The 12 Best Fuel-Efficient Cars

Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid

THE SELL: A lower carbon foot-print than its high-end-SUV rivals. THE TEST: Computer-controlled traction and 8.7 inches of ground clearance endow the three-liter, 380-hp V6 Cayenne S Hybrid with the same mad rock-crawling agility of its biggest competitor, the Land Rover LR4, but with 33 percent better fuel economy. We spun its wheels in gnarly Alabama back-woods, on mud-slicked tracks so slimy we couldn’t even get out and walk. On flat or downhill sections of road, where you’re likely to ease off the gas pedal, onboard computers automatically disengage the power train for lower drag, so less fuel is burned. THE VERDICT: Manhattan luxury marries Utah bouldering ability, all with real-world fuel economy. 20 mpg city/24 hwy

Range Rover Evoque

THE SELL: Pocket off-road rocket. THE TEST: To make the Evoque, Land Rover took a premium sports coupe, bolted it onto a serious off-roading platform, and then gave it a spunky 2-liter, 240-hp turbocharged four-cylinder power plant. On rugged mountain roads outside Vancouver, British Columbia, this mini Rover tackled creek crossings and slippery dirt tracks like its tried-and-true ancestor, the classic Land Rover. And in Vancouver’s dense city core, its diminutive size and zip made me think I was in a high-performance vehicle, not an SUV. Big drawback: the cargo area/backseat is tiny. THE VERDICT: Big off-road chops in a small, luxe package. 18 mpg city/28 hwy

Fiat 500C

THE SELL: A high-style econo-car. THE TEST: The spunky 1.4-liter, four-cylinder 500C is a reminder that simple is often better: it came with a mere booklet for an owner’s manual. Parking? I was able to wriggle into pony-size spots at packed trailheads. And it took a gaping pothole to remind me that I was in something so tiny (thanks, in part, to noise-reducing technology in the cabin). The roll-back fabric roof and kitschy details (white-and-red espresso-bar-like interior, giant eight-ball-size gearshift) were worth a smile, but there’s only room enough for two adults and their weekend bags, despite the presence of backseats and a trunk. THE VERDICT: A retro-inspired, grin-inducing ride for city dwellers. Cyclists and surfers: opt for the hardtop version ($15,500) and a roof rack. 30 mpg city/38 hwy

Volkswagen GTI

THE SELL: A screamingly fun sports car masquerading as a functional commuter. THE TEST: On empty interstates and crowded streets alike, the GTI drove like a cavernous luxury sports car, thanks to a silky-smooth two-liter turbo engine and precise German manufacturing inside (read: silent with no rattles). Yet its taut steering and stiff suspension made it more like a sportster on twisting roads. Being able to easily—and comfortably—sit my six-two frame in the backseat simply blew my mind. Plus, my test car’s manual transmission delivered 31 mpg on the freeway and over mountain passes. THE VERDICT: Truly impressive combo of sports-car performance, fuel economy, value, and, in its four-door iteration ($24,295), family friendliness. 21 mpg city/31 hwy

Audi A7 Quattro

THE SELL: A gorgeous luxury sedan with the stashability of a hatchback. THE TEST: On the interstate, the three-liter, 310-hp supercharged engine, which is mated to an all-wheel-drive system, purred effortlessly along, even up the steeps of Colorado’s Vail Pass. Putting the car into Comfort mode with a simple twist of its master control knob modified the shifting, throttle response, and steering to produce a limo-smooth glide. But it was the rear cargo area, accessed through a giant sloping rear-window hatch, that won me over: fold down the rear seats and the A7 easily holds two road bikes. THE VERDICT: A sophisticated and sporty all-wheel-drive ride with the utility of a wagon. 18 mpg city/28 hwy

Acura TSX Sport Wagon

THE SELL: A racetrack-inspired wagon with room for Fido. THE TEST: The TSX easily swallowed a 29er mountain bike in its cargo area and charged around corners, thanks to sport-tuned handling and a paddle-shifted transmission. Even more impressive, the fuel-sipping 201-hp four-cylinder averaged 33 mpg over a 200-mile jaunt into Rocky Mountain National Park. THE VERDICT: The wagon achieves a covetable trifecta: it drives like a gunner that costs $20K more, packs as much gear as a small SUV, and delivers economy-car efficiency. Snow-region buyers: skip the $3,650 tech package (as tested) and invest in a good pair of snow tires for this front-wheel-drive-only vehicle. 22 mpg city/30 hwy

Toyota Prius V

THE SELL: The most popular hybrid in the world gets more cargo space. THE TEST: Toyota’s V is one inch wider, three inches taller, and six inches longer than a classic Prius, which creates 34 cubic feet of gear and dog-engulfing space. I was able to shove two mountain bikes into the back with the rear seats folded down and still had room for two six-foot-plus adults in the front. Need more length for a surfboard? The front passenger seat folds nearly flat as well. Only bummer: barely enough power in this 1.8-liter rig for mountain passes. THE VERDICT: The gas mileage isn’t quite as impressive as the original’s (44 vs. 51 in the city), but it’s still remarkably good. Plus, the extra room is a game changer for those of us with lots of big toys. 44 mpg city/40 hwy

Ford F-150 4x4 SuperCrew EcoBoost

THE SELL: A giant curbs its appetite. THE TEST: The four-door F-150 is still a monster—the rear seating area sleeps two adults (one on the bench seat, one on the floor)—but its 3.5-liter turbocharged EcoBoost engine has been smart-sized (it’s smaller than the engine in the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon). Still, it has plenty of oomph, pumping out 365 hp and a tire-smoking 420 lb-ft of torque. Which means this Ford mega-truck delivers roughly the same gas mileage as a 16-year-old Toyota 4Runner SUV (I averaged 17.3 mpg), yet it’s twice the size and more than twice as powerful. THE VERDICT: V6 fuel economy with V8 power and enough room for an expedition’s worth of gear. 15 mpg city/21 hwy

Cadillac SRX AWD

THE SELL: Big-wheeled, plush-riding rig. THE TEST: The wheels on the 3.6-liter SRX have a larger diameter than those on most vehicles, which, I theorize, follows the same principle behind 29er mountain-bike wheels: the bigger the wheel, the easier it rolls over crud and mud. During a Colorado blizzard, the SRX did just that while I was ensconced inside, warmed by its heated seats and, yes, steering wheel. The rear cargo area’s adjustable fence held groceries snug, while a compartment in the floor swallowed up muddy gear. THE VERDICT: The SRX hits the sweet spot: gear haulability, a smooth luxury ride, and all-condition readiness. Averaging nearly 21 mpg in mixed driving conditions seals the deal. 16 mpg city/23 hwy

Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

THE SELL: The ultimate off-road machine. THE TEST: With huge knobby tires, beefy shocks, ultra-high (10.6 inches) ground clearance, and robust skid plates, the Rubicon excels on the kinds of roads that would thrash your average citified SUV. The catch, of course, is the quality of the ride—bombing down a washboard Rocky Mountain forest road was still a bone-rattling experience. What has changed is the engine. With help from the five-speed automatic transmission, the new 3.6-liter, 285-hp V6 boosts fuel efficiency by 2 mpg over last year’s model. THE VERDICT: A 2-mpg improvement might not seem like much, but it translates into going 20 miles deeper into the middle of nowhere—and back—in the same time-tested terrain buster. 17 mpg city/21 hwy

Subaru Impreza

THE SELL: The most fuel-efficient gas-powered all-wheel-drive car sold in the U.S. THE TEST: Subaru’s boxer engines (the same design used by Porsche) have a history of providing serious pep in a relatively small size. This time around, Subaru tuned the Impreza for efficiency, not performance. The 148-hp, 2-liter engine isn’t nearly as snappy, but it did return 28 mpg in Manhattan while preserving enough power to pass trucks on a hill. (Manually shifting the Tiptronic-like transmission helps a lot.) Another bonus: a one-inch-wider wheelbase gives you more room inside compared with last year’s model. THE VERDICT: Ends the need to choose between high mpg or all-wheel drive. 27 mpg city/36 hwy

Chevrolet Sonic LT

 THE SELL: Chevy brings a sporty turbo engine to the budget-minded commuter vehicle. THE TEST: On Orange County freeways, the pint-size 138-hp, four-cylinder Sonic -easily zipped up to and held 80 mph. The front end, from the grille to the driver’s seat, felt like a much bigger car, but the stubby, lightweight rear end felt less than stable at speed. Inside, the car fit four six-foot adults and, in the rear hatchback, a large duffel bag—impressive. And it still delivered a combined 33-plus mpg, thanks to a sixth gear on the stick shift. THE VERDICT: Spaciousness, a gunning engine, and 40-plus mpg for less than $16K makes the Sonic arguably the most impressive economy car Detroit’s ever produced. 29 mpg city/40 hwy

Filed To: Cars / The Essentials
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