Sometimes you have to ask, What were they thinking?

A recent article on five small cars with the worst gas mileage named four for which gas mileage may not even cross the minds of their buyers.

But it did remind us that the 2012 Toyota Matrix has pretty low fuel economy for a compact hatchback.

In that article, TrueCar listed the following as its "five small cars with the worst gas mileage":

  • 2012 Toyota Matrix AWD (23 mpg combined)
  • 2012 Volkswagen Golf R (22 mpg combined)
  • 2012 Mitsubishi Lancer RalliArt (21 mpg combined)
  • 2012 Mazda MazdaSpeed3 Touring (21 mpg combined)
  • 2012 Subaru Impreza WRX STI (19 mpg combined)

Here's the problem: The last four cars on this list are all "hot hatches," the highest-performance versions of otherwise innocuous compact five-door hatchback models.

They appeal to very different buyers than those for economical compacts, and acceleration and roadholding are what they look for.

Gas mileage? Yeah, whatever.

To be fair, the authors of the article did suggest an alternative model of each car--the much more mundane civilian version--that comes with a higher fuel-efficiency rating.

On the list, the 23-mpg 2012 Toyota Matrix AWD model is the odd man out, lumped together with the hot hatches only by virtue of its low gas-mileage rating. It's powered by a 158-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and an ancient four-speed automatic transmission.

And as the article points out, the front-wheel drive Matrix with the smaller 1.8-liter engine gets a more respectable 29-mpg combined rating. That's hardly top of the compact-hatchback class, but it's not embarrassing.

The Matrix is an odd model for Toyota, the brand's only compact hatchback and its only compact car of any kind to offer all-wheel drive.

2009 Pontiac Vibe

2009 Pontiac Vibe

Refreshed (lightly) for 2011 and essentially unchanged for 2012, it will be replaced (or killed altogether) when the Corolla line from which it's derived is redesigned for the 2014 model year.

The Toyota Matrix was developed jointly with Pontiac, which used the same basic vehicle with different sheetmetal as the Vibe.

Both vehicles were redesigned for 2009, but the Pontiac Vibe died after the 2010 model year when Pontiac was killed during the General Motors bankruptcy and restructuring.

The Matrix has soldiered on, however. Toyota doesn't report Matrix sales separately but rolls them into the Corolla line; it sold 240,000 Corollas of all models last year.

If you're looking for a compact five-door hatchback with all-wheel drive--and gas mileage is important to you--a better and undeniably fresher choice is the 2012 Subaru Impreza hatchback.

Like all Subarus, it comes with standard all-wheel drive on every model, and the EPA rates it at a combined 30 mpg with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).


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