It stands to reason that in an era of increasing gas prices, consumers increasingly prefer vehicles that return improved fuel economy. But which ones? Our friends at Intellichoice hit the books and rounded up the top ten best-selling vehicles that deliver at least 30 mpg on the freeway. The results are as follows.
1. 2012 Toyota Camry: 344,713 Cars Through October 2012
The latest edition of Toyota’s midsize sedan went on sale in September 2011, and sales have continued to climb. Through October, Toyota has sold 344,713 Camrys in the United States alone.
As for fuel economy? There isn’t a single 2012 Camry that doesn’t post an EPA highway rating below 30 mpg. Predictably, Camry Hybrid models lead the lineup at 38-39 mpg (XLE and LE trims, respectively), but other models still post respectable numbers. Four-cylinder Camrys are rated at 25/35 mpg city/highway, while cars with the 3.5-liter V-6 are rated at 21/30 mpg.
2. 2012/2013 Honda Accord: 276,196 Cars Through October 2012
Seeing as the all-new 2013 Accord only began hitting dealerships in September, it’s safe to assume the majority of these 276,196 cars aren’t the 2013 model, but the outgoing 2012 model. Despite its age, the previous-generation Accord has remained popular with American car buyers – especially since dealers are cutting deals to clear space for the new model.
Regardless of the model year, the Accord delivers fairly impressive highway fuel economy in sedan form. 2012 Accord sedans equipped with the 2.4-liter I-4 –are rated at 23/34 mpg city/highway, regardless manual or an automatic transmission. V-6 models, fitted only with the automatic, still squeak by with a 20/30 rating. 2013 Accord models do even better: I-4 models with the manual are rated at 24/34; with a CVT, that rating grows to 27/36. Opt for the V-6, which is paired only with an automatic, and those numbers change to 21/34 mpg.
There is one break in this pattern: the 2012 Accord Coupe. Although four-cylinder models still surpass our 30-mpg metric, V-6 models with automatic and manual transmissions are rated at 29 and 26 mpg on the highway, respectively. That said, these cars are likely a small portion of total Accord volume. Intellichoice notes that coupes account for just 12 percent of Accord volume thus far in 2012. Furthermore, only 25 percent of all Accord buyers – both coupe and sedan – have opted for the V-6.
There’s a silver lining, lurking just around the corner: 2013 Accord Coupe V-6 models with the automatic transmission are now rated at 32 mpg on the highway, leaving the V-6 manual model the only one to come in below the magic 30-mpg mark.
3. 2012/2013 Nissan Altima: 258,663 Cars Through October 2012
Nissan’s Altima falls into a few of the same situations as the Honda Accord. Not only are dealers still selling a mixture of 2012 and 2013 models (the all-new 2013 Altima first reached dealers in late June), but one of the Altima variants doesn’t pass the 30-mpg highway sniff test – 2012 Altima V-6 models earn a 27-mpg rating from the EPA, while the four-cylinder posts a 32-mpg score.
Still, six-cylinder cars are far from the majority of Altima sales thus far in 2012. Intellichoice says 93 percent of Altimas sold this year are four-cylinders, while V-6 models make up the remaining seven percent. However, 2013 Altima V-6 models are rated at 22/31 mpg (city/highway), allowing the thirstiest Altima to finally enter the 30-MPG club.
4. 2012 Honda Civic: 254,716 Cars Through October 2012
It seems those early 2012 Civic sales figures were something of an earthquake-related anomaly. Despite a slow start, the Civic has fared fairly well against its competitors. A new updated Civic is due next year, but if buyers are choosing the 2012 Civic for fuel economy (and, perhaps, some nice incentives at dealers), we can’t blame them.
A base 1.8-liter car with the manual transmission is EPA-rated at 28/36 mpg city/highway. Add an automatic, and that figure comes in at 28/39. Order a Civic with the HF fuel economy package, and that automatic-equipped car’s rating swells to 29/41 mpg. The Civic Hybrid is rated at 44 mpg in both city and highway, and even the quirky natural-gas-powered Civic NG is tied to a 27/38 mpg label.
And the enthusiast-oriented Civic Si? That’s rated at 22/31 mpg – assuming, of course, you don’t keep your right foot matted against the floorboard. It may prove difficult to refrain from such behavior.
5. Toyota Corolla: 239,638 Cars Through October 2012
The Corolla seems about as old as dirt, but Toyota’s little compact – treated to a few slight updates for 2012 – continues to sell incredibly well, despite the presence of newer, more stylish, and more sophisticated competitors in its class. Pricing, reputation, and fuel economy go a long way in luring buyers looking for nothing more than affordable transportation.
The Corolla easily meets our 30-mpg metric. All 2012 Corollas are equipped with a 1.8-liter I-4 and your choice of either a five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic. Automatic cars are rated at 26/34 mpg city/highway, while the manual ekes out one extra mpg in the city.
6. 2012 Honda CR-V: 233,586 Cars Through October 2012
In due time, the heightened fuel economy offered by the all-new 2013 Ford Escape will likely earn it a place on this list – but, since roughly 60% of Ford’s year-to-date Escape totals are of the outgoing (and much thirstier) 2012 model, it’s far too soon to infer that most Escapes meet or surpass the 30-mpg mark.
As such, the CR-V is one of the few small crossovers that does, and it’s the only one that sells in such great volumes to earn it a place on our list. The all-new 2012 model, which hit dealers in late 2011, mates a 2.4-liter I-4 with a five-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel-drive models are EPA rated at 23 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway. All-wheel-drive models also squeak by with a 22/30 mpg rating.
7. 2012 Ford Focus: 219,907 Cars Through October 2012
Not only does Ford’s current Focus look great and drive well, it also sips fuel in a very frugal manner. A base 2012 Focus, equipped with the 2.0-liter I-4 and a five-speed manual, is EPA-rated at 26 mpg in the city, and 36 mpg on the highway.
Add the automaker’s six-speed dual-clutch automatic, and that EPA rating grows to 28/38 mpg, respectively. Interestingly, that same transmission, fitted with Ford’s SelectShift function, causes that rating to slip back to 27/37 mpg.
Like many other compact cars, the Focus is offered in a special fuel economy-centric package. The Focus SFE, as Ford calls it, makes use of the same four-cylinder engine and six-speed dual clutch transmission, but manages to increase its EPA rating on the highway by two mpg thanks to aerodynamic tweaks.
8. 2012 Chevrolet Cruze: 206,855 Cars Through October 2012
It’s unlikely the Cruze will ever unseat the full-size Silverado as General Motors' best-selling model, but it does come fairly close. In fact, thus far in 2012, the Cruze is GM’s second-best-selling model, falling behind the Silverado but coming in ahead of both the GMC Sierra and the Chevrolet Equinox.
It doesn’t hurt its popularity that virtually every Cruze variant achieves an EPA highway rating that’s well over the 30-mpg mark. The base 1.8-liter I-4 is the thirstiest of the Cruze’s three basic forms – with a six-speed manual, it returns a 25/36 mpg rating; with a six-speed automatic, those figures drop slightly to 22/35 mpg. Pair the optional 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4 with either transmission, and the Cruze is rated at 26/38 mpg.
For the ultimate fuel economy bump, the Cruze Eco pairs the 1.4-liter with a number of subtle aero tweaks, weight reductions, and tire compound changes – all designed to squeeze every last possible mile from a gallon of gasoline. As such, manual Cruze Ecos are rated at 28/42 mpg city/highway, while automatic cars are rated at 26/39.
9. 2012 Hyundai Sonata: 205,006 Cars Through October 2012
Yes, there’s been plenty of scuttlebutt after the EPA cut fuel economy estimates across most of Hyundai/Kia’s product portfolio. The standard Sonata's ratings were unaffected, and it remains a fairly fuel-efficient midsize sedan – and, with just over 205,000 sold through October, a fairly popular one at that.
Hyundai was one of the first major players in the midsize segment to adopt an all-four engine strategy. Take a look: there aren’t any six-cylinder models to be found in today’s Sonata. Most 2012 Sonatas sold are equipped with a 2.4-liter I-4, which is available with either six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Either way, that combination is good enough for the EPA to rate at 24 mpg in the city, and 35 mpg on the highway. Want more power? A turbocharged 2.0-liter I-4 is also available, albeit only with the six-speed automatic. That combination is rated at 22/34 mpg city/highway. The Sonata Hybrid pairs a slightly different 2.4-liter I-4 with a 40-hp electric motor, and earns a 34/39 mpg rating from the EPA.
10. 2012/2013 Chevrolet Malibu: 199,721 Cars Through October 2012
Intellichoice reports that nearly 93 percent of all Malibus sold thus far in 2012 have been four-bangers, which makes sense: even though dealers are still working to offload 2012 Malibus, the majority offered to consumers have been equipped with four-cylinder engines. Although the 2012 Malibu offered a 3.6-liter V-6 as an option, the all-new 2013 Malibu – which has been slooooowwwly rolled into the lineup since this spring – boasts an all-four-cylinder lineup.
The mild-hybrid 2013 Malibu eAssist model is rated at 25/37 mpg city/highway. The middle-of-the road 2.5-liter I-4 earns a 22/34 rating from the EPA, which is about on-par with the 2012 2.4-liter model, which was rated at 22/33 mpg. Even the 2.0-liter turbocharged I-4, which provides power comparable to the outgoing V-6, rings in at 21/30. The only Malibu presently available that doesn’t earn a 30-mpg gold star? That would be 2012 Malibu V-6, which is rated at a dismal 17/20 mpg city/highway.
Fret not; that old V-6 model won't be around for long -- but will Malibu volumes remain this high once the 2013 model is in full production? Will Chevy's midsize model remain steady against new competitors, like the slinky new 2013 Ford Fusion? Only time will tell.