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The Most Fuel Efficient Gasoline Powered Cars

The Smart fortwo is a good 2 seater choice getting a combined 36 MPG
The Hyundai Elantra is a good 4 seater choice getting a combined 33 MPG

I recently test-drove the Chevy Cruze Eco, which GM is touting as “the most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered vehicle in America.” The EPA does rate the Cruze Eco  at 42 mpg on the highway when it’s equipped with the 6-speed manual transmission; the automatic 6-speed gets 37 mpg at its best. My mostly city driving in the automatic test car averaged just under 30 mpg.

But that claim made me wonder how other new, gasoline-powered cars stack up. Electric cars like the Nissan Leaf use zero gasoline, and plug-in hybrids like the Chevy Volt use a tiny bit of gas to stoke the on-board battery generator. Hybrids like the decade-old Toyota Prius have been topping the EPA fuel economy ratings for years now, and diesel-powered cars are spewing fewer emissions and getting better mileage.

What, then, is to become of the gasoline-powered engine, the one that paved the way for the American automotive age, which has lasted more than a century? It’s not going anywhere anytime soon, but it does have to catch up with twenty-first century fuel economy and emissions standards. Manufacturers are using direct fuel injection to give more power to smaller engines, which allows for a peppier driving experience without using so much gas. They’re also using aerodynamics and low-rolling-resistance tires to improve mpgs without dropping too many dollars on newer technologies, which drive up the price of cars for consumers.

Here, then, are the gasoline-powered cars with the highest fuel economy ratings from the EPA for 2011:

  1. Smart fortwo manual: 33 city/41 highway
  2. Hyundai Elantra manual: 29 city/40 highway
  3. Ford Fiesta SFE automatic: 29 city/40 highway
  4. Mini Cooper manual: 29 city/37 highway
  5. Toyota Yaris manual: 29 city/36 highway
  6. Mini Cooper automatic: 28 city/36 highway
  7. Mazda 2 HB Sport manual: 29 city/35 highway
  8. Hyundai Sonata manual: 24 city/35 highway
  9. Honda Accord automatic: 23 city/35 highway
  10. Kia Rondo automatic: 20 city/27 highway

Since gasoline engines have been around for so very long, they tend to be less expensive to produce -- which means the cars they power are often less expensive, too. For more on getting the most from your dwindling dollar, check out our Setting a Budget section.