Over the past few decades, automakers have made significant gains in efficiency and fuel economy for their cars, many of which are now achieving figures that were relatively unthinkable for their classes not that long ago. Twenty miles per gallon was once the holy grail of fuel efficiency and a number that many strived for; that was soon bumped by 30, and as cars like Toyota’s (NYSE:TM) Prius have shown, 40 and 50 miles per gallon are now the benchmarks for mainstream, mass production vehicles.
So what falls where? In a world where pickup trucks are now capable of mid-20s and 40 miles per gallon is now almost expected from compact cars, what does the automotive fuel economy landscape look like? We set out to find the top cars that fall into the 30, 35, 40, and 45 mile per gallon combined ratings, broken down by segment. Here’s what you can buy if a 30 miles per gallon rating – per the EPA — is more than adequate for your purposes.
For our purposes, we didn’t include any vehicles with a combined rating of less than 30, and though you may find some with ratings slightly higher, we tried to stick as close as possible to that figure. There were certainly some surprising vehicles — large luxury sedans, for instance — that just a few years ago would have had trouble breaking the 20 mile per gallon mark. As for the “best” or “top” denomination, we took a couple of other factors, like price, value, and cost of ownership, into account in efforts to find the best deal within the given parameters.
Here are seven leading vehicles that achieve at least 30 combined miles per gallon. If you have something to add or feel differently, let us know in the comments below.
1. Large Sedan: Acura RLX Hybrid
The RLX is Acura’s (NYSE:HMC) largest sedan, making it all the more impressive that it can manage 28 miles per gallon in the city (that’s a strong figure even for smaller cars) and 32 miles per gallon on the highway for a nice, rounded combined rating of 30 miles per gallon. Moreover, it boasts 377 horsepower – a lot for a hybrid, but not a ton for its class –thanks to Acura’s reliable 3.5 liter V6 coupled to three electric motors. Acura’s SH-AWD system also ensures that the RLX Hybrid features perhaps the best handling in its class. Of course, you’ll be treated to Acura’s high-end, elegant, and luxurious interior as a bonus.
2. Compact Sedan: Chevrolet Cruze
On the other end of the spectrum is the Chevrolet (NYSE:GM) Cruze, which, like the Acura, manages 30 miles per gallon combined, made up of 26 miles per gallon city and 38 miles per gallon highway. The Chevy Sonic and Spark both get better mileage, but the Cruze is a more complete package, with more cargo and passenger room, and a more refined interior. Within the Cruze range, the diesel and Eco models both get stellar fuel economy, but the base Cruze promises a amicable and easy-to-live-with car with a perky 1.4 liter turbocharged engine for a decent price — comfortably under $20,000.
3. Midsize Sedan: Honda Accord
The Honda Accord has long been one of America’s best-selling cars, and for good reason. It’s a decently sized sedan that offers a slew of amenities, returns exactly 30 miles per gallon on the combined cycle, and costs an affordable sub-$22,000 base price. When equipped properly, it returns 27 miles per gallon in the city and 36 on the highway, and it is seen as one of the most reliable vehicles in its class. The Accord is just one of those cars that does everything well, and its millions of owners can back up that claim.
4. SUV: Lexus RX450h
It’s impressive that large sedans are able to breach the 30 mile per gallon mark, but SUVs are renowned for their fuel inefficiency. That reputation is changing, though, aided by vehicles like the 30 mile per gallon Lexus (NYSE:TM) RX450h. It manages this with a near-astonishing 32 miles per gallon city rating (even Lexus critics have to admit that’s impressive for an SUV), and it’s actually the highway rating of 28 that pulls the efficiency down to 30. Naturally, it also offers all the utility you’d expect from an SUV, as well as the comfort you’d expect from a Lexus.
5. Compact Crossover: Mini Countryman
Mini Cooper purists are still getting over the Countryman’s four-door profile and larger shape, but if you’re looking for crossover utility in a small footprint complemented by decent gas mileage at a good price, the Countryman is well worth your consideration. It starts at just over $22,000 and can return 28 miles per gallon in the city and 35 on the highway, actually returning 31 miles per gallon combined. Given Mini’s commitment to the driver-centered nature of its cars, the Countryman is an all-around good performer from every angle.
6. Hatchback: Nissan Versa Note
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of the Nissan (NSANY.PK) Versa Note (aside from its extremely happy-looking face) is the price tag: at under $14,000 base, it’s among the most affordable new cars on the U.S. market. Higher trims will offer better mileage — and many would argue that it’s worth it — but for those looking for a bare-bones, lowest-possible MSRP vehicle, the Versa Note is a safe bet. It averages 27 miles per gallon in the city and 36 on the highway for a 30 MPG-combined rating. It doesn’t offer a whole lot in the way of standard equipment (not that you’d expect it to), but it does offer terrific hatchback versatility.
7. All-Wheel Drive: Subaru Impreza
The Acura RLX Hybrid manages 3o miles per gallon and has all-wheel drive, but it’s pretty expensive. The Subaru Impreza, meanwhile, checks both those boxes, but does so for considerably less — less than $20,000. The Impreza is good for 36 miles per gallon on the highway and 27 in the city, both quite decent given that its four-cylinder boxer engine sends power to all four wheels. It’s among the most versatile and capable entry-level cars on the market, and with its impressive fuel economy, there’s virtually no dull edge to the Impreza’s sword.