ft of torque, which will give you 28 city and 42 highway. But you’ll still do well with the 3.5 liter V6 or 3.0 liter twin turbo V6, each of which are rated at 20/29 mpg.
Most Fuel-Efficient Sports Cars
Unfortunately, you won’t find some of the iconic sports car brands you might hope to see here (although the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider at 24/34 MPG and the Chevy Corvette at 17/29 MPG are close). Our top three choices will still let you can still lay down plenty of rubber without laying out a fortune at the pump, though.
You didn’t think we were really going to leave you without any iconic options, did you? The 2.9 liter V6 255 hp Boxster roadster can go from 0-60 in a little over five seconds, yet still boasts fuel economy rated at 22 city/32 highway at a price just north of $50K. If you want to sacrifice just a little efficiency (and have the money to do it) you can upgrade to a 3.4 liter Porsche 911 Carrera, shave a second off your 0-60 time, and still come in at 20/28 miles per gallon.
The 2.0 liter turbo four may only promise 211 hp, and you may have been thinking more Porsche and Audi when it comes to sports cars, but this sporty coupe (or convertible) can still go 0-60 in just under five seconds while going easy on gas consumption, 23 in the city, 31 on the highway. The TT starts around $43,000.
Feel better now? That’s right, the latest version of the iconic pony kicks out 305 horses in its V6 coupe and convertible models (even though its 0-60 time is closer to six seconds than five), but the coupe comes in 19 MPG in the city and an impressive 31 MPG on the highway. The $25,000 price tag is certainly higher than the original classic Mustangs of the 1960s (although the hp numbers are surprisingly similar), but you were never getting 31 miles per gallon then, either.
Most Fuel-Efficient Sedans
We could easily fill several versions of this list of gas-saving sedans with hybrid models, but once again we’re leaving those for later. The cars we’ve chosen are the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid cars in the sedan category.
We’ve already mentioned this diesel model in our listings of most fuel-efficient luxury cars, but it is a sedan and it’s the most efficient non-hybrid on the market at 32 city/45 highway. We could have easily included the Audi A3 and Mercedes E-Class mentioned in the luxury category to round out this list, but we decided to save room for a smaller sedan and the most economical car in the category
Volkswagen Jetta TDI
Here’s the smaller one, the compact Jetta sedan. It comes standard with a 2.0 liter turbodiesel that supplies 150 hp and a six-speed manual transmission, along with the same drive train that’s in the VW Golf TDI. The combination makes for 31 MPG in city driving and 46 MPG on the open road; prices start just under $25,000, almost half the price of the 328d. The Jetta TDI won’t be available until late in the year, as VW works to ensure that all engines meet government fuel economy standards.
We promised the most economical car that will get exceptional mileage for a sedan, and here it is. The Cruze may not be your ideal choice if you have a large family, but this compact sedan gets 30 miles per gallon in the city and 42 on the highway when equipped with the 1.4 liter turbo four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission. A Honda Civic will give you equivalent mileage, a little better performance and perhaps a bit more comfort, but it costs several thousand dollars more than the Cruze, which starts at just $16,600. It’s tough to beat that price/mileage combo.
Most Fuel-Efficient Minivans
When you make the decision to buy a minivan, fuel economy is usually the last thing on your mind. That’s a mistake, because some of today’s minivans are much easier on the pocketbook than others when it comes to buying gas. Here are the best.
Ford Transit Connect
There isn’t as much room in the Transit Connect as there is in the full-sized Transit, you won’t get extras like Bluetooth and cruise control, and the ride isn’t as cushy. But it will still seat seven comfortably, and will maneuver more easily because of its smaller size. If you get it with the 1.6 liter turbo inline-4, you’ll be getting 22/30 for mileage; without the turbo, the Transit Connect still logs 20/28. Either way, you’ll be paying less than $30,000. Nice neighborhood for a minivan.
This may be more in line with what you envision in a minivan: larger than the Transit Connect (with more space, seating 7-8 easily), with the quality and performance and options you’d expect from Honda. There’s good power for the category as well, with the 3.5 liter V6 pushing 248 horses, but still registering 19 MPG in the city and 28 on the highway. It will run you between $31-$34,000 depending on model.
We move down a notch in gas economy with the Sienna, which averages 18 miles per gallon city and 25 MPG highway, but it’s the only minivan that has an all-wheel drive option (mileage numbers are a bit lower though, at 16/23 with AWD), very appealing to families who live in areas with rough winters. The Sienna is reliable, good-looking, equals the performance of the Odyssey with its 3.5 liter V6, and comes in right around the $30,000 mark for the base model.
Most Fuel-Efficient Wagons
Once upon a time, huge station wagons were everywhere; they were the car of choice for families in the days long before SUVs and minivans. Today’s wagons are smaller, better-looking, and much more fuel-efficient than those old boats. Check out these choices for the best of the bunch from a somewhat limited field; we haven’t listed hatchbacks which today are officially called “wagons” as well.
BMW 328d Sports Wagon
Here’s that car again – but we can’t help it if BMW does an outstanding job creating excellent cars with great fuel economy. The Sports Wagon comes standard with all-wheel drive, eight-speed automatic and all the other features we’ve previously mentioned, and gets 31/43 MPG from its turbo-diesel 2.0 liter inline-4. Expect to pay north of $40,000 for this model.
Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TDI S
You know what you’re going to get with a VW Golf: a good ride, responsive handling, and a conservative look. The SportWagen TDI S also gives you a 1.8 liter inline-4 turbo, 4-wheel ABS, a nicely-appointed interior, room equal to that of a crossover SUV, and gas economy of 25 miles per gallon city, 36 highway – for less than $25K.
Audi allroad Wagon
The Audi wagon only gets 21/28 miles per gallon city/highway, not bad for a small wagon but nowhere near its prime competitor, the BMW Sports Wagon. It has a 2.0 liter turbo four with all-wheel drive, is fun to drive, and is a nice luxury ride for $43,000. Whether it’s a better choice, given the poorer fuel economy, is up to you.
Most Fuel-Efficient Hybrid Cars
We finish up, as you’d expect, at an entirely different level when considering the most-efficient hybrid cars on the market – ratings of 21/28 or even 31/43 would be laughed at by those who have been driving hybrids for a while. If you’re new to the category, though, here’s what you can expect to find. Bear in mind that none of the prices quoted include federal tax credits.
Winner – and still champion! The “venerable” Prius (it’s been 16 years now, believe it or not) continues to top the list of best mileage hybrids, with the new Prius getting 54 miles per gallon in the city and 50 on the highway (the lighter Eco model does even better, at 58/53). That’s not all that keeps the Prius on top though; its smooth, quiet ride, cool styling and quality are all better than ever, for those who don’t mind taking ten seconds to get from 0-60. The basic model starts at $25,000.
The Volt has been redesigned for 2016, and while it’s not up to the level of the Prius in terms of fuel economy it’s getting closer, at 43 city/42 highway when running with the gas engine that acts as a supplemental energy generator rather than in the traditional fashion. (The equivalent number when running in all-electric mode is 106 MPG). The new Volt is sleek, quicker, and simply more fun to drive than its predecessors, and it should continue to gain on the Prius at this rate. The base price is $34,000.
Ford Fusion Hybrid S
As with all of the Fusion versions, you won’t be getting luxury when you buy the hybrid model. What you will be getting is a somewhat-sporty mid-sized sedan with good performance, lots of high-tech goodies available as options, a quiet ride and some advanced safety features. You’ll also be getting 47 miles per gallon on both the highway and in the city, for around $26,000 (the fancier Titanium hybrid model will run an extra nine grand).