Page 1: Intro
Now, with jobs, families and holiday trips to the in-laws (all of which contribute to the ever-receding hairline and high blood pressure, no doubt), $550 buys a month or two off your car loan rather than a whole vehicle. But, if you’re thinking that you can still get away with driving one of those cheap gems, just try explaining to your mother-in-law why her grandbaby is riding in something that cost less than your new television. I dare ya.
Thankfully, options are available which should keep everyone happy. There are a host of stylish large and midsize, four-door family cars that offer lots of cargo space, excellent fuel economy and varying levels of standard features. Some are even (gasp) fun to drive.
Page 2: 10th Place
When equipped with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and regardless of manual or automatic transmission, these Korean twins achieve 30-mpg on the highway, provide 100 cubic feet of passenger volume, and start at about $16,500 (Kia Optima LX with five-speed manual transmission).
Page 3: 9th Place
The Mazda6 i Sports Sedan and 5-Door include a standard 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission, good for 31-mpg on the highway. Passenger volume comes in at a respectable 96 cubic feet, and pricing starts at about $19,500.
Page 4: 8th Place
Falling in between the larger Maxima and smaller Sentra, Nissan Altima models featuring the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission achieve 31-mpg on the highway and offer 103 cubic feet of passenger volume. Though matched for fuel economy, the Altima beats the Mazda6 in both passenger volume and price (Altima prices start just under $18,000).
Page 5: 7th Place
Score one for the big dog. The only large car to make it onto our list, the Chevrolet Impala achieves a desirable 32-mpg on the highway. To attain this lofty rating yourself, you’ll need to order your Impala with the 3.4-liter V6 engine and four-speed automatic transmission. Passenger volume is a generous 105 cubic feet, but at about $23,000, it will take a few more bills out of your wallet.
Page 6: 6th Place
While listing the Chevrolet Impala in a top ten fuel economy list may raise some eyebrows, including the Toyota Camry probably won’t. When fitted with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and the five-speed automatic transmission, the Camry achieves 34-mpg (ironically, when connected to the five-speed manual transmission the rating drops to 33-mpg), provides 102 cubic feet of passenger volume and starts at about $18,500 (base model with the optional automatic transmission).
Page 7: 5th Place
As with the Camry, what’s a top ten sedan list without the Honda Accord? Choose the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rather than the 3.0-liter V6, and you’ll see up to 34-mpg on the highway. Inside, you’ll find 103 cubic feet of passenger volume. The DX sedan with manual transmission starts at about $16,500.
If you like the Accord but 34-mpg just doesn’t cut if for you, consider the 2005 Honda Accord Hybrid, which offers V6 performance with up to 37-mpg on the highway (Honda estimate). That extra power and fuel economy do come at a price, though - in this case, about $30,000.
Page 8: 4th Place
Though most people consider the Elantra and Spectra to be compacts, at 97 cubic feet of passenger volume these two models are actually quite adept at carrying people and stuff, thanks in part to availability as hatchback models. Choose the Elantra or the Spectra, choose your body style, and choose your transmission. Any way you order it, you’re getting a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that gets 34-mpg on the highway,. The Hyundai Elantra GLS 4-door Sedan with a five-speed manual transmission starts at about $14,000, with the Spectra priced about $500 less.
Page 9: 3rd Place
Two Chevy sedans with automatic transmissions are included in a top-ten list for fuel economy, with the midsize Malibu beating its Japanese and Korean rivals. Granted, you’ll have to opt for the Malibu’s smaller 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine linked to a four-speed automatic transmission, but you’ll be rewarded with 35-mpg on the highway. The Malibu offers 101 cubic feet of passenger volume. Despite a base price in the $20,000 range, this is your best bet for an efficient domestic sedan.
Page 10: 2nd Place
Some folks would argue you still can’t beat a diesel for fuel economy. The 2005 Volkswagen Passat TDI gets up to 38-mpg on the highway when powered by the 2.0-liter four-cylinder, turbo diesel engine. However, with only 95 cubic feet of passenger volume, the Passat’s interior is the smallest among our top ten. Prices start at about $24,000 for the GL TDI.
Page 11: 1st Place
The only surprise here might be that the Prius is classified by the EPA as a midsize car. Otherwise, when highway mileage is rated at 51-mpg, the fact that the Prius ranks number one is pretty much a no-brainer. Passenger volume is listed as 96 cubic feet, but most everyone will tell you the interior feels more spacious. The Prius starts at about $21,500.
Page 12: FAQs
Absolutely. If you’re an aggressive driver, one of the best ways to improve fuel mileage is to avoid sudden starts. That means forfeiting all of those stoplight-to-stoplight races around town, and putting the “pedal to the metal” a little less often. By gradually accelerating, the engine doesn’t have to work as hard at getting the vehicle’s heft up to speed, thereby increasing efficiency.
Can I save money by using regular grade gas instead of premium?
Manufacturers make sure to note (in owner’s manual, on gas cap or fuel door) what type of gas you should use. Typically, sports cars require premium fuel for optimum performance. In these cases, the vehicle may end up running a bit rough if you run it on regular. Conversely, many people believe that filling their tanks with premium fuel is “better” for the car, even if it isn’t necessary. Not true. If the manufacturer doesn’t suggest or require you to buy high-octane gas, stick with less expensive, 87-octane regular.
How can I get better mileage from my older car?
As cars get older and rack up mileage, it’s inevitable that they will become less efficient. But, there are a few things you can do to abate that problem. Make sure your tires are properly inflated. Under-inflated tires increase rolling resistance (friction) and require more effort from the engine to maintain momentum. Also, stick to the manufacturers maintenance schedule. Something as simple as replacing a dirty air filter can help to improve fuel economy.