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Mathletes vs. quarterbacks

By Claes Bell ·
Friday, November 5, 2010
Posted: 5 pm ET

If you're looking to buy a fuel efficient car, the federal government has a shopping list for you: The EPA and the Department of Energy have released their annual list of the top 10 most fuel-efficient cars for sale in the U.S.

1. Toyota Prius (hybrid): 51 mpg city, 48 mpg hwy
2. Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan/Lincoln MKZ Hybrid: 41 mpg city, 36 mpg hwy
3. Honda Civic Hybrid, Insight (hybrid): 40 mpg city, 43 mpg hwy
4. Honda CR-Z (automatic, hybrid): 35 mpg city, 39 mpg hwy
5. Lexus HS 250h (hybrid): 35 mpg city, 34 mpg hwy
6. Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute/Mercury Mariner Hybrid: 34 mpg city, 31 mpg hwy
7. Smart Fortwo (Cabriolet)/ Smart Fortwo (Coupe): 33 mpg city, 41 mpg hwy
8. Nissan Altima Hybrid: 33 mpg city, 33 mpg hwy
9. Lexus RX 450h 2WD (hybrid): 32 mpg city, 28 mpg hwy
10. Honda CR-Z (manual, hybrid): 31 mpg city, 37 mpg hwy

As you can see, only two American cars made the list, the Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan/Lincoln MKZ Hybrid and the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute/Mercury Mariner Hybrid. Honda and Toyota otherwise dominate the list, with 6 of the ten spots devoted to those automakers' hybrid offerings.

These rankings should see significant change next year with the introduction of the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf, two cars that are so efficient the EPA has struggled to find ways to quantify their mileage.

And it's a good thing, too. After all, every one of these cars except the Prius gets trounced in terms of mileage by the 1991 Geo Metro XFi, which got 43 city mpg, 51 mpg highway by today's EPA standards. Since I'm no longer rocking a VHS player, talking on a landline at home or buying plane tickets over the phone, I'm pretty sure technology has advanced since then.

It's undoubtedly true the cars on this list (except for possibly the Smart) beat that Metro in terms of amenities and performance enough to make them palatable to the car-buying public, but if we're going to achieve energy independence and make cars easier on the Earth, we're going to have to do better.

The Geo Metro got more miles to the gallon than many hybrid cars.

The Geo Metro got more miles to the gallon than many hybrid cars.

Part of the solution might be the way we look at fuel efficiency. After all, sports cars, the high school quarterbacks of the car world, make headlines for exceeding 200 mph on the track or going zero to sixty in less time than it takes to read a tweet. Never mind that they're burning up 10 gallons of premium gas to do it, and that probably fewer than 1 percent of people will ever drive those cars. We appreciate it because it's an engineering achievement and because going that fast is just plain cool.

Meanwhile, fuel efficient cars, the earnest mathletes of the automotive world, get pushed aside and constantly have to face questions from the press about whether anyone will like them enough or care about their fuel economy numbers enough to buy them.

I'm not saying I don't love fast cars, but can't we take a minute to appreciate the stunning technological sophistication in these hybrids, plug-ins and electric cars, and admire high mileage for its own sake?

What do you think? Do high-mileage cars get short shrift, or do you think they get as much attention as they deserve?

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