By Eric Peters, Automotive Columnist
Gas prices are putting the hurting on us all — but you can ease the pain at the pump if you’re driving one of these:
1) 2008 Smart For Two
The Smart is a two-seater designed principally for in-city driving. Its small size makes it very easy to park in tight spaces and ideal for negotiating busy urban traffic environments. Its unusual “short and tall” styling will also draw lots of attention. However, its two-seater configuration and minimal (8 cubic foot) cargo capacity limits its day-to-day practicality – while its standard three-cylinder, 70 horsepower engine lacks sufficient reserve power for extended highway driving.
MSRP: $11,590 (Pure coupe w/manual transmission)
EPA mileage: 33 city/40 highway
2) 2008 Toyota Yaris
The Yaris is Toyota’s smallest, least expensive – and most economical car. It is available in both three-door hatchback and sedan configrations. Though smaller than traditional subcompacts, the Yaris is still viable for general use and not limited to in-city driving like the Smart car. Its standard 1.5 liter four-cylinder engine has adequate power (103 hp) for highway driving and there is room inside for four people – although backseat occupants will find the space a little tight. Of all the so-called “B cars” that began appearing last year (including the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa) the Yaris is the most economical (by several MPGs) and also has the lowest base price.
MSRP: $11,350 (hatchback coupe with manual transmission)
EPA mileage: 29 city/36 highway
3) 2008 BMW Mini Cooper
The Mini Cooper is something of an oddball in that it’s among the most economical new cars you can buy yet also extremely appealing on an emotional level. People buy this car as much for its gas mileage as they do its outsized personality and retro-themed styling. Like the original Mini of the 1960s, the current car is much larger on the inside than you’d expect from the outside and can comfortably accommodate occupants well over six feet tall up front. The back seats are less roomy – but still serviceable for kids. For 2008, the Mini range has been expanded with a new wagon-like Clubman model that offers almost twice the cargo capacity with the same high fuel efficiency as the standard coupe.
MSRP: $18,050 (coupe with manual transmission)
EPA mileage: 28 city/37 highway
4) 2008 Scion xD
The xD is a new Scion model that replaces the slow-selling xA. It’s a five-door hatchback aimed at younger buyers – and so has a distinctive cube-like exterior shape and available high-end audio/entertainment equipment on the inside – including an integrated GPS/stereo system with flat panel display and jacks for hooking up external accessories such as iPods. Audio and video files can be downloaded an played on the system. The youth-oriented Scion is also sportier than may cars in this segment thanks to its standard 18. liter, 128 horsepower engine. Like all Scion models, the xD may be personalized with a variety of dealer-installed optional equipment, including a Toyota Racing Development (TRD) performance exhaust system that bumps up the output of the xD’s engine by approximately five more horsepower.
MSRP: $14,550 (hatchback sedan with manual transmission)
EPA mileage: 27 city/33 highway
5) 2009 Toyota Corolla
Though a bit on the drab and doughty side, the Corolla can’t be faulted on either economy or value. The version on sale now has just been heavily updated and is larger inside than any previous Corolla. It also offers features such as GPS navigation that were formerly available only in higher-priced cars. One big difference between the Corolla and its chief rival, Honda’s Civic, is that Toyota only offers the Corolla in sedan form while the Civic is available as both a sedan and a coupe. Of the two, the Toyota is the less sporty-feeling – but it has a softer, more comfortable ride, as well as class-leading fuel efficiency.
MSRP: $15,250 (sedan with manual transmission)
EPA mileage: 28 city/37 highway
6) 2008 Honda Civic
The Civic approaches the mileage capability of smaller, less practical subcompacts and has one of the lowest depreciation rates of any car of its type you could buy. Available as a coupe or sedan, the Civic’s standard 1.8 liter four-cylinder engine is also powerful for a car of this type, with 140 hp on tap. While most economy-oriented cars are not especially fun to drive, the Civic delivers sporty acceleration and crisp handling along with very high fuel economy. A new natural gas-burning GX version is also available for 2008; it can be refueled at home (with a CNG hook-up) and produces virtually no harmful emissions – and frees you from worries about the price of a gallon of gasoline. A hybrid version is also available (see below).
MSRP: $14,810 (coupe with manual transmission)
EPA mileage: 26 city, 34 highway
Buyer’s note: Later in 2008/early 2009, Subaru will be introducing a first-ever diesel engine for the Impreza sedan/wagon that should be capable of at least 40 mpg on the highway.
7) 2008 Nissan Altima
The Altima sedan is comparable to the Maxima sedan (with which it shares its basic chassis) in terms of interior space and overall size — but unlike the Maxima, offers a more economical four-cylinder standard engine (vs. a V-6 in the Maxima). The Altima is a roomy, 5-passenger sedan with a good-sized (15.3 cubic foot) trunk and peppy performance from its 2.5 liter, 175 horsepower engine – with highway fuel economy approaching that of smaller economy-compacts and better than its two chief rivals, the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord. For 2008, a hybrid version is also available.
MSRP: $18,330 (sedan with manual and four-cylinder engine)
EPA mileage: 23 city/32 highway
8) 2009 Hyundai Sonata
Hyundais have been great values for many years now – offering more features for less money than similar models from other manufacturers – along with industry-best warranty coverage on top of that. Now you can also get some of the best-available fuel economy, too. The just-redesigned ’09 Sonata is a large, exceptionally well-equipped sedan (AC, traction and stability control, side-impact air bags are included in the car’s $18k base price) that is also easier on gas than former class leaders like the Camry and Accord. And its 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain coverage (and five year/60,000 mile basic warranty) are still the best in the business.
MSRP: $18,120 (sedan with manual transmission)
EPA mileage: 22 city/32 highway
Buyer’s note: Later in 2008/early 2009, VW will reportedly be offering a diesel version of the Passat sedan/wagon that should be capable of 40-plus MPG on the highway.
9) 2008 Toyota Avalon
The Avalon is one of the few large sedans that can approach 30 mpg on the highway without hybrid power; its front-drive layout also gives it an edge in snow/wet weather over rear-drive large sedans such as the Chrysler 300 – which costs several thousand dollars more ($24,595) to start and also burns more fuel (18 city/26 highway). But the Avalon doesn’t sacrifice power to achieve high economy; its standard 3.5 liter, 268 horsepower V-6 is one of the strongest engines in this class (the more expensive/less efficient 300 comes standard with a 2.7 liter, 178 hp V-6) that provides easy merging/passing power – along with good gas mileage.
EPA mileage: 19 city/28 highway
10) 2008 Chevy Impala
You’ll like the Impala for the same reasons it’s popular with police departments all over the country; room for six, a huge (19 cubic foot) trunk, comfortable ride, reasonable price – and great gas mileage for a car this big. In fact, the Impala’s highway mileage is slightly better than the Avalon’s – and its city mileage only slightly less. Yet it’s a bigger, roomier car than the five-passenger Toyota. The Impala’s standard 3.5 liter V-6 is the most economical, but the optional 3.9 liter V-6 provides more power (233 hp vs. 211 hp) with only a slight fuel economy penalty (18 city/28 highway) courtesy of cylinder deactivation technology that shuts off three of the engine’s six cylinders when they’re not needed.
MSRP: $21,650 (3.5 liter V-6/automatic transmission)
EPA mileage: 18 city/29 highway
11) 2008 Mercedes-Benz E320 Bluetec
All the size, luxury, power and performance of a Mercedes E-Class mid-sized luxury sedan, but with much better economy than the gas-burning versions of this car. “Bluetc” is Mercedes’ term for its new line of high-efficiency/low-emissions diesels – which unlike previous diesel passenger cars from Mercedes (and other manufacturers) are available in all 50 states. Equipped with the 3.0 liter turbo-diesel engine, an E320 has a highway range of nearly 700 miles on a full tank of fuel – vs. just over 500 miles for the gas-burning E350.
EPA mileage: 23 city/32 highway
12) 2008 Lexus ES350
Ten years ago, more than half the luxury cars on the market were front-wheel-drive; today, most are rear-wheel-drive – and burn more fuel. (The rear-drive layout adds weight because of the additional components, including a separate axle and transmission.) The ES350, however, remains front-wheel-drive – and continues to be at the top of the fuel efficiency ladder. The FWD layout also provides better traction in poor weather than RWD (and for less money than AWD, all else being equal). Finally, the ES350 doesn’t try to be sporty, so its suspension is very forgiving over rough roads – and its ride especially soft and comfortable compared with other cars of this type.
EPA mileage: 19 city/27 highway
Buyer’s note: Later in 2008 or early 2009 Mercedes-Benz will be offering a diesel powered version of the C-Class capable of 35-plus MPGs on the highway. BMW will likewise be offering a high-efficiency diesel version of the popular 3-Series sedan.
13) 2008 Jeep Compass/Patriot
The Compass (and its cousin, the Patriot) are among the most fuel-efficient small SUVs on the market, especially in terms of their city mileage. Buyers should be aware, however, that these vehicles are unlike traditional Jeep models in that they are based on light-duty car-type platforms and don’t have truck-type four-wheel-drive with Low range gearing. Base models are front-wheel-drive, with a light duty all-wheel-drive system available optionally.
MSRP: $16,475 (2.0 liter four-cylinder, 2WD with manual transmission)
EPA mileage: 23 city/28 highway
14) 2008 Mercedes-Benz GL320
Diesel power allows this full-size, seven-passenger 4WD SUV to deliver 30-40 percent better economy than gas-powered equivalents (and the same mileage as the smaller, 5-passenger Mercedes M-Class ML320 SUV). Most similar in size/capacity/power SUVs have best-case mileage in the mid-high teens and don’t even offer the option of a diesel powerplant. Standard GL320 amenities include automatic fold-flat third row seats and a load-leveling suspension, as well as full-time 4WD. This vehicle can tow 7,500 lbs. and has more than 83 cubic feet of cargo capacity with the second and third row seats folded down.
EPA mileage: 18 city, 24 highway
15) 2008 Toyota Prius
The first mass-produced hybrid is still the most fuel efficient new vehicle you can buy. Though other hybrids, like the Civic hybrid, can approach its highway mileage, the Prius’ near-50 mpg capability in city driving is significantly better than that offered by any other car on the market, hybrid or otherwise. And because it is also a fairly large (almost mid-sized) car, the Prius is viable as a family’s main or even only car – eliminating the need for a second car altogether.
EPA mileage: 48 city, 45 highway
16) 2008 Honda Civic Hybrid
The Civic hybrid ranks high on the mileage scale, but not as high as the Prius – and only a few mpg higher than some of the most efficient (and non-hybrid) small cars currently available, including the Scion xD and Toyota Corolla. It is also more expensive than the larger, more efficient Prius.
EPA mileage: 40 city, 45 highway
Buyer’s note: There are more hybrids available to day than ever before, including hybrid versions of SUVs such as the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner and large ultra-luxury sedans such as the Lexus LS600h. However, many of these new hybrids aren’t built specifically to improve fuel economy to the greatest extent possible but rather to provide a middle ground between the economy of, for example, a four-cylinder engine and the power/performance of a V-6. Buyers should be aware that the gas mileage advantage of many of these may not be enough to overcome the often much higher purchase price (relative to non-hybrid versions of the same vehicle).
For more info, see: http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/bestworst.shtml
Lists like this always generate heated discussion about vehicles that people feel should be on the list and were omitted. Check the comments for further discussion and feel free to suggest vehicles that you think have been overlooked.