While full-electric and gas/electric hybrid-power cars can get phenomenal fuel economy, they can command price premiums that might be difficult to recover in savings at the pump, particularly with gas prices recently falling to their lowest levels in four years.
Fortunately, budget-minded and environmentally conscious car shoppers don't need to break the bank to choose a fuel efficient car, with a growing number of conventional gasoline-powered models already able to attain 40 mpg or better on the highway and 30 or more mpg around town.
This is largely due to engines that leverage gas-saving high-tech features such as fuel injection and turbocharging, as well as advanced automatic transmissions that maximize acceleration and fuel economy. Some models can eke another one or two mpg out of select models by adding features such as low rolling-resistance tires and aerodynamic shutters that automatically close at higher speeds to reduce wind resistance. In addition, several non-hybrids now include automatic stop-start systems that de-power the engine while at a stoplight or at idle to help boost their mpg in city driving.
"We are thrilled to see that manufacturers continue to innovate and are bringing technologies to improve fuel economy online even faster than anticipated," said Gina McCarthy, an administrator with the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. "Consumers now have many more choices when shopping for vehicles with higher fuel economy and lower emissions compared to just five years ago."
Unfortunately, fuel-frugal shoppers migh find they still have to pay a premium price to obtain the top mileage in a given car line, though the difference might only be an additional one or two mpg.
For example, the top-rated SFE version of the subcompact Ford Fiesta is rated at 43 mpg on the highway, yet this is attainable only with a $995 option package that includes a particularly stingy 1-liter three-cylinder engine. Other models that command higher prices for their most efficient models include the Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Cruze, Honda Civic, Dodge Dart, Nissan Sentra and the Mazda6.
Similarly, the latest diesel-powered cars are able to rack up as much as 46 mpg in highway driving with surprisingly lively acceleration, though such models typically command steep sticker prices, with the cheapest of the lot, the Volkswagen Golf TDI, starting at around $21,000 (which is nearly $4,000 more than the cheapest gasoline-fueled model).
Here's a look at the 10 gasoline-powered non-hybrid/electric cars for 2015 that are rated by the EPA to achieve at least 30 mpg in city driving and 40 mpg or better on the highway. (Prices cited are for specified models/configurations and do not include destination charges or other options).
1. Mitsubishi Mirage — 37/44 mpg. Base version with 1.2-liter 74-horsepower three-cylinder engine and optional gearless CVT automatic transmission. $14,095.
2. Ford Fiesta — 31/43 mpg. This rating is for SE models with the optional turbocharged three-cylinder engine and manual transmission. $16,580.
3. Toyota Corolla — 30/42 mpg. Top-mpg Eco versions pack a 140-horsepower 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and CVT transmission. $18,915.
4. MINI Cooper Flardtop — 30/42 mpg. Base version with 1.5-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine. $20,700.
5. Flonda Fit — 33/41 mpg. Base model with the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine and optional CVT transmission. $16,450.
6. Flonda Civic — 31/41 mpg. Maximum mileage comes with the specially equipped HF sedan model and a gearless CVT transmission. $20,040.
7. Mazda3 — 30/41 mpg. Base model with the 2-liter four-cylinder engine and optional automatic transmission. $17,995.
8. Nissan Versa/Versa Note — 31/40 mpg. This sedan/hatchback combo gets top fuel economy with the base 1.6-liter 109-horsepower engine and optional CVT transmission. $13,990/$15,430.
9. Fiat 500 — 31/40 mpg. Base 1.4-liter 101-horsepower four-cylinder engine and standard five-speed manual transmission. $16,645.
10. Nissan Sentra — 30/40 mpg. This is for the FE model with the base 1.8-liter 130-horsepower engine and optional CVT automatic transmission. $17,240.