With gasoline prices continuing to hover around $4 in much of the country, fuel economy remains a primary concern for car shoppers. There are so many choices across car types, it can be hard to decide on the right vehicle to deliver the desired mileage, as well as be a good, safe, and reliable car. The “good” is key, as car owners are holding on to vehicles longer than ever. We challenged the Cars Team to come up with personal picks for what fuel-efficient car they would purchase, and here are their choices.
Liza Barth: I would have to choose a Toyota Prius. The fuel economy can’t be beat, plus it has a low cost of ownership and excellent reliability. And since I prefer to buy cars that can last, I know they can go the distance based on years of reliability data and our recent tests of two Priuses that clocked over 200,000 miles. The only issue I have is the rear visibility. In the future, I may have to give serious thought to the Prius v wagon. With an expected fuel economy of 42 mpg combined and room enough to fit the family, plus all our stuff, it may be the vehicle that has me rethinking my small SUV.
Jeff Bartlett: With a long commute, fuel economy is a constant concern. Among the cars we’ve recently tested, I keep referring to the Hyundai Sonata as my mileage benchmark. The variety of smaller sedans we’ve driven this year have not matched the 40 mpg I can get on my commute with the Sonata. Even the Hyundai Elantra, as nice as it is, fell well short in my personal experience on the same daily drive. A very livable car, the Sonata is my mainstream choice. But if gas prices threaten to increase, I would have to look seriously at the Toyota Prius. Boring as store-brand oatmeal, the Prius delivers extraordinary mileage and reliability. These days, that’s a winning combination. To make it more palatable, I’d have to opt for the new Entune infotainment system, but I just can’t justify $3,700 for the tempting new Plus “sport” package. It would seal the deal if the Prius, or a worthy competitor, were made in America.
Eric Evarts: As a primarily “green car” writer, people ask me all the time what I think about the Toyota Prius--the first full-hybrid sold in the United States, the most fuel-efficient car sold here, and the darling of environmentalists who otherwise have no affinity for cars. It’s a hard question for me. See, I’ve always been a car guy. Cars to me symbolize beauty, freedom, and the joy of hustling down a twisty road feeling the car respond to my every input. The Prius is about getting a job done with as little energy as possible, technical and intellectual superiority, adapting to our changing world, and yes, about preserving our freedom of mobility in the face of shrinking resources. But in no way does it bring any true joy to the road. While I greatly admire the Prius and its hybrid brethren, I don’t really have any desire to own one. So what would I pick for a fun, fuel-efficient car? I’ve always enjoyed driving Volkswagens, and the Jetta Sportwagen is no exception. With the TDI diesel engine and a six-speed stick shift, we got 36 mpg out of it overall. And I find I use the torque from the diesel far more often than the high-end horsepower from a gasoline engine. The available big sunroof and seat heaters are prerequisites for year-round enjoyment. So, the Jetta TDI Sportwagen gets my nod.
Tom Mutchler: There are certain cars that give me hope that moving to a higher CAFE fleet standard won’t cause much of a sacrifice. The Ford Fusion Hybrid nears the top of that list. Comfortable, roomy, very fuel-efficient, quiet, and even fun-to-drive: The Fusion does it all.
Mike Quincy: I am an unabashed diesel fan. The highway fuel economy never ceases to amaze me, and I feel that you give up very little driving enjoyment when you switch from gas to diesel. So, if I could spend liberally, I would plunk down the cash for a Mercedes-Benz E350 BlueTec diesel. Getting a 600-plus-mile cruising range is amazing. And the E350’s comfortable seats and good all around visibility make it a nearly perfect car. But for far less money, I’d also be thrilled with the Volkswagen Golf TDI, which returned an excellent 38 mpg overall in our tests. And call it a Yankee Doodle Diesel.
Rick Small: My choice leans toward a hybrid, and my favorite one is the Ford Fusion. It doesn’t have much quirky hybrid styling or many distinguishing markings on it. To the untrained eye, the Fusion looks like any other Fusion, and when I drive it, it doesn’t feel like a hybrid. The Fusion is roomy and comfortable with a useable backseat. The hybrid system is quick and responsive and it handles crisply while delivering excellent fuel economy--34 mpg overall.
What fuel-efficient models stand out to you? Share your thoughts in the comments below.