Want 40 MPG, Don't Want Hybrid? Here's Your Top Five Options

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2013 Volkswagen Passat

2013 Volkswagen Passat

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Look to the top of the fuel economy charts and, if you're not in the market for a plug-in vehicle, it's hybrids that typically top the list.

Cars like the 2012 Toyota Prius C, which currently tops the list, sip gas whether in the city or on the highway, and ultimately they're the greenest way of getting about without going electric.

But what if you don't want a hybrid?

If that's the case, you might be interested in some of the vehicles below, which offer 40 mpg-plus gas mileage on the freeway without having to go down the hybrid path. They won't match hybrids in city driving, but if you typically drive longer distances, they could be the cars for you.


2012 Volkswagen Passat TDI

Topping the non-hybrid tree for highway gas mileage is the VW Passat TDI. Its 2.0-liter, turbocharged diesel can be found in several Volkswagen and Audi products, and in fact we've excluded the others here (the Jetta, Golf and A3 all top the list) just to prevent the list being a VW washout!

At 43 mpg on the highway and 35 combined it actually sips less diesel than its smaller counterparts, despite offering more space for passengers. That makes it a great choice for long freeway drives, where the strong low-down torque, quiet engine and great economy will raise a smile. It's not unknown for diesels to beat their EPA mileage estimates, either...


2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco Quick Drive and Live Photos

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco Quick Drive and Live Photos

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2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

The award for highest-placed non-diesel goes to Chevrolet, with the Cruze Eco. A few subtle tweaks to aerodynamics and gearing, plus an efficient 1.4-liter turbocharged gasoline engine, allow it to top 42 mpg on the highway. Even better, Cruze Eco owners are actually averaging over 41 mpg, to the EPA's 33 mpg combined mileage.

The Cruze Eco is a good example of what can be achieved with a downsized engine and an aerodynamic body, and proves that the Volt isn't the only efficient vehicle on Chevy's fleet.


2012 Honda Civic HF

Missing out to the Cruze Eco by 1 mpg on the highway, the Civic HF matches the Chevy's 33 mpg combined rating. And just like the Cruze, owners are actually averaging a much higher figure, judging by the EPA's fueleconomy.gov website. In fact, they're getting almost 40 mpg on average.

Less sophisticated than the Civic Hybrid, the HF instead makes tweaks to the regular 1.8-liter gasoline Civic. Some aerodynamic alterations allow it to slip through the air more cleanly, and low rolling resistance tires let it roll down the road easier too. It may lack excitement to drive, but it's a good alternative choice to the hybrid,


2013 Dodge Dart test drive, Austin, Texas, April 2012

2013 Dodge Dart test drive, Austin, Texas, April 2012

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2013 Dodge Dart Aero

The Dart is very much the new kid on the block, and manages to sneak above the 40 mpg highway limit, with a Civic HF-matching 41 mpg. To achieve this it takes a similar route to its main rival, Chevy's Cruze Eco: A 1.4-liter, 160-horsepower turbocharged gasoline engine. In this instance, it's sourced from Chrysler's partner Fiat, which uses a similar engine in Fiats and Alfa Romeos.

The engine uses Fiat's "MultiAir" technology, which uses electro-hydraulic variable valve actuation to continually alter the fuel and air mixture for best performance and economy. In addition, the Dart Aero swaps some steel components for lightweight aluminum, electric grille shutters to reduce drag, and other aero aids.


2013 Fiat 500

Rounding out our top five non-hybrids, the cute Fiat 500 is one of the better minicars when it comes to highway mileage. It just sneaks onto our list at 40 mpg thanks to 2013 model-year tweaks, and at 34 combined it's second only to the Passat TDI in this list. Rather than being packed full of fuel-saving tech, the 500 actually employs a fairly low-tech, old-school way of improving mileage--a small engine and light body.

Provided you can live with the Fiat's retro image, you'll find a lot to like elsewhere too. It's fun to drive, attracts loads of attention, and can even be had as a roll-back convertible, for the more extroverted among us...


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Comments (12)
  1. Few of points to add.

    1) The Passat and Cruze Eco are stick shift and have considerable worse MPG with an automatic

    2) Passat diesel produces 8% more CO2 than the Cruze despite the higher fuel efficiency. The curse of Diesel's higher density.

    3) Given the high cost of diesel, the cost of fuel for the Passat TDI and the Cruze will be about the same, with the Cruze perhaps being slightly less expensive.

    4) The new VW TDIs are amazingly quiet. I was at a stoplight on my bicycle on a quiet street and was very impressed by the quiet operation. I have heard gas cars make more noise. Nicely executed by VW.

  2. The Passat TDI with a DSG still gets 40 MPG, and that's a conservative number based on personal experience driving one. I personally wouldn't compare a Passat with a Cruze because of the fact that that the Passat is one size class larger than a Cruze. A Golf or Jetta TDI is a more appropriate comparison. Also, the Cruze ECO has a tiny fuel tank, which helps it to achieve the weight savings needed to get that MPG. None of the vehicles in the article can claim a cruising range of almost 800 miles except the Passat. The cost of diesel is more than gas, but not so much so that it offsets the difference in efficiency versus a typical gas vehicle. I have a Passat TDI, and it is an impressive vehicle that I won't part with for a long time.

  3. ... or DIY :)

  4. I'm glad you ignore the Hyundai Elantra/Veloster/Accent. Who pays you? They are all under the MSRP of the POS vehicles you list. You've obviously never owned a VW.

  5. 1) I didn't ignore them, I simply didn't select them.

    2) My remuneration is none of your business, but if you're implying I get backhanders from carmakers then you're very much mistaken.

    3) Vehicles are ranked by their highway mileage, then the next highest mileage figure compared to other vehicles. I could have picked the Kia Rio Eco over the Fiat 500, but that particular example was the luck of the draw. The Accent gets the same combined figure, but lower city mileage than the Fiat. Every other vehicle you list is also lower on either city/combined or both. Hence they don't make the top five. Price wasn't a deciding factor for the list, only mileage.

    4) False. I own a 1974 Volkswagen Beetle.

  6. the Nisson altima with a auto and 2.4 engine gets 42- 44 miles to the gallon,highway! 32 to 36 in town! tops your best choice hands down! The HHR discontinued by chevy was also a winner!Cheap to buy; apointed nice interior,2.2 or 2.4 engine,auto trans they varied in gas mileage some had a combine milage of only 32 mpg but others had 36 or even 39 combine mpg! It sold well but not the high ass numbers that chevy was wanting,I guess! we have had 5 of them over the 7 years and sold all (except one,it had 106,000 miles on it) to friedns or relatives and they are still daily drivers (My wife is a high mileage driver)!

  7. Hi Gleen, thanks for your comments.

    The 2013 Nissan Altima 2.5 gets EPA mileage of 31 combined, 38 highway and 27 city. Average MPG on fuelly.com for the 2013 model is 31.3 mpg, and the next highest is the 2011 model, at 28.4 mpg.

    Neither official nor actual figures are anywhere near the numbers you list. The absolute highest someone is getting from a 2013 Altima is 36.6 mpg, but this certainly isn't the norm. The average for 2013 Passat TDI drivers is 40.5 mpg - over 9 mpg better.

    The HHR - which as a discontinued vehicle wouldn't feature here anyway - is averaging around 27 mpg from fuelly users. Official combined EPA mileage is 26 mpg, with 32 highway - so it also wouldn't qualify for this list.

  8. Does anyone have an opinion on which of these is the most comfortable? I commute an hour each way to work and my lower back always hurts after 40 minutes.

  9. Hi Katharyn - good question. I'll poll our editors who've driven examples of each, and get back to you with an answer.

  10. Hi Katharyn, I've discussed with the editors and general consensus is that the Passat has the comfiest seats - it's also the biggest inside. However, the Cruze is well worth a try too.

  11. I've had three Chevy vehicles with MPG average calculators and they all over estimated fuel economy by about 10%.. My Civic's calculator is absolutely spot on.

  12. How about the Mazda3 Skyactiv? Seems like it might be an eligible contender. Thanks...

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