At the midway point of 2009, pump prices are cheaper than last year, but people are still looking for more ways to save. This is where the sale of hybrids and more fuel-efficient gasoline-powered cars comes in. Below is the list of the 10 most fuel-efficient cars based on estimated city and highway miles per gallon, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A complete list of current models sold in the U.S. and their EPA fuel economy numbers are available at FuelEconomy.gov.
It probably won't come as a surprise to anyone that the majority of cars on this list -- the top five, in fact -- are hybrids. However, because hybrids generally cost more than the same model with a gasoline-only powered engine, consumers must calculate if a hybrid is the right choice for them.
Also on this list is one diesel, with the balance being fuel-stingy, gasoline-powered subcompacts. There are actually 11 cars in this group because the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid share mechanicals and are lumped together.
10 most fuel-efficient cars
|1.||Toyota Prius||6.||Nissan Altima Hybrid|
|2.||Honda Civic Hybrid||7.||Toyota Camry Hybrid|
|3.||Honda Insight||8.||Volkswagen Jetta TDI|
|4.||Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan Hybrids||9.||Mini Cooper|
|5.||smart fortwo||10.||Toyota Yaris|
|1. Toyota Prius: Four trim levels provide a $5,200 range in Prius pricing that begins at $22,750. This is the best-selling and most-recognized hybrid. Redesigned for 2010, it offers a 4-mpg improvement in city/highway combined fuel economy over the previous version. Its output is also up to 134 horsepower -- a 24-horsepower increase --from its 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor. All of this improvement and a base price lower than last year's Prius.
MPG: 51 mpg city/48 mpg highway
|2. Honda Civic Hybrid: Able to carry five passengers, the Civic Hybrid's 1.3-liter, four-cylinder engine and 10-kilowatt electric motor produce a combined 110 horsepower. Starting at $23,650, its standard equipment is similar to that of the gasoline-powered EX version, which means it's nicely appointed.
MPG: 40 mpg city/45 mpg highway
|3. Honda Civic Insight: Honda first launched Insight in 1999 and then discontinued it in 2006 after Prius solidly trounced it in the marketplace. But Insight is back as a 2010 model. At $20,470, its base price manages to sneak in under that of the Prius. Honda offers Insight in two trim levels both of which feature a bloated list of standard features. It uses the same 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor as the Civic Hybrid, producing the same 110 horsepower.
MPG: 40 mpg city/43 mpg highway
|4. Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan Hybrids: Representing the first true hybrids in sedan form from a Detroit carmaker, the Fusion and Milan hybrids deliver excellent fuel economy and surprisingly robust acceleration (zero to 60 in less than 9 seconds). The Ford's base price is $27,995, while the Mercury begins pricing at $28,225. Both draw power from a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in tandem with an electric motor, producing 191 horsepower.
MPG: 41 mpg city/36 mpg highway
|5. smart fortwo: At $12,635, the smart fortwo's entry-level price looks like a bargain next to many others on this list. It also rates high on the cute and easy-to-park meters. It is a good choice if there are only two of you and you are in no hurry to get where you are going. Accelerating to 60 miles per hour takes nearly 15 seconds. Power comes from a 71-horsepower, 1-liter, three-cylinder engine. The fuel tank holds 8.7 gallons of premium gas.
MPG: 33 mpg city/41 mpg highway
|6. Nissan Altima Hybrid: Offered only in states with California emissions standards, the Altima Hybrid provides spirited performance and decent fuel economy. Its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and electric motor collaborate to deliver 198 horsepower, and a zero to 60 time of less than eight seconds. It seats five and has a base price of $27,370.
MPG: 35 mpg city/33 mpg highway
|7. Toyota Camry Hybrid: Loaded with standard equipment, the $26,900 Camry Hybrid provides a high level of standard features as well as fuel-sipping manners. Its 147-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and 40-horsepower electric motor produce 187 horsepower. It can go as fast as 30 miles per hour on electric power alone. The roomy cabin features quality materials and craftsmanship.
MPG: 33 mpg city/34 mpg highway
|8. Volkswagen Jetta TDI: The first diesel that is 50-state certified for emissions, the Jetta TDI is the only diesel on this list. If you think diesels are noisy, smelly and underpowered, the Jetta TDI will be a revelation. Quick, quiet and unassuming, this $22,970 turbo diesel delivers outstanding fuel economy and plenty of performance. Its 2-liter turbo-diesel engine produces 140 horsepower. There is also a station-wagon version.
MPG: 30 mpg city/41 mpg highway
|9. Mini Cooper: With nearly 50 extra-cost options and option packages available that can balloon the Cooper's sticker well beyond its $19,200 base price, running up the total is easy to do. However, right out of the box, it is one of the more fun-to-drive coupes on the road. Its BMW-infused suspension and handling make it a joy to drive. A 118-horsepower, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine turns the front wheels via a six-speed manual transmission. It will dash to 60 miles per hour from a standstill in just over eight seconds.
MPG: 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway
|10. Toyota Yaris: Despite being considered a small car, the Yaris dwarfs the smart fortwo -- beating it in length by a whopping 45 inches. The three-door, liftback Yaris anchors the bottom end of Toyota's lineup with an entry-level base price of $12,955. Turning the front wheels through a five-speed manual transmission is a 106-horsepower, 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine. This isn't a car that will wow your friends, but for fuel economy, affordable purchase price and reliability, it's a smart choice.
MPG: 29 mpg city/36 mpg highway
Russ Heaps is a freelance automotive writer based in South Carolina.
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