Sure, you want to drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, for a lot of reasons—practical and altruistic. Even a hybrid would be sweet. But you don’t want to spend a pile of extra money, and you don’t really want to be bored or inconvenioneced by your drive. Perhaps the most important consideration for you is not price or excitement, but reducing the amount of fossil fuels you burn and being less of a polluter.
What are your choices? Hybrids have been around long enough that there are now a lot of used-car choices. You will spend a little more for a hybrid than a standard-engine car, but not dramatically more in a used car.
You can find good fuel-efficient new car choices that (1) are the most affordable; (2) have the flat-out best fuel efficiency; (3) are fuel efficient but meet special driving needs; or (4) provide you with the best value. Here’s a closer look at cars that excel in these four categories:
If price is your primary consideration, take a look at these fuel-efficient choices by one analyst:
5 Most Affordable Fuel-Efficient New Cars
When it comes to buying new cars, everyone is looking for a deal. And when it comes to shopping for new cars, many are looking for a vehicle that offers exceptional gas mileage. If you are on a tight budget, then that may mean paying the premium for a new hybrid vehicle is out of the question. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t afford a quality fuel-saver. With 2010 new cars starting around $10,000, there is a fuel-efficient option out there for everyone. The most affordable fuel-efficient cars for the year:
2010 Hyundai Accent (31 mpg combined)
With a base sticker price of $9,970, the 2010 Hyundai Accent is the most affordable car for the year. Add in the fact that this economy-based model offers 27 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway, and it’s safe to say that the Accent is a heck of a deal. Keep in mind, however, that the base Accent comes with fairly barebones packaging. As such, if you want traditional niceties such as air conditioning and a stereo system, then you’ll have to pay a little more. Still, with an exceptional warranty, decent comfort and adequate around-town driving, those who aren’t too picky will find much to like about the fuel-efficient Hyundai Accent.
2010 Nissan Versa (30 mpg combined)
Nissan Versa comes in a close second for most affordable 2010 new car with a base price of $9,990. Given the low price, the Versa delivers a fairly good level of interior quality. An estimated 26 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway ensures long-term savings over the lifetime of the vehicle, and a spacious interior helps set the Versa apart from other small cars. Like the Accent, you’ll have to pay extra for AC and a stereo system. Add in such basic amenities, and you can expect your final bill to come out somewhere around $13,000.
2010 Kia Rio (31 mpg combined)
Kia Rio offers a trifecta of affordability – low base price, long warranty and solid fuel efficiency. Starting at $11,695, the Kia Rio comes standard with a four-speaker stereo. Add power windows and air conditioning, that base price increases to a little over $13,000. The EPA estimates gas mileage at 28 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. While horsepower may be a little ho-hum, the Rio performs well considering the price.
2010 Smart fortwo (36 mpg combined)
Smart fortwo delivers a distinguishing silhouette. Posting 33 mpg in the city and 41 mpg on the highway, the Smart fortwo is the most fuel-efficient affordable vehicle for the year. Base price comes in below $12,000, with optional audio system and AC available for about $1,000 more. Despite the spartan interior, the fortwo is praised for an ergonomic design and good in-town driving dynamics. If you can make do with the two-seater interior layout, then this may be the car or you.
Honda Insight (41 MPG combined)
Getting maximum MPG out of a hybrid requires some skillful driving, and the Insight was the first hybrid car designed to coach drivers into driving more economically. A well-thought-out video-game-like display provides real-time feedback with minimum distraction, which is no easy trick. The Insight is the least-expensive hybrid sold in America, and while it’s still not as roomy or as fuel-efficient as Toyota’s larger Prius, its small size and responsive handling make it easier and more entertaining to drive. My family has an Insight on a year-long loan from Honda, and while it may not be the most fuel-efficient hybrid, it’s a really nice car to live with day in and day out.
If you want to have bragging rights on your block for the most fuel efficient car, here are your choices from a longer list by the Daily Green:
5 Most Fuel Efficient New Cars
2010 Toyota Prius (50 mpg combined)
The Toyota Prius, long the family sedan for the environmentally conscious, remains at the top of the list of most fuel efficient widely available vehicles, with 50 mpg combined fuel economy. The classic hybrid was rated one of the greenest cars of the year by Greenopia and Kelly Blue Book. Price: $22,400
2010 Honda Civic Hybrid (42 mpg combined)
This top-rated small car again sits beside the Prius among all widely available 2010 vehicles with 42 mpg fuel economy. Compared to the conventional Civic, the hybrid costs about $8,000 more, but costs about $430 less to fuel annually. It was named one of Greenopia’s greenest cars of 2010. Price: $23,800
2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid (39 mpg combined)
The most fuel-efficient family sedan behind the Prius, at 39 mpg, the Fusion costs more, but does qualify for up to an $850 federal tax credit (if you buy before April 1, 2010) that the Prius no longer qualifies for. If you’re stuck between buying The Fusion and its hybrid version, the hybrid costs $8,000 more, but will cost nearly $600 less to fuel each year. It was rated one of Kelly Blue Book‘s greenest cars of 2010, and it was named North American Car of the Year at the Detroit Auto Show. Price: $27,625
2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid (39 mpg combined)
The hybrid Milan, a family sedan, gets 39 mpg and costs about $6,300 more than the base-level Milan. But it costs nearly $600 less to fuel annually. It qualifies for up to an $850 federal tax credit if purchased before March 31, 2010. Price: $27,500.
2010 Lexus HS 250h (35 mpg combined)
The Lexus HS 250h is the most expensive truly fuel-efficient car on the market, but it makes a statement as the only luxury hybrid sedan available. It gets 35 mpg, so the big spender can save a few pennies at the pump. Price: $34,200
5 fuel-efficient new vehicles that meet special needs (including speed!)
Ford Escape Hybrid (32 mpg combined) (Small SUV)
Leading the list of crossover SUV’s is the Ford Escape Hybrid. You’ll pay a $9,000 premium over the base Escape for the $30,000 hybrid version, but you’ll be buying probably the most fuel-efficient SUV there is (32 mpg combined). The Escape (the Mercury Mariner Hybrid is a close cousin) has enjoyed success as a New York taxi, and it’s proven quite durable. U.S. News and World Reports ranked it seventh of 22 affordable compact SUVs. All-wheel drive is available, but you probably don’t need it and fuel economy suffers. There are Base and Limited models, with the latter adding a fair number of creature comforts—and more than $2,000 to the bottom line.
Chevy Silverado hybrid (21.5 mpg combined) (Full-sized pick-up)
As a full-sized hybrid pickup truck, the Silverado hybrid offers 6,100 pounds of towing capability while achieving about 21 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. While that’s only about a 25 percent improvement compared to the non-hybrid Silverado, it’s almost a 50 percent improvement in the city. Consequently, if you’re an urban contractor, how can you go wrong? The Silverado hybrid is expensive up front ($34,380), but if you think long term, then the hybrid Silverado could be the perfect addition to your business.
Porsche Cayenne Hybrid (Luxury SUV)
Porsche introduced a hybrid SUV in 2010, a version of its performance-oriented Cayenne. The Cayenne hybrid will start with a 333 hp, 3.0 litre twin-supercharged V6 engine alongside a 52 horse electric motor, a 288 volt nickel metal hydride battery, all directed by an 8 speed automatic transmission. This is a full hybrid, meaning it will be able to go a short distance under electric power only (don’t expect to make it across town, but easily to the mailbox and back). For a 2 1/2 ton SUV, the hybridized Cayenne is reported to scream from 0 to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, topping out at nearly 150 miles per hour. While that sounds like a vehicle that would be lucky to scare 15 mpg, were supposed to see overall highway and city driving averages closer to 27 miles per gallon! Price: more than $70,000.
BMW 335d (27 mpg combined) (Performance diesel)
The diesel-powered 335d is rolling proof that there’s more to diesel than fuel economy — there’s power. Specifically, there’s torque, the force that pushes the seat into your back and puts a smile on your face. The 335d’s engine develops 425 lb-ft — more than the Chevrolet Corvette, more than the Dodge Challenger SRT8, more even than BMW M3. The 335d accelerates more like a catapult than a car, and yet — as with most diesels — real-world fuel economy is better than the EPA estimates.
BMW X6 ActiveHybrid (Horsepower)
This is BMW’s first full hybrid vehicle, and it’s a luxurious but pricey choice at $89,725. This is an SUV for performance-oriented techies, since its big twin-turbo V-8 produces 400 horsepower, and they are supported with a pair of beefy electric motors (480 peak horsepower total). There is no better option for zero to 60 in just 5.4 seconds while carting around a Cub Scout pack. Take it up to 130 mph if you dare, then throttle back and go 1.6 miles on the nickel-metal-hydride batteries alone. Fuel economy is much better than the standard X6, but still no Environmental Defense Fund member’s dream at 17 in the city and 19 on the highway. [Carbon emissions are down 20 percent from the standard car, but they’re still double that of a Toyota Prius]
5 Best Values
Both hybrids and diesels typically deliver fuel economy that is among the best in their class, but they’re also priced higher than similar conventional vehicles. So it is often difficult for buyers to know if they will save money overall.
Consumer Reports latest analysis of owner costs shows the models that pay for themselves at the pump-and in overall owner costs-during a typical ownership cycle.
Buying a Toyota Prius (above), Ford Fusion Hybrid (above), Toyota Camry Hybrid, or a BMW X5 35d can save you money even when fuel is cheap, as long as you keep them a few years
Toyota Camry Hybrid
The Toyota Camry Hybrid (*Est. $26,150) seems to be a benchmark for midsize hybrid sedans. It receives accolades and compliments from reviewers for its sheer competency. Car and Driver’s Patrick Bedard calls the Camry Hybrid “impeccably mannered and supremely confident in the rightness of its way. It sets the upper limits for smoothness, refinement and maybe even purity of purpose.” The Toyota Camry Hybrid’s smooth, full-hybrid powertrain, with 187 peak horsepower, delivers acceleration that is actually quicker than the 158-horsepower four-cylinder Camry (*Est. $19,145 to $25,575) and fuel economy is significantly better.
BMW X5 35d
BMW X5 xDrive 35d is BMW’s biggest SUV with all wheel-drive and a diesel engine. The X5 xDrive 35d may be a belated entry into the diesel SUV market, but it’s no slacker underfoot. BMW makes the world’s best straight six cylinder engines. This 3.0-liter oil burner builds on that reputation. Packing 265 horsepower and a thundering 425 pound feet of torque, the 35d motivates the 5,225 pound X5 from rest to 60 miles per hour in less than seven seconds– whilst delivering 26 miles per gallon on the highway.
Two other diesels can save you money no matter what fuel costs, because their depreciation and fuel costs are significantly lower than their closest conventional counterparts. They are the Volkswagen Jetta TDI and the Mercedes-Benz GL320 BlueTec.
Volkswagen Jetta TDI (34 mpg combined)
Volkswagen’s turbodiesel-powered Jetta TDI and Golf TDI (basically sedan and hatchback versions of the same car) embody everything some love about modern diesel cars: Unlike a hybrid, you don’t have to alter your driving style to meet or beat the EPA fuel economy estimates. Buying a Jetta TDI instead of a conventional five-cylinder Jetta SE can save you as much as $3,250 over five years with diesel fuel at $3.10 per gallon, and almost $4,550 when figuring in tax incentives.
Mercedes-Benz GL320 BlueTec
The Mercedes-Benz has a savings of about $8,250 over five years of ownership, and available tax incentives push that to more than $10,000 for the $66,925 GL320. The Mercedes Benz GL is the only full-size SUV that is actually a crossover vehicle, built with the unibody structure of a car, but given the tall stance and overall look of a truck. The design gives it the same ride and comfort advantages that make smaller crossovers so popular, while maintaining many of the workhorse qualities desired by buyers who use their vehicles for more than just driving the kids to ballet. Enter the GL320 BlueTEC, with a turbocharged V-6 engine under the hood that runs on clean diesel. The main reason for offering the model is fuel economy, and the GL320 scores big on that point. With an EPA rating of 18 mpg city/24 highway it gets 33 percent better mileage than the gasoline-powered GL450 and is the equal of the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid, which is listed at 20 mpg across the board. Those are serious numbers for a 2.5-ton vehicle with the aerodynamics of a Labrador retriever. The engine is also strong, with tons of torque. Its 398-pound-feet give the GL320 a nice kick off the line and even more impressive pulling power.
And one more. . .
The Chevrolet Volt, which is just entering commercial production this month, is a plug-in car that can drive for about 40 miles on battery power before a gasoline engine kicks in to generate electricity for further driving
Over several days of testing, the Volt returned overall fuel economy of 72.9 miles per gallon in Motor Trend’s testing. Even if drivers went 80 miles between charging the battery, Motor Trend reported, the Volt would still be much cheaper to operate than ordinary hybrid cars, according to the magazine’s test.
The Volt will include a $41,000 jolt (price tag).