Automobile

Most Fuel-Efficient Cars (That Aren’t Electric or Hybrid)

Despite continuing advancements in hybrid and electric-car technology, the good old-fashioned internal-combustion engine is still kickin’. In fact, affordable, fuel-efficient, gasoline-powered cars still outnumber electric cars, and they have a lock on the under-$30,000 category—for now. For those who want to spend more money on adventure and less on fossil fuels without forking over big money on a hybrid or electric vehicle, here are 12 of the most efficient gas-only models you can buy today.

Volkswagen Golf – 33 mpg

Fun to drive, affordable, fuel-efficient. The Volkswagen Golf gives you all three. The most efficient Golf has a 147-hp turbocharged inline-four and a six-speed manual transmission. It’s spacious, too. With the rear seats folded the Golf has 53 cubic feet of cargo room. That’s 16 more than when the rear seats are folded in the Ford Escape.

  • Base price: $24,190
  • Fuel Economy EPA combined/city/highway: 33/29/39 mpg (Manual)
  • Horsepower: 147 hp

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Honda Accord – 33 mpg

The base Honda Accord comes with a 192-hp turbocharged four-cylinder and a CVT. It’s not the cheapest on the list, but it’s spacious, has an EPA-estimated range of 488 miles on a single tank of gas, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named it a Top Safety Pick+ for 2021. The Accord Hybrid that starts at $37,195 gets just 3 mpg more on the highway, but beats this gas-only powertrain by 14 mpg in the city.

  • Base price: $25,965
  • Fuel Economy EPA combined/city/highway: 33/30/38 mpg (CVT)
  • Horsepower: 192 hp

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Chevrolet Spark – 33 mpg

The Chevrolet Spark has a sub-$15,000 starting price, making it the cheapest new car sold in the U.S. for 2021. It’s 98-hp four-cylinder doesn’t party, but we have to give the Spark a little credit for offering a manual transmission, even though its CVT is more efficient. The Spark makes the most out of its nine gallon fuel tank, getting an EPA-estimated 297 miles on a single tank of gas. We managed 37 mpg during our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test in a Spark LT.

  • Base price: $14,395
  • Fuel Economy EPA combined/city/highway: 33/30/38 mpg (CVT)
  • Horsepower: 98 hp

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Volkswagen Jetta – 34 mpg

If you prefer a trunk over the hatchback of the Golf, the Volkswagen Jetta is the perfect choice. It also starts at $4200 less. Like the Golf, the Jetta comes with a 147-hp turbo four-cylinder and a six-speed manual transmission. Its marginally better fuel economy and larger fuel tank also means you’ll go about 23 miles farther on a tank of gas. It’s better on gas than some of its closest competitors in the compact-car segment too. According to the EPA, the Jetta has a 5-mpg advantage on the highway over the Mazda 3, and is also more fuel efficient than the slightly more expensive Nissan Sentra.

  • Base price: $19,990
  • Fuel Economy EPA combined/city/highway: 34/30/41 mpg
  • Horsepower: 147 hp

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Kia Forte – 35 mpg

The Kia Forte sits between the smaller Rio and larger K5 in the Korean brand’s lineup. It has front-wheel drive and is powered by a 147-hp inline-four. The six-speed manual might be our first choice, but the CVT saves on gas. It’s especially good on the highway, with an EPA-estimated 41 mpg. An 8.0-inch touchscreen is standard, and the Forte was a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS.

  • Base price: $18,885
  • Fuel Economy EPA combined/city/highway: 35/31/41
  • Horsepower: 147 hp

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Nissan Versa – 35 mpg

Every Nissan Versa is front-wheel drive and powered by a 122-hp inline-four, but only models equipped with the automatic transmission get an EPA combined 35 mpg. The Versa was redesigned last year and is vastly improved. It rides, drives, and steers better than before and a larger 7.0-inch touchscreen is now standard. The Versa features surprising technology for its price point such as pedestrian detection, automatic high-beams, and automated emergency braking, all standard. It’s a big step ahead of the model it replaces, and even the most expensive Versa SR model starts at a respectable $19,340.

  • Base price: $15,930
  • Fuel Economy EPA combined/city/highway: 35/32/40
  • Horsepower: 122 hp

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Toyota Corolla Hatchback – 35 mpg

Toyota’s Corolla Hatchback keeps the flame of affordability burning with its fuel-saving 2.0-liter engine and CVT. Hitting an EPA combined 36 mpg, this Corolla falls short of its hybrid counterpart, which is capable of 52 mpg, but is still among the best against its gasoline-only competitors. Its cheap base price and standard features we all feel we’re entitled to in 2021 make it a great bargain performer, and its design keeps it from looking too much like a bargain car.

  • Base Price: $20,245
  • Fuel Economy EPA combined/city/highway: 35/32/41 mpg
  • Horsepower: 169 hp

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Honda Civic – 36 mpg

It can be tough to find something that the Honda Civic doesn’t do well; there’s a model for every need, from fuel sippers to track attackers. Plus it’s a frequent 10Best winner. When equipped with a turbocharged 1.5-liter inline-four and CVT, the Civic is rated at an EPA combined 36 mpg. The 2019 models received a much needed infotainment update and new standard driver-assistance functionality. It’s not the most fun you’ll have in a Civic (that would be the Si or Type R), but it’s a good choice when trying to avoid gas stations. A completely new Civic is expected for spring 2021, and we expect it to have a similarly fuel-efficient powertrain.

  • Base Price: $20,480
  • Fuel Economy EPA combined/city/highway: 36/32/42 mpg
  • Horsepower: 174 hp

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Kia Rio – 36 mpg

The 120-hp 1.6-liter engine and CVT in the Kia Rio puts this little sedan at midfield for fuel efficiency. Compared with the previous Rio, the drop in power translates to overall better mileage, but the same driving characteristics we enjoyed before remain. The Rio sedan earned a Top Safety Pick from IIHS, but many of the standard driver-assistance features are not available in base models. The Rio goes the furthest of any car on this list, with an EPA-estimated 490 miles of range on a single tank of gas.

  • Base Price: $17,045
  • Fuel Economy EPA combined/city/highway: 36/33/41
  • Horsepower: 120 hp

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Hyundai Accent – 36 mpg

Hyundai put a new 1.6-liter inline-four with a CVT in the new Hyundai Accent, which trades 10 fewer horsepower for a 4-mpg improvement in EPA combined fuel economy. This may be the smallest commuter in the Hyundai lineup, but the Accent is still light enough to be fun to drive and quick enough to make the tires squeal. A 5.0-inch touchscreen is standard, but paying extra for the higher SEL and Limited trims that deliver a larger screen could be worth the few hundred bucks extra. We’ve ranked the Accent above any other subcompact sedan in the segment.

  • Base Price: $16,125
  • Fuel Economy EPA combined/city/highway: 36/33/41 mpg
  • Horsepower: 120 hp

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Hyundai Elantra – 37 mpg

The Hyundai Elantra uses a 147-hp inline-four and a CVT in its nonhybrid models to achieve an EPA-estimated 37 mpg combined. The redesigned Elantra for 2021 is a looker, and if you were to upgrade to the hybrid model for $3900 more, the combined fuel economy jumps to 56 mpg. For something that starts around $20,000, the Elantra is an attractive choice inside and out.

  • Base Price: $20,665
  • Fuel Economy EPA combined/city/highway: 37/33/43 mpg
  • Horsepower: 128 hp

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Mitsubishi Mirage – 39 mpg

Need a new car for cheap? The Mitsubishi Mirage has you covered. It’s the second-cheapest car sold in the U.S. today, and although it has almost no horsepower, it’s the most fuel-efficient nonhybrid car available. Powered by a tiny 1.2-liter 78-hp three-cylinder, the Mirage makes a big stand for fuel efficiency. With an EPA-rated 39 mpg combined for the CVT-equipped hatchback version, this is certainly a case of David versus the gas station. The sedan version, known as the Mirage G4, is barely less efficient at 35 mpg. Of course it won’t be getting you anywhere very fast, as the 2017 Mirage G4 with a CVT we tested in 2018 achieved a zero to 60 mph in a patient 12.8 seconds.

  • Base Price: $15,565
  • Fuel Economy EPA combined/city/highway: 39/36/43 mpg
  • Horsepower: 78 hp

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