I Want A Cheap Fuel Efficient Car

I’m looking for a new car, but I’m finding that the market for cheap and fuel efficient cars is no better now than it was in 2005.

I drive about 140 miles round trip to work (all highway), so I’m looking for the best available highway fuel economy. I can drive a standard, but Sandee can’t, so we’ll need automatic. I like small cars, but no so much that I want to pay a lot for one. The only luxury items I’m hoping for are a decent stereo with some form of iPod integration (a line-in will work), and cruise control (improves fuel economy, helps me avoid getting tickets). I’m avoiding hybrids because I’m concerned about what happens when the batteries need to be replaced (and disposed of) and because the batteries do little to improve highway mileage.

The Toyota Yaris meets most of my requirements (the liftback isn’t available with cruise control), and the 40 MPG sticker on the 2007 model looks good compared to other available cars. It also helps that it’s cheap.

The Honda Fit is along similar lines, and the sport version has cruise control, but the fuel economy drops to 37 MPG (lower, in fact, than the Civic) and it’s a bit pricier (not much more, but the idea of paying more for less efficiency kills me).

The Mini scores 37 MPG. Cruise control and dozens of other features are options, and it’s available in so many cute colors, but it also demands a premium price.

The Smart Fortwo (a Daimler/Mercedes Benz brand) is coming to the US early next year (previously imported by Zap). The version Americanized by Zap was rated for 40 MPG, and the Smart site claims “the vehicle is designed to achieve 40 plus mpg under normal driving conditions and current standards.” We’ll have to wait to get the finalized details, but Daimler is claiming it’ll cost less than $12,000 for the base model. (All mileage ratings above were for highway/automatic.)

There are other cars, but, but the EPA’s list of the most efficient cars is pretty slim. The worst realization from that list, however, is that there’s really no super efficient, cheap economy box that we can point at any more (even considering the new EPA formula). In 1995 Honda offered a 50 MPG Civic hatchback and a 1990 Geo Metro scored 51 highway MPG (Pete comments that his 93 Metro is still getting 50 MPG).

Sure our cars are generally getting bigger and heavier, but what else is at work? Why don’t we see those little cheap cars anymore? (It’s not like they’re not making them in Japan.)

cars, car, fuel efficient, econo box, cheap, fuel economy, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris

15 thoughts on “I Want A Cheap Fuel Efficient Car

  1. There was just an AskMe thread about this, the Fit specifically. I wonder the same thing. The 1995 car I just bought gets 30 MPG. It’s hard to believe that we haven’t come a long way since. I’ve heard that you go for the Prius and then get it modded to get 80 MPG — maybe you were telling me that — and that’s what I’d do for my backroad driving personally but for a highway driver… damn. On the other hand, might be worth teaching San to drive stick since those are becoming the cheaper to buy options as fewer and fewer people know how to operate them.

  2. @Jessamyn:

    Yeah, sticks are cheaper on both the new and used market, but I gave up trying to teach San to drive one when it started to affect our marriage. Finding the Scion xB automatic actually gets better mileage than the standard, however, sealed that deal. I’d still consider a standard, but it’d be a hard decision to make.

  3. Automatics seem to be getting better and better gas milage (especially with better torque converters that lockup sooner). Standards also seem to have the ‘sporty fun shifting’ issue that negatively effects gas milage.

    You might also might want to look into ways to drive more efficiently. I tend to get 28-34 mpg in my V6 Nissan Maxima thats rated for like 21/27. There are people who get crazy milage from normal cars. The Honda Accord diesel should be a nice car as well when it comes to this side of the world.

  4. When I was talking to a service rep at our Honda dealer about possibly getting a Fit when it’s time to replace my Honda Civic, he noted that it actually gets worse mileage than the Civic–and why:

    Smaller motor, but because it has to have the full set of safety and emissions equipment that makes all modern U.S. cars heavier, it’s just about as heavy…so the motor’s working harder.

    And I think the above also says why you’re not seeing too many very-high-MPG cars: Multiple air bags, emissions control, etc., are making small cars bigger and heavier.

    I’ll attest that we get 40 to 45MPG *on the highway* in our Civics, with air conditioning running (they’re EX sedans with automatic)–but rarely more than 27 or so in short-commute driving. But we probably get that mileage because we’re not speed demons; we’re rarely more than 3MPH above the limit, if that.

    As for cheap, well, a used Civic might qualify, but…

  5. @Walt:

    I was wondering about the effect of emissions standards on fuel economy. One has to assume that as we add more components to the exhaust system we increase the amount of energy required to push the exhaust through them.

    My wife drives a 2001 Civic and is enjoying good economy, but I have trouble fitting into it. My head bumps against the roof when the seat is mostly upright, and when I recline far enough to clear the roof, I find my arms are too short to comfortably reach the steering wheel. So then I scooch the seat forward and do weird things with my legs to make them fit under there.

    The comfort was one of the winning points when I bought my xB, but all that boxiness defies aerodynamics.


    The EPA’s fueleconomy.gov site now reports all estimates, including those for old cars, with the new rating standard. Those high-economy cars of yesteryear were actually sold with a sticker that suggested as much as 60 MPG (not the 50 or so by today’s standards).

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  7. Casey, My sense is that increased safety standards have more to do with lower fuel economy. At least I think that’s true for Hondas–that company has always known how to build clean engines better than most (they were, I believe, the last manufacturer required to add catalytic converters–and all of their cars meet California’s ULEV standards without requiring special equipment).

    It is interesting that some people (no, it’s not just you) find the Civic too low for comfort, particularly given the interior’s similarity to a 2000 Accord. I don’t doubt it; looks like I really only have 2-3 inches clearance, and I’m somewhat less than 5’11” these days.

    Re the xB: I wonder how much that level of aerodynamics really matters at sane highway speeds? I’m sure it doesn’t matter in city driving. (I know nothing of these matters, to be sure.)

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  11. I also drive roughly 140 miles a day round trip. I drive an 04 Civic Hybrid with 180k on it. I run Amsoil lubricants and filters and change according to their schedule – yielded 6- 8% increase in economy. I routinely get 55 mpg driving mostly highways. My biggest fuel savings came from dropping my speed from 72 – 75 down to 58-60 and staying in the right lane. It increases even more if I go 55, but that gets dangerous to your health with some drivers out there. I leave 10 -15 minutes earlier each morning and smile all the way to work. My stress level is much lower starting my day in this frame of mind rather than jockeying for position out in the second and third lanes.
    Happy Motoring………

  12. You drive 70 MILES each way to work every day? That’ s an incredible amount of time and fuel you are using to get back and forth. Why don’ t you move closer to your job?

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