What are the most fuel-efficient vehicles of 2016? Our list excludes electric and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles, and features 10 models each averaging a combined 40 mpg.
With gas prices at or near the lowest levels we have seen this century, fuel efficiency concerns have been placed on a back burner. Currently, consumers are flocking to SUVs and pickup trucks in greater numbers, with sales of subcompact and compact car models taking a significant hit.
Although fuel economy may not be a preeminent concern for most new car shoppers, for those people who comprehend the vagaries of oil prices, they know efficiency still matters in the long run. To that end, we’ve explored current data supplied by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine the top 10 fuel-efficient cars of 2016. However, our list excludes electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, models beyond the cost consideration of the average new car buyer.
No. 1 — Toyota Prius
Should there be any surprise that the Toyota Prius is at the top of this list? Perhaps the surprise here is that the traditional Prius, not the subcompact “c” or the versatile “v” were able to beat out this model — review the No. 2 and No. 7 positions and you’ll discover where the other Prius models landed.
The most efficient Toyota Prius is EPA-rated at 58 mpg in the city and 53 mpg on the highway for a combined 56 mpg. This model comes with a lithium-ion battery pack, although the traditional nickel metal hydride pack can be selected instead. Models equipped with the latter make 54 mpg in the city and 50 mpg on the highway for a combined 52 mpg.
No. 2 — Toyota Prius c
Although the Toyota Prius c (for compact) technically seats five like its larger brother, its cabin is smaller and passenger space is much more limited. But it is also a budget pleaser, coming in at under $20,000 for the base model.
It also comes with a less powerful, but not as efficient 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine compared with the 1.8-liter “four” moving the mainstream Prius. By delivering 53 mpg in the city and 46 mpg on the highway for a combined 50 mpg, this model is a clear winner for penny-pinching hybrid vehicle shoppers.
No. 3 — Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid
Wait, Chevrolet has a hybrid that is actually efficient? Say it ain’t so! After playing around with partial hybrids for much too long, GM went back to the drawing board to develop a proper hybrid. The new model coincides with the release of an all-new Chevrolet Malibu, itself a vast improvement over the previous generation model.
The Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid has the distinction of having the best combination of interior room and fuel economy of any car sold in America that’s not a PHEV. The EPA rates the Malibu Hybrid at 47 mpg in the city and 46 mpg on the highway for a combined 46 mpg. Compare the hybrid’s fuel efficiency numbers to the standard model’s 27 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway for a combined 31 mpg, and you should be duly impressed by its parsimony.
No. 4 — Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
Coming in right behind the Malibu Hybrid is the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. Based on Volkswagen’s top-selling compact Jetta sedan, this hybrid utilizes a 1.4-liter, turbocharged engine and pairs that with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
The 2016 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid makes 42 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway to deliver a combined 44 mpg — better than any diesel it has sold. Thus, it is the most efficacious compact hybrid model based on a standard model architecture (unlike the Prius, a dedicated hybrid).
No. 5 — Ford Fusion Hybrid
Toyota and Honda may have been the earliest adopters of all things hybrid, but Ford beat out its domestic rivals when it released the Ford Escape Hybrid in 2004. Unfortunately, no Escape hybrid is available these days, but the Ford Fusion Hybrid is and it delivers optimum fuel economy.
Indeed, the 2016 Ford Fusion Hybrid equipped with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine mated to a continuously variable transmission and an electric motor is EPA-rated at 44 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway for a combined 42 mpg. Where the Prius emphasizes efficiency, the Fusion Hybrid answers with performance, delivering a combined 188 horsepower. Moreover, Ford designed the Fusion Hybrid to operate in electric-only modes at speeds of up to 85 mph.
No. 6 — Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Hyundai arrived late to the hybrid game, introducing its Sonata Hybrid in 2011. In 2015, the next generation Sonata went on sale, but Hyundai continued with the previous generation hybrid edition for one more year.
Consequently, that extra year was worth the wait as a more fuel efficient Hyundai Sonata Hybrid was prepared. The latest generation model matches the Fusion’s combined 41 mpg fuel economy while delivering 40 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway. The improved savings come by using a smaller 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine instead of the previous 2.4-liter powerhouse. Further, the Sonata comes with a 6-speed automatic transmission, while a lithium-polymer battery pack stores the electricity.
No. 7 — Lexus CT 200h
Half the models appearing on this list are from Toyota Motors. Of the five, the Lexus CT 200h is the only one from Toyota’s luxury brand. Introduced in 2011, the CT 200h is the smallest and most efficient of Lexus’ hybrid models, squeezing out the 40 mpg achieved by the Lexus ES 300h.
Underneath the CT 200h, there is something very familiar here as this model shares its architecture with the Toyota Prius. But there are many differences too as this vehicle sits lower to the ground, has a sporty stance, and has been optimized for handling. Furthermore, the CT 200h’s interior is all Lexus too. The EPA rates this model 43 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway for a combined 42 mpg.
No. 8 — Toyota Prius v
The third model in the Prius arsenal of standard hybrids is the Toyota Prius v. The “v” stands for versatility, what gives this hybrid model line a wagon-like or crossover-type SUV model. In essence, the Prius v is based on the standard Prius model with a longer, wider, and taller body. Fold the rear seats and this model offers 67 cubic feet of storage capacity.
Introduced in 2012, the Prius v remains relatively unchanged. Its fuel economy doesn’t match the standard bearer, but at 44 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway for a combined 42 mpg, the Prius v delivers. The Prius v also has the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder found in the traditional Prius and comes paired with a continuously variable transmission.
No. 9 —Toyota Camry Hybrid
The best selling car in America is the midsize Toyota Camry sedan, so it stands to reason that a Toyota Camry Hybrid would also be available. Introduced in 2007, the Camry Hybrid is one of the earliest non-Prius hybrid models.
Just as the Toyota Camry has been regularly changed, the Camry Hybrid has kept up with those changes. Its natty interior, updated exterior and very good overall value make this sedan one of the better ones out there. All Camry Hybrids are powered by a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and are paired with a continuously variable transmission. Together with its high-torque electric motor, the hybrid system produces an impressive 200 horsepower. Equally important, this model makes the grade in fuel efficiency, delivering 43 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway for a combined 41 mpg.
No. 10 — Ford C-MAX Hybrid
The C-MAX is to Ford what Prius is to Toyota. Offering room for five, this five-door raised hatchback is proportionally similar to tiny crossover SUVs such as the Honda HR-V, Nissan Juke, and the Fiat 500X. In addition, a plug-in Ford C-MAX Energi hybrid model is also available.
Introduced in 2013, the Ford C-MAX is marketed in two trim levels. All models are moved by the same 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine powering the Ford Fusion Hybrid. A continuously variable transmission and an electric motor are also present. The EPA gives the C-MAX a rating of 42 mpg in the city and 37 mpg for a combined 40 mpg.
Several other models also cracked the 40 mpg barrier, coming in under the C-MAX’s city fuel economy, but offering better efficiency on the highway. Specifically, these models include the Lincoln MKX Hybrid, Lexus ES 300h, and he Toyota Avalon Hybrid.
The Mitsubishi Mirage also delivers a combined 40 mpg, a three-cylinder gasoline model with an EPA rating of 37 mpg in the city and 44 mpg on the highway. Finally, if you’re looking for a fuel-efficient diesel, you’re out of luck due to the Volkswagen diesel scandal. Those models, however, were rated no better than a combined 36 mpg.
Making the Grade
Every model that cracked the top 10 is a hybrid. What’s important for shoppers to consider is that hybrid efficiency, especially in colder weather, will fall. Indeed, that’s a fact supported by the EPA, which notes “fuel economy can drop about 31 percent to 34 percent” when operating at 20 degrees Fahrenheit compared to an ideal 77 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, conventional cars experience a more modest drop of about 12 percent under the same conditions.