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Cheapest MPG You Can Buy: What Cars Give Lowest-Cost Mileage?

 
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2011 Smart Fortwo

There are some pretty efficient cars on sale these days, but it's fair to say that to benefit from the technology, you often have to spend a little more to start with.

What if you want to spend as little as possible on fuel, but spend as little as possible on the car itself too?

That's where dollars per MPG comes in - a measure to show you how many bucks you have to spend for every 1 MPG in your car.

1) 2012 smart fortwo coupe - $12,490 / 36 MPG = $347/MPG

The fortwo gets its fair share of flak for not being as economical as you'd expect, but in terms of cost per MPG it's hard to beat. It's not as cheap as some in this list, but those extra few MPG here and there means it could be a little cheaper in the long run. If you don't need more than two seats (and you're okay with the image...) it's the best value car here.

2) 2012 Nissan Versa Manual - $10,990 / 30 MPG = $366/MPG

At 30 MPG combined the Versa may not be the most economical car on the road - though it's not too bad - but by virtue of its miniscule price, it comes out with a low price per MPG - just over $366. If you're looking to spend as little as possible on your car, the Versa is the one to go for. Just remember that if you do high mileages, the fuel costs will start to stack up over more economical vehicles.

3) 2012 Hyundai Accent Manual - $12,545 / 34 MPG = $369/MPG

Like the Versa, the Accent scores on its acceptable economy, and low purchase price - you'll pay just under $369 for each one of its 34 MPG combined, marginally behind the cheaper but less economical Versa. It's less bargain-basement though and a little more stylish.

4) 2012 Toyota Prius C - $19,500 / 50 MPG = $390/MPG

Where others in this list muscle their way in on bargain prices, the Prius C takes a different approach - it offers some of the highest MPG figures of any car on sale, at a price lower than that of the standard Prius. With the Prius name, it's also the more overtly green of all the cars here, which may suit some drivers.

5) 2012 Ford Fiesta Manual - $13,200 / 33 MPG = $400/MPG

While Ford does offer a more economical Fiesta - the 40 MPG highway Fiesta SFE - it both costs extra to buy the SFE package, and you need to specify a higher trim level in the first place - so the cheapest Fiesta in terms of dollars per MPG is the base, manual-transmission sedan. The Fiesta is known for its fun handling though, so more than any other car here you won't have to sacrifice fun for value and economy.

There are a few things to note from our choices above - firstly, that jerky smart gearbox and the Toyota's CVT aside, the cheapest options are usually base models with manual transmission. That may not suit everyone, and expect the list above to change if you prefer automatics.

The next point is that, although some cars are cheap to buy initially, if you intend to keep the vehicle for several years and drive higher distances, then you might want to spend a little extra to get a more economical vehicle in the first place.

As ever - shop around for whatever suits your needs best!

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Comments (22)
  1. I have my reservations about using this as a metric for cost of ownership.

    If I look at the 10 year costs for fuel (based on EPA) and purchase price, the numbers look totally different from above.

    gasoline
    make model cost mpg gas $/yr TOC
    smart fortwo $12,490 36 $1,613 $28,620
    Nissan Versa $10,990 30 $1,795 $28,940
    Hyundai Accent $12,545 34 $1,584 $28,385
    Toyota Prius C $19,500 50 $1,077 $30,270
    Ford Fiesta $13,200 33 $1,632 $29,520
    with the Hyundai being the best and the Prius C being the worst(sadly).

    Of course, if gasoline price increases by 35% over the next 10 years, the Prius C is the winner. Oh, and there is all that pesky environmental concern that seems to be completely lacking as typical in GCR.
     
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  2. I'm sorry you feel that way John, but when it comes to modern, clean gasoline engines, there's very little in it in terms of harmful emissions - and in the UK at least, the smart fortwo which comes top in this test (and second in your own run-down) is one of the least polluting of all cars on sale - only the Honda Insight and Honda Fit Hybrid are less polluting.

    We're not ignoring the environmental impact, it's simply that among small-capacity gasoline engines the impact is very low in the first place.
     
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  3. I'm sorry, are you trying to tell me that there is little difference between a 50 mpg Prius and a 36 mpg Smart? Those numbers alone make the Smart 40% more polluting in terms of CO2 emissions and probably everything else as well.

    I would say that if you are willing to brush off 40% worse emissions as "very little harmful emission" then that is sufficient proof that GCR continues to ignore the environment.
     
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  4. I'm surprised you focus on CO2 John when it's very much not the most harmful of tailpipe emissions.

    No, I'm referring to hydrocarbons, carbon monoxide, and oxides of nitrogen, all of which the Prius produces in greater quantities than the smart, large enough in comparison that you could lower the smart's fuel economy further and it would still produce fewer hydrocarbons and less CO.

    Even so, all small-capacity gasoline engines produce only trace amounts of these emissions, particularly compared to diesels, which are usually lower on CO2 and CO but worse on particulates (of which gasoline cars produce none), nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons.
     
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  5. Which would be okay, if "and probably everything else as well" wasn't conjecture.

    I've done some math, based on UK figures for those cars. EPA mileage is 32% lower than EU for the smart, 17% lower than EU for the Prius.

    To balance it out, I've added a third to UK emissions data for the smart, and 17% to the Prius to give us rough EPA equivalents, as I couldn't find precise EPA data for pollutants.

    Carbon monoxide, g/km: Smart 268, Prius 302
    Hydrocarbons, g/km: Smart 34, Prius 68
    Oxides of nitrogen, g/km: Smart 14.5, Prius 7

    While Toyota does good work on NOx (all Toyotas/Lexus are low here), CO and HC are much higher - the smart would need even *worse* fuel efficiency to produce more of these pollutants.
     
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  6. Firstly, NOT ONE WORD about the environment in the article. So my complaint about lack of any environmental context in GCR still stands. There isn't even the typical throw away green comment that often graces the second to last paragraph of GCR articles.

    Second of all, this may surprise you to know, there are more than a few people in this world interested in CO2 emissions, even as you have zero interest.
    Prius C = 178 g/mile CO2
    Smart = 247 g/mile C02
    making Smart 40% worse in GHG.

    Many people are also interested in energy security, another factor you have zero interest in mentioning.
    Prius 6.6 barrels of oil/year
    Smart 9.1 barrels of oil/year
    Making the Smart a comparative gas guzzler.

    The Prius C dramatically better.
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  7. Regarding, other forms of emission, you are dead wrong about these as well. The link below shows a Prius versus a Smart.
    Prius = 9 (out of 10 with 10 the best)
    Smart = 6
    for smog forming pollution.
    http://johncbriggs-electricvehicles.blogspot.com/2012/02/prius-vs-smart.html

    The smart is much worse on both CO2 and smog forming emissions.

    Note: I used the Prius, rather than Prius C due to shortage of data on the epa website. I also used an older SMART due to lack of data.
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  8. John - Although environmental concerns may not be mentioned in the odd article, it doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to assume that environmental benefits are implied with *every* vehicle featured on the site - that's why the site exists in the first place, even if it isn't explicitly mentioned.

    Secondly, I don't have "zero interest" in CO2, it just isn't the be-all and end-all of pollutants (indeed, it's not technically a pollutant at all) and others are often conveniently forgotten while CO2 is pushed to the forefront.

    Lastly, the whole point of this article in the first place was a financial focus - expressly implied *in the title* - so the absence of a green focus in this one article is hardly unforgivable.
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  9. There are more comments in this thread
  10. Regarding "environmental benefits are implied with *every* vehicle featured on the site"

    That is exactly the problem. You "implied" a 40% more polluting vehicle was comparable with the Prius C without mentioning the fact that it was 40% more polluting. That, sir, is grossly neglecting to provide context.
     
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  11. Antony, It has been pointed out by someone I respect that I have crossed the line in my comments. Sorry for that.

    I was need to learn to press my point without crossing that line.
     
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  12. Critique: Your figures are not accurate for total cost of ownership.

    Total cost of ownership includes maintenance costs. When maintenance costs is added in, the Prius C will win against all those other conventional cars.

    Prius C brake pads will last past 150,000 miles due to electric regenerative braking.

    Prius C transmission is a single-gearset power split device, no clutches, no belts, no pulleys, no torque converters, no gear-shifting. No fluid change necessary unlike normal cars.

    Prius C has no timing belt, no alternator, and no starter motor. Those things in normal cars do wear out and require replacement.

    And before you mention battery replacement, remember the Prius battery is warrantied for 10 years in the CARB states.
     
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  13. I think your math is off, if the Hyundai gets 34mpg, how is it's gas $/year less than the smart's 36mpg.
     
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  14. Mr Ingram,

    You forgot the cheapest car with the lowest bucks per MPG (with unlimited range):
    THE Chevrolet VOLT!!

    40 000$ + 10 000$ (solar panels for free electricity) -7500$ (federal incentive = 42 500$ / 150 MPG = 283$ !!!

    And there is lots of people doing 200 MPG, 250 MPG and even more !!!

    Moreover, you get a car that seats four people, high tech, keyless entry system, On Star, iphone remote control app, LOW greenhouse gas emissions, etc ...

    And people that do not need a car with unlimited range, can go for an ALL electric car like the leaf ... the cost per MPG can get near ZERO !!

    Sly
     
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  15. Thanks for your comment :)

    I excluded the Volt from the list due to its electric drivetrain. While as you point out there are plenty of people getting huge recorded figures from the Volt, those are "MPG equivalent" figures and can vary wildly depending on the driver.

    Had I included electric drivetrains, the Leaf and Mitsubishi i would no doubt have hopped onto the list too, with their 100 MPGe-approximate figures.
     
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  16. Where are the Volt and Leaf? At 10 cents a KH hour, the cost for 10k miles of driving would be about 1/4 cost of my Scion Xb (30 mpg). Thats pretty darn good ..... Effectively 120 mpg ...
     
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  17. Interesting question. Using EPA numbers for 10 years worth of "fuel" costs, not counting incentives.
    make model cost fuel $/yr TOC
    Chevy Volt $39,000 $1,614 $55,140
    Nissan Leaf $36,000 $612 $42,120
    Scion Xb $16,300 $2,325 $39,550
    Toyota Prius C $19,500 $1,077 $30,270

    The Volt is by far the worst, the Prius C is by far the best. and the Scion and LEAF are in the middle.

    Considering environmental impacts, it would be difficult to ignore the benefits of the LEAF and the Volt (depending on driving scenario of course).
     
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  18. John could you give the math on the volt and the prius i run the numbers on the volt and thay come out a lot less
    do you assume that the volt uses gas only
    Prius 15,000 miles /50 mpg = 300 galons * 3.59 = $1077
    Volt 15000 70 % are electric 10500 electric 36 kw per 100 miles 10500 / 100 * 36 = 3780 KWH * .12 usa Average $453.6 4500 Miles Gas / 37 *3.59 =$436.62 comes out to $890.22

    Robin
     
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  19. In this case, I used only two numbers, 1) the price of the car, 2) the EPA estimates for the yearly fuel costs. These prices are available from FuelEconomy.gov.


    Also, I agree the Volt numbers look high and I am not sure what mix of gasoline and electricity the EPA uses.
     
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  20. Robin,
    Sorry, I messed up the Volt calculation. The EPA has two numbers for the Volt, gas only b($1614/yr), and electric only($648/yr). They don't opine on the mix. Let me ASSuME 15% gas and 85% electric (hope that seems reasonable).

    make model cost fuel $/yr TOC
    Chevy Volt $39,000 $793 $46,929
    Nissan Leaf $36,000 $612 $42,120
    Scion xB $16,300 $2,325 $39,550
    Toyota Prius C $19,500 $1,077 $30,270


    The Volt is still the most expensive, though with incentives..., close to the Scion. The Prius C is still the least expensive by a good margin.

    But for the Environment and energy security, you have to give a tip of the hat to the LEAF and Volt.
     
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  21. The thing that most frustrates me about this discussion is the following.

    Toyota has developed a vehicle (Prius C) where the hybrid system arguable pays for itself over a 10 year period. As a result, the financial impact to the owner is zero whether he buys I Prius C or a, say, Ford Fiesta.

    However, the impact on the planet (environment, energy security, etc) is 40% less with the Prius C.

    So the "lead" on this story could have been, Do 40% more for the environment and your family with no financial impact to your family finances.
     
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  22. ..or do what I did, buy a gently used 2002 Honda Insight which had a brand new Honda battery pack. $6500 and 65mpg, which is $100/mpg. Better to buy used, than new (from a carbon emissions point-of-view). The used Insight beats all the cars on this list by a mile, and it has a high WAF, too!

    ...my weekend car is a 2005 Corvette, but it gets 30mpg on the highway (low Cd and a very tall sixth gear), so still more economical than my 1969 440 Plymouth GTX which gets about 10mpg.
     
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