What Makes a Fuel Efficient Car? The 8 Most Fuel Efficient Cars

January 27, 2012

There are many aspects to fuel efficiency and how your vehicle becomes a fuel efficient car. The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, comes out with their own fuel economy ratings for every car on the market. They put the car through a variety of tests to come up with their final city/highway/combined miles per gallon numbers. To score high on their chart, you must have a fuel efficient car, and here are some of the qualities of said cars.

Aerodynamics
Aerodynamics are very important when it comes to making a car fuel efficient. If you take a look at the design of a pickup truck and compare that to a hybrid, you will notice the hybrid is much smaller, and shaped much better. There are even some crazy designs, like the Aptera car. Aerodynamics has to do with the air around the car. As you drive, the car actually has to push the air out of its way, and air is quite thick. By having an aerodynamic design, you allow the air to be pushed out at optimal levels, and the car flows through easily with the least amount of gas needed. A smaller car will have much less drag than a big truck.

Speed
Your driving speed is very important when it comes to making a car fuel efficient. A car may get 40 miles per gallon; however, if you are not driving it correctly, then this number may not apply. If you constantly adjust your speed, for instance running up on the car ahead of you and then slowing to wait for room for another burst of speed, you will burn more gas. Driving at constant speeds cause no acceleration. No acceleration means little gas is being burned. This is optimal, and an advantage of cruise control. The EPA tests are done using pre-set conditions and at the optimal speed for that car. Typically, the average optimal speed is around 55 miles per hour.

Engine Type
The engine also plays a role in fuel efficiency. Diesel is more efficient than gasoline engines. Coupled with that, the amount of power that the engine creates also determines the fuel economy. A four cylinder engine will be more efficient than a V6 or V8 engine. Often times, trucks have V6 and V8 engines in addition to poor aerodynamics and weight, hence they have poor fuel economy.

Size and Weight
The size and the weight of the vehicle has a direct impact on the degree of fuel efficiency of the car. Generally bigger vehicles are also heavier and while this might not always be the case, it holds true for most trucks and SUV's. The bigger and heavier the car, the more energy and power it needs to run. The ability of the car to achieve speeds and carry the mass of the vehicle as well as that of passengers and cargo is dependent on the power it can generate. As a result, bulky vehicles tend to be less fuel efficient.

Axle Ratio
The axle ratio has a heavy impact on the amount of fuel efficiency that can be derived from a car. Many vehicles do not come with the option of getting to pick from a variety of axle ratios, but for those that do, it is advisable to pick the combination with the smallest numbers, as this means there will be greater fuel economy. A smaller degree of axle ratio means the vehicle will be able to run smoothly at a distance, and the engine will function at a lower intensity for a prolonged standard speed. One should look for an axle ratio of around 3:1 or lower.

Low Emissions
This is not a direct part of fuel efficiency, but they are often linked. Fuel efficient vehicles are typically low on emissions as well. ULEV, or ultra low emissions vehicles are becoming very popular in the car market.

What Are the Most Fuel Efficient Cars?

When it comes to fuel efficient cars, there is quite the long list. One of the great things about this list is that most of these cars can be considered inexpensive. No car on this list will cost more than $20,000 and all offer more than 30 miles per gallon.

  • Toyota Prius. The Toyota Prius was one of the most fuel efficient cars in 2009. The Prius has been available since 2001 and it leads this list. Most Prius models received fuel economy ratings of 44 miles per gallon on the highway, and 41 miles per gallon in the city. The older versions should be less than $10,000, but some of the new ones may eclipse that number. Since the Prius is a hybrid, it also has low emissions.
  • Honda Insight. The Honda Insight is another popular option. The 2006 Insight actually holds the world record for having the longest lasting tank of gas. The tank lasted for almost 2,300 miles, and came out to 168 miles to the gallon for that tank. The driver used hypermiling techniques to improve on the approximate 45 miles per gallon it got. The 2000 model actually eclipsed 50 miles per gallon on the manual transmission version.
  • Honda Civic. The Honda Civic is another staple on this list. The Civic began offering a hybrid version in 2003, and has decreased its overall fuel consumption. The Civics range between 35 and 37 miles per gallon, depending on year. They should also run between $8,000 and $15,000.
  • Toyota Echo. The Toyota Echo is the second of three Toyotas on this list. The Echo was the entry level car for Toyota for the first half of the last decade. It offered a cheap car with great mileage ratings of 38 miles per gallon.
  • Toyota Yaris. The Echo gave way to the Toyota Yaris as the new entry level car, and the Yaris kept the same great mileage. The Yaris only states about 35 miles per gallon, but many who have them have said they get more than 40 miles per gallon, and fill up much less often than their other cars.
  • Honda Fit. The Honda Fit from 2007 and 2008 had a sport and base model that offered great mileage for around $14,000. The sport offered around 34 miles per gallon for its manual model, and the base automatic model had 32 miles per gallon ratings.
  • Nissan Altima. The only Nissan on the list, the Nissan Altima, cracks this list for their 2007 and 2008 models. The Altima was a hybrid and got 32 miles per gallon. The Nissan Leaf will be on this list in a few years.
  • Scion. Scion has made some fuel efficient cars with their xA, xB, and xD models. All three of these models boast of a 32 miles per gallon rating.

Finding a Fuel Efficient Car Online

If you're shopping for fuel efficient cars, you'll want to know where to go to find out information about cars in your price range that get the best fuel economy. There are many vehicles manufactured with fuel efficiency in mind, and there are even more websites that offer great information on those vehicles.

Visit the Best Car Review Websites
Websites like CarAndDriver.com, ConsumerReports.org and MotorTrend.com all offer reviews on many types of fuel efficient vehicles. In fact, these websites usually publish annual list of the year's most fuel efficient cars. They also allow you to make comparisons between different fuel efficient vehicles you may be interested in.

Visit Eco-Friendly Car Websites
Because fuel efficient vehicles are much better for the environment than vehicles that are considered to be gas guzzlers, many car related websites that promote eco-friendly, fuel-efficient vehicles also publish lists of the best fuel efficient vehicles. If you are concerned with helping the environment and saving money on gas, these types of websites can offer you excellent information. Visit websites like GreenCarsOnline.com and HybridCars.com to view information about different fuel efficient vehicles.

Visit Pricing Guide Websites
You can also visit websites like Kelley Blue Book and the Edmunds pricing guide to find fuel efficient vehicles as well. If you have narrowed your search to two or three different vehicles, you can get valuable pricing information on the vehicles as well as detailed specifications and EPA fuel economy ratings.

How to Compare Fuel Efficient Cars

When it comes to fuel efficient cars, make sure you have a good set of parameters to compare the cars on your wish list. You will see lots of commercials boasting about high efficiency, and they will throw a lot of information at you in an instant. You need to be able to sift through all of this and figure out what you need to know about fuel efficiency.

EPA Ratings
The EPA ratings are the number one thing you can use to figure out which cars are more fuel efficient than their competition. Every car has a rating in the form of miles per gallon. Each car gets three ratings, one for its city mileage, one for its highway mileage, and one for its overall combined mileage. This combined mileage is the average amount of miles per gallon for most drivers, which usually consists of 55 percent city driving, and 45 percent highway driving.

Fuel Type
The type of fuel that the car runs on is also important when comparing the fuel efficiency. In general, diesel cars are more fuel efficient than cars that run on gasoline. This is because diesel has a higher density, and therefore more BTU's per gallon of gasoline. This means you need more gas to equal the output of diesel. Buying a diesel car will likely net you many more miles per gallon. However, the fuel emissions for diesel vehicles are not that great, and some of them do not pass the tough emissions standards set by some states.

Fuel Price
Fuel price is another thing to consider when comparing these cars. Gasoline is normally the base line when it comes to fuel price, meaning most other fuels are compared to the price of gasoline. Diesel is all over the map. Sometimes it is higher, and sometimes it is lower. Normally, it is within a range of 15 percent of the regular gasoline price. However, diesel has about 33 percent higher fuel economy, meaning that the diesel car will get you the most miles per gallon for your buck. Another popular fuel source is a biofuel called E85. E85 stands for Ethanol 85, which is comprised of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. This fuel is much cheaper than gasoline, as much as 30 percent lower than gasoline. However, there is nowhere near as much energy in E85 than there is in regular gasoline. Usually, biofuels will get you around half the mileage. So in this case, it would not be a good buy. However, if you prefer to pay the higher price (when you match the MPG for each fuel type), you will be getting a more environmentally sound fuel.

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