Miles and smiles: The most fuel-efficient (non-hybrid) cars money can buy

gas pump fuel efficient carsWe can all agree: Not one of us likes wasting money at the pump. Unfortunately, with gasoline prices fluctuating more often than Jessica Simpson’s waistline, it’s not always easy to avoid draining your wallet while filling your tank. Of course, there is always the option of getting behind the wheel of some new-fangled cartraption like a hybrid or — gasp! — electric vehicle, but that’s for communist (just kidding, comrade). Whatever your reasons for forgoing alternative fuels, what we have here is a list of the most fuel-efficient, gasoline-powered cars on the market.

Ford Fiesta


When it comes to fuel efficient vehicles, Ford is riding at the top of its game. And the 2012 Ford Fiesta is an excellent example of the Blue Oval’s efforts. One of the most fuel efficient cars on our list, the 2012 Ford Fiesta comes in both sedan and hatchback version for added utility. Standard EPA miles per gallon rating for the Fiesta measures in at 39 highway, 29 city, and 33 combined. Those looking for true fuel frugality can opt for the SFE package, which boosts mpg to 40 on the highway, and includes various mile-enhancing features, including minor vehicle weight reduction and small aerodynamic changes.

Nissan Versa

2012 Nissan Versa

The 2012 Nissan Versa won’t wow your senses — but if fuel economy is what you crave (or need), then look no further. While the 2012 Versa hatchback returns a respectable 34 highway mpg with its 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine, it’s the sedan version’s 1.6-liter CVT that fuel sippers will desire thanks to its EPA-rated 38 mpg highway, 30 mpg city, and 33 mpg combined fuel economy.

Hyundai Accent

2013 Hyundai Accent

Hyundai, like Ford, has been putting in their fair share of work when it comes to fuel economy. And the Hyundai Accent is yet another example of this concerted effort to deliver an engaging drive with wallet-conscious fuel savings. For the 2012 model year, Hyundai managed to increase the vehicle’s size, style, and power, without compromising efficiency. What we’re left with is a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that produces 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. What’s more, EPA ratings for the Accent measure in at 40 mpg highway, 30 mpg city, and 33 mpg combined.

Hyundai Veloster 

2013 Hyundai Veloster

For those of you out there that long for a sportier, more performance-centered experience, the 2012 Hyundai Veloster might be the right set of wheels for you. Packing a standard 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, the base model Veloster achieves an EPA-estimated 40 mpg highway, 28 mpg city, and 32 mpg combined. If the standard Veloster’s 138 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque isn’t enough to ignite your fire, then opting for the turbo version of the three-door sport hatch will give you a bump to 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, but will also see its fuel economy reduced down 26/38/30 mpg with the manual transmission, and 25/34/29 mpg with the automatic variety. For a more detailed look at the 2013 Hyundai Veloster Turbo, check out our hands-on impressions.

Chevrolet Cruze Eco

Chevrolet Cruze Eco

There was a time not long ago when the most fuel-efficient cars hailed from the land of the rising sun. There was also a time not long ago that you would have pointed and laughed were we to recommend an American car as that was actually fuel efficient. Well, that time has come and gone. The Japanese mainstays are still ever present, but they find themselves battling it out with the likes of Ford and, yes, even Chevy. The Cruze Eco makes a compelling case if you’re in the hunt for gas-sipping ride. It’s optimized for maximum fuel efficiency and includes: aerodynamic improvements, lightweight alloy wheels, low-rolling-resistance tires, a smaller fuel tank, and a few minor feature deletions to further reduce weight. Powering the Cruze Eco is a turbocharged, 1.4-liter inline-four that produces 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. EPA fuel economy is an outstanding 42 mpg highway, 28 mpg city, and 33 mpg combined when mated to a manual transmission. Opting for an automatic transmission sees those numbers drop to 39, 26, and 31, respectively.

Chevrolet Sonic

Chevrolet Sonic sedan

Who would have thought it: Two Chevrolet’s on our list? Don’t rub your eyes, ’tis true. The American automaker manages to sneak yet another fuel efficient car into its offerings, this time in the form of the diminutive Chevy Sonic. But don’t let its size fool you; the Sonic, which replaces the Aveo in Chevrolet’s lineup, boast a playful turbocharged, 1.4-liter inline-four that generates 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. What’s more, the turbocharged engine actually rates higher than the Sonic’s standard 1.8-liter engine, with an EPA fuel economy rating of 40 mpg highway, 29 mpg city, and 33 mpg combined when mated to a manual transmission. Alternatively, opting for the automatic transmission achieves 37 mpg highway, 27 mpg city, and 31 mpg combined.

Hyundai Elantra

2012 Hyunda Elantra

Buyers looking at the Hyundai Elantra have three models to choose from: the 2013 Hyundai Elantra GT, the 2013 Hyundai Elantra Coupe, and the standard sedan. But it is the latter we want to highlight here. With its eye-catching windswept design, the Elantra sedan is one of the more attractive cars on our list. Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, which is why the Elantra backs up its good looks with a thrifty 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 148 hp and 131 lb-ft of torque. Like the Veloster and Accent, EPA fuel economy estimates reach that coveted 40 mpg threshold with the Elantra netting 40 mpg on the highway, 29 mpg in the city, and 33 mpg combined.

Honda Civic

Honda Civic HF

When you’re on top, everyone wants a piece. Honda has had to deal with rebels and rogues looking to wrest its crown for years now. And while it has done an admirable job guarding the throne, it’s no longer the undisputed king of the land. Nevertheless, the Honda Civic is still one of the most fuel efficient cars on the market. While there are many models and trims to choose from, drivers looking to net the most miles per gallon will want to go with the Civic HF, which stands for “High Fuel Economy.” Sporting a specially tuned Honda R18 1.8-liter inline-four and five-speed automatic transmission, the Civic HF comes with 15-inch alloy wheels with low rolling-resistance tires that reduce rolling resistance by 20 percent, as well as additional underbody covers, and a rear decklid spoiler for an overall 4 percent improvement to aerodynamic performance. All in all, the Civic HF is able to achieve 41 mpg highway, 29 mpg city, and 33 mpg combined.

Scion iQ

Scion iQ

How exactly do you create a car for the young, urban masses? You slap a Scion logo on it and place a chic lower case “i” in front of its name. Thankfully, the iQ doesn’t just pander to the sensibilities of hip urbanites. And — despite our burning desire to make a “less is more” remark — in the case of the Scion iQ, the old maxim actually rings true. The iQ is rather small in stature, no doubt; however, what it lacks in size it more than makes up for with a fun, fuel-efficient design. That fuel efficiency comes courtesy of the iQ’s 1.3-liter inline-four, which manages to grind out 94 hp and 89 lb-ft of torque. Top speed for the city dweller clocks in at 100 mph. But it’s the car’s gas sipping numbers that prove most impressive: 37 mpg highway, 36 mpg city, and 37 mpg combined.

Kia Rio

2012 Kia Rio

The newly redesigned 2012 Kia Rio might stand out for its influx of style and je ne sais quo, but it hasn’t forgotten its humble beginnings. No, in fact the Kia Rio earns its place in the prestigious 40 miles per gallon high club by virtue of its workman-like 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine producing 138 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque. The standard 2012 Kia Rio comes mated to a six-speed manual transmission with an EPA rated 31 mpg in the city, 40 mpg on the highway, making for 33 mpg combined. Surprisingly, the automatic version sees an increase of one mile per gallon to its combined rating, for a total of 40 mpg on the highway, 30 mpg in the city, and 34 mpg combined.

Honorary diesel mentions:

Volkswagen Passat TDI

Volkswagen Passat TDI Digital Trends

There is an unfortunate stigma in the U.S. surrounding diesel-powered cars. Fortunately, that is starting to change. And the Volkswagen Passat TDI is a wonderful example of diesel done right. If sacrificing size for the sake of fuel economy proves too difficult, the Passat TDI offers up mid-size utility with great returns on fuel economy. The TDI features a fuel-efficient, 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel, which produces 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. It comes mated to either the six-speed manual or a six-speed automated manual transmission (known as “DSG” in VW talk). EPA-rated fuel economy for the six-speed manual TDI achieves a healthy 44 mpg highway, 31 mpg city, with a combined 35 mpg, while those opting for a DSG drivetrain can expect a drop to 40 mpg on the highway, 30 mpg in the city, and 34 mpg combined.

Audi A3 TDI

2012 Audi A3 TDI

Not surprisingly, VW’s corporate cousin, Audi, offers up its own fuel-sipping diesel in the form of the excellent A3 TDI. Of course, while Americans play catch-up, Europe has been enjoying the benefits of clean diesels for decades. Thankfully, diesels are no longer the smoke-belching, burners we once knew, and the Audi A3 proves that a luxury branded diesel can be both powerful and fuel-efficient. Sporting a 2.0-liter, turbocharged diesel inline-four, the A3 TDI’s engine is capable of producing 140 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque. S tronic (Audi’s automated manual transmission) comes standard with fuel economy estimates from the EPA rated at 42 mpg highway, 30 mpg city, and 34 mpg combined.

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