With gas prices starting to climb back up to the $4 per gallon mark, we want to help you get ready so that it doesn’t hurt quite as much at the pump. Here are the 11 most fuel efficient cars within their classes on sale today; we’ve sorted them by the classes the Environmental Protection Agency uses to rate them for your handy convenience.
Most Efficient Two-Seater: 2011 Honda CR-Z, 35/39 city/highway mpg
While the CR-Z may not have been the sales success Honda had hoped for, it is still an efficient little hatchback. Opting for the continuously variable automatic transmission is what sets the hybrid two-seater at the top of its class. Even if the 109-horsepower, 1.5-liter inline-four cylinder and 13-horsepower electric motor is coupled with the six-speed manual transmission, it still returns 31/37 mpg city/highway. The slippery, wedge-shape and hatchback design both recall the mid-90s CRX coupe and means that the coefficient of drag is only 0.28 while still allowing for a capacious cargo area.
Most Efficient Subcompact: 2011 Ford Fiesta SFE, 29/40 city/highway mpg
We spent ages clamoring for Ford to bring some of its class-leading European product line to the States. Now that it has, we can’t help but to wonder why they didn’t do it sooner, as the first of the Euro-Fords to hit our shores, the Fiesta, has been selling like hot cakes. No surprise given its chic styling inside and out, entertaining driving dynamics, and class-topping fuel efficiency. Powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 120 horsepower, the Fiesta hits the 40-mpg mark with ease when optioned with the SFE package – standing for Super Fuel Economy. Starting with an SE-level hatch or sedan, the SFE pack adds a six-speed automatic, underbody shields, blockers on the lower grille, and special 15-inch aluminum wheels. The SFE package cost $395 on top of the $16,890 price for the Fiesta SE hatch or $695 additional to the $16,090 base price for the SE sedan (including destination).
There is no surprise that Honda’s compact hybrid duo make this list, especially given that their CR-Z cousin made the list too. Both the Civic Hybrid sedan and Insight hatchback are propelled by a combination of a 1.3-liter inline-four teamed up with an electric motor drawing from a pack of nickel-metal hydride batteries. The Civic puts down slightly more power at a total of 130 horsepower, versus the 98 horsepower of the Insight; both rout power through a continuously variable automatic transmission. Choosing between the two comes down to bodystyle preference and price; the Civic Hybrid starts at $24,700 and the Insight starts at $18,950 (including destination). While the Civic has a more substantial feeling from behind the wheel than the Insight, we would not say that either of these are made to be enthusiast-oriented machines.
If you don’t want to go the hybrid route, Volkswagen offers a turbo-diesel duo with almost equal mileage to Honda’s hybrids. Offered in both the Golf hatchback and Jetta sedan is VW’s super-efficient 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder oil burner, making 140 horsepower and 236 pound-feet of torque. The German compacts are both rated at 30/42 city/highway mpg with a six-speed manual.
Most Efficient Midsize Car: 2011 Toyota Prius, 51/48 city/highway mpg
Because we didn’t all see this one coming. Not only is the Prius the most fuel efficient midsized car., it is also the most efficient gas-powered car on sale in the U.S. today. It is also the best-selling hybrid in the States, having moved 140,928 hatchbacks last year, more than half of all hybrids sold. Moving those Prii off the lots is a 98-horsepower, 1.8-liter inline four with a 80-horsepower electric motor drawing from an nickel-metal hydride battery pack. The Prius can power itself on electric power only or a combination of the gas engine and electric motor. And Toyota is not resting on its laurels with the Prius; it is expanding to encompass four different Prii from a fully-electric plug-in version, to the larger Prius V, and next year to a small model based on the Prius C Concept from the 2011 Detroit auto show. You can pick your friends, you can pick your Prius, and with the money saved at the pump, you can pick up the tab for lunch with your friends too.
Most Efficient Large Car: 2011 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, 35/40 city/highway mpg
Even though we call most of the cars in this class “midsize,” most bread-and-butter family sedans are actually big enough to fall into the large category. No matter what size it’s classed as, the Hyundai Sonata is one of the most competent cars around and great value to boot. The hybrid variant only sweetens the equation, with a six-speed automatic, a 166-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine, and a 40-horsepower electric motor getting power from a of lithium polymer battery pack all adding up to 24/35 city/highway mpg. A front fascia with dominating intake, clear taillamps, and specially-designed 17-inch alloy wheels differentiate the hybrid model from lesser Sonatas; it also commands a $6400 premium over the $20,145 base price (including destination) of the entry-level Sonata GLS. Worth mentioning is that even not in hybrid guise, the Sonata still holds the mpg crown for large cars. The 198-horsepower, 2.4-liter inline-four found in the GLS-spec when mated with a six-speed manual returns a very-respectable 24/35 city/highway mpg.