The non-hybrids and non-electrics that save gas
Gas prices are surging once again, topping $5 a gallon in some parts of California, but automakers are ready this time around—and so is Autobytel. A new generation of fuel-efficient vehicles is now on the market, and, after painstakingly poring over all the latest EPA numbers, Autobytel has sorted out those choices that offer the best fuel-economy numbers in some of the key U.S. market segments. Note that the focus here is on basic gasoline-powered vehicles from the mainstream automakers (mostly), as they still make up the vast majority of all sales in this country.
The South Korean siblings share the same 1.6-liter I4 engine with gasoline direct injection that Ward’s Automotive named to the “2012 10 Best Engines” list, along with the same stellar EPA marks of 30 mpg city/40 mpg highway/34 mpg combined. That’s good enough to just edge the 29/40/33 line posted by both the Chevy Sonic and Ford Fiesta SFE, and keep in mind that the Accent/Rio can hit its numbers with both manual and automatic transmissions. The Chevy only does so with a manual, the Ford only with the PowerShift automatic. On the other hand, the Toyota Corolla, Honda Fit and Nissan Versa, still waiting for their next-gen models to launch, can’t reach 40 mpg at all—yet.Compact—Chevrolet Cruze Eco
It’s another tie, with the former able to reach 28 mpg city/42 mpg highway/33 mpg combined with a six-speed manual and the latter capable of 29/41/33. The Hyundai Elantra also can reach 33 mpg combined, but its city/highway ratings of 29/40 are, overall, ever so slightly behind those of the leading pair. The Hyundai does make up for this with an eye-popping price advantage of some $4,000, partially because all the Elantra models can earn the nameplate’s top ratings, while the Cruze and Civic need specially tuned—and higher priced—models that are specifically tailored for fuel economy. Just keep in mind that another notable chunk of that MSRP difference is the result of the more premium positioning of the more expensive two, and especially the Cruze.Midsize Sedan—Toyota Camry
Midsize Sedan—Toyota Camry (MSRP: $21,995).
The all-new 2012 Camry has been flying under the radar in terms of buzz, but definitely not sales; it was the best-selling car in the U.S. in January—and the second-best-selling vehicle—and its segment-leading EPA scores of 25 mpg city/35 mpg highway/28 mpg combined definitely help. The South Korean entries (Hyundai Sonata/Kia Optima) again make it a close finish, with ratings of 24/35/28. As a bonus for the Camry, its advantage does come with an automatic transmission, by far the preferred choice of today’s drivers. Toyota also made a serious effort to close the MSRP gap between the Camry and its rivals in 2012 by slicing a full $2,000 off the price of the Camry XLE, the nameplate’s most popular trim level.Small Crossovers (under 180 inches)—Mazda CX-5
Small Crossovers (under 180 inches)—Mazda CX-5 (MSRP: $20,695).
Mazda’s new SKYACTIV powertrain technologies make the difference among the smaller crossovers, helping the all-new CX-5 attain EPA marks of 26 mpg city/35 mpg highway/29 mpg combined, and this is a case where there’s a fairly big disparity between the segment leader’s performance and that of its rivals: The all-new Honda CR-V tops out at 23/31/26; the other usual suspects, the Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson, reach 22/32/25 and 23/31/26, respectively. More impressively, even the coming 2013 Ford Escape, with its all-new design and available 1.6-liter EcoBoost I4, is expected to trail the new Mazda. It’s true Mazda isn’t exactly a mainstream automaker, but the CX-5 is exactly the kind of vehicle that could help change that.Medium Crossover (180-190 inches)—Chevrolet Equinox (MSRP: $23,530)/GMC Terrain (MSRP: $25,560)
Medium Crossover (180-190 inches)—Chevrolet Equinox (MSRP: $23,530)/GMC Terrain (MSRP: $25,560)
General Motors has long set the pace for crossovers of this size, with both the Equinox and Terrain rated at 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway/26 mpg combined, but it only maintains its first-place positioning by a mere 1 mpg in urban driving: The Kia Sorento can now post an EPA line of 22/32/25. It’s also possible that all three will be surpassed by the next-gen Toyota RAV4, which is currently capable of 22/28/24, but that remains to be seen. Those buyers looking for the Nissan Murano may be surprised to discover the dramatically designed crossover is rated by the EPA at 18/24/20.Large Crossovers (over 190 inches)—Ford Explorer (MSRP: $28,870)
Large Crossovers (over 190 inches)—Ford Explorer (MSRP: $28,870)
As should be obvious at this stage, Ford’s leadership role in fuel-efficiency ratings depends on how you slice up the industry, but the Explorer is able to make the cut in this segment thanks to EcoBoosted EPA marks of 20 mpg city/28 mpg highway/23 mpg combined. To put those scores into context, the Honda Pilot peaks at 18/25/21 and the Chevrolet Traverse runs out of gas at 17/24/19. Further, while many folks may think the Traverse is a significantly bigger vehicle than the Explorer, the Chevy provides just 1.5 more cubic feet of passenger volume and 3.4 extra cubic feet of cargo space behind its third row.Minivan—Honda Odyssey (MSRP: $28,225)
Minivan—Honda Odyssey (MSRP: $28,225)
While a few current minivans can reach 18 mpg city and 21 mpg combined, including the Odyssey, Honda’s entry is the only one capable of reaching 27 mpg highway—a 2-mpg advantage over its next closest competitor. And that’s with the base V6 powertrain and five-speed automatic transmission. Moving up to the Touring model, featuring a V6 and six-speed automatic, delivers marks of 19/28/22; the Toyota Sienna, which is the only minivan available with a four-cylinder engine, goes 19/24/21 combined. Of course, the Odyssey Touring starts at $41,180, while said Sienna has a base price of $25,060, leaving an awful lot of money in the bank to cover added fuel costs.