12 Best Cars When Fuel Economy Is a Top Priority

For any auto consumer who wants to know the most efficient cars according to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ratings, there’s a website for that. However, FuelEconomy.gov only tells part of the story. There are cars that never live up to their billing in miles per gallon. Furthermore, a glance at the 10 most efficient reveals numerous castoffs. Whether unavailable, too impractical, too expensive, or too embarrassing to drive, they don’t fit the bill for most Americans.

Enter a recent online poll on cars specializing in fuel economy conducted by Edmunds.com. The auto research and buying site asked visitors to vote what cars they’d buy when on the lookout for top fuel efficiency. There were few (if any) field tests conducted by drivers, so people were voting on what cars they loved to drive (and be seen in) that also were efficient.

Here are the 12 best cars for people who hate buying gas, according to Edmunds.com voters.

camry hybrid
Source: Toyota

12. Toyota Camry Hybrid

It may be the best-selling hybrid in the U.S. (over 30,000 models sold through August 2014), but the Toyota Camry Hybrid landed in 12th place (3.2 percent of the vote) for cars people wanted when trying to avoid gas stations. At 41 miles per gallon combined, it’s certainly no Prius, but it bests several members of its midsize hybrid class. In the refreshed 2015 model headed to U.S. dealerships, consumers won’t get better fuel economy though they are getting a welcome exterior update. Camry, in all its powertrain options, is likely to increase in popularity.

Source: Volkswagen AG

11. Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

At around the same price point as the Camry Hybrid, consumers can get better fuel economy (45 miles per gallon combined) and a better drive in the opinion of most with the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. The impression given behind the wheel is less hybrid than average-power sedan (the standard engines offers a maximum 170 horsepower). Voters in the Edmunds.com poll chose the Jetta hybrid model with 3.4 percent of the vote, good enough for 11th place.

focus electric
Source: Ford Motor Company

10. Ford Focus Electric

People who truly want to leave gas stations behind are opting more than ever for electric vehicles like the plug-in electric version of the Ford Focus. Able to offer 76 miles of range on a full charge, the Focus Electric is rated by the EPA at 1o5 miles per gallon electric equivalent (abbreviated MPGe) combined from highway and city ratings. As far as compact cars go, the Focus Electric is at the top of the class in fuel economy. The popularity of its gasoline model likely pushed the electrified Focus into the top 10 with 4 percent of the poll vote.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC
Source: Mercedes Benz

9. Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 BlueTec

The words “Mercedes luxury SUV” don’t scream efficiency, but the GLK 250 BlueTec packs a diesel four-cylinder engine capable of 33 miles per gallon on the highway. Not bad. With 24 miles per gallon in the city and 28 miles per gallon combined, it provides a huge advantage over the similarly priced (though more powerful) Acura MDX in fuel economy. How did it garner 5 percent of the vote in the Edmunds.com poll? Apparently, the GLK 250 BlueTec made enough of a statement in efficiency for an SUV.

Nissan Leaf
Source: Nissan

8. Nissan Leaf

With 84 miles of all-electric range and a combined 114 miles per gallon electric equivalent, the Nissan Leaf is the type of vehicle you would expect to find in list of fuel economy favorites. Classified as a midsize vehicle by the EPA (the most efficient in that class), there are many more practical uses for the Leaf than, say, the Smart Electric Drive that seats two and stores less. Still, Nissan’s top-selling electric vehicle only edged the Mercedes BlueTec SUV with 5.1 percent of the vote.

2014 Honda Accord Hybrid
Source: Honda

6. (tie) Honda Accord Hybrid

No one demanded a recount, so the Edmunds.com poll ended in a tie for sixth place in the list of efficiency favorites. The Honda Accord Hybrid is one of the true economy studs with 47 miles per gallon combined. That performance comes at a premium: Accord hybrids start at $29,305, which is a sticker over $7,000 more than the base gasoline model. Edmunds.com is bullish about the Accord’s green variant, calling it “a true all-star” with Prius-like efficiency.

Source: Lexus

6. (tie) Lexus CT200h

In the postmortem for the Lexus HS 250h, industry analysts suggested Toyota’s premium brand cannibalized its own car with the CT 200h — a better looking, more efficient hybrid wagon that cost $8,000 less ($32,050). This argument is valid on many levels. The CT 200h’s 42 miles per gallon in combined economy and attractive looks certainly make a case for a green luxury car. It reeled in 5.5 percent of the vote in the list of Edmunds.com readers’ efficiency favorites.

Golf TDI 2
Source: Volkswagen AG

5. Volkswagen Golf TDI

Diesel models haven’t fully had their day in the sun in the U.S., but the tide is turning. Take the Volkswagen Golf TDI that locked down 5.9 percent of the vote on Edmunds.com readers: good enough for fifth place overall among consumers seeking efficiency in real-world cars. More compact than some vehicles, yet downright spacious compared to a Smart ForTwo, the Gold TDI clocks in at an EPA-estimated 42 miles per gallon on the highway (34 miles per gallon combined). At $21,995, the overall package resonated with poll voters (5.9 percent).

Volkswagen Passat
Source: Volkswagen AG

4. Volkswagen Passat TDI

More spacious, more efficient (35 miles per gallon combined), and more popular among Edmunds.com voters (7.6 percent of the vote) than the Volkswagen Golf TDI, the VW Passat TDI manual model show has become a popular car for obvious reasons. An oil burner with German engineering goes a long way in the midsize segment, even though it trails the competition from Japanese and U.S. automakers by a wide sales margin.

Source: Mariordo / Wikimedia Commons
Source: Chevrolet

3. Chevrolet Volt

The Chevy Volt hasn’t won over the entire electric vehicle industry, but it remains the top economy option among plug-in hybrids with 38 miles of EPA-estimated range before switching over to its gas engine. All told, the Volt offers drivers electric equivalent of 98 miles per gallon. What else has been popular about the Volt among U.S. buyers and Edmunds.com voters (10.5 percent)? The price drops and dealer incentives finally made it affordable, which is crucial for the EV movement.

Toyota Prius
Source: Toyota

2. Toyota Prius

It’s impossible to get more efficient than a Prius (50 miles per gallon combined) unless you buy an all-electric car, and Edmunds.com poll voters responded in kind by slotting the original hybrid in second place with 11.1 percent of all votes cast. What it lacks in “heart-racing excitement” and sexiness it makes up for in ability to avoid the pump (not to mention plug) for days at a time. Fuel economy ended up tipping the scales for many of the voters.

Fusion hybrid
Source: Ford Motor Company

1. Ford Fusion Hybrid

Maybe the most stylish way to do fuel efficiency and comfort, the Ford Fusion Hybrid won the Edmunds.com poll in a landslide with 21 percent of the vote. Its 42 miles per gallon combined are a shade better the Camry, but the redesigned Fusion has been the hands-down winner in terms of curb appeal (it’s also cheaper). Advanced tech features and — wait for it — quality driving performance pushed it over the top in the eyes of many American consumers. It’s the hybrid that doesn’t make you feel you’re making a huge compromise.