Plenty of buyers still look at fuel efficiency when shopping for a car. Whether it be a preventive measure for roller coaster-like gas prices, to save money or to be kinder to the environment, gas mileage is an important factor.
Buying a fuel-efficient car doesn’t have to be expensive, though, even if you’re looking for the latest gas-electric hybrid or turbodiesel technology. Here are five picks to keep an eye on if you’re in the market.
The fuel-economy champ here is also a well-rounded car available at a low price. The Toyota Prius makes so much sense because it’s not just a hybrid, but an immensely practical car.
First, the Prius is able to post fuel economy into the 40 and 50 mpg range because of its small four-cylinder engine mated to an electric motor. That efficiency has made the Prius by far the most popular hybrid, and prices start well under the $10,000 mark for used models. And reliability for the Prius has historically been pretty impressive, even for the battery components.
Factor in that the Prius is an ideal size for a small family with plenty of cargo flexibility thanks to its hatchback body style, and a Prius could be the way to go if you need a fuel-sipping family mover on a budget.
Volkswagen Jetta TDI
A hybrid isn’t for everyone. Thankfully, Volkswagen offers its efficient 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder engine in a variety of models. The Volkswagen Jetta is the most popular of them and perhaps the ideal fit for plenty of people who want a vehicle that posts big mpg figures but still drives like a conventional car.
The best part of the Jetta TDI is that it really drives like a normally powered car because it’s free of the heavy batteries and electric motor that burdens hybrids. You can even get it with a six-speed manual transmission, and like the Prius, used Jetta TDI models start at less than $10,000. Additionally, many owners report getting more than 50 mpg on long highway runs.
The Jetta also offers a lot of interior and trunk space. For even more cargo capacity, the Jetta SportWagen TDI boasts more room than some compact crossovers, yet achieves far better fuel economy thanks to the diesel engine.
Yes, there’s a Honda Civic Hybrid. But for the money, the regular, gas-only Honda Civic is actually a very efficient buy in its own right. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder in 2006 and newer models can easily post 35 mpg on a highway run with the popular five-speed automatic, and you should be able to find one for less than $9,000. What’s more, the Civic is on the roomier side as far as compact sedans go.
Civics are popular and Civics are inexpensive. They’ve also proven reliable. It’s the kind of car you can run well past 100,000 miles with routine maintenance and save your money for things other than cars.
If you’re into other things than cars.
Buying a fuel-efficient luxury car doesn’t have to mean sacrificing power. The six-cylinder BMW 335d is rated at 36 mpg on the highway, but has gobs of torque to make it feel powerful, strong and effortless.
Best of all, it’s a previous-generation 3-series, which is widely regarded as one of the most complete and satisfying compact luxury sedans you can get. It has good space for four adults, but marries that to great driving dynamics. Used 335d models currently cost around $20,000, and the diesel engine pretty much just adds fuel economy.
They’re rare, for sure, but worth the hunt and the price premium if you want to blast down the highway for hundreds of miles between fill-ups.
Ford Escape Hybrid
If you do need an SUV, it might be worth checking out one of the few hybrids available with all-wheel drive. The Ford Escape Hybrid offers the efficient size with economy more in line with a compact sedan.
Taking a four-cylinder gas engine and an electric motor, the Escape Hybrid acts like a Prius in terms of efficiency, but just like a traditional compact SUV with seating for five and decent cargo space. Crucially for some, however, it is available with all-wheel drive for year-round traction.
Sought after and often with high mileage, a used Ford Escape Hybrid can be had for as little as $9,000. The Escape Hybrid is still a good choice for families who don’t want to make a big carbon footprint, but don’t want their lifestyle to revolve around their car choice.