Which Automaker Makes the World’s Most Fuel-Efficient Cars?

Every year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) releases its findings on fuel economy ratings for all automobiles sold in the United States. Included in the report is the progress automakers have made since 1975 as well as the revised figures that come in once projected EPA efficiency ratings are not met. Several automakers — including Ford, Hyundai, and Mercedes — have all had problems meeting their projected marks in recent years. These figures reflect those shifts down in optimistic projections.

The October 2014 EPA release brought news that 2013 was the best model year ever for fuel economy in the U.S. Vehicles hit 24.1 miles per gallon in the final 2013 ratings, which amounted to an increase of o.5 miles per gallon over the 2012 model year. This year’s results also crowned a new king among world automakers for most efficient full lineup in the U.S. as Toyota was knocked off its top spot.

Here are the top 10 automakers ranked by their final EPA fuel economy ratings. Hyundai and Kia, both undergoing investigations, were not considered due to a lack of final 2013 figures. Only the largest volume automakers received a spot in the EPA table.

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10. General Motors

Breaking the top 10 means GM was not the worst automaker in terms of fuel economy. (In this report, Fiat-Chrysler placed in the eleventh and final spot.) Indeed, General Motors vehicles posted an overall efficiency of 22.0 miles per gallon for 2013 models, which was an improvement of 0.3 miles per gallon over its final 2012 model-year ratings. The biggest improvement came in the Buick division, which raised efficiency fleet-wide by 1.5 miles per gallon in a single year.

Of the five automakers that produce a full line of vehicles, GM placed fourth. Looking ahead, projected 2014 ratings are projected to remain stagnant for GM.

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9. Ford

With Ford’s EPA ratings falling for the 2013 C-Max hybrid, the automaker posted the biggest drop (-0.6 miles per gallon) of any automaker between the most recent model years. Nonetheless, Ford Motor Company managed to beat its Detroit rivals and place third among full-line automakers with 22.2 miles per gallon ratings across its brand. Lincoln had an improvement of 0.3 miles per gallon to contribute to the cause. Looking forward for the Ford brands, economy ratings are expected to improve by more than one mile in 2014 automobiles.


8. Daimler

Daimler’s Smart and Mercedes-Benz brands couldn’t be farther away in terms of fuel economy. Smart’s 36.6 miles per gallon was the best of any brand on the list, while Mercedes weighed down the Daimler share that ended up at an EPA rating of 22.4 miles per gallon across its fleet. Both Smart (o.9 miles per gallon) and Mercedes (1.1 miles per gallon) showed improvements between the 2012 and 2013 model years. More improvements are expected in the final tally for Mercedes’s 2014 model year.

BMW i3

7. BMW

With its first electric vehicle entering the fold, BMW has several improvements projected for its next model year. The automaker’s 24.5 miles per gallon final total for the 2013 model year represented a 0.8 miles per gallon increase over the previous year. BMW is expected to improve 1.5 miles per gallon in the next model year analysis, fueled largely by a large increase in the trucks (read: SUVs, like the X5) category, while Mini vehicles and BMW cars are projecting higher for 2014 models as well.


6. Toyota

After claiming the top spot for full-line automakers in the 2012 model year, Toyota was bumped off the podium for its 2013 lineup when it lost 0.5 miles per gallon to end up at 25.1 miles per gallon across its three brands. Only Lexus posted an improvement between the last two model years, with Scion and Toyota both losing a tick in fuel economy for 2013 vehicles. Projections for next year have Toyota and Scion improving their efficiency ratings while Lexus will hold or dip slightly on 2014 economy.


5. Volkswagen

Even with Audi and Porsche under its banner, Volkswagen managed to crack the top five among volume automakers with a final fleet rating of 26.7 miles per gallon. Its overall improvement featured contributions from each one of its three marques. Curiously enough, Porsche showed the biggest gain in economy between its 2012 and 2013 models, likely due its new plug-in hybrid line. Looking to 2014, VW is projected to add another mile per gallon to its efficiency totals for the coming model year.


4. Nissan

When the EPA released its annual fuel economy report, Nissan Motors North America was quick to pounce on the final ratings. With 26.2 miles per gallon across Nissan and Infiniti 2013 models, the automaker claimed the title of top full-line automaker in U.S. fuel economy standards. Its 2.1 mile per gallon (8.7 percent) improvement over the final 2012 ratings also made Nissan the biggest mover among manufacturers with a footprint in the U.S. market. Combining the Toyota dip with its own impressive gains, Nissan knocked its rival out of the top spot. More projected improvements are ahead for the automaker in final ratings for 2014.

Subaru Outback

3. Subaru

Subaru is on a steady march to greater fuel economy figures in both its cars and trucks. For the 2013 model year, the final EPA ratings had Subaru at 26.7 miles per gallon, which one and a half miles better than the previous year. After its next projected increase, Subaru will challenge for second place in fuel economy among all manufacturers operating in the U.S. market. Subaru’s truck improvements (2 miles per gallon better year-over-year) contributed to SUVs showing the greatest increase in efficiency among all vehicle classes in the report. 

2013 Honda Civic

2. Honda

Its Acura marque notwithstanding, Honda put up a remarkable showing in the 2013 model year with a final rating of 27.4 miles per gallon across its entire vehicle fleet. Improvements came in every division of Honda and Acura in both cars and trucks, adding up to an increase of 0.8 miles per gallon over the 2012 final EPA ratings. A slight uptick is projected for Honda in the 2014 model year, which should allow it to retain second place on the U.S. market, though Subaru is gaining fast.

Mazda3 profile

1. Madza

Because of the automaker’s omnipresent marketing campaign, it is difficult to think of a Mazda vehicle without hearing The Who’s “Baba O’Riley” blaring in the background. Mazda has cause to celebrate after posting the best fuel economy for major automakers at 28.1 miles per gallon for the 2013 model year. That figure represented a full mile per gallon better than 2012, and improvements on a similar scale are projected for 2014. The automaker’s Skyactiv engines have proven that efficiency and performance can go hand-in-hand, but Mazda has much bigger designs.

Though current Skyactiv engines allow Mazda to reach economy benchmarks though the end of the decade, the automaker has another generation in development expected to be 30 percent more efficient than its present lineup.