Top 10 Most Economical Small Cars You Can Buy In 2012

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Let's say you're in the market for a small car, and you want the most economical one around in your budget.

What are the options? Quite varied ones, actually - everything from electric cars, through hybrids, range-extended vehicles, gasoline and diesel.

You might notice a few glaring omissions from the list - notably, the 2012 Toyota Prius and 2012 Toyota Prius V, both of which would otherwise feature.

That's because, according to the EPA, they're actually too big. The EPA classifies the Prius as midsize due to its passenger volume, while the similarly-sized Chevy Volt is actually a compact car - a fate that also befalls the 2012 Fisker Karma.

2012 Mitsubishi i - 112 MPGe combined - From $29,125

The Mitsubishi "i" electric car does the company proud, by being the most economical car on sale in the U.S. Using the MPG equivalent figures, it manages 126 MPGe city, 99 highway and 112 combined. It doesn't have the greatest range - some testers have struggled to get much over 60 miles from it - but driven gently, you'll be spending very little on electricity. You can find our other stories on the "i" in our ultimate reference guide.

2012 Nissan Leaf - 99 MPGe combined - From $35,200

Not unpredictably, the Leaf is the second most efficient car you can buy. At 106 MPGe city, 92 highway and 99 combined, you can expect range of between 80-110 miles depending on how you drive, and the prevailing weather conditions. It's also less toy-like than the Mitsubishi. Our own Nikki Gordon-Bloomfield runs a Leaf, so keep your eyes open for her updates on living with the car. For more information on the Leaf, why not head over to our ultimate guide?

2012 Toyota Prius C - 50 MPG combined - From $18,950

Recently launched, the Prius C takes the familiar Prius technology and condenses it into a car the size of a Yaris. It manages 50 mpg combined, 53 city and 46 highway. It's also more nimble than the regular Prius. Check out our first drive review of the 2012 Toyota Prius C here. Its natural habitat is the city, and its economy certainly won't disappoint.

2012 Honda Civic Hybrid - 44 MPG combined - From $24,050

While the previous generation of Civic Hybrid is making headlines for all the wrong reasons, the 2012 model gets a more conservative - but still impressive - 44 mpg for city, highway and combined. It's not the most interesting vehicle to own or drive, but should prove reliable and economical.

2012 Scion iQ - 37 MPG combined - From $15,265

A fun, funky alternative to the Smart Fortwo, the 2012 Scion iQ is also more economical. With a 1.3-liter, four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission, it has economy figures of 36 mpg city, 37 highway and 37 combined. If the Smart's gearbox annoys you but you like the size, the iQ could be the minicar for you.

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Comments (6)
  1. If Toyota Prius is not featured because it's midsize then why is LEAF featured (which is midsize and designed to be just a bit bigger than Prius)???

  2. Well spotted, and thanks for pointing it out - the idea of the comparison was based on the EPA's classification of car sizes based on interior volume, which often results in some larger cars being classed as compact or subcompact.

    Search for "small cars" on the website and the Leaf is listed - but you're right, it's actually classified as midsize. Which makes things even more confusing.

    Whether the EPA uses a secondary classification for its comparison site or not I'm not sure, but it's quite strange that the Leaf is included when the Prius isn't. If we exclude the Leaf from the above, the next most efficient car is the Fiat 500.

  3. I would add two vehicles to the list, the 2012 Nissan Versa sedan (38 highway, 30 city) and the Chevy Cruze Eco which gets 42 the best highway fuel economy of any non-hybrid vehicle. The Versa starts at $11,000, while the Cruze Eco Starts at $19,325 and $16,800 for the base regular model (36/25).

  4. Thanks for your comment, Jason. The Cruze was excluded, like a few of the other cars mentioned, because its interior volume classifies it as a midsize car, and as such isn't listed on the EPA's site as a "small car". I agree that the economy is very impressive though, and we've discussed the car several times here at GreenCarReports.

    The Versa narrowly missed out on inclusion - based on the average economy (as all vehicles in this list are) of 33mpg it matches the other nearly-car, the Fiat 500, and sits just behind the 10th-place Kia Rio. Though again, you're right about the price - it certainly offers a good combination of low purchase price and high economy.

  5. Hmmm, no Fiesta? No Fusion Hybrid? I see bias here.

  6. Hi Rich - you're welcome to do exactly the same as I did, and go down the EPA's own list of small cars on the website.

    The Fusion doesn't appear as it's a midsize car and therefore too big (though as above, Lord only knows why the EPA lets the Leaf in given its midsize rating), and in the top ten, the Fiesta's average economy simply isn't high enough to make it onto the list.

    No bias here, I'm afraid.

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