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.)