Grey Hyundai Elantra on the road
Image by Jeff Perez via Motor1

While people have shifted to working at home thanks to the pandemic, some drivers are still reliant on fuel-efficient transportation for their daily nine-to-five routine.  A recent spike in gas prices has caused many car owners to reexamine their current ride for something that burns less gas.

Here are interesting numbers to think about.  If you spend a lot of time on the road, let’s say 15,000 miles per year, annual fuel costs will run $2,625 (based on a car getting 20 mpg and gas at $3.50).  Fuel costs drop to $1,750 if the car gets 30 mpg and $1,500 at 35 mpg.  It’s easy to see how the savings add up.   

Let’s explore the most fuel-efficient cars of 2021.  We’ll look at new models because they serve as a good benchmark, but you’ll also want to explore what’s available on the used-car scene as previously owned vehicles can minimize your out-of-pocket expenses.   

In addition, we’ll focus on gas-powered cars and gas-electric hybrids.  For simplicity, we’re skipping plug-in hybrids as these can be harder to accurately compare with more conventional vehicles. We’ll also save the discussion about fuel-efficient SUVs and trucks for another article—our attention here is on saving gas (which bulkier vehicles are less likely to do).

Lastly, we’re ranking these cars based on combined EPA-estimated fuel economy, not the city or highway rating (but we’ll include that info). And, we’re covering the most fuel-efficient version of a particular model. For example, the Mitsubishi Mirage has several fuel-efficient variants, but the hatchback with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) is the best fuel sipper, not the Mirage with a manual.

Conventional Gas-Powered Cars

While a purely gas-powered car might seem old school these days, it’s hard to beat this type of vehicle for lower upfront costs and overall simplicity.   

Mitsubishi Mirage

39 combined mpg/36 city/43 highway

If your sole focus in shopping for a more fuel-efficient car is better gas mileage, then put a Mirage hatchback (with the CVT) on your list.  It has the best fuel economy of any new non-hybrid vehicle you can buy.  But, frankly, everything else about the Mirage is underwhelming.  Its three-cylinder engine makes only 78 horsepower, so you’ll need to have some patience when entering highways or driving up an incline. There’s a trade-off for impressive gas mileage.

Hyundai Elantra

37 combined mpg/33 city/37 highway

The Hyundai Elantra offers respectable value and fuel economy. Yes, it’s among the smallest sedans that the Korean automaker produces (the Accent is the smallest) but remember, we’re trying to limit the time spent at a fuel pump.  The base SE is the top fuel sipper in the Elantra lineup. Moving to a more upscale trim means about a 5% increase in gas usage.  The 147-horsepower engine won’t win any races, but the Elantra can at least get out of its own way.

Kia Rio

36 combined mpg/33 city/41 highway

Because we already gave an earlier nod to the Hyundai Elantra, we’ll give attention here to the Kia Rio (which has the same EPA ratings as its corporate cousin, the Hyundai Accent). In other words, both the Rio and Accent are the same car with slightly different wrappers. The 120-horsepower four-cylinder engine connected to a CVT produces the best fuel economy numbers (over the six-speed manual).

Honda Civic

36 combined mpg/33 city/42 highway

Honda has just released an all-new Civic for the 2022 model year, so we’ll skip the discussion on the earlier model.  Unlike with many other cars, the eleventh-generation Civic gets the best mileage in mid-tier (EX) trim.  So, not only do you get the more powerful turbo engine (180 horsepower) over the base LX  (at 158 horsepower), but slightly better fuel use and a decent level of standard equipment. Importantly, the 2022 Civic is only available in the sedan body style.

Toyota Corolla Hatchback

35 combined mpg/32 city/41 highway

While the Corolla sometimes gets a bum rap for being more appliance than a car, the hatchback variant at least adds some versatility to the mix. It also seeks out slightly better mileage than the sedan.  So, to max out Corolla efficiency, get the hatchback in base SE trim and equip it with the CVT.  The six-speed manual can drop the car’s combined mpg rating by more than 10%.

Gas-Electric Hybrids

Gas-electric hybrid cars combine the tried-and-true internal combustion engine with a battery for enhanced fuel economy. These vehicles may cost more initially, but depending on how much you drive, the difference can be recouped in gas savings. 

Hyundai Ioniq

59 combined mpg/58 city/59 highway

The Ioniq is the hands-down fuel economy champ among any standard vehicle.  If you spend a lot of time behind the wheel and want to limit gas station stops, then check out the Ioniq in Blue trim.  The car uses a 43-horsepower electric motor and a 104-horsepower four-cylinder to produce stellar mileage results. Its hatchback body style offers flexibility, too.

Toyota Prius

56 combined mpg/53 city/58 highway

The car that created the hybrid category gets knocked to a still respectable second place in the mileage contest.  But, we’ll give Toyota credit for making the Prius the only car on our list with available all-wheel drive (although this option takes a bit out of the economy numbers).  For maximum Prius mileage, stick with the efficiency-focused Eco trim. 

Hyundai Elantra Hybrid

54 combined mpg/53 city/56 highway

If a Hyundai is your preference but the Ioniq’s looks are too unconventional for you, then consider the Elantra in hybrid form.  You’ll get an attractive-looking sedan packed with the modern technology of a combined 139-horsepower powertrain. Interestingly, the Elantra Hybrid skips a CVT in favor of a smoother dual-clutch automatic.  And, like with the Ioniq, the Blue trim delivers the best mileage. 

Honda Insight

52 combined mpg/49 city/55 highway

For reasons known only to Honda, the company decided not to produce a Civic hybrid (there is an Accord hybrid after all). Instead, Honda carries on the Insight nameplate with a competent car that essentially is a Civic hybrid. Yes, the look is different, but it’s really a tenth-gen Civic in disguise. Both the base LX and mid-tier EX trims offer the best Insight fuel economy.

Toyota Corolla Hybrid

52 combined mpg/53 city/52 highway

Let’s face it, the looks of the Prius are too weird for some car shoppers.  Its bulbous shape helps improve the economy, but this design won’t appeal to every hybrid buyer.  So, Toyota stuffed the Prius’ powertrain into a sedan-only Corolla. The automaker made a wise move combining a legendary nameplate with Toyota’s proven hybrid system 

Looking for a new-to-you car that’s more efficient?  Then check out the huge selection of fuel-sipping used vehicles for sale at Trust Auto.   Please note that our inventory changes frequently and is subject to prior sales. Be sure to ask us about incoming used models.

Buy a Used Car or Truck at Trust Auto

Whether you’re looking to reduce gas costs or it’s just time for a new ride, Trust Auto in Sykesville has what you need: a great selection of high-quality used cars and trucks.

Buying a used car in Virginia? Looking for a used SUV in Washington, DC? Then the best-used vehicles are just a short drive away. Buying a used sedan in Pennsylvania? Buying a used coupe in New York? Then learn how our remote shopping services can help you find the perfect vehicle without ever leaving home. 

Why do customers travel from all over the East Coast to Trust Auto?  It’s because of our huge selection of low-mileage vehicles and a team of professionals focused on your needs.  Your search for the best-used car dealership near me begins and ends with Trust Auto.