New Hybrids Enter List Of Cars With Highest Gas Mileage Ever

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2012 Toyota Prius C

2012 Toyota Prius C

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Back in 2010, we asked why so few of today's cars were among the most fuel efficient ever.

Look down the list of the most fuel-efficient vehicles sold in the U.S, and only a small handful had been built in the previous decade--cars such as the familiar Prius, and the all-too-brief but brilliant first-generation Honda Insight hybrid.

Well, that's now changing, and in the last few years, modern cars have started fighting back. Gas mileage is rising and technology is finally overcoming the hindrance of extra weight, equipment and safety--all factors that eroded the benefits of improved aerodynamics and engine technology.

Modern cars now dominate

When we last looked at efficient cars from the last few decades, only a handful of modern cars made it into the list.

Topping that list back then, and still doing so today, was Honda's original 1999 to 2006 Insight. Even today, its ingredients are just about perfect for an economical car: Ultra light weight, a small, aerodynamic body, a small, efficient gasoline engine and the assistance and regeneration of an electric motor.

It was compromised no doubt--only two seats, and modest performance--but as a vehicle designed for efficiency, Honda had got the recipe spot-on. In reality, it's taken more than a decade to match with cars like Volkswagen's XL1--not yet on sale and using plug-in technology, and therefore not included in our list.

Second place has changed though, thanks to the introduction of another Prius--the Toyota Prius C. Knocking its larger counterpart from second place, the Prius C manages 53 mpg in the city and 46 on the highway, for a 50 mpg combined figure.

The rest of the top ten reads as follows:

  • 2013 Toyota Prius - 51 city, 48 highway, 50 combined
  • 1986 Chevrolet Sprint ER - 44 city, 53 highway, 48 combined
  • 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid - 47 city, 47 highway, 47 combined
  • 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid - 47 city, 47 highway, 47 combined
  • 1994 Geo Metro XFI - 43 city, 52 highway, 47 combined
  • 2009 Toyota Prius - 48 city, 45 highway, 46 combined
  • 1987 Honda Civic CRX HF - 42 city, 51 highway, 46 combined
  • 2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid - 45 city, 45 highway, 45 combined

If you're keeping count, that's an impressive seven cars in the top ten sold during the past decade. They've raised the game too--2010's point of entry into the top ten was a mere 41 mpg combined, 4 mpg lower than the least efficient entrant today.

2000 Honda Insight

2000 Honda Insight

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So what's changed?

In just three years, automakers have made a real push for fuel efficiency. This can be seen in average gas mileage rising month on month, but even those right at the top have made big gains in efficiency.

Last time, our list mainly comprised small, light-weight cars, the occasional hybrid thrown in for good measure. There's little small and light about either of Ford's current hybrids or the Lincoln MKZ (itself based on the Fusion Hybrid), yet they're still right up there for on-paper economy.

It appears we've now reached a point where hybrid technology is advanced enough to overcome those issues associated with weight and performance, meaning economy is no longer the preserve of the tiny, tinny and lightweight.

Lightness still has an effect of course. The Prius C, Toyota's smallest hybrid, hasn't leapt high onto the list for no reason. Its relatively small proportions and light weight help it attain that 53 mpg city figure, higher than any other vehicle in the top ten.

And it's also why every non-modern vehicle in the list is where it is. The Chevy Sprint, Geo Metro and Honda CRX were made at a time when safety and equipment were minimal. As we noted back in 2010, you couldn't sell such a vehicle today--though the original Insight and Prius C could be considered modern equivalents.

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Comments (12)
  1. Was it mentioned in the article that the EPA test has changed and become a bit more realistic? And of course, vehicles have much more safety equipment than those older cars. This would add not insubstantial weight to the newer vehicles.

  2. Ford figures are suspect, but their efforts in the hybrid/EV market are to be applauded. things will get better and better as batteries improve.

  3. Ford should get a lot of credit......3 vehicles in the top ten not including their all electric.

  4. Ford shouldn't be in any top ten lists until they prove they can actually attain the lofty numbers they advertise. Sounds like they should be advertising 39-39-39.

  5. I regularly get higher MPG than Ford advertises. I don't rely on inaccurate speculation.

  6. @John: Is your Ford hybrid a 2013 model, or an earlier generation from 2004 through 2012? It's only the 2013s that have the large discrepancy between real-world mileage and EPA ratings. Please specify your model?

  7. Hi John- it's a 2013 CMax Energi. I saw that Ford is only 'tweaking' the software on non-plug in models. Possibly the issues that have surfaced have more to do with them rather than the plug-ins?

  8. @John,

    So, please state the EV range that you get and the "MPG" that you get in the extended mode which should EXCLUDE the EV miles.

    Your displayed the "MPG" is a "Lie meter" since it doesn't seperate the EV miles from the "MPG" calculation.

  9. John the energis gas only rating is much lower than the hybrid and many can easily make that lower number. Now there are a few that can make the 47 mpg of the hybrid but most cannot even come close. the EPA figures are relative as always and should be used as a guideline only but the "line" for the Fords is written with a different color chalk

  10. If EPA testing is the standard measurement being used why should Ford be the only one held to real world numbers? Comparisons need a set standard or you're not comparing apples to apples. If you want to address discrepancies in EPA and real world mpg's then maybe a Fuelly comparison should be done.

  11. I think Diesel fans will argue against those numbers especially for long distance cruising.

  12. Perhaps not argue against those so much as argue the case for their own cars being in that list :)

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