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How to Buy a Fuel-efficient Car

Buying a Fuel-Efficient Car

Buying with fuel economy in mind doesn't require you to own a vehicle you don't want. Rather, it means shopping for the vehicle that gives the features you want with the best available fuel economy. You'll save money in gas, and do your part to signal auto manufacturers to make more energy-efficient vehicles.

Your first decision is what type of vehicle to drive. Choices range from gas-sipping compacts to gas-guzzling sports utility vehicle, and in between is a bewildering range of cars, trucks, and crossovers. This basic decision is based on a variety of factors: how much you are able or willing to spend on a vehicle, what size or type of vehicle you may actually require, and the emotional component.

In a very real sense, the opportunity for greatest gas savings rests with those whose economic circumstances give them the freedom to choose from a wider variety of vehicle types. If a tight budget is your guide, you may be forced into a smaller, less-expensive car. That means a relatively lightweight vehicle with few gas-draining options and likely a small, efficient engine. If you're in a position to choose from among various sizes and types of vehicles, remember that there are fuel-efficient choices even among seeming gas guzzlers such as sports cars, premium sedans, and SUVs.

Emotion is part of the fabric of the auto world. What your choice of vehicle says about you, what you think it says about you, and how it makes you feel are at the root of more car-buying decisions than many of us might like to admit. But saving fuel is just as emotional, for what it says about you, and how it makes you feel.

Consumer Guide®'s Fuel-Economy Experience

Here are representative samples of the some of most fuel-efficient 2005 models in several vehicle categories as recorded in road tests by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide®. For an up-to-the-minute look at the fuel economy we recorded for hundreds of new and used cars, go to

Please note: AWD for all-wheel drive, 4WD for 4-wheel drive, 2WD for 2-wheel drive, and TDI for turbocharged diesel engine.

Compact Cars

  • Honda Insight, a 2-seat gas/electric hybrid. A manual-transmission Insight tested in and around Chicago averaged 57.3 mpg. Performance runs and high-speed freeways kept a California test car to 48.9 mpg. An Insight with a continuously variable automatic transmission averaged 48.1 mpg.
  • Toyota Prius (a 5-seat hybrid): Test cars averaged 42.6 to 45.2 mpg in normal driving; another did 36.7 including gas-eating performance runs.
  • Volkswagen Golf TDI: With manual transmission, the Golf TDI averaged 41.5 mpg.

Midsize Cars

  • Honda Accord/Accord Hybrid: Hybrid model averaged 29.8 mpg over 2,230 miles. In tests of 4-cylinder coupes, manual-transmission models averaged 22.7 to 30.6 mpg, automatic-transmission versions 25.2 mpg. Four-cylinder sedans averaged 22.4 to 26.1 mpg. Automatic-transmission sedans averaged 22.4 mpg in city/highway mix, 26.1 mpg in mostly highway driving.
  • Volkswagen Passat TDI (diesel): Test TDI wagons averaged 28.7 to 35.3 mpg.

Premium Compact Cars

  • Acura TSX: Test manual-transmission TSXs averaged 22.6 to 30.2 mpg, test automatics 26.3 to 26.4 mpg. Premium-grade fuel required.
  • Audi A4: Test manual-transmission 2.0 T Avants averaged 20.3 to 22.5 mpg. Test V6 Cabriolets with CVT averaged 19.8 to 20.7 mpg. S4 Cabriolet with manual transmission averaged 14.1, manual S4 sedans 16.1 to 18.4 mpg. Audi recommends premium-grade fuel for all A4s.
  • BMW 3-Series sedan: Test manual-transmission 330i averaged 22.3 mpg in mixed city/highway driving. BMW recommends premium-grade fuel for both engines.

Premium Midsize Cars

  • Mercedes-Benz E-320 CDI (diesel): Test E320 CDIs averaged 33.7 mpg in mostly highway driving, 27 to 29.2 with more city driving.


  • Chrysler Town & Country/Dodge Caravan: Test Town & Country with 3.8 V6 averaged 18.5 mpg; expect about the same for similar Grand Caravan. Overburdened 3.3 should average 15 to 17 mpg in Grands. Test regular-length 4-cylinder model averaged 19.8 in city/highway mix.
  • Mazda MPV: Averaged 21.9 mpg. That's better than the minivan norm, but our test included lots of highway driving.
  • Toyota Sienna: AWD model averaged 18 mpg over 19,780 mi. in a test heavy on highway driving. (Toyota recommends premium-grade fuel.)

Compact SUVs

  • Ford Escape/Escape Hybrid: Test 2WD 4-cylinder Escape averaged 20.5 mpg. Test AWD V6 Escapes and Tributes averaged 17.5 to 19.2 mpg in mixed city/highway driving. Test AWD Escape Hybrid averaged 28.4 mpg in mixed driving, 23.5 mpg in city driving that included gas-eating performance tests.
  • Honda Element: Test automatic-transmission AWD averaged 21.2 mpg. Test manual-transmission 2WD returned 22 mpg, including gas-eating performance tests. Test manual-transmission AWD averaged 19.2 in mostly city driving.
  • Mitsubishi Outlander: In a city/highway mix of driving and with automatic transmission, test 2WD Outlander averaged 22.5 mpg, AWD version 22.3.
  • Subaru Forester: Test automatic-transmission models averaged 19.4 to 24.2 mpg. Expect slightly higher with manual. Test XT with automatic averaged 18.5 in mostly highway driving. XT requires premium-grade fuel; other models use regular.

Midsize SUVs

  • Toyota Highlander 4-cylinder and Hybrid: Test Hybrid averaged 26.3 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving. Test 4-cylinder AWD averaged 19.6 mpg in mixed driving. Toyota recommends regular-grade fuel for 4-cylinder models, premium for Hybrid.
  • Ford Freestyle: Test AWD model averaged 19.7 mpg in an even city/highway driving mix and 18.7 including gas-eating performance runs.
  • Nissan Murano: Test 2WD Muranos averaged 19.6 to 20.1 mpg in mixed city/highway driving-quite good for a V6 midsize SUV. Test AWD model averaged 16.3 in mostly city driving. Nissan recommends 91-octane fuel.

Large SUVs

  • Chevrolet Tahoe: Chevrolet Tahoe with 4.8-liter V8 averaged 12.2 mpg.
  • Toyota Sequoia: Test 4WD versions averaged 13.8 to 15.6 mpg.

Premium Midsize SUVs

  • Lexus RX 330 and 400h (400h is a hybrid): In our tests, 2WD 330 averaged 14.2 mpg, RX 400h 22.7, both with mostly city driving and gas-eating performance runs. AWD 330 averaged 20.6 mpg mostly on highway. Premium-grade fuel required for all.

Compact Pickup Trucks

  • Chevrolet Colorado: Extended-cab 2WD 5-cylinder averaged 18.8 mpg. Crew Cab 4WD 5-cylinder averaged 18.1. Both were driven mostly highway. Manual-transmission 2WD 4-cylinder regular cab averaged 18.1 mpg in mostly city driving.
  • Honda Ridgeline: Averaged 16.2 to 18.3 mpg in mixed city/highway driving.

Options such as all-wheel drive, automatic transmission, and even power windows can reduce your fuel efficiency. In the last section, we'll take a look at various options and the negative impact they'll have on your mileage.