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Small cars are no longer cheap econoboxes, as evidenced by the Kia Forte and Toyota Corolla. Both cars offer plenty of standard equipment and can be loaded up with features like leather seats, a sunroof, and a premium infotainment system. But no matter how upscale small cars go, fuel economy is still a primary reason people buy them. If you look at the Corolla and Forte, they match up evenly in just about every category. But when it comes to fuel economy, there’s one clear winner. 

The 2023 Toyota Corolla has a hybrid option

The Toyota Corolla lineup includes a hybrid model, which starts at just over $24,000. It uses an efficient 1.8-liter four-cylinder gas engine, producing 121 horsepower, matched to an electric motor and a CVT transmission.   

The EPA ratings for the Corolla Hybrid are 53 mpg city / 52 mpg highway for a combined fuel economy rating of 52 mpg. The range is an impressive 593 miles on a tank of gas. Based on EPA estimates, the annual fuel cost should average around $1,050. 

It’s a toss-up between the non-hybrid Corolla and the Kia Forte 

Ruby Flare Pearl 2023 Toyota Corolla compact car driving under a bridge
Ruby Flare Pearl 2023 Toyota Corolla | Toyota

The regular Toyota Corolla also offers impressive fuel economy for a non-hybrid car. All regular Corollas get the 169-horsepower 2.0-liter that can be coupled to a CVT automatic transmission or six-speed manual. 

Selected with the manual transmission, the Corolla gets 29 mpg in town and up to 39 mpg on the highway, giving it a combined rating of 33 mpg. The CVT gets slightly better ratings with 32 mpg in town and 41 mpg on the highway for a combination of 35 mpg. Even the least efficient Corolla has an estimated range of 409 miles on a tank of gas. Average estimated annual fuel costs are between $1,550 and $1,750. 

The 2023 Kia Forte is the regular Corolla’s equal in gas mileage

Full view of the 2023 Kia Forte fuel-efficient car
2023 Kia Forte | Kia

The 2023 Kia Forte, equipped with a 2.0-liter engine and CVT transmission, practically ties the Toyota Corolla for fuel economy. The EPA rating is 30 mpg city and 41 mpg highway, with a combined rating of 34 mpg. That puts it right in the middle of the Corolla’s estimates. The Kia also has a larger fuel tank which gives it up to 476 miles of range, and the average estimated fuel costs are between $1,650 and $1,750.     

The Kia Forte can also be chosen with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and a seven-speed automatic or six-speed manual. Fuel economy drops to 27 mpg city with the automatic and 22 mpg with the manual. Highway fuel economy is 35 mpg for the manual and 39 mpg for the automatic, with average ratings of 26 and 30 mpg. These numbers also drop the range down to 364 miles for a tank of gas; average annual costs increase to $2,150.  

Which cheap new car will save you the most at the pump?

The Toyota Hybrid is the hands-down fuel economy champ of the two. It stretches each gallon of gas an additional 20 miles, delivering 60% better mpg than the most efficient Kia Forte.    

The Forte can’t beat the Corolla on fuel economy, but it does continue Kia’s tradition of beating its competitors on price. According to Kelly Blue Book, the top-of-the-line Forte GT starts at under $25,000 and stays well under $30,000 with all the boxes checked. 

By comparison, the top-level Corolla XSE is about $1,800 more than the Kia Forte GT and tops out under $30,000. That difference gets a lot of gasoline, even at today’s prices. For those of you who like to crunch numbers, you’ll have to drive the Toyota Corolla more than four and a half years before the non-hybrid Corolla’s better fuel economy makes up for that $1,800 difference.  


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