Accomplishing a steady balance between fuel efficiency and performance has always been a tricky proposition for automakers. Let’s face it, the perception of green is the opposite of mean, leaving plenty to be desired in the power department. Sacrifices almost always need to be made to achieve the ultimate objective of peak fuel economy.
There have been vehicles that get extraordinary fuel mileage, but have never made it past the concept stage. Therefore, the feasibility and worthiness of being counted as an extremely fuel efficient vehicle are not proven to be true. Volkswagen unveiled an electric hybrid concept named the XL1 in 2013 that reportedly gets 261 miles to the gallon. However, the likelihood of it ever seeing the road as a consumer model remains low. That is often the case when automakers promise that ultra high fuel efficiency is in the pipeline. The lofty goals often don't match up with the reality of the technology capable of producing such unheard of fuel numbers. One day, the technology that makes concepts like these possible will make its way into new models. Until then, these astronomical fuel numbers are pie in the sky, wishful thinking.
These gas sippers are the real deal for those who don’t want to go with a solely electric plug-in hybrid such as a Tesla. As ranked by the Environmental Protection Agency, these are the most fuel conscious vehicles of the last thirty years. Being that automakers have only turned an eye towards fuel economy since the 1980s, this list is dominated by the likes of hybrid frontrunners Honda and Toyota. Regardless of maker, these cars are the peak of fuel efficiency.
10 1986 Chevrolet Sprint - 48 combined MPG
Ok, so not many of these are probably "on the road today." At first glance, this boxy relic of the mid-‘80s looks like a resident at your local junkyard waiting for its date with the crusher. However, the Sprint, which later found a new identity as the Geo Metro, is a highly efficient model by the standards of this or any era of automobile history. Before the time of hybrid technology, the Sprint was a marvel for its ability to get 44 miles per gallon in the city. Admittedly, the Sprint is not awe inspiring in the way of design attributes. However, it is one of the pioneers of the fuel economy market, which is why Chevy and Suzuki considered bringing the Sprint back in the form of the Suzuki Swift.
9 2010-2015 Toyota Prius - 50 combined MPG
At the time of its introduction, the Prius was the most efficient vehicle available in the U.S. powered by liquid fuel. At 51 miles per gallon, the Prius can attribute its peak fuel economy to its electric water pump, which eliminates the need for belts to power the engine. The 1.8-liter engine cranks out 98 horsepower, bumped up to 134 hp by the electric motor that increases torque and cuts down on RPMs to give better fuel numbers on the highway. Plus, the Prius is lighter than most vehicles on the market thanks to the inclusion of bio plastics in the manufacturing process of its body.
8 2012-2015 Toyota Prius C - 50 combined MPG
The city version of the standard Prius is essentially a Yaris with a hybrid power plant under the hood. The smaller Prius is intended for city driving, making it a top buy for those looking for a compact car to maneuver freely within the city limits. Equipped with a new motor and battery, the Prius C is lighter than the normal Prius, producing 53 miles per gallon in the city to make it a better option for cruising around in town than the standard Prius. It's also the least expensive of the Prius family with a base MSRP of around $19,000.
7 2013-2015 Ford Fusion Energi - 51 combined MPG
Combined with the Fusion Hybrid’s four-cylinder engine, the Energi model is powered by an electric motor which assists the Energi in achieving exceptional fuel economy. Initially, Ford claimed the Energi would reach 100 miles to the gallon while run during all-electric mode, however those numbers were quickly refuted by consumers. Since then, the mileage numbers have been adjusted to reflect the combined fuel economy of gasoline and electric, which boils down to a 51 miles per gallon/electric rating. In the city, the Energi stretches the fuel to 55 miles. However, the Energi has a range of 20 miles while powered solely by the battery and 550 miles on a tank of fuel and a full charge.
6 2013-2015 Ford C-Max Energi - 51 combined MPG
The same issue that the Fusion Energi encountered with outlandish mileage claims has followed the C-Max Energi as well. However, the C-Max Energi is still one of the most fuel efficient vehicles on the market today. Similar to its Fusion counterpart, the C-Max Energi can travel 20 miles in all-electric mode and 550 miles combined. However, it comes equipped with a regenerative braking system that recycles 95% of the energy normally lost under braking into reusable energy. Essentially, you’re making electricity to power the vehicle while braking, cutting down on the fuel necessary to keep you moving. The SmartGauge tells the driver, in real time, how much fuel they are saving.
5 2000-2006 Honda Insight - 53 combined MPG
The first hybrid to hit the American roadways, the Honda Insight is a subcompact two seater that generates electricity under braking to recharge its batteries. However, this is not the only fuel saving measure the Insight comes equipped with. While the car sits idle, the engine shuts off in response to the vehicle’s inactivity.
Aiding in the fuel economy game is the Insight’s lightweight construction. Aluminum and plastic make the Insight a lighter ride to reduce drag and increase the combined miles per gallon to an estimated 70 mpg on the highway. The aluminum body and frame and the plastic gas tank are the key factors in elevating the fuel numbers. Oddly enough, the second generation Insight had far worst fuel efficiency, due to the increased size, weight and power of the car.
4 2014-15 Cadillac ELR - 54 combined MPG
The luxury standard dips into the plugin hybrid market with the Cadillac ELR. The ELR’s first introduction to the world came at the 2009 North American International Auto Show as the Cadillac Converj concept and came into production in 2013 on the platform established by the Chevrolet Volt. Powered by the Voltec propulsion system, which includes a 119-135 kilowatt electric motor, four-cylinder engine, and a 16.5 kilowatt lithium-ion battery pack, the ELR can go the equivalent of 82 miles per gallon in all-electric mode.
3 2012-2015 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid - 58 combined MPG
The third generation Prius introduces Panasonic lithium-ion batteries to the production of Toyota’s pioneering hybrid model. The Plug-In model is capable of traveling faster and farther in all-electric mode than its predecessors. Utilizing the pair of batteries, the Prius automatically starts in all-electric mode. After one battery pack is used up, the second pack kicks in. After the second pack is done, the Prius switches over to conventional hybrid mode. The Prius gets the equivalent of 95 miles to the gallon in electric mode with a combined mpg of 58.
2 2013-2015 Chevrolet Volt - 62 combined MPG
The Volt is a plug-in model that is termed as a pure battery electric vehicle. Chevy avoids calling the Volt a hybrid even though the range with which it can travel is extended by an internal combustion engine. Semantics aside, the Volt can travel up to 38 miles when relying solely on the electric power of its battery. Once the charge has died, the Volt relies on the combustion engine to take over and power the electric generator. At 62 miles per gallon equivalency in all-electric mode, the Volt is one of the premier gas-electric vehicles in production today.
1 2014 BMW i3 REx - 88 combined MPG
The Project i mission by BMW is designed to incorporate zero emissions technology into their production lineup. The i3 is the first of what BMW hopes are many zero emissions production vehicles for the German auto maker. The REx option or range extender uses a two-cylinder engine and small gas tank that take over when battery levels dip to dangerously low levels. The electric generator produces enough energy to push the Rex as far as 180 miles. The carbon fiber plastic-based vehicle is the most fuel efficient on the road, averaging the equivalent of 88 miles to the gallon in electric mode with 78 mpg in gas-only mode. In the city, the REx gets a whopping 97 miles to the gallon.