The recent advancements in electrification technology make it easy to overlook how far the internal combustion engine has come.
Regulators and rising fuel prices put pressure on auto-makers to build more efficient cars, trucks and SUVs. The average fuel economy continues to increase, even as horsepower goes up.
The fuel economy champions are the ones that come with a plug. But if that’s a step too far, here are the most efficient new cars in America that never require a charge. Note the fuel economy figure listed for each model corresponds to the rating the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives in a combined driving cycle, we only include cars currently in production, and retail prices are listed.
Nissan Rogue Hybrid (34 mpg) – GASOLINE-HYBRID
The Nissan Rogue is one of the best-selling vehicles in America. It’s also one of the most efficient SUVs on the market, at least when buyers select the optional hybrid powertrain. The Rogue Hybrid uses less fuel than so-called economy models like the Sentra and the Versa. The best rating achieved by the standard, non-electrified Rogue is 29 mpg. From $31,560.
Hyundai Elantra Eco (35 mpg) - GASOLINE
Hyundai has come a long way in the past quarter of a century. The current crop of cars made by the South Korean firm look better than they ever have, they’re more engaging to drive and they’re much nicer inside. One aspect hasn’t changed: they still go easy on fuel. The Elantra Eco hits 35 mpg but, as we’ll see, it’s far from the most efficient model in the Hyundai line-up. From $20,550.
Jaguar XF (35 mpg) - DIESEL
Which car gets better gas mileage, a Jaguar XF or a Nissan Sentra? The answer, surprisingly, is the XF, at least when it’s equipped with Jaguar’s 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder engine. Efficiency comes at the unfortunate expense of performance, which isn’t the diesel-powered XF’s strongest attribute. From $48,250.
Toyota Yaris iA (35 mpg) - GASOLINE
The four-door Mazda2 sedan sold in select global markets adopts the Toyota Yaris iA alias in America. Formerly part of the Scion line-up, it’s marketed as a bigger and more conventional alternative to the Yaris hatchback. It’s still a Mazda under the sheet metal and the firm’s Skyactiv approach to design helps it return 35 mpg. From $17,050.
BMW 328d (36 mpg) - DIESEL
Detractors want to turn diesel into a byword for evil but numbers rarely lie. The 328d with a four-cylinder turbodiesel engine is the most efficient non-electrified member of the BMW line-up. 36 mpg puts the 3 comfortably above small economy cars like the Chevrolet Spark and the Toyota Yaris. Selecting BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system lowers fuel economy to 34 mpg. From $40,250.
Jaguar XE (36 mpg) - DIESEL
Even in non-diesel-friendly America, Jaguar is one of the most outspoken proponents of the compression-ignition engine. The 2.0-liter turbodiesel offered in the XE, the brand’s entry-level model, matches the BMW 328d in terms of efficiency and comes close to the Chevrolet Cruze. From $36,400.
Honda Civic (36 mpg) - GASOLINE
Efficiency-minded buyers in the market for a Honda Civic should look at the four-door sedan version. Its 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine returns 36 mpg when it’s bolted to an automatic transmission, a figure that places it above most of its competitors. The Toyota Corolla, the Civic’s main rival, tops out at 34 mpg in the EPA’s rating system.
The next model down in the Civic hierarchy is the two-door coupe, which slots in at 35 mpg regardless of whether it has two or three pedals thanks in part to its wind-sculpted body. The hatchback isn’t far behind with a 34-mpg rating. From $22,400.
Honda Fit (36 mpg) - GASOLINE
Honda’s entry-level Fit matches the Civic in the fuel economy department even though it’s a much smaller car. Your mileage will vary depending on which transmission you choose. 36 mpg is only achievable with the optional continuously variable transmission, according to the EPA. Sticking with the standard six-speed manual transmission lowers mileage to 31 mpg. From $16,090.
Chevrolet Cruze Diesel (37 mpg) - DIESEL
With the Volkswagen Golf infamously out of the picture, the Chevrolet Cruze becomes the most fuel-efficient turbodiesel car currently on sale in the United States. The sedan returns at least 37 mpg regardless of whether it’s equipped with a nine-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual. The EPA rates the Cruze hatchback at 35 mpg. From $23,795.
Mitsubishi Mirage (39 mpg) - GASOLINE
The Mitsubishi Mirage hatchback achieves 39 mpg the old-fashioned way. It’s small, it’s light and it’s powered by a low-displacement engine. It’s undeniably efficient but it earns another, less eminent distinction. With just 78hp on tap from a 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine, the Mirage is the least powerful new car available in the U.S.
The Mirage G4 sedan returns 37 mpg, again without any kind of electrified assistance. Mirage sales suggest Americans care more about power than fuel economy, however. Mirage from $14,195, Mirage G4 from $15,195.
Ford C-Max Hybrid (40 mpg) – GASOLINE-HYBRID
The Ford C-Max Hybrid found itself at the heart of a fuel economy scandal in 2013. At launch, Ford claimed the van-like model could achieve 47 mpg across the board. That figure was significant; it made the C-Max more efficient than the Prius. It was also unattainable. The company had exploited a loophole in the EPA’s regulations to come to that number.
When software updates failed to fix the issue, Ford settled on 43 mpg after extensive re-testing. The firm gave owners a $550 compensation package while the EPA vowed to update its labeling rules. From $24,120.
Lexus ES 300h (40 mpg) - GASOLINE-HYBRID
While German rivals focused on horsepower, Lexus leveraged electrification as its area of expertise. The ES 300h achieves a level of fuel economy buyers associated with thrifty compact cars just a few short years ago. The Toyota Avalon Hybrid, which shares its drivetrain with the ES 300h, also returns 40 mpg. Toyota introduced a brand-new Avalon at this year’s Detroit Auto Show so the current model is not long for this world. What the future holds for the ES is up in the air at this point. From $41,820.
Ford Fusion Hybrid (42 mpg) - GASOLINE-HYBRID
Like many of its rivals, the Ford Fusion Hybrid appeals to buyers who want to drive a gasoline-electric car without sacrificing style or space. Discreet emblems on the trunk lid and the doors are the only hint that the Fusion packs an electric motor. The equally low-key Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, which is mechanically identical to the Fusion, returns 40 mpg. Fusion Hybrid from $25,295, Lincoln MKZ Hybrid from $35,170.
Kia Optima Hybrid (42 mpg) - GASOLINE-HYBRID
The Kia Optima Hybrid is one of the models that proves efficient doesn’t always mean small. It pairs a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with an electric motor to return 42 mpg in a combined cycle. Kia claims the gasoline-electric Optima can drive on electricity alone for short distances at speeds of up to 62 mph. If that’s not enough, the plug-in model relies on a bigger battery and a more powerful motor to provide up to 29 miles of emissions-free driving. From $30,990.
Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid (46 mpg) - GASOLINE-HYBRID
The Malibu Hybrid stands out as Chevrolet’s mileage champ. It returns 46 mpg in a combined cycle, a figure that places it ahead of the plug-in Volt and its 42-mpg rating. The main difference between the two models is the Volt manages up to 53 miles on electricity alone before its engine rumbles to life. Chevrolet hasn’t published the Malibu’s electric-only range but it’s much shorter. From $27,875.
Toyota Prius c (46 mpg) - GASOLINE-HYBRID
The Prius c came to life after Toyota decided to turn the Prius nameplate into a sub-range of models. It’s the cheapest, smallest member of the line-up. It’s roughly the same size as the Yaris but it returns considerably better fuel economy thanks to the addition of an electric motor and a small battery pack.
The most efficient Yaris gets 33 mpg, 15 less than the Prius c. This illustrates the benefits of going hybrid. There’s another side to the coin: the Yaris starts at $15,635 – a full $5,000 less than the Prius c. This, in turn, illustrates the drawbacks of a gasoline-electric powertrain. From $20,150.
Kia Niro FE (50 mpg) - GASOLINE-HYBRID
Juxtaposing the Kia Niro and the Hyundai Ioniq sounds like comparing a Yorkshire Terrier and a Maine Coon. It’s not. Even though they look nothing alike, the two models share an engine, a transmission and components found in the hybrid system. The Niro’s SUV-like proportions prevent it from achieving the Ioniq’s impressive fuel economy but 50 mpg is still very impressive. From $22,890.
Toyota Camry Hybrid (52 mpg) - GASOLINE-HYBRID
The Prius, not the Camry, is the car that comes to mind when the conversation turns to fuel-efficient Toyota models. The firm’s bread-and-butter model nonetheless holds its own in the economy department. The base LE trim level breaks the 50-mpg threshold, which seemed all but unattainable in the not-too-distant past. Note only LE model returns 52 mpg. The extra equipment that comes with the SE and XLE trim levels bumps economy down to 46 mpg. Camry hybrid LE from $27,800.
Toyota Prius Eco (56 mpg) - GASOLINE-HYBRID
The Toyota Prius is the poster child of the hybrid segment. Now in its fourth generation, the car that democratized the modern-day hybrid continues to offer surprisingly high fuel economy and California-approved look-at-me-I’m-saving-the-planet style at a relatively affordable price.
The standard Prius returns 54 mpg. The Prius Eco model, the priciest trim level that comes with a slightly bigger battery pack, gets up to 56 mpg. While both figures impress, the Prius is no longer the most efficient car in America. From $25,165.
Hyundai Ioniq Blue (58 mpg) - GASOLINE-HYBRID
The most efficient car you can buy new in America without having to charge a battery is the Hyundai Ioniq Blue, a hybrid. The Blue trim sits at the bottom of the Ioniq line-up. It returns better fuel economy than its more expensive siblings because it’s equipped with less sound-deadening material and fewer features.
Equipment makes a surprising difference. For example, the range-topping Ioniq Limited comes with an upgraded sound system, a sunroof, 10-way power-adjustable front seats, leather upholstery and adaptive cruise control, among other weight-adding creature comforts. It’s rated at 55 mpg, while the more basic Blue model is capable of a market-leading 58 mpg. From $22,200.
Exploring the other end of the spectrum
The good news is not a single new car in America posts a single-digit fuel economy figure. The bad news, unless you work in the oil industry, is the Toyota Tundra comes frighteningly close. Equipped with a 5.7-liter V8 engine, it returns 10 mpg when it’s burning E85 fuel. The EPA rates both the Mercedes-Benz G550 4x4² and the Bugatti Chiron at 11 mpg.