With gasoline prices trending somewhere below $2.50 per gallon, the rush to fuel-efficient vehicles has certainly come to a grinding halt. On the other hand, demand for pickup trucks, large utility vehicles and other less-efficient models has soared.
Even though pump prices have eased, some drivers continue to search for new cars that offer excellent fuel economy, perhaps because they know that long-term fuel prices will only rise. Indeed, if you have long term ownership in mind, you need to consider prospective fuel and auto trends when exploring your purchase options.
The following list represents today’s top fuel economy cars, trucks, utility vehicles, and wagons by category. For this Auto Trends has included standard hybrid models, but removed plug-in hybrids and other electrified vehicles that skew the numbers.
1. Large Cars — The Ford C-MAX is categorized as a large car even though its chassis is based on the compact Ford Focus. In the federal government’s odd vehicle measuring criteria, it is interior room that dictates space. This five-passenger, front-wheel drive wagon-like model is EPA-rated at 42 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway for a combined 40 mpg. For a bona fide large car, you can choose a Toyota Avalon Hybrid and enjoy the same combined 40 mpg as the small Ford.
2. Midsize Cars — The Toyota Prius has a large interior, room for five and is front-wheel drive. It is the best known of all hybrid vehicles and the most efficient of them all. To that end, Toyota takes a 1.8-liter, four-cylinder gasoline and pairs it with a hybrid drivetrain. This Toyota is EPA-rated at 51 mpg in the city and 48 mpg on the highway for a combined 50 mpg. (Pictured: the PHEV version).
3. Compact Cars — The Toyota Prius C is a compact version of the larger Prius and is powered by a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine paired with a hybrid drivetrain. This hatchback seats up to five and is EPA-rated at 53 mpg in the city and 46 mpg on the highway for a combined 50 mpg.
4. Subcompact Cars — A gasoline-only vehicle leads this segment, a Ford Fiesta SFE model powered by a 1.0-liter turbocharged, three-cylinder engine paired with a 5-speed manual transmission. This five-passenger Fiesta is EPA-rated at 31 mpg in the city and 43 mpg on the highway for a combined 36 mpg. Incidentally, you can also opt for an Audi A3 outfitted with a turbo-diesel engine to equal the Fiesta’s fuel economy.
5. Minicompact Cars — Cars in this segment are the smallest on the road and include the three-passenger, Scion iQ. The front-wheel drive iQ is powered by a 1.3-liter, four-cylinder engine paired with a continuously variable transmission.This model is EPA-rated at 36 mpg in the city and 37 mpg on the highway for a combined 37 mpg.
6. Two-Seater Cars — The EPA has a category for two-seat cars that includes vehicles of varying sizes. The most fuel efficient car here is the Honda CR-Z, a hybrid model powered by a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine and paired with a continuously variable transmission. This Honda is EPA-rated at 36 mpg in the city and 39 mpg on the highway for a combined 37 mpg.
7. Midsize Station Wagons — There are very few wagons on the market. The Toyota Prius V is one such model, the largest of all Prius models. It is a hybrid vehicle with 1.8-liter, four-cylinder engine paired with a continuously variable transmission. This roomy five-passenger model is EPA-rated at 44 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway for a combined 42 mpg.
8. Small Station Wagons — Can the Honda Fit possibly be categorized as a small station wagon? Well, that’s exactly what the EPA has done with this five-door hatchback. The Honda Fit is powered by a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine paired with a continuously variable transmission. It is EPA-rated at 33 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway for a combined 36 mpg.
9. Minivans — What category seems to defy its name? That probably would be minivans, comprised mostly of medium-sized models. One exception is the six-passenger Mazda 5, powered by a 2.5-liter, four cylinder engine and paired with a five-speed automatic transmission. This model is EPA-rated at 21 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway for a combined 24 mpg.
10. Medium Sport Utility Vehicle — Sport utility vehicles typically do not get good gas mileage, but the exception is found in smaller models or with hybrids. In the medium SUV category. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid is powered by a 3.5-liter, V-6 engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission and is EPA-rated at 27 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway for a combined 28 mpg.
11. Small Sport Utility Vehicle — The most fuel-efficient small SUV is a luxury model, a Lexus NX 300h front-wheel drive hybrid. This model is powered by a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Seating five, the NX 300h is EPA-rated at 35 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway for a combined 33 mpg.
12. Standard Pickup Trucks — Ford may have a lightweight, aluminum-bodied truck in the F-150, but it is a Ram 1500 HFE 2WD model that is the most efficient in this segment. That truck is powered by a 3.0-liter, turbo-diesel engine paired with an 8-speed automatic transmission. It is EPA-rated at 21 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway for a combined 24 mpg.
13. Small Pickup Trucks — Small trucks are not as fuel-efficient as some would like, despite offering standard four-cylinder engines. Several models, including the Toyota Tacoma, GMC Canyon and Chevrolet Colorado are tied in this segment, making a combined 22 mpg. The good news is that an upcoming turbodiesel for GMC and Chevrolet should boost fuel economy by about 20 percent when that engine comes out in 2016.
Fuel Efficient Tips
Official fuel economy numbers aside, you can maximize your efficiency in several ways, including avoiding jackrabbit starts and hard breaking, and by keeping your tires properly inflated. Use cruise control on the highway when road conditions are dry and you can increase your efficiency further.