Fuel-frugal family sedans
Things have changed since the class of 1991 headed out into the real world. Then, five bucks bought about three gallons of 87-octane gas and a pack of generic smokes from the corner pizza shop. The selling price for my first ride, a 1979 Datsun B210 beater known as the Beast, was $550 (complete with rusted-out wheel wells and fresh chocolate brown paint). And my part-time, minimum wage-paying job at the local drug store (complete with blue smock and cheesy neck tie) barely satisfied the Beast’s thirst for petrol and my aching for cigarettes. 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.
2005 Hyundai Sonata/2005 Kia Optima 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).
2005 Mazda6 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.
2005 Nissan Altima 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).
2005 Chevrolet Impala 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.
2005 Toyota Camry 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).
2005 Honda Accord 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.
2005 Hyundai Elantra/2005 Kia Spectra 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.
2005 Chevrolet Malibu 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.
2005 Volkswagen Passat 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.
2005 Toyota Prius 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.