When it comes to saving fossil fuels, we now have quite an array of choices. Automakers currently offer a slew of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery-electric cars, and even a couple of hydrogen fuel-cell models (in California, at least). But the ol’ internal-combustion engine isn’t done yet.
Even without electric assist, gasoline and diesel engines can achieve impressive fuel economy, and this list proves it. What we have here is a diverse array of vehicles — including a hatchback, a convertible sports car, a luxury sedan, a pickup truck, and a small SUV — each of which emphasizes fuel efficiency and best-in-class gas mileage without sacrificing performance or practicality.
These vehicles do not feature hybrid or electric powertrains, but if either of those options sounds more appealing to you, feel free to check out our picks for the best hybrids and best electric cars.
2018 Honda Fit
Why should you buy this: The Fit features impressive fuel economy without sacrificing practicality.
Miles per gallon: 36 mpg
How much will it cost: $16,190 (base price)
Why we picked the Honda Fit:
Good fuel economy doesn’t mean jack if a car can’t work as a practical daily driver. Thankfully, the Honda Fit manages to pack good fuel efficiency, a surprising amount of cargo space, and a decently fun driving experience into a small package.
The Fit achieves an EPA rating of 36 mpg combined (33 mpg city, 40 mpg highway) in LX models equipped with the CVT automatic transmission (CVT-equipped EX and EX-L models, as well as models equipped with the six-speed manual, are rated slightly lower). That puts the Fit near the top of its class, and is significantly better than larger cars.
But while other vehicles sacrifice creature comforts and driving pleasure to save a little fuel, the Fit really is a complete car. Its folding, “Magic Seat” layout frees up plenty of cargo space, and interior volume is generous at 95.7 cubic feet. The Fit is also reliable and nice to drive, exhibiting the peppiness small Hondas are known for.
The best truck with great fuel mileage
Chevrolet Colorado Duramax
Why should you buy this: You need a truck that won’t break the bank.
Miles per gallon: 23 mpg
How much will it cost: $35,785 (base price)
Why we picked the Chevrolet Colorado Duramax:
The current-generation Chevy Colorado (and its GMC Canyon twin) is a game changer when it comes to pickup trucks. It not only revitalized the mid-size truck segment, it also introduced diesel power in the form of General Motors’ 2.8-liter Duramax four-cylinder engine.
Why is a diesel truck a good thing? Because a diesel engine can return great fuel economy while still delivering the low-end grunt that trucks need. The Colorado’s engine boasts 369 pound-feet of torque (along with 181 horsepower), allowing it to tow up to 7,700 pounds. But the Colorado also achieves an EPA-rated 25 mpg combined (22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway) with rear-wheel drive, or 23 mpg combined (20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway) with four-wheel drive.
Aside from its overachieving diesel powertrain (Chevy offers two gasoline options as well), the Colorado is simply a nice truck. It rides well on the road, and offers a decent array of tech features, including a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot. Chevy also recently introduced the Colorado ZR2 performance model, which adds impressive off-road capabilities, albeit at the expense of fuel efficiency.
The best luxury car with great gas mileage
Audi A4 Ultra
Why should you buy this: You want a car that’s frugal, classy, and comfortable.
Miles per gallon: 31 mpg
How much will it cost: $36,000 (base price)
Why we picked the Audi A4 Ultra:
In the past, an Audi A4 wouldn’t have made it onto this list. But now the A4 is available in the efficiency-focused Ultra spec previously exclusive to Europe. That means it will get an EPA-rated 31 mpg combined (27 mpg city, 37 mpg highway). The front-wheel-drive Ultra doesn’t get Audi’s famous Quattro all-wheel drive system, but it keeps everything else that makes the current-generation A4 great.
The A4 is one of the most tech-savvy small luxury sedans around, boasting available features such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Audi’s “Virtual Cockpit” display. The latter replaces the gauge cluster with a digital display that puts more information within the driver’s line of sight.
A 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine musters 252 hp and 272 lb-ft, ensuring that, despite its focus on fuel economy, the A4 Ultra is no slouch. A well-set-up chassis helps the driver make the most of that power as well. All of the hardware is wrapped in clean exterior styling and, as with all Audis, the A4 features an interior that is both well designed and trimmed in high-quality materials.
The best sports car with great gas mileage
Fiat 124 Spider
Why should you buy this: It’s a fun car that also sips fuel.
Miles per gallon: 30 mpg
How much will it cost: $24,995
Why we picked the Fiat 124 Spider:
The Mazda MX-5 Miata was already a great sports car, but Fiat took its basic platform and added some Italian flair. Inspired by a classic Fiat model from the 1960s, the 124 Spider even manages to get slightly better fuel economy than its Mazda sibling.
The 124 Spider gets an EPA-rated 30 mpg combined (26 mpg city, 35 mpg highway) with Fiat’s own 1.4-liter turbo four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. With the optional six-speed auto, the car returns 29 mpg combined (25 mpg city, 36 mpg highway).
Fiat wanted to make the connection to the original 124 Spider as explicit as possible, so it adorned the new version with retro bodywork that gives it a dash of extra charm. As with the Miata, the 124 Spider’s low curb weight and nimble handling give it a pure driving feel that’s missing from most other modern cars. This little Fiat is perfect for a weekend drive on your favorite stretch of twisty road.
The best SUV with great gas mileage
Why should you buy this: It’s an SUV with none of the SUV drawbacks.
Miles per gallon: 29 mpg
How much will it cost: $20,110 (base price)
Why we picked the Mazda CX-3:
The CX-3 is part of a relatively new crop of subcompact crossovers that combine the tall, relatively boxy bodies and available all-wheel drive of traditional SUVs with the footprint of small hatchbacks. Attractive styling, an eager engine, and a well-tuned chassis make the CX-3 one of the very best.
The advantages of a vehicle like this are demonstrated in the CX-3’s EPA-rated fuel economy of 31 mpg combined (29 mpg city, 34 mpg highway) with front-wheel drive, and 29 mpg combined (27 mpg city, 32 mpg highway) with all-wheel drive. It may be marketed as an SUV, but the CX-3 is still a small car, and its fuel-economy figures reflect that.
Mazda isn’t the only manufacturer selling a subcompact crossover, but the CX-3’s handling and its peppy 2.0-liter four-cylinder put most of the competition to shame. Like other current Mazdas, the CX-3 also features a well-crafted interior that has the look and feel of something from a more upscale brand.
How We Test
The Digital Trends automotive team tests vehicles through a comprehensive scrutinizing process. We examine the qualities of the exterior and interior and judge them based on our expertise and experience in the context of the vehicle’s category and price range. Entertainment technology is thoroughly tested as well as most safety features that can be tested in controlled environments.
Test drivers spend extensive time behind the wheel of the vehicles, conducting real-world testing, driving them on highways, back roads, as well as off-road and race tracks when applicable.
Tips for fuel-efficient driving
Buying a fuel-efficient car is a good place to start, but a car is only as good as its driver. Numerous factors can affect real-world fuel economy. Some of them — like traffic congestion and topography — are out of your control, but there is still a lot you can do to maximize mpg. Here are some examples.
Driving behavior: The way you drive can have a big impact on fuel economy. Try to be as smooth as possible, avoiding hard acceleration or aggressive braking. The idea is to do as much as possible with the momentum you have, so the engine doesn’t have to work as hard. Coasting, when possible, helps too.
Vehicle controls: Turning down the air conditioning can help boost fuel economy, not to mention free up power that’s used to run the A/C compressor in most cars. Cruise control is also a good idea, as it keeps the car going at a consistent rate that avoids excess throttle use.
Eco mode: Many modern cars have some form of “eco” mode meant to improve efficiency. This is usually accomplished by dulling throttle response, although some systems also affect things like transmission shift strategy and climate control. These modes usually make the car appreciably worse to drive, but might be an option worth considering for the cost-conscious.