The Ten Most Fuel-Efficient Cars For '10

October 21, 2009

Most ordinary gasoline models look like guzzlers next to the hybrids—and a few compact diesel models—that dominate the upper echelon of this year's EPA fuel economy ratings. For instance, according to the EPA's Fuel Economy Guide information released last week, a 2010 Toyota Prius will cost less than half as much to keep fueled for a year's worth of driving than the seemingly fuel-efficient four-cylinder, all-wheel-drive 2010 Toyota RAV4. According to EPA estimates, the savings would rack up to $850; and that's with gas prices at a relatively low $2.58 a gallon.

At least you're not driving a 2010 Lamborghini Murcielago (8 mpg City) or a 2010 Bentley Azure or Bentley Brooklands (9 mpg City), right? Right?

The hybrid-heavy results aren't too surprising, but there remains just one non-hybrid gasoline model in our top ten, with the 2010 Toyota Yaris, and Volkswagen's new 2010 Golf and Jetta diesels, filling it up. Several new hybrid models for 2010, including the Honda Insight and Lexus HS 250h, have taken new top positions and pushing out other small, inexpensive cars, while the 2010 Toyota Prius was again the most fuel-efficient vehicle overall, with a 50-mpg Combined rating.

We've listed official fuel economy figures and estimated annual fuel cost from the EPA (assuming 15,000 miles and that $2.58/gal fuel price), and our Overall Rating and Bottom Line take on these models. Please click on the individual models for detailed information including pricing, specs, and comprehensive reviews, plus galleries of images.

Here are this year's fuel economy champs:


Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius

EPA City/Highway/Combined mpg: 51/49/50
EPA Annual Fuel Cost: $774
TheCarConnection Meta Review Rating: 8.2
The Bottom Line: The 2010 Toyota Prius ups the ante in the hybrid world with 51-mpg city fuel economy and a finer style.

Between TheCarConnection.com, GreenCarReports.com, and our go-to site, AllAboutPrius.com, we've reported, literally, all about this mileage-topping model. We like the more upscale feel of the new Prius, its improved headroom, and more upscale feel while criticizing its restrictive new console design and, well, how it still drives very much like a hybrid. In several driving experiences the editors of TheCarConnection.com have seen some very extraordinary high-mileage results in ordinary driving. Most recently, we averaged 53 mpg in 140 miles of commute-style driving, but we've also seen as high as 77 mpg, and in his First Drive Executive Editor Marty Padgett reported getting nearly 70 mpg "without even really trying—just coasting to stops, accelerating very gradually and using the Prius' EV mode to coast into our host hotel."

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Honda Civic Hybrid

2009 Honda Civic

2009 Honda Civic

EPA City/Highway/Combined mpg: 40/45/42
Annual Fuel Cost: $921
TheCarConnection Meta Review Rating: 8.6 (2009)
The Bottom Line: The 2009 Honda Civic is a very livable fuel-economy champ.

Unless you look closely, the 2010 Honda Civic Hybrid looks pretty much like a standard Honda Civic sedan. However it packs a smaller 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine and Honda's Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system. You won't be able to accelerate from a stop in electric-only mode like in the Prius and other full hybrids, but the system allows the engine to turn off at stoplights, which could save a lot of fuel in stop-and-go commuting.


Honda Insight

2010 Honda Insight

2010 Honda Insight

EPA City/Highway/Combined mpg: 40/43/41
Annual Fuel Cost: $944
TheCarConnection Meta Review Rating: 7.4
The Bottom Line: For those who want to be seen in a smart, high-mileage hybrid but prefer to pinch pennies at the dealership, the 2010 Honda Insight is the way to go.

The Insight is an all-new model for 2010; it's offered only as a hybrid and has a unique fastback/hatchback body style that earns it instant recognition as a rival to the Prius—even if, according to Honda, it's looking to appeal to those who are keeping tighter wraps on the budget than Prius shoppers. Many might actually prefer the slightly more mainstream cabin dimensions and appointments of the 2010 Honda Civic Hybrid—essentially unchanged versus 2009—to those of the 2010 Honda Insight. And surprisingly, the Civic Hybrid gets slightly better Highway and Combined ratings than the Insight with essentially the same powertrain.

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Ford Fusion

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid

EPA City/Highway/Combined mpg: 41/26/39
Annual Fuel Cost: $991
TheCarConnection Meta Review Rating: 8.8
The Bottom Line: If you seek a comfortable, high-quality, fine-driving, and hyper-efficient sedan, look to the 2010 Ford Fusion.

There's very little that distinguishes the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid (and the nearly identical 2010 Mercury Milan Hybrid) from the other four-cylinder and V-6 versions of the Fusion (and Milan) sedan, but the full hybrid system in the Fusion Hybrid makes it capable of going more than double the distance on a gallon of gas in city driving versus the V-6 Fusion. The powertrain feels surprisingly perky and smooth, and if you turn up the sound system or forget about the sophisticated gauge display you can at times forget you're driving a hybrid. The 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid manages to feel like a perfectly normal, mid-size sedan while sipping on fumes, which is quite a feat.


Lexus HS 250h

2009 Detroit auto show

2009 Detroit auto show

EPA City/Highway/Combined mpg: 35/34/35
Annual Fuel Cost: $1107
TheCarConnection Meta Review Rating: 7.6
The Bottom Line: The new 2010 Lexus HS 250h packs some noteworthy technology features, though those expecting either Prius fuel economy figures or a sportier driving experience might be disappointed.

With the all-new HS 250h, Lexus hopes to tap into the very affluent buyer base that has now been flocking to the Toyota Prius for years, bringing, at least in theory, a little more refinement and performance along with the requisite Lexus luxuries. The HS does offer way more in terms of tech options and advanced safety features than you'll see in any other high-mileage vehicles. It's not all positive though; the cabin is tight; the interior isn't exactly plush, and there's too much engine noise for a Lexus. But simply put, the 2010 Lexus HS 250h is the most fuel-efficient luxury car.

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Nissan Altima Hybrid

2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid

2009 Nissan Altima Hybrid

EPA City/Highway/Combined mpg: 35/33/34
Annual Fuel Cost: $1138
TheCarConnection Meta Review Rating: 8.4
The Bottom Line: The 2009 Nissan Altima has a sportier look and feel than most other mid-size sedans, but it's just as practical.

The Altima Hybrid has been on sale for several years but the whole time it's been a bit of a secret. Nissan hasn't advertised the Altima Hybrid much, and even for 2010 it's only available in nine states. Nevertheless, it's a well-packaged full-hybrid system that allows electric-only operation at lower speeds and, just as the standard Altima handles better than the Camry, the same is true of their Hybrid kin.


Toyota Camry Hybrid

2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid

2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid

EPA City/Highway/Combined mpg: 33/34/34
Annual Fuel Cost: $1138
TheCarConnection Meta Review Rating: 8.2
The Bottom Line: The 2009 Toyota Camry Hybrid melds the automaker's proven, hybrid system into America's bread-and-butter sedan. What's not to like?

Smooth and unobtrusive is the way that we'd describe Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive in the 2010 Camry Hybrid. Although the full hybrid system in the Camry Hybrid doesn't make this popular sedan feel as quick as with the available V-6, it yields a significant boost in miles per gallon without compromising the Camry's inherent bread-and-butter goodness.

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Volkswagen Jetta / Sportwagen

2009 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen

2009 Volkswagen Jetta Sportwagen

EPA City/Highway/Combined mpg: 30/42/34 (auto)
Annual Fuel Cost: $1160
TheCarConnection Meta Review Rating: 8.0
The Bottom Line: Although the Jetta’s doesn't offer the farfegnugen it once did, the 2009 Volkswagen Jetta provides spacious interior room and efficient clean-diesel technology.

Volkswagen's Jetta has in recent years become a little larger, a little more practical, and some reviewers have gone so far as to call it the German Corolla. However we think that the Jetta and Jetta Sportwagen are both more refined and more exciting to drive—along with way more fuel-efficient—with its available TDI diesel engine. The tremendous torque of the turbo-diesel makes the VW Jetta feel sprightly in city driving and mature and confident on the highway. And we've seen real-world results in the 50-mpg range.


Volkswagen Golf

2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

EPA City/Highway/Combined mpg: 30/42/34 (auto)
Annual Fuel Cost: $1160
Rating and Bottom Line N/A

This year Volkswagen starts calling its affordable hatchback the Golf, after calling it the Rabbit for several years…and the Golf before that…and the Rabbit before that. Whatever you want to call it, VW has offered its fuel-efficient TDI diesel engine off and on for many years on this hatch, and we overwhelmingly recommend it over the base five-cylinder. The VW Golf has been significantly revamped for '10. We had a brief teaser drive of the 2010 Golf TDI earlier in the year, but stay tuned for extensive U.S.-spec driving impressions.

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Toyota Yaris

2009 Toyota Yaris

2009 Toyota Yaris

EPA City/Highway/Combined mpg: 29/36/32 (man)
EPA Annual Fuel Cost: $1211
TheCarConnection Meta Review Rating: 5.6 (2009)
The Bottom Line: The 2009 Toyota Yaris is a recession darling, with cheap running costs, a low price, and a reputation for dependability.

The 2010 Toyota Yaris remains the lowest-priced model in Toyota's lineup, starting at just $12,355 for the three-door hatchback. And it's the highest-mileage non-hybrid, regular gasoline model both in Toyota's lineup and in the U.S. market as a whole. Earlier this year in a test drive of the Yaris five-door, this editor saw 33 mpg in short-trip city driving and a lofty 41 mpg on a leisurely driving loop. Lightness is one of the Yaris' secrets; it weighs about 2300 pounds. Beware, the Yaris feels very basic; on the least expensive models you won't find power windows, cruise control, or even a tachometer. Technically, the Yaris is tied with the MINI Cooper, also with a Combined mpg figure of 32, but as much fun as the Cooper is to drive, it was pushed out because of its requirement for pricier premium fuel.

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