The Most Fuel-Efficient Car
These gas sippers are easy on the wallets
Fuel economy is an important factor to consider when buying a new car, even when gas prices are down. History has shown that they won’t stay that way forever. Many conventional cars today offer impressive fuel economy, especially in contrast to what you may be trading in. Further, alternative powertrains offer an increasing array of choices, with diesels, electrics, and hybrids each carrying appeal for different drivers.
Measuring fuel economy is among our more than 50 tests we conduct on each car we purchase. Our fuel economy numbers are derived from a precision flow meter and are rounded to the nearest mile per gallon (mpg).
CR’s overall mileage is calculated from equal portions of city and highway driving.
Below, we spotlight the top most fuel-efficient cars based on the overall fuel economy test results, omitting electric cars. Complete test results can be found by clicking through to the model pages.
In our tests the Prius returned 52 mpg overall, a significant improvement over the previous generation’s 44 mpg. On top of that, the new car also handles more responsively and rides more comfortably. Colorful digital gauges dominate the dashboard with abundant fuel-economy information. The touch-screen infotainment system is fairly straightforward. The sensible Prius has always been about efficiency and low running costs. The car can still drive solely on electric, up to about 25 mph typically, and the engine is now quieter when it kicks in. However, the seats are rather chintzy, tire noise is noticeable, and cabin access is not as easy because of the car’s lower stance. A plug-in version, the Prius Prime, is new. For the 2017 model year, forward-collision warning with automatic braking is standard.
Toyota Prius C
This smaller, less expensive alternative to the regular Prius feels like a spartan subcompact, but with a hybrid powertrain. In the end, you pretty much get what you pay for, and it is no substitute for the real Prius. The C has a harsh ride, a noisy engine, and slow acceleration. The interior looks and feels cheap, the driving position and rear seats are cramped, and there’s little cargo space. However, its 37 mpg makes the Prius C one of the most frugal vehicles we’ve tested, and its 43 mpg overall is just 1 mpg less than the previous-generation Prius hatchback. Its tiny dimensions make it a natural for urban driving. For the 2017 model year, automatic emergency braking is standard.
Swoopy styling and modern powertrains are highlights of Chevrolet’s redesigned Malibu. The new car is competitive among midsized sedans, with a quiet cabin and easy-to-use controls. In tests we found the Malibu to be quiet, with a comfortable ride and responsive handling. Two four-cylinder turbo engines are offered: a 1.5-liter with a six-speed automatic—which got 29 mpg in our tests—and a more powerful and refined 2.0-liter backed by an eight-speed automatic. A new hybrid, utilizing some of the Chevrolet Volt’s technology, is also available. It got an impressive 41 mpg overall in our tests. Up front is a roomy, comfortable cockpit and an updated version of Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system. But the cloth seats are a bit short on support. The rear seat is roomy, so long-legged passengers can stretch out.
Toyota Prius V
This wagon version of the previous-generation Prius offers a very roomy rear seat and a generous cargo area. It’s about the size of the Ford C-Max, its main competitor. Despite its extra weight and a less aerodynamic shape, the V still got an excellent 41 mpg overall in our tests. The electric motor and engine have to work fairly hard, especially when the car is loaded with cargo. The ride is comfortable, but uneven pavement can cause an annoying side-to-side rocking. Handling is sound and secure but hardly inspiring. Rear visibility is better than in the standard Prius. A larger 4.1-inch dash-top screen for trip computer functions is also new.
Lexus CT 200h
This small hatchback has excellent fuel economy, but its refinement isn’t up to the Lexus standard. A recent freshening brought styling updates and mechanical tweaks that resulted in claimed improvements to ride comfort and noise levels, two areas we found to be problematic in our testing. Using the same powertrain as the previous-generation Prius, the CT’s 40 mpg is 4 mpg less than the roomier Toyota’s. The CT can drive solely on electric power at low speed. Handling is responsive and secure, but the ride is stiff and choppy. The cabin is well-assembled, with quality materials. But the rear seats are tight, cargo capacity is modest, and the view out back is limited.
The Fusion is a delight to drive, with a supple ride and nimble handling reminiscent of a European sports sedan. All trim levels and powertrains feel solid and upscale, with a well-finished and quiet cabin. We found the optional leather seats to be more supportive than the cloth ones, and the rear seat is somewhat snug. The 1.5- and 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinders are powerful enough, but neither has competitive fuel economy. A new high-end version, the Sport, is equipped with all-wheel drive and a 325-hp, 2.7-liter V6. It is quick, comfortable, and quiet, but it costs more than $40,000. The Hybrid and Energi plug-in hybrid receive more efficient electric motors for 2017. A new rotary shift dial and Ford’s new and improved Sync 3 infotainment system highlight the updates to the interior.
This competitive but ho-hum sedan has a quiet cabin, a comfortable ride, and excellent rear-seat room and access. Handling is sound and responsive enough. But the SE we tested had lackluster tire grip, hurting braking and emergency handling. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder returned a good 28 mpg overall; a stronger 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder is optional. The Eco uses a 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder paired with a seven-speed automated manual. We found the controls to be easy to use, and the rear seat is one of the roomiest in the class. Safety features include forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking and blind-spot detection. Plug-in and hybrid versions are available; the latter returned an impressive 39 mpg overall in our tests and makes for a very pleasant sedan.
Sure, it might seem vanilla, but the Camry truly delivers what shoppers want in a midsized sedan. The Camry’s no-fuss driving experience—great outward visibility, controls that fall easily to hand, a roomy interior—may not be the most thrilling in its class, but it’s far from its undeserved boring reputation. A quiet cabin, slick powertrains, a comfortable ride, and sound handling make it pleasant and capable. Year after year this sedan delivers outstanding reliability and solid owner satisfaction. The Camry acquitted itself well in crash tests, and fuel economy is competitive. We got 26 mpg overall with the V6 and 28 mpg with the four-cylinder, topping out with the Hybrid’s 38 mpg. A redesigned model comes out later in 2017.
Based on the compact Focus, the five-passenger C-Max hybrid is a clever, quiet, spacious, and practical hatchback. It rides well and handles capably. Regenerative braking helps with fuel economy but makes the brake pedal feel touchy. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder and electric motor deliver adequate acceleration and seamless transitions between gas and electric power, and the C-Max can run in electric mode up to about 40 mph. We measured an excellent 37 mpg overall. The Energi plug-in can travel in electric-only mode for about 18 miles before switching to hybrid operation. It takes 6 hours to charge on 120-volt and 2 hours on 240-volt. Ford’s new Sync 3 infotainment system is standard.
Its rock-bottom sticker price and thrifty fuel economy of 37 mpg overall conjure an inviting image of an economical runabout. But that mirage quickly dissipates when you drive this tiny, tinny car. Minor updates for 2017 bring a sedan body style, a hint more power, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, along with supposedly upgraded brakes. Yet those enhancements don’t mask the weak, vibrating three-cylinder engine that delivers sluggish acceleration and a raspy chorus of lament or the car’s clumsy handling. Though it’s relatively roomy, the depressing cabin feels drab, cheap, and insubstantial. In the end, there is no compelling reason to buy a Mirage and, for the money, there are many much better used cars for the same price.