Green On The Outside? Five Small Cars With Poor Gas Mileage

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2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution / Ralliart 4-door Sedan TC-SST MR Angular Front Exterior View

2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution / Ralliart 4-door Sedan TC-SST MR Angular Front Exterior View

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With many of today’s small cars hitting dealer lots with EPA ratings that rival those of hybrid cars, it’s easy to forget that not all small cars are green. 

Many small cars win the gas-mileage race, but which small cars should you avoid if you're trying to top out on fuel economy? These are five cars you should avoid. Pay attention: the list includes some surprises, including versions of cars known for their good gas mileage:

2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X AWD

2.0-liter four-cylinder, six-speed automatic
17/22 mpg, 19 combined

Like so many small car gas-mileage champions, the 2012 Mitsubishi Evo X has an all-aluminum, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine. But unlike the greenest small cars on the market today, the Evo’s 2.0-liter lump isn’t built with gas mileage in mind. Instead, it’s built with pure power. Producing 295 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, the 2012 Evo X is Mitsubishi’s tenth incarnation of the legendary world rally champion. 

it’s no surprise then, that the Evo X features a sophisticated all-wheel drive system, a dual-clutch, six-speed automatic gearbox, and a drive system that offers ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’, or ‘Super Sport’. 

But while it is undeniably fun to drive, the Evo’s gas-guzzling days might be over, thanks to tightening gas mileage legislation. In fact, when the Evo X ends production next year, its successor, the Evo XI, could be powered by none other than a diesel-electric hybrid drivetrain. 

2012 Subaru Impreza Preimum

2012 Subaru Impreza Preimum

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2012 Subaru Impreza AWD WRX/STI

2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, six-speed manual
17/23 mpg, 19 mpg combined

Just like its fellow Japanese rival, the 2012 Subaru WRX and STI,   Impreza AWD, with its 2.4-liter four with its 2.5-liter turbocharged engine and its six-speed manual, is unashamedly about performance first, and fuel economy last. 

With as much world rally heritage as the Evo, the 2012 Subaru SRX -- "Scooby" to its friends -- isn’t quite as primal to drive as its predecessors, but when specified with its 2.5-liter, flat-four, turbocharged engine mated to a six-speed gearbox, it’s hard to think about driving in an eco-minded way. 

Based on the old-style 2008-2011 Impreza, the WRX is certainly not designed as an everyday driver, but will, at a push, help you with daily driving if you need it to.

There is a saving grace however: the 2012 Subaru Impreza. New for 2012, it comes with a 2.0-liter flat-four, engine that can get an impressive 36 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg city when paired with a continuously variable transmission. That’s a surprising 30 mpg combined. For the record, that particular engine and transmission choice makes it the greenest all-wheel-drive compact car on the market today. 

The best bit? The new Impreza, while less fun to drive than its sportier WRX and STi cousins, still packs a sporty punch. 

[EDIT: As one of our eagle-eyed, sporty readers pointed out, our original version of this segment was factually incorrect. We've corrected it, and apologize for the misinformation.]

2012 Mazdaspeed3

2012 Mazdaspeed3

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2012 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2.3-liter four-cylinder, six-speed manual
18/25 mpg, 21 combined

Mazda might be working hard to promote the 2012 Mazda3 with SkyActiv technology, but at the bottom of the gas mileage chart is its 2.3-liter sporty sibling, which is anything but green. 

In Mazda’s own words, “We started with something very good, then made it very, very naughty.”

Unlike the goody-two-shoes, 40-mpg SkyActiv-G 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine available on the 2012 Mazda3, the 2012 MazdaSpeed3’s 2.3-liter turbocharged, intercooled, four-cylinder engine can push out 263 horsepower and develop an impressive 280 pound-feet of torque. To help it stay on the road, Mazda put the Speed3 through extensive race-testing, including the famous Nürburgring in Germany, and of course, the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. 

It might buy you some extra seconds in the stop-light derby, but it won’t save you gas. Enough said. 

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Comments (15)
  1. These are some shockingly inefficient vehicles that serve no one's interest.

  2. I'd disagree. There are some buyers -- even though they probably don't read this site -- that would love to own any of the five listed.

    Remember, diversity is a good thing ;)

  3. These are all sport models. What a dumb article. Grab the clue phone, Nikki, it’s ringing for you.

  4. Rich is right, this article is pure drivel. These are sports cars. Duh!

  5. as an owner or a 2011 WRX I cansay that while fuel economy sucks it's 100% due to me. if I stay out of boost and drive the car much less aggresively I can easily get 25-28 MPG. But I bought a performance car so I can track it on the weekend and still manage my day to day activities and have a good winter vehicle.

  6. The information on the Impreza is almost completely incorrect. There is no 2.4L Subaru engine. The 2012 Impreza is only available with a 2.0L engine that gets 36 with the CVT and 34 with the 6pd. Manual. The WRX & STi variants have a 2.5L turbocharged engine that is NOT available with the CVT and are on a completely different platform, with a completely different body. Somebody should fire this writer.

  7. Perhaps I was a bit hot with the firing comment. Thank you for correcting the article.

  8. It appears many people are missing the entire point of the article. These are all small cars with 4 cylinder engines that one would assume would get good gas mileage, but don't, plain and simple. To say these appeal to no one is extremely narrow minded, not everyone want 100 horsepower to get from point A to point B, some people enjoy DRIVING. It's also extremely incorrect to classify all of thes as spotscars, only the Lancer & Subaru because of their rally car pedigree car close to this distinction, but a Nissan Sentra, a Volkswagon Golf? Some people need to get out more often if this is your idea of a sportscar.

  9. Nikki, John B.,

    Small does not HAVE to mean economical to drive. As was noted, these ARE performance cars, and IF they are driven carefully some will even see 30+ MPG, but when these drivers want to get up to freeway speed....WOW!

    Perhaps a more honest headline might have been something like "Quickest Compacts" or "Adrenaline Thrills Under $40K.". We used to call these cars "pocket rockets," and though they are not environmentally that sensitive, they are cheap thrills to the endorphine junkie.

  10. Cheap for a loaded professor maybe :-) The EVO costs technically more than the LEAF.

  11. "Cheap" compared to other alternatives to do 0 to 60 in the 4 second range and turn the quarter mile in the 13s with cornering grip above .9 g. There are few options to this level of overall performance at less than $40,000.

    But as a "rich professor" the Nissan GTR would be my thrill ride. 8- )

  12. I wouldn't trade my LEAF for an EVO right now but I'd love to own it someday (followed by Subaru WRX) no matter the mileage. I know changes are coming but a diesel hybrid in the US??? I have to look into that but I honestly doubt it...

  13. Subaru impreza isnt offered with a 6 speed. Only 5 speed. This is what i own

    2012 2.0I 5 speed MPG hover around the 28-31 area

  14. Im glad you made corrections to this article. And can you please change that picture of the impreza that is NOT a wrx i wanna throw up. And Mr. Briggs the Evo and the WRX do serve a purpose they are awd rally cars. These are all performance cars and not marketed as "gas savers" no grandma is driving a evo unless she was just clueless and paid 40k for a car she has no clue about. 4 cylinder Turbo AWD FTW! The Mazda and the VW are fail mobiles so feel free to slander.

  15. Title of the article could have been. Low cost alternatives to supercars like the McLaren MP4-12C that could save tons of gas.

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