With the obsession over gas prices likely here to stay in the near-term--and who knows where prices will go once the economy stabilizes--TheCarConnection.com's editors have sifted the data from our latest car reviews to bring you the best vehicles for great fuel economy.
TCC rates vehicles by weighing our and other reviewers' opinions of a vehicle's styling, performance, comfort and quality, safety, and features to arrive at an overall number from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest possible score in each attribute. At first, we planned to rate only vehicles that offer 30-plus mpg in the EPA's highway cycle. However, neither the van nor the truck categories yielded any vehicles that could touch 30 mpg. In those cases, we looked for vehicles getting 25 mpg or better in highway mileage, which eliminated a huge swath of vehicles from contention--much as it's doing today at auto dealerships across the country.
Not surprisingly, gas-electric hybrids won three of our six categories: sedan, SUV/wagon, and green car. The van category, a field dominated by V-6s, was swept by a cleverly packaged compact van. Among trucks, a stalwart four-cylinder took top honors. And among two-doors, one automaker proves efficiency can be thrilling.
Follow the links below to find out more about our numeric ratings and to read full reviews of the winners:
Sedans: The Honda Civic Hybrid, combining Honda's IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) introduced back on the original Honda Insight, a diminutive four-cylinder, and a continuously variable transmission ring in at 40/45 mpg city/highway EPA and nets our top pick as a fuel-sipping sedan. The Civic Hybrid also took our honors for the Green category, beating out the Toyota Prius by 0.6 point.
2007 MINI Cooper Convertible 2dr exterior front upper left
Two-doors: Proving, as we mentioned, that fun can also be quite frugal, the BMW-designed MINI Cooper Convertible gets our nod for highest-rated, fuel-efficient two-door. The second-gen MINIs benefit from a new engine design with ultra-efficient direct injection, and in either naturally aspirated (23/32 mpg) or turbocharged (21/29 mpg) EPA form, the MINI Cooper Convertible is a well-designed, frisky runabout with go-kart reflexes and plenty of power.
2009 Mercury Mariner Hybrid
SUVs/wagons: FoMoCo's well-designed (and freshly updated for '09) small SUV gas/electric hybrid duo, the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner, won our SUV/wagon category. Employing a newly designed 2.5-liter four that uses miserly Atkinson-cycle technology, the Escape and Mariner hybrids are capable of electric-only propulsion at low speeds and manage stellar EPA mileage ratings of 34/31 mpg.
2009 Mazda MAZDA5 Sport
Vans: Mazda's funky-yet-sensible Mazda5, our pick for the Van category, makes the most of its Mazda 3 underpinnings to offer respectable interior capacity while delivering better mileage than the competition. We found that "clever engineering makes good use of what space is available," and in a thirsty segment the Mazda's 22/28 EPA mpg (with five-speed manual) are downright impressive.
2009 Toyota Tacoma
Pickup trucks: As mentioned, there's not a lot in the realm of fuel-efficient pickups, and even mid-size and small trucks make do with older-tech gasoline engines that, when combined with a truck's aerodynamic inefficiencies, don't do much for mpg. Our highest-rated, most fuel-efficient pickup was Toyota's Tacoma 2WD four-cylinder, which was ranked at 20/25 mpg city/highway by the EPA.