Relax: just because experts predict the price of gasoline to eclipse $5 a gallon in the next few years doesn’t mean you can’t have some enjoyment behind the wheel. In fact, there are a number of vehicles already on the market that offer some fuel-efficient fun. We’ve selected a few of our favorites for your consideration.
2011 Mini Cooper
You read that right -- Cooper, not Cooper S. Although Mini does make a more powerful iteration of its Mini Cooper hatch that only loses 2 mpg to the base car, the entry-level Cooper offers the same nimble, fun-to-drive package as the S at a lower price, and without the tiresome torque steer.
Overall, the standard Mini Cooper is a balanced package that is much more composed and enjoyable than the Cooper S on a day-to-day basis. The standard 1.6-liter I-4 still delivers an admirable 121 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque, and encourages the driver to make the most of every gear when mated to a manual transmission.
Suspension tuning between the two models does differ, but the lesser Cooper isn’t exactly slighted. The steering, while slightly numb (thanks, electric power steering!), is still sharp, delivering crisp turn-in and a commendable amount of feedback. The six-speed manual shifter is smooth and sophisticated, essentially serving as the icing on the cake.
2011 Coopers do receive direct fuel injection for the first time -- a boon, as it only helps eke additional fuel economy and power from the 1.6-liter. EPA ratings for the 2011 Cooper fitted with the manual transmission are 29/37 mpg (city/highway), while cars equipped with the six-speed automatic earn a 28/36 rating.
Base Price: $20,100 (manual, includes destination)
Engine: 121-horsepower, 1.6-liter I-4
EPA fuel economy: 29/37 mpg (manual), 28/36 mpg (automatic)
More of our five fun fuel-efficient picks: