While hybrids and pure electrics own the spotlight when it comes to fuel economy these days, it is possible to get combined fuel economy approaching an EPA-estimated 40-mpg without employing electric motors. What’s more, many conventionally powered automobiles return even better fuel economy than certain hybrids. According to fuel economy ratings provided by the EPA, this list of the 10 most fuel-efficient non-hybrids returns an average combined rating of 36-mpg. The most efficient returns 40-mpg combined, while the least efficient returns 35. BTW, you’ll find more than just inexpensive compact hatchbacks here. The list contains luxury cars, a station wagon, and a number of rather spacious four-door sedans as well.
The 10 Most Fuel-Efficient Non Hybrids
1. Mitsubishi Mirage: 40-combined/37-city/44-highway
Mitsubishi’s Mirage is something of a love it or hate it proposition. While the model has been roundly criticized in the automotive press for its overall lack of refinement, people looking for elemental transportation with good fuel economy and a small price see a silver lining within the Mirage. Power comes from a 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine producing 74 horsepower and 74 ft-lbs of torque. The model’s best fuel economy is achieved with the continuously variable transmission completing its front-drive powertrain. The standard features list includes keyless entry, automatic climate control, split-folding rear seats, and full power accessories. Pricing starts at $12,995.
2. Scion iQ: 37-combined /36-city/37-highway
Toyota engineers came up with all sorts of innovative packaging solutions to achieve the Scion iQ’s diminutive footprint. The car’s center take-off steering gear accommodates an extremely compact steering rack, which means the overall width of the car can be significantly reduced. The ultra compact heating and air conditioning unit, special flat fuel tank, and rear-angled shock absorbers also consume much less space than conventional designs. Power comes from a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine with 94 horsepower and 89 ft-lbs of torque. This is routed to the front wheels through a continuously variable transmission. Capable of seating four, pricing starts at $16,435.
Photo Credit: BMW
3. BMW 328d Sedan: 37-combined /32-city/45-highway
A number of you might be surprised to find one of BMW’s ultimate driving machines on this list. Turns out, there are two here—but we’re getting ahead of ourselves. One of the most fuel-efficient cars on the road, BMW’s 328d Sedan combines all of the driving pleasures one expects from a BMW along with outstanding fuel economy. Power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine producing 180 horsepower and 280 ft-lbs of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission routes power to the rear wheels. All-wheel drive is also available, albeit at a two-mpg penalty. Pricing starts at $39,000.
4. Honda Fit LX: 36-combined /33-city/41-highway
Newly redesigned for the 2015 model year, Honda’s Fit remains the most commodious car in its class. It’s also the most fuel-efficient model of its type. Relatively fun to drive, the Fit’s super-flexible interior layout offers a great deal of utility and the model is priced quite reasonably. The 1.5-liter engine produces 130 horsepower and 114 ft-lbs of torque. Fit’s optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) routes power to the front wheels for the best fuel economy. Standard features include automatic headlights, cruise control, full power accessories, Bluetooth, and a rearview camera. Pricing starts at $16,325 with the CVT.
5. Volkswagen Jetta TDI Clean Diesel: 36-combined/31-city/46-highway
For the 2015 model year, Volkswagen’s engineers increased the Jetta’s wheelbase by three inches, adding more legroom to the compact sedan. Modest styling updates freshen the appearance of the car as well, both inside and out. Structural changes added more rigidity, improving both handling and crash test scores. And, most germane to this article, the diesel engine was tweaked for more power and better fuel-efficiency. Power comes form a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine producing 150 horsepower and 236 ft-lbs of torque. Jetta Diesel’s best overall fuel economy is attained with its six-speed manual transmission. Pricing starts at $21,640.
6. (Tie) Audi A3 TDI: 36-combined/31-city/43-highway
Lest the tidy size fool you, Audi’s A3 delivers many of the attributes of its larger siblings in a compact package. It looks like an Audi, drives like an Audi, and offers the type of equipment you’d expect from the Ingolstadt-based automaker. Plus, in addition to all of the above, the diesel-powered Audi A3 TDI is one of the most fuel-efficient models you can buy today. Power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine producing 150 horsepower and 236 ft-lbs of torque. A six-speed automated manual transmission routes power to the A3’s front wheels. Pricing starts at $32,600.
6. (Tie) Ford Fiesta SFE: 36-combined/31-city/43-highway
Just as many fast food restaurants have “secret” menus, Ford’s Fiesta SFE is buried in something of a secret menu for Ford. Look at Ford’s consumer website, and you’ll be hard pressed to even find mention of the SFE model. But rest assured, it exists and can be special ordered. If you’re looking on the Ford Website, it’s listed under Fiesta SE as the SE EcoBoost Fuel Economy Package. Power comes from a 1.0-liter turbocharged three-cylinder engine producing 123 horsepower and 125 ft-lbs of torque. A five-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive complete the powertrain. Pricing starts at $16,590.
6. (Tie) Volkswagen Golf: TDI: 36-combined/31-city/43-highway
One of the mainstays of the hatchback category, Volkswagen’s Golf can be argued to have put the front-wheel drive hatchback on the proverbial map. On the market for some 40 years, this car has history. The diesel-powered TDI version of the current Golf uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine producing 150 horsepower and 236 ft-lbs of torque. The front-drive Golf TDI returns its EPA estimated 36-mpg combined rating with both its six-speed manual, and its six-speed automated manual transmissions. Golf TDI standards include a sunroof, automatic headlights, automatic wipers, and a premium audio system. Pricing starts at $21,995.
7. Smart ForTwo: 36-combined/34-city/38-highway
Interestingly, despite being one of the 10 most fuel-efficient non-hybrids, the Smart For Two still experiences derision because people think a car of its size should return better fuel economy than it does. No mistake about it, this is definitely a small car—smaller even than the Scion we detailed earlier. Power comes from a 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine capable of 70 horsepower and 68 ft-lbs of torque. A five-speed automated manual transmission routes power to the rear wheels. For Two standard features include keyless entry, automatic climate control, power locks, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Pricing starts at $13,270.
8. BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon: 35-combined/31-city/43-highway
Yes, two BMW models qualified for this list. And yes, we also know the 328d xDrive Sports Wagon and the 328d Sedan are largely the same mechanically. However, the wagon does possess the advantage of added utility. Further, the 328d xDrive Sports Wagon is the only all-wheel drive vehicle on the list. Power comes from BMW’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine producing 180 horsepower and 280 ft-lbs of torque—also employed by the sedan. The 328d Sports Wagon uses the same eight-speed automatic transmission too, but in this case it feeds an all-wheel drive powertrain. Pricing starts at $43,450.
9. Honda Civic HF: 35-combined /31-city/41-highway
Already among the most fuel-efficient sedans on offer, Honda goes one farther with a special ultra economical version of the Civic, which it calls Civic HF. Sporting wheels designed for maximum aerodynamics, underbody panels calculated to cut wind resistance, a rear spoiler, and low rolling resistance tires, the Honda Civic HF is specifically outfitted to maximize mpg. Power comes from a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine capable of 143 horsepower and 129 ft-lbs of torque. A continuously variable transmission is teamed with front-wheel drive. Standard features include power accessories, a rearview camera, Bluetooth, and text messaging capability. Pricing starts at $20,040.
10. Nissan Versa S Plus: 35-combined 31-city/40-highway
Nissan treated Versa to a cosmetic makeover for the 2015 model year, both inside and out. While it’s one of the least expensive cars on offer, the Versa delivers a surprising amount of content for the price. Further, the sedan offers more rear seat legroom and a larger trunk than just about any other model in its class. Power comes from a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine producing 109 horsepower and 107 ft-lbs of torque. The S Plus model uses a continuously variable transmission to earn the front-driver its spot on this list. Nissan Versa S Plus pricing starts at $13,990.
Special Mention: Volkswagen Passat TDI: 35-combined /30-city/44-highway
While this is supposed to be only a list of the top 10 most fuel-efficient non-hybrid cars, we felt we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the number 11 car; the Volkswagen Passat TDI. A full-size four-door sedan, Passat beats Versa in highway fuel economy, while matching its combined rating. This is a significant accomplishment. Other attributes include handsome styling, an upscale ambiance, and very refined dynamics. Power comes from a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder diesel engine producing 150 horsepower and 236 ft-lbs of torque. Passat TDI’s best fuel economy is derived with the six-speed manual, but it still does a respectable 34-combined/30-city/42-highway with the automatic. Pricing starts at $26,825.