[Mostly] gone are the days of the behemoth, gas-guzzling road warriors, such as the ugly-as-sin Hummer and Ford Excursion. Consumers—feeling the $3.50+ pinch at the gas pump—continually dump their large SUVs in favor of modes of transportation such as the crossover SUV, hybrid vehicle, and even fully-electric car.
We assembled this list of gas and gas/electric (hybrid) cars based not only on overall fuel-economy, but also their bang for the buck, practicality, 2010-2011 reliability ratings (per Edmunds), and overall customer satisfaction (per 2010-2011 Consumer Reports).
Engine: 1.5L I5, Regular unleaded fuel
For those who grew up during the rockin’ 80s and remember the late 80’s CR-Z, many of them were ecstatic upon hearing about the 21st-century re-release. Topping off the wonderment is the fact that its new 1.5L I4 engine (sporting a slightly-meager-but-adequate 112hp/107 ft-lb.) now travels significantly more miles to the gallon than the original coupe could ever dream of—Oh THANK YOU technology!
The downside to the hype? It only seats two occupants and isn’t even that powerful to compensate for it…
Engine: 1.6L I4, Regular unleaded fuel
Remember the old Fiesta, circa the late 80’s/early 90’s—that miniature econobox that looked more comical than a clown car? Yeah, we don’t want to either.
Fast-forward to 2011: The 2011 Fiesta is light years more eye-pleasing as it is fuel-stingy. Equipped with Ford’s tried-and-true 1.6L I4, Ford’s cute (even hip) little compact boasts 120 pony power, many amenities not usually found on a car of this class, and unusually fun-to-drive handling dynamics.
Engine: 1.4L I4 + 16 kWh LI-ON battery, Premium unleaded fuel: Hybrid
MPG: 35/40 | 95/90 MPeG (miles per “electric” gallon)
Compared to the Chevy cars of yore, today’s vehicles are immeasurably better all around. The Cruze and Volt are two such examples.
The Volt gets its getup-an-go muster in part from a 1.4L four-cylinder and in part via a 16 kW lithium-ion battery. Combined, the two power sources make the Volt good for 149 horses and a whopping 273 ft.lbs of torque—didn’t see the latter coming, did ya? What’s more, the battery extends the car’s range by up to 300 miles. We’re thinking major road trip with that kinda gas savings!
Engine: 2.0L I4, Diesel Fuel
Move aside Volkswagen Beetle: No longer are you the favorite of environmentally-fanatical hippies (who swear by Volkswagen), because the new Jetta TDI diesel now holds claim to one of the most fuel-efficient (that’s non-hybrid) cars in the world, says the Guinness World Record book.
The Jetta’s 140hp, 2.0L I4 diesel engine is not only more fuel efficient than its gas-based brethren, it’s also slightly faster, acquiring a top speed of 130 versus the 120mph Jetta S.
Engine: 1.8L I4, Regular unleaded fuel
Bygone are the “look at me, I’m a cute little economy sedan” appearances. In for the new Elantra is a curvaceous, windswept-looking, sexy aesthetic.
Dashing appearances aside, the 2011 Elantra gets major points for its 29 city/40 hwy fuel economy. Accomplishing that is a rather conservative (for this class, anyhow) 1.8L I4 that’s worthy of 148hp and around 130 ft.-lbs torque. Handling proves a little less inspiring than its styling, but it gets up and goes and takes sharp corners acceptably.
Engine: 1.8L I4 + 27w Ni-MH battery; Premium unleaded fuel (recommended): Hybrid
With the Prius’s styling, folks either love it or hate it—there’s just very little middle ground. Either way, though, the Prius is one of the most fuel-efficient, standard production cars in the world that doesn’t have a dedicated battery(s), though it is a hybrid. It boasts a 1.8L I4 that’s worthy of 134 horsepower (horsepower and kilowatts combined) and will slug its way from 0 to 60 in a less-than-amazing 10.1 seconds.
The Prius also offers four driving modes: Normal, Power, EV, and Eco. Normal is for, well, normally-aspirated driving; EV lets you run solely on battery power (remember, though, it’s only a hybrid, not a full-electric vehicle), but only when its over half-full of juice, and even then only going a maximum of 25 mph; Eco mode attains top fuel economy, and Power is good for when you need that extra oomph.
The Honda Insight, another fairly fuel-efficient compact cruiser (doesn’t quite compare to the Prius in terms of mpg’s, though), is the Prius’s main (if not only) competition.
Engine: 24kW Li-Ion, Fully electric powertrain
MPG: 106/92 MPeG
The Nissan Leaf, an all-new, all-electric car for 2011, is one of the most promising cars in terms of other manufacturers (hopefully) switching to all-electric engines en mass. “Fuel”-wise, the Leaf simply annihilates anything else on this (or any other) list, achieving an epic maximum of 106 mpg.
For a little perspective, it would take your now-defunct, gas-hoggin’ Hummer (let’s use the H2 to bully) around 10-11 gallons, considering the average of 10.5 mpg, at $3.50+/gallon to travel the same distance. Talk about progress!
Coincidentally, the Nissan Leaf has an average range of right at 100 miles. This is courtesy via a 24 kW (kilowatt) lithium-ion battery pack that pumps out (the equivalent of) around 107 horses and 207 ft-lbs of torque. But the fact that the Leaf is fairly expensive for this class (if it has one yet, that is) and that it can only travel up to 100 miles on a full charge suggests that it’s probably more suited for folks who mostly commute in or around town than others—‘others’ being:
- One-car families
- Those who frequently travel out of town and/or
- Those who want a fuel-efficient, midsize car but don’t want to or can’t afford a $32k car*
For all its promise, many people will still prefer less fuel-efficient (but still exceptional by today’s standards) hybrid equivalents like the Chevy Volt, Toyota Prius, or Ford Fusion hybrid.
Engine: 2.4L I4 w/manual transmission, Regular unleaded fuel
Hyundai used to be just another ho-hum, compact car manufacturer from ‘somewhere out there’ in Asia—widely considered just an alternative, mostly inferior car (in terms of popularity, quality, brand recognition, etc.) to brands like Honda, Toyota, and Nissan.
Fast-forward to 2011: Hyundai is now a solid competitor, maybe even long-term threat, to all of ’em. The 2011 Sonata, with multiple industry awards in tow, is no exception. The base 2.4L I4 boasts a decent 198 horses (274 for the only slightly-lower mpg 2.0L turbo that’s available with the SE or Limited designation), costs less than competitors Camry, Chevy Malibu, and Accord, and is actually fun to drive!
* A federal incentive (tax rebate) of $7,500 is available for Leaf buyers, bringing the price down significantly. The [highly recommended] charging station, $2,200, also qualifies for up to a 50% tax credit.