Buying a car any time is a big financial outlay. In this era of penny pinching and fuel scarcity, it's particularly important to consider not just a functional car but one that gets great gas mileage. What choices do you have that won’t break the bank? Big Green Purse intern Rachel Haas filed this report:
"What's the most fuel-efficient car I can buy to meet my commuting needs?" That’s the question my father asked recently after he passed his used car on to me and began looking for a small or mid-sized vehicle for himself. We decided to go on the hunt together, with our primary criteria being that the vehicle should be affordable, a hybrid if possible, and highly fuel efficient—achieving an average of at least 40 miles per gallon.
Only three vehicles fit the bill:
o MPG: Estimated mileage of 40/43 city/highway, average of 42 mpg
o FUEL ECONOMY: With gas prices around $2.60, the annual fuel cost amounts to around $929. You can make calculations for your own region by finding local fuel prices at GasBuddy.com and using the chart at fueleconomy.gov.
o COST: The Insight EX with navigation (a GPS system) has a ticket price of $23,100. NOTE: Because it’s a brand-new model, dealerships are less willing to negotiate on price.
o SPACE: Overall smaller interior space than the Civic Hybrid, but as a hatchback, the Insight can fit almost three times as much cargo with the seats folded down, 31.5 cubic feet.
o MPG: estimated mileage of 40/45 city/highway, estimated average of 42 mpg
o FUEL ECONOMY: same annual fuel cost as the Insight
o COST: The Civic Hybrid with navigation has a ticket price of $25,650, plus the option of leather seats (unlike the Insight) for an additional $1,200. We were able to negotiate the price of the Civic Hybrid with navigation and leather to about $22,700.
o SPACE: The interior space is slightly larger than the Insight, but the cargo space is significantly smaller, only 10.4 cubic feet.
3rd Generation Prius:
o MPG: Delivers the best mileage and power of any hybrid on the road today with an estimated mileage of 51/48 city/highway, estimated average of 50 mpg
o FUEL ECONOMY: The annual fuel cost is about $780
o COST: The 2010 Prius with leather and navigation has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $28,350. Like with the Honda Insight, dealerships are less willing to significantly lower the price of this brand-new model.
o SPACE: The Prius has more interior space than the Civic Hybrid, especially in the backseat, with an inch and half more leg room. The Prius also beats the Civic Hybrid in cargo space, with 21.6 cubic feet.
o ADDED BONUS: You can buy the 3rd generation Prius with a solar roof. Why is that so cool? The solar roof literally cools the car by using the sun’s energy to power an air circulation fan, eliminating the need for owners to blast their air conditioning in the hot summers. Unfortunately, the solar roof adds about $1,800 to the ticket price.
After test driving all three vehicles and comparing both fuel efficiency and price, my dad happily settled on the Honda Civic Hybrid (left). He opted for a slightly roomier interior over more cargo space, since he doesn't need to transport much in his car. Both price and mpg met his critera. Plus, he likes the way it drives. "This car has a lot of pep!" he says.
NOTE: You don’t have to be in the market for a new car to improve fuel efficiency when you drive. Getting a tune up on the vehicle you currently drive will improve fuel efficiency by 4%. Pumping up your tires to the proper PSI (pounds per square inch) will get you another 3.3% improvement in your MPG. Or skip owning a car altogether for “wheels when you want them” via ZipCar. Here are more ways to beat the high price of gas.
Looking for a different car? Check fuel efficiency ratings for all vehicles at fueleconomy.gov.
Interested in a mid-size, highly fuel-efficient family car? Stay tuned for our review of the Ford Fusion Hybrid.