In the past few years, 40 miles per gallon has emerged as the definitive benchmark number for fuel efficiency. Almost every mainstream small car hits this mark, and even some larger midsize sedans are reaching 40 mpg these days. But you don’t have to spend big to save big at the pump. We set out to find the cheapest cars for sale that achieve 40 mpg in EPA testing (which measures highway, city, and combined driving), and were surprised to find exactly ten 40-mpg cars that cost under $20,000. It’s worth noting that many of the cars below require a special powertrain combination or fuel economy package to hit 40 mpg, but each listed price includes destination charges and represents the exact configuration needed to achieve 40 mpg.
2014 Mitsubishi Mirage DE – $13,790
34 mpg city, 42 mpg highway, 37 mpg combined
The smallest Mitsubishi may not have many other saving graces, but the Mirage is undeniably efficient, with a 42-mpg EPA highway rating. The low starting price represents the base Mitsubishi Mirage DE, which is equipped with the standard five-speed manual transmission; outfitting this tiny, three-cylinder, 74-hp hatchback with the optional CVT raises the EPA rating to an even higher 44 mpg highway, but also raises the price by $1000.
2014 Nissan Versa Sedan S Plus – $14,600
31 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, 35 mpg combined
The Nissan Versa has been one of the cheapest cars in the U.S. market for years now, and you don’t have to add much to the base Versa S to achieve the vaunted 40-mpg mark. Stepping up from the base S with its five-speed manual and into the CVT-equipped S Plus model gets buyers a ticket into the 40-mpg club, even if the Versa sedan is still sparsely-equipped at this low price point. These ratings apply to the Nissan Versa Note hatchback as well, although that model starts at a slightly higher $16,050.
2014 Fiat 500 Pop – $16,995
31 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, 34 mpg combined
Fiat’s cute, European, and retro 500 hatchback can also be described as cheap and efficient, as this tiny Italian runabout achieves 40 mpg on the highway when equipped with the standard five-speed manual transmission. Sure, you’ll make some compromises in roominess and power (the 1.4-liter engine only produces 100 hp), but the 500 tries its best to make up for these shortcomings with its funky design inside and out. It’s even available as a 500c convertible model, although that car is more expensive at a starting price of $20,495 with destination.
2014 Chevrolet Sonic sedan LT – $17,205
29 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, 33 mpg combined
When equipped with the 1.4-liter turbocharged engine, the Chevrolet Sonic is a surprisingly fun urban runabout that also happens to get 40 mpg on the highway. To get this rating, buyers must avoid the optional six-speed automatic and stick with the six-speed manual transmission that comes standard when you upgrade to the turbo engine option ($700). The Sonic is available as a standard four-door sedan or a more versatile hatchback model that costs just $700 more.
2014 Ford Fiesta sedan SE EcoBoost – $17,400
32 mpg city, 45 mpg highway, 37 mpg combined
Ford’s smallest car in the States is now home to the company’s smallest engine on our shores as well. The Ford Fiesta EcoBoost is powered by a 1.0-liter, turbocharged three-cylinder that nets an impressive 45 mpg on the highway, higher than any other non-hybrid, gasoline-powered car on the market. We were impressed with this surprisingly sprightly little engine in our first drive. It costs just $995 extra on Fiesta SE models and pairs exclusively with a five-speed manual transmission.
2014 Mazda 3 i SV sedan – $17,740
29 mpg city, 41 mpg highway, 33 mpg combined
Mazda’s compact car doesn’t need any fancy extras to achieve impressive mpg numbers; in fact, the base model of the Mazda 3 sedan achieves the highest fuel economy numbers of any 3 configuration with its 41-mpg highway rating. This model is powered by a 155-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which makes use of Mazda’s Skyactiv technology that puts a priority on reducing weight and friction. This engine comes standard with a six-speed manual. Adding the six-speed automatic transmission ($1050) leaves the same highway rating unchanged, but results in a 1-mpg bump that brings the city rating up to 30 mpg.
2014 Nissan Sentra S FE+ CVT – $18,000
30 mpg city, 40 mpg highway, 34 mpg combined
Nissan’s compact sedan may be boring, but it’s undeniably efficient with its 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and continuously variable transmission. The Nissan Sentra, when equipped with the $400 FE+ package that adds aerodynamic tweaks and low-rolling-resistance tires, has EPA ratings of 30/40 mpg city/highway. That’s near the top of the compact class, and even matches its smaller Versa sibling on the highway.
2014 Honda Insight – $19,515
41 mpg city, 44 mpg highway, 42 mpg combined
With the second-generation Insight hybrid, Honda took a page out of the Toyota Prius’ playbook and created an aerodynamic, efficient, and relatively practical hybrid hatchback that gets great fuel economy. Although Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) hybrid system isn’t nearly as advanced as the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive full hybrid system, the Honda Insight still achieves 44 mpg on the highway and is also the cheapest hybrid on the market.
2014 Toyota Prius C One – $19,890
53 mpg city, 46 mpg highway, 50 mpg combined
For only $375 more than the Honda Insight, the Toyota Prius C offers the highest city fuel economy of any hybrid in America, with its 53/46/50 mpg city/highway/combined rating. The Prius C is the smallest member of the Prius family, which also includes the standard Prius and the Prius V MPV. Although the equipment list for the base model Prius C One is a little sparse, this hybrid still includes features such as automatic climate control, keyless entry, and Bluetooth, not to mention the highest mpg ratings of any vehicle on this list.
2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco – $19,905
30 mpg city, 42 mpg highway, 35 mpg combined
The redesigned 2014 Toyota Corolla this year gained a new Eco model, which features a version of the Corolla’s 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine that’s equipped with Valvematic technology that improves engine airflow. This slightly more high-tech engine makes for 42 mpg on the highway when paired with the CVT and the Eco model’s low-rolling-resistance tires. Make sure to avoid the optional alloy wheels on the LE Eco model, though, because that option downgrades the LE Eco to a mere 40 mpg on the highway.