The Most Fuel-Efficient Cars For The Money – Forbes

Posted: Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Search the Environmental Protection Agency’s fuel economy database as we have and you’ll find that 18 out of the 20 cars with the highest fuel economy ratings for the 2015 model year are either costly plug-in hybrids or full-blown electric cars. At that, the remaining two models are hybrids that still command stiff price premiums over conventionally powered models.

But what about good old-fashioned cars powered by internal combustion engines with nary an added kilowatt of electricity?

As it turns out, we found 15 conventional gasoline-powered cars can attain at or better than 40 mpg in highway driving these days, at least in select trim levels. Among small cars 40 mpg is the new 30 mpg, so to speak, and most automakers have been scrambling to boast at least one model in their respective lines that attains as much. Fuel economy in general is rising thanks to federal mandates, but more specifically via greater use of lightweight materials and a bevy of fuel-saving engine technologies that include direct fuel-injection, turbocharging and advanced automatic transmissions with as many as nine forward gears. Some models can eke another one or two mpg out of select models by adding features like low rolling-resistance tires and aerodynamic shutters that automatically close at higher speeds to reduce wind resistance. Larger cars and trucks now come with six- and eight-cylinder engines that automatically shut down half their cylinders while at cruising speeds to save fuel. In addition, a growing number of cars are featuring automatic stop-start systems that de-power the engine while at a stop light or at idle (when a vehicle would otherwise get zero mpg) to help boost their mpg in city driving.

Stuck somewhere between this group of highly efficient gasoline models and electrified hybrids/plug-ins are a number of (mostly European import) diesel-powered cars that boast as much as 46 mpg in highway driving and put strong acceleration to the pavement as a bonus. Unfortunately, diesel fuel is still not as widely available (or as cheap) as regular grade gasoline, and such models typically command hybrid-like sticker prices, with the cheapest of the lot, the Volkswagen Golf TDI, starting at $21,000 (which is around $4,000 more than the base gasoline-fueled model).

Meanwhile, Mazda, a brand that sells neither hybrid nor electric cars (nor diesels for that matter) tops the EPA’s list of most fuel-efficient automakers in the U.S. for 2014, with its models averaging 28.8 mpg, (To be fair, unlike larger automakers, Mazda’s corporate average fuel economy is not skewed downward by large pickups or truck-based SUVs in its lineup.) “We are thrilled to see that manufacturers continue to innovate and are bringing technologies to improve fuel economy online even faster than anticipated,” says EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in a statement. “Consumers now have many more choices when shopping for vehicles with higher fuel economy and lower emissions compared to just five years ago.”

For those unfazed by the recent drop in gas prices and want to find a car that delivers the best fuel economy for the money, we’re featuring the 15 most efficient non-hybrid/diesel/electric cars for 2015 in the accompanying slideshow, ranked according to their highway mileage ratings. They’re all priced affordably at around $20,000 or less (prices cited in the slideshow do not include destination charges or options other than those indicated).

In Pictures: 15 Cheapest Non-Hybrid Cars That Get 40 MPG Or Better.


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