Perhaps you've noticed the phenomenon of the incredible shrinking car. Yo-yoing gas prices and a stumbling economy have had a visible downsizing effect on the types of vehicles Americans are choosing to buy these days. Small cars are simply cheaper to run than bigger ones, and no one believes that this price reprieve at the pumps will last very long. Now that there is a demand for small cars, however, we need to find the cars to fill it. For that, we need to turn to our more fuel-efficient neighbors across the ponds for help.
According to a recent study from Jato Dynamics, a leading provider of automotive business intelligence, U.S. cars emit 85 percent more carbon dioxide and consume twice as much fuel as European and Japanese cars. The average year-to-date fuel consumption figure for cars, minivans and SUVs in the U.S. market stands at 22.6 mpg, compared with 40.3 mpg in Europe and 40.6 mpg in Japan. Those are staggering differences, and they make us wonder why it will take American automakers until 2020 to reach a mandated average fuel-efficiency rating of 35 mpg, when European and Japanese automakers already do. (That's food for thought, folks.)
But we digress. This article is about vehicles that get 40 mpg or better on the road. Sadly, only two are currently available in the U.S. Here's the top 10:
1. Toyota Prius
The Toyota Prius is the reigning champion for fuel efficiency in the U.S., and has been since 2007, when the Honda Insight hybrid was put to sleep. The Environmental Protection Agency rates the 2009 model at 45 mpg highway, 48 mpg city. This kind of efficiency is achieved by pairing up a gasoline engine with an electric motor and a large storage battery. In addition to saving you lots of dough at the pumps, the Prius ranks as one of Consumer Reports' most reliable cars. In fact, three of the six most reliable family cars are hybrids (the Prius, Camry and Nissan Altima).
Can Americans buy it? Yes.
Like the Prius, the hybrid Honda Civic has an electric motor that shares the work of the gasoline engine. Though not quite as miserly as the Prius, the gas-electric Civic still reaps a respectable 40 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway, according to EPA tests.
Can Americans buy it? Yes
3. Ford Fiesta ECOnetic
If you were to drive Ford's snappy little Fiesta ECOnetic, you might easily find yourself spending less for fuel each week than you do for coffee. It employs a clean, efficient 1.6-liter Duratorque turbodiesel motor and low-drag body design to achieve a combined city/highway fuel-economy rating of 63.6 mpg, based on European Union standards.
Can Americans buy it? No. Ford says that importing the Fiesta ECOnetic from Europe, where it's made, would be too pricey and wouldn't be met with enough demand. Modern diesel engines deliver roughly 30 to 35 percent higher fuel efficiency than gas-powered engines, and are often just as clean as hybrids. The problem is that diesels must meet the most stringent emissions standards in the world to be sold here in the U.S., and thus automakers are reluctant to go through the costly process of modifying them to be greener and bringing them into a market that is simply lukewarm on diesel power. Folks, diesel is no longer the dirty bird of fossil fuels. We need to give them a closer look.
4. Mercedes-Benz C 250 CDI
Getting past the 40 mpg mark doesn't have to leave you yawning, as evidenced by the Mercedes-Benz C250 BlueEfficiency. According to Mercedes, the C250 can get 45 miles from a gallon of diesel and has a top speed of 155 mph. It also features a slick, luxurious interior and an impressive features package. In addition to the specially designed 2.2-liter diesel powerplant, the C250 BlueEfficiency boosts its mpg with features such as an electric power-steering motor that deactivates when not needed, and a 7-speed automatic transmission that decouples when the car is in idle.
Can Americans buy it? No. It's a diesel issue.
5. Smart fortwo
As tiny as it is, the smart fortwo available in the U.S. earns an EPA combined fuel economy of only 36 mpg. Over the Canadian border and across the pond in Europe, smarts are sipping diesel fuel to the tune of 70 mpg.
Can Americans buy it? We're afraid not. The diesel fortwo doesn't yet meet U.S. emissions standards. Passionate patriots have struggled unsuccessfully to bring these diesel-powered mites down from the Great White North, and saddened Canadians have had to leave theirs behind at the border. To make American green-car enthusiasts even more jealous, smart is beginning the release of an electric fortwo in Germany. Learn to love diesels, folks. Lawmakers should look closely at this list, too, when they are deciding how to reduce our carbon footprint.
6. Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion
Another fuel sipper to venture out beyond 40 mpg is the VW Polo BlueMotion. And in case you couldn't already guess, it's a diesel. The Diesel Polo can't boast much in the way of speed or backseat legroom, but its 1.4-liter 3-cylinder engine accomplishes impressive economy, which VW claims to be around 60 mpg (but which Popular Mechanics' Andrew English found to be closer to 46 mpg). VW does offer several models of its turbocharged diesels in the U.S., but they can't top 40 mpg in combined city/highway driving.
Can Americans buy it? No. And at present there is no word of the Polo BlueMotion making its way stateside. We can only hope.
7. Citroën C2
Largely unknown in the U.S., the French company Citroën has been making small cars for the European market for the last 90 years. An exception to the diesel trend of our list, the Citroën C2 is an entry-level compact with a gasoline engine that tests at 42 mpg (EU standards, of course). Let me say that again: It is gasoline-powered. Pushing the C2 into the 40-plus winner's circle is start-stop technology that turns off the engine when the car is at a standstill.
Can Americans buy it? While cars with this fuel-saving feature will likely show up in the U.S. within a few years, the C2 probably won't. Other brands such as MINI are catching on to the start-stop logic. Hopefully, they will be available.
8. Toyota iQ
A Toyota Prius would hulk like a mastodon next to the shrimpy iQ. It is certainly a microcar, sizing somewhere between the smart fortwo and Toyota Yaris. Toyota says the diminutive iQ is the smallest four-passenger car in the world (although that fourth passenger would ideally be a child or a grocery bag). Its size appears to pay off: The 1.0-liter gasoline version gets 55 mpg, while the 1.4-liter turbodiesel gets 57 mpg.
Can Americans buy it? No. But there is strong evidence that the iQ will appear in the U.S. under a Scion nameplate soon. Keep your fingers crossed.
9. Ford Ka
Twelve years after it was first introduced, a newly fashioned Ford Ka was unveiled at this year's Paris Motor Show. No American would hesitate to label the Ka an econobox. It is very small. But European and Latin American markets are quite taken with the youthful little microcar. Fuel economy for the gasoline version hovers in the low to mid 30s, but a newly announced diesel option bumps the Ka up to 45 mpg.
Can Americans buy it? Ford CEO Alan Mulally says he wants to see the Ka come to America, but it's unlikely that a diesel version will arrive any time soon. What's the holdup?
The popularity of the compact Yaris has helped Toyota surf the trend toward smaller cars. But despite its respectable efficiency, the gasoline Yaris (with an EPA rating of 29 mpg city, 35 mpg highway) won't make our list. The car's diesel twin is a different story. A Yaris 1.4 D-4D won the European ALD World Fleet MPG Marathon, averaging 70.49 mpg over the 400-mile fuel-efficiency road race.
Can Americans buy it? Again, we run into the diesel issue.
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No demand for diesel? Sure, that's why VolksWagen can't keep the diesel Jettas or Golfs in stock...
If you want people to consider diesel, give us more choices!
I'm not sure what the hell is going on at Ford. The Focus with the 1.6 liter ecoboost has been available in Europe for over 2 years. Brits all rave about the combination of performance and fuel economy. In fact Fifth Gear tested the 2012 Focus and concluded isn't nearly as fun to drive as the previous model. The simple solution would be to make the European version of the Focus available in America....but hey, no point in resorting to logic.
Click on it and it will show that this vehicle's fuel consumption is 2.7 liters per 100 kilometer/highway, 3.8L/K city, and 3.1L/K combined. That translates to 91.12MPG combined city/highway. And the price is a very reasonable 16.350 Euros. At today's exchange rate that is approx $23,749 Saturn, before going out of business, was importing three Opel models (re-badged them as Saturn) for sale in the US at reasonable prices. Now ask Ford why they haven't brought this vehicle to the US.
Too bad. I had a '75 Diesel Rabbit that got nearly 50-mpg on the highway. Who cared if diesel was higher than regular? Congress is likely keeping the diesel out because of concern for the American auto industry which has never been able to field a reliable diesel car. Course, the Rabbit didn't have the greatest engine. Mine suffered from "blow-by" in its latter days and I had to get rid of it.
Small as the Smart is, it doesn't get very good mileage. Waste of space.
Hybrids are a good answer for city and short inter-city driving but I wouldn't want to drive one 1,000-miles with 2-3 kids in the car. I have a Sienna especially for that purpose. It's mass transportation.
I love my new camry hybrid, this car continues to suprise me every-day, Great handling if u get on her she will go,and if you take it easy and drive with the flow of traffic I will get 44 mpg all day long. This is a big sedan, with traction controll, so n.il winters are a breeze, love the blue tooth and all the other toys this car has. took a road trip 253 miles sat in a traffic jam for over an hour started twice while sitting. made it back home in under a 1/4 tank put 5 gallons back in it back up to a 1/4 tank. yes that was 50 mpg on the hwy this car is wonder full the $300.00 I save in gas a month is cheaper than the car pmt each month the car pays for its self. and yes I run full synthic oil in my Toyota Camry Hybrid it makes a difference..
I have a 1996 saturn sl1 it does a average of 44mpg hyw at 70 mph and 36mpg city with 170000 miles . I allso had 1985 escort diesel did a average of 55mpg hwy and 40mpg city. My wife has a 2003 saturn vue awd v6 21mpg city and 28mpg hwy. Who needs a hybrid