Hybrids get all the hype, but when it comes to fuel-efficient new cars there are many other options that don’t make use of an electric motor to turn in stellar fuel mileage numbers. In fact, the price premium associated with many hybrid cars often sends new car buyers in search of more affordable fuel sippers – especially when it comes to compact vehicles.
Let’s take a look at 10 of the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid cars currently on the market. These vehicles come close to matching the exceptional fuel mileage of gasoline / electric vehicles and do so while featuring a much less expensive MSRP.
Photos courtesy of respective manufacturers
01. 2010 smart fortwo - 35 mpg city / 41 mpg highway
The 2010 Smart fortwo leads our list thanks largely to the fact that it is by far the smallest and lightest passenger car on the market today. The diminutive coupe (which is also available in convertible form) seats two passengers and offers a basic trunk that can handle small cargo such as groceries or overnight bags.
Motivating the tiny fortwo is a 1.0-liter, three-cylinder engine that generates 70 horsepower and 68 lb-ft of torque. Those numbers might sound low, but given the vehicle’s reduced curb weight they are more than enough to confidently accelerate the fortwo around the city streets it was designed for. The smart car offers a five-speed automated manual transmission and it delivers fuel economy of 35 mpg in city driving and 41 mpg on the highway.
02. 2010 Volkswagen Golf / 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI - 30 city / 42 highway
The 2010 Volkswagen Golf compact hatchback and the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta compact sedan / wagon each offer turbodiesel drivetrain that is capable squeezing out impressive fuel economy numbers without sacrificing when it comes to interior space or practicality.
The 2.0-liter, four-cylinder diesel engine in both the Jetta and the Golf is good for 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque, with the latter number giving both automobiles respectable get up and go low in the rpm range. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but a six-speed dual-clutch automatic can be ordered as an option. Each of these turbodiesel Volkswagens returns 30 miles per gallon in city driving and 42 miles per gallon on the highway.
03. 2011 Audi A3 TDI - 30 mpg city / 42 mpg highway
The 2011 Audi A3 is a unique premium automobile, a compact hatchback that offers an impressive number of luxury features matched with a turbodiesel engine lifted from the Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen Jetta.
This means that like the pair of Volkswagen options, the 2011 Audi A3 TDI makes use of a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine puts out a healthy 140 horsepower and 236 lb-ft of torque. In addition to offering a six-speed manual transmission as well as Audi’s S tronic dual-clutch automatic the A3 adds quattro all-wheel drive to the turbodiesel package. Although traditionally all-wheel drive automobiles suffer when compared to front-wheel drive models in terms of fuel mileage, the Audi hatchback manages to match the 30 mpg city and 42 mpg highway of its Volkswagen counterparts.
04. 2011 Ford Fiesta SFE - 29 mpg city / 40 mpg highway
The 2011 Ford Fiesta SFE is the most frugal edition of the subcompact sedan that has been positioned by Ford as the standard-bearer of its new efficiency campaign. The 2011 Fiesta can be had in both hatchback and sedan editions, and those seeking the best fuel economy should opt for the SFE package. This mileage-enhancing group of features includes aerodynamic changes, a small weight reduction and low rolling resistance tires.
The SFE-equipped Fiesta comes with the same 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine found in the standard edition of the automobile, which means that it offers 120 horses and 112 lb-ft of torque. The SFE package also dictates the inclusion of the vehicle’s optional six-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, and the end result is a fuel economy rating of 29 mpg in city driving and 40 mpg on the highway.
05. 2011 MINI Cooper - 29 mpg city / 37 mpg highway
The 2011 MINI Cooper, when ordered in compact hatchback form, is a vehicle that doesn’t sacrifice fun for miles per gallon. The automobile’s responsive suspension system and wheel-at-each-corner chassis give it a lively feel from the driver’s seat that is difficult to replicate amongst small fuel-sipping vehicles.
The 2011 MINI Cooper provides buyers with a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that offers up 121 horsepower and 114 lb-ft of torque. It is possible to order the hatchback with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic, with the manual gearbox offering a slight fuel mileage advantage. The final economy rating for the MINI Cooper is 29 mpg in city driving and 37 mpg on the highway.
06. 2011 Toyota Yaris - 29 mpg city / 36 mpg highway
The 2011 Toyota Yaris doesn’t come close to offering the same kind of grin-inducing driving dynamics as the MINI Cooper, but it does provide an almost identical fuel mileage rating. The Yaris subcompact hatchback (also available as a sedan) is also much more affordable than the MINI.
The 2011 Toyota Yaris makes use of the second-smallest engine on our list, a 1.5-liter four-cylinder that produces 106 horsepower and 103 lb-ft of torque. The vehicle comes with a five-speed manual transmission free of charge, and can also be equipped with an optional four-speed automatic. The five-speed offers a slight fuel mileage advantage over the auto-box, and its fuel efficiency rating stands at 29 mpg in stop and go city driving and 36 mpg during highway cruising.
07. 2011 Mazda MAZDA2 - 29 mpg city / 35 mpg highway
The 2011 Mazda Mazda2 shares its platform with the Ford Fiesta - tweaked to provide a sportier ride - but without an SFE trim it lags behind somewhat when it comes to fuel economy. Available in four-door hatchback form only, the MAZDA2 also offers a very different drivetrain when compared against the Fiesta.
Powering the Mazda MAZDA2 is a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine that provides 100 horses and 96 lb-ft of torque. The small motor sends its output to the front wheels via either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The manual turns in the best fuel mileage rating, showing as 29 mpg in city driving and 35 mpg on the highway.
08. 2010 Honda Fit - 28 mpg city / 35 mpg highway
The 2010 Honda Fit is a compact hatchback that strikes a balance between utility, comfort and fun driving characteristics. Like most of the vehicles on this list, the Fit leverages a small displacement engine with a small form factor and light curb weight in order to return its impressive fuel economy numbers.
The 2010 Honda Fit is matched with a 117 horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that also generates 106 lb-ft of torque. Buyers can choose between a five-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission, with the specially programmed auto providing the best results in terms of reducing fuel consumption. Base-model, automatic-equipped versions of the Fit are rated at 28 mpg in city driving and 35 mpg on the highway.
09. 2011 Kia Rio - 28 mpg city / 34 mpg highway
The 2011 Kia Rio subcompact sedan and its subcompact hatchback cousin the Kia Rio5 are value-focused automobiles that count solid fuel economy amongst their list of appealing attributes.
The 2011 Kia Rio is fitted with a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine in both sedan and hatchback editions, and its 110 horsepower and 107 lb-ft of torque are best routed through the automobile’s five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic is also available as an option, but this gearbox not only slows the vehicle’s acceleration, it also reduces its fuel efficiency. Fuel mileage for the manual transmission Rio shows as 28 mpg in city driving and 35 mpg on the highway.
10. 2011 Hyundai Accent - 28 mpg city / 34 mpg highway
The extremely affordable 2011 Hyundai Accent trades on more than just a low MSRP – it also happens to offer the kind of fuel mileage that makes it competitive with many of the most frugal subcompact automobiles on our list.
Available as a sedan and a hatchback, the 2011 Hyundai Accent shares its drivetrain with the Kia Rio: a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder unit that is paired with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. Horsepower is rated at 110 ponies, and torque shows as 106 lb-ft. Stop and go fuel economy for the Accent is maximized with the selection of the standard five-speed transmission in the base model, allowing the vehicle to return numbers of 27 mpg in city driving and 34 mpg on the highway. The auto transmission flips those numbers to 27 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.