Most Fuel-Efficient Cars of the Last 25 Years

© Toyota; General Motors; Honda; HondaTop Gas Sippers
In the relentless quest for greater fuel efficiency, today’s vehicles benefit from the latest technological advances, but they are also subject to more stringent emission regulations and new safety requirements compared to older models. The United States Environmental Protection Agency changed the way it estimates fuel economy beginning with the 2008 model year, taking into account faster acceleration, higher speeds, air-conditioner use and colder outside temperatures. Although the new system resulted in lower EPA mileage ratings for most vehicles, the new tests are a better estimate of what a driver can expect to achieve in real-world driving.

© Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.No Electrics, Plug-In Hybrids
Remember that actual fuel mileage still varies depending on driving conditions, driver habits and other factors. To allow better comparison with earlier model years, the EPA issued revised mileage estimates for models prior to 2008. The new ratings are significantly lower, but still compete with today’s high-tech offerings. What follows is a look at the top-rated models over the last 25 years including gasoline, diesels and gas-electric hybrids, but not including plug-in hybrids or full-electric vehicles. We compared vehicles based on the EPA combined average mpg, and all vehicles on this list achieve more than 40 mpg combined.

© American Honda Motor Co., Inc2000–2003 Honda Insight
EPA Rating: 49 mpg city / 61 mpg highway / 53 mpg combined
Topping the list as the most fuel-efficient vehicle of the last 25 years based on the EPA combined average is the 2000–2003 Honda Insight — the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle to be sold in the United States. Also the first vehicle to achieve an EPA highway rating of 70 mpg, the Insight was originally rated by the EPA in 2000 at 61 city/70 highway/65 combined mpg, which was revised to 53 mpg combined with the new rating system, and dropped to 52 mpg for the 2004-2006 models. A small 2-seat coupe with a very aerodynamic shape and lightweight aluminum body, the Honda Insight is powered by Honda’s Integrated Motor Assist system that combines a 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine with a thin electric motor to add additional low-end torque. The Insight was originally offered with a 5-speed manual transmission; a CVT was added for 2001.

© Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.2012–2015 Toyota Prius c
EPA Rating: 53 mpg city / 46 mpg highway / 50 mpg combined
Redesigned for 2015 with sportier, more aggressive exterior styling and a revised interior, the Prius c earns the same EPA ratings to remain Toyota’s lowest cost and most fuel-efficient hybrid. The Hybrid Synergy Drive system combines a 1.5-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine with an electric motor for a total system output of 99 horsepower delivered through a planetary-type CVT. Regenerative braking captures brake energy as electricity and sends it to the battery; both the water pump and power steering are electric.

© Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.2010-2015 Toyota Prius
EPA Rating: 51 mpg city / 48 mpg highway / 50 mpg combined
Fifteen years after the first Toyota Prius debuted, the third-generation Prius ends its run in 2015, with a new Prius set to arrive as a 2016 model. Larger than the Prius c and utilizing a Hybrid Synergy Drive system that combines a 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine with an electric motor for a total system output of 134 horsepower, the Prius achieves the same 50 mpg combined rating as the Prius c with the combination of slightly lower city economy and a slightly higher highway rating. Toyota has sold more than 3.5 million Prius models globally.

© American Honda Motor Co., Inc2014–2015 Honda Accord Hybrid
EPA Rating: 50 mpg city / 45 mpg highway / 47 mpg combined
The Honda Accord Hybrid returned to the lineup for 2014, achieving an EPA rating of 50 mpg city and 47 combined — an impressive accomplishment for a midsize sedan. Powered by a new 2-motor multi-mode hybrid powertrain that combines a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle 4-cylinder engine with two electric motors, the Accord Hybrid can operate in three different modes: EV Drive, Hybrid Drive and Engine Drive. In EV Drive the Accord Hybrid runs in electric-only mode at lower speeds and medium to high-speed cruising.

© General Motors1990–1994 Geo Metro XFi
EPA Rating: 43 mpg city / 52 mpg highway / 47 mpg combined
The Geo Metro was the result of a joint venture between General Motors and Suzuki to produce a small, fuel-efficient vehicle that was sold by General Motors as the Geo Metro, Chevrolet Sprint and Suzuki Swift. The 1990–1994 Geo Metro XFi was the most fuel-efficient version, powered by a 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine with a 5-speed manual transmission and originally rated at 53 city/58 highway/55 combined and revised by the EPA to 43 city/52 highway/47 combined.

© Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.2004–2009 Toyota Prius
EPA Rating: 48 mpg city / 45 mpg highway / 46 mpg combined
Larger, more fuel-efficient and more powerful than the original, the 2004 Toyota Prius debuted with a distinctive aerodynamic design that looked like nothing else on the road. Without a doubt, the second-generation Prius was the car that moved hybrids from early-adopter novelties into the automotive mainstream. Under the rating system at the time, the 2004 Prius increased to 60 city/50 highway/51 combined (revised: 48 city/45 highway/46 combined) compared to 52 city/45 highway/48 combined (revised: 42/41/41) for the first 2001 Prius.

© American Honda Motor Co., Inc2014–2015 Honda Civic Hybrid
EPA Rating: 44 mpg city / 47 mpg highway / 45 mpg combined
For 2014 the Honda Civic Hybrid received enhancements to increase its EPA rating from 44 city/44 highway/44 combined mpg for 2012–2013 to 47 mpg highway and 45 mpg combined. Improvements include aerodynamic changes, upgraded components, engine tuning changes and more efficient regenerative braking. The Civic Hybrid drivetrain combines a 110-horsepower 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine and an electric motor that adds 23 horsepower and 78 lb-ft of torque, with a continuously-variable transmission.

© Volkswagen of America, Inc.2013–2015 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
EPA Rating: 42 mpg city / 48 mpg highway / 45 mpg combined
The newest addition to the Jetta lineup, the Jetta Hybrid is powered by a 1.4-liter TSI 4-cylinder turbocharged engine that produces 150 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque, combined with a 27-horsepower electric motor for a total output of 170 horsepower and 184 lb-ft of torque as low as 1000 rpm. The power gets delivered through a 7-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox which can operate as a full automatic or be shifted manually. Inside, the tachometer is replaced by a “Power Meter” that displays a variety of information about the drive system, including regeneration, ready, efficient driving alternating between gasoline engine and electric power, gasoline engine only and gasoline/electric combination for full system power output.

© American Honda Motor Co., Inc1990–1991 Honda Civic CRX HF
EPA Rating: 40 mpg city / 47 mpg highway / 43 mpg combined
First introduced in 1984 with the second-generation following in 1988, the Honda CRX was a small 2-seat car based on the Civic that was designed to be highly fuel-efficient but still sporty and fun to drive. The CRX HF was the most fuel-efficient version, and the 1986 Honda Civic CRX HF was the first mass-produced 4-cylinder car to achieve a 50 mpg highway rating under the old rating system — and still achieved 47 mpg highway and 43 mpg combined under the revised system. The CRX Si was a performance-oriented version that only achieved 29 mpg combined but was sought after by enthusiasts looking for a balance between performance and efficiency.

© American Honda Motor Co., Inc1992–1995 Honda Civic HB VX
EPA Rating: 39 mpg city / 50 mpg highway / 43 mpg combined
The Civic Hatchback was a very popular model in the 1990s, and Honda added the ultra-efficient VTEC-E Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control system to make the Civic VX the fuel-efficiently leader in the Civic lineup. The Civic VX was powered by a 92-horsepower 1.5-liter 4-cylinder combined with a 5-speed manual transmission to achieve 43 mpg combined.

© Ford Motor Company2013–2016 Ford Fusion Hybrid
EPA Rating: 44 mpg city / 41 mpg highway / 42 mpg combined
The Ford Fusion Hybrid is powered by a 2.0-liter Atkinson-cycle gasoline engine combined with a hybrid transmission that incorporates an electric traction motor combined with a generator in a powersplit transaxle. The hybrid transmission provides electronically-controlled continuously variable transmission function and manages the power output from the gasoline engine and electric drive. Total system output is 188 horsepower, and the regenerative brake system can recover more than 95 percent of the energy normally lost through braking and store it in the battery through the electric drive. An inverter system controller manages the hybrid system powertrain control including DC-to-AC conversion driving the electric motors for optimum efficiency.

© Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.2012–2016 Toyota Prius v
EPA Rating: 44 mpg city / 40 mpg highway / 42 mpg combined
The third and largest member of the Prius family, the Prius v (for versatility) is updated for 2015 with revised styling and additional technology features. The Hybrid Synergy Drive system in the Prius v combines a 1.8-liter Atkinson-cycle engine with a 60-kilowatt (80 horsepower) electric motor for a total output of 134 horsepower. Regenerative braking captures energy and automatic start/stop helps reduce fuel consumption. The driver can choose between four driving modes: Standard, ECO, EV and Power. EV mode will drive on electric power only for a short distance at low speed.

© Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.2011–2016 Lexus CT 200h
EPA Rating: 43 mpg city / 40 mpg highway / 42 mpg combined
The exterior styling of the compact luxury Lexus CT 200h was updated for 2014 to incorporate the Lexus spindle grille and new 17-inch wheels. Powered by a 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine combined with a 650-volt motor/generator, the CT 200h has a combined power output of 134 horsepower delivered through an electronically-controlled CVT. The CT 200h can be operated in four different modes: Normal, Sport, Eco or EV. Normal mode has a linear throttle response for progressive power, sport is a more dynamic throttle response and Eco reduces throttle response and adjusts air-conditioning settings to improve fuel economy. The CT 200h can be operated for a short distance in electric-only mode.

© American Honda Motor Co., Inc2012–2014 Honda Insight
EPA Rating: 41 mpg city / 44 mpg highway / 42 mpg combined
The Insight returned to the Honda lineup for the 2010 model year, but unlike the original 2-seat aerodynamic commuter, the second-generation Insight is a 4-door hatchback aimed squarely at the popular Toyota Prius. The Integrated Motor Assist hybrid system weds a 1.3-liter gasoline engine with a 10-kilowatt electric motor for a combined output of 98 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. For 2012 the exterior styling of the Insight got am update along with interior improvements and a focus on reducing friction in the engine and CVT; the result was a 1 mpg mileage increase from the 40 city/43 highway/41 combined for the 2010–2011 model.

© American Honda Motor Co., Inc2006–2010 Honda Civic Hybrid
EPA Rating: 40 mpg city / 45 mpg highway / 42 mpg combined
Redesigned for the 2006 model year, the Honda Civic Hybrid received an updated Integrated Motor Assist (IMA) system to improve combined fuel economy by 1 mpg over the previous model. The new IMA is lighter and more powerful, combining a 1.3-liter gasoline engine that produces 110 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque with a 20-horsepower electric motor and a standard CVT. The exclusive Civic Hybrid interior includes IMA specific instrument panel and 2-tone seats.

© Hyundai Motor America2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid SE
EPA Rating: 40 mpg city / 44 mpg highway / 42 mpg combined
The second-generation Sonata Hybrid debuted earlier this year with a more powerful and more efficient drivetrain than the previous version, achieving a 4 mpg increase to 40 mpg city/44 mpg highway/42 mpg combined. The new Sonata Hybrid is powered by a 2.0-liter gasoline direct-injection 4-cylinder engine combined with a 6-speed automatic transmission that includes a more powerful 38-kilowatt electric motor and a clutch in place of the torque converter. Hyundai’s Transmission-Mounted Electrical Device delivers responsive power while improving fuel economy with the larger electric motor. The transmission uses an electric oil pump for improved efficiency. The Sonata Hybrid can operate on electric power alone at speeds up to 75 mph. The 2.0-liter engine produces 154 horsepower and 140 lb-ft of torque, and the electric motor produces 38 kilowatts (51 horsepower) and 151 lb-ft of torque for a total combined output of 193 horsepower.

© Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.2012–2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE
EPA Rating: 43 mpg city / 39 mpg highway / 41 mpg combined
Toyota’s best-selling midsize sedan is offered as a hybrid model, powered by a Hybrid Synergy Drive system that combines a 2.5-liter Atkinson-cycle engine with a high-torque electric motor for a total output of 200 horsepower. The Toyota Camry Hybrid can be operated for a short distance at low speed in all-electric mode, or the driver can select ECO mode which will optimize throttle response and air-conditioning output to maximize fuel economy.

© Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.2001 Toyota Prius
EPA Rating: 42 mpg city / 41 mpg highway / 41 mpg combined
The first Toyota Prius went on sale in 1997 in Japan and launched in the U.S. market in 2000 as a 2001 model, becoming the world’s first mass-produced gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle that combines a small gasoline internal combustion engine with an electric motor for more power when needed. A compact 5-passenger sedan, the 2001 Prius received EPA ratings at the time of 52 mpg city/45 mpg highway/48 mpg combined, later revised to 42 city/41 highway/41 combined under the new system.

© American Honda Motor Co., Inc2003–2005 Honda Civic Hybrid
EPA Rating: 40 mpg city / 43 mpg highway / 41 mpg combined
The first Honda Civic Hybrid went on sale in 2002 as a 2003 model, powered by a new IMA system that was 50 percent smaller than in previous Honda hybrid models and allowed the Power Control Unit and battery pack to be located behind the rear seat for less impact on truck volume and no impact on interior space. The IMA mates a 1.3-liter gasoline engine and a 10-kilowatt electric motor combined with either a CVT or 5-speed manual transmission. Original EPA ratings were 46 mpg city/51 mpg highway/48 mpg combined before being revised under the new 2008 rating system.

© General Motors1990 Chevrolet Sprint/Geo Metro
EPA Rating: 38 mpg city / 45 mpg highway / 41 mpg combined
The Geo Metro was the result of a joint venture between General Motors and Suzuki to produce a small, fuel-efficient vehicle that was sold by General Motors as the Geo Metro, Chevrolet Sprint and Suzuki Swift. The 1990–1994 Geo Metro XFi was the most fuel-efficient version, but the standard version was powered by a 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine with a 5-speed manual transmission was originally rated at 46 mpg city/50 mpg highway/47 mpg combined before being revised to 38 mpg city/45 mpg highway/41 mpg combined.

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