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July 2008
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Best fuel economy for the buck
What to buy when you need to make every dollar count

Honda Fit
 
As car buyers are drawn to more fuel-efficient cars, a common challenge people face is how to get the most gas mileage for the money. Hybrids, for example, typically deliver the best fuel economy in their respective classes, but they sell for a premium. Begs the question: Is it better for your bank account to buy a small, less-expensive nonhybrid that still provides good, if not great, fuel economy?

If your goal in getting better fuel economy is to make every dollar count, the following list can guide you to some of today's best buys. Of the more than 260 vehicles that we've recently tested, these are the 10 cars that provide the best combination of low purchase price and high fuel economy.


Crunching the numbers

To get this list, we divided the as-tested price (including options and destination charge) for each vehicle we've recently tested by the car's overall mpg (including city and highway) in our fuel-economy tests. This tells you the price you'll pay for each mpg.

But gas mileage isn't everything. So, to ensure we aren't guiding you to cars that are mediocre in other areas, we selected only ones that meet our stringent criteria in performance, reliability, and safety for being recommended. And to make sure, the cars aren't going to blindside you with high ownership costs after you've signed on the dotted line, we selected only models that earn an excellent owner-cost rating.


Top 10 in price per mpg

Model As tested Price Overall mpg Price per mpg
Honda Fit Sport (manual) $15,765 34 $464
Honda Fit (base) 15,245 32 476
Toyota Prius (base) 23,780 44 540
Mazda3 i (manual) 17,290 30 576
Toyota Prius Touring 24,803 42 591
Nissan Versa 1.8 SL 16,675 28 596
Honda Civic Hybrid 22,400 37 605
Honda Civic EX (manual) 18,810 31 607
Hyundai Elantra GLS 17,555 27 650
Scion tC (base) 17,115 26 658
All have an automatic transmission unless noted.


Drawing on a price that's under $16,000 and good fuel economy in the low-to-mid 30's, both versions of the Honda Fit we've tested topped the list. That shows that you can pay more for a car with higher gas-mileage numbers (such as the Toyota Prius), but you won't necessarily get better fuel economy for the buck.

If you want a roomier car than the subcompact Fit, several compact cars made the list, including the Mazda3, Honda Civic, and Hyundai Elantra. And, despite their higher cost, three hybrids-two versions of the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid-made the list, based on stellar fuel economy results.

The lowest price per mpg in our analysis came from the Toyota Yaris and Hyundai Accent with manual transmissions ($370 and $425, respectively). But because they scored too low in our tests to be recommended, they didn't make the cut. Which cars are highest? With the Dodge Viper SRT10 and Mercedes-Benz SL550, you'll pay more than $6,000 for every mile-per-gallon. And you'll have to feed these engines requiring Premium fuel, as well.

To learn more about fuel-efficient cars, hybrid technology, and gas-saving tips, visit our special section Guide to driving green.