Now that we’re past the half-way point in the 2010s, it might be a good time to take a look at the state of the auto industry. With the rising role of technology in our cars, and the growing acceptance of hybrids and EVs, things are changing quickly, and largely for the better. There are still plenty of gas-guzzlers out there — we’re looking at you, Hellcat twins — but for the most part, fuel economy is steadily improving even while fuel prices remain low.
And while fuel-sipping cars used to be largely in the realm of tiny, often underpowered econoboxes, innovations like underbody aerodynamics, cylinder deactivation, eight- and nine-speed transmissions, and start-stop functions mean that there’s a more diverse group of gas misers than ever before.
We took a look at 2016 models and found a varied assortment that can return over 40 miles per gallon (MPG) on the highway — no batteries needed. From tiny and buzzy to big and luxurious, here they are ranked in terms of fuel economy.
1. Mitsubishi Mirage
The Mirage may usually gets bad press, but we like its new-for-2016 sheetmetal, and with a five-speed manual transmission, it can be surprisingly fun to drive for a car that can be had for under $13K. Plus, we can’t argue with 43 miles per gallon on the highway and 37 in the city, even if we only have 78 horsepower to work with. Still, it is the closest car on this list to the ’80s-era econoboxes that still give some drivers nightmares.
2. Scion iA
Scion might be a lame-duck brand, but the new-for-2016 iA will live on as a Toyota, and that’s a good thing. Beneath the Scion/Toyota badge, it’s none other than a Mazda2, a model that disappeared from our shores after 2014, and did wonders for adding some enjoyment to its subcompact segment. The soon-to-be Toyota returns 42 miles per gallon on the highway and 33 in the city.
3. BMW 328d
With its famous combination of luxury, performance, and tech, there’s a reason why BMW’s 3 Series is the mark by which all other entry-level luxury sedans are measured. With its 180 horsepower and 7.4 second zero to 60 time, the diesel-powered 328d won’t be mistaken for an M3 anytime soon. But with 280 pound-feet of twist and an eight-speed automatic Sport transmission routing power to the rear wheels, it’s about as close as any current diesel car comes to being a sport sedan. BMW’s oil burner is good for 42 miles per gallon on the highway and 32 in the city.
4. Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTEC
Mercedes’s mid-size E-Class underwent a comprehensive refresh for 2016, and is closer to the S-Class in looks and comfort than ever before. But while you can’t get anything smaller than a V8 in Mercedes’s range-topper (at least not in the U.S.), the E-Class is available with a turbocharged BlueTEC inline-four. You aren’t going to win any drag races with its 195 horsepower engine, but 42 miles per gallon on the highway and 28 in the city means you’ll be on the road long after the gas-powered E-Class had to stop off at the pump.
5. Honda Civic
Way back when, the Civic was an econobox itself, but it’s since grown into the venerable nameplate that’s respected by nearly everyone. All-new for 2016, the Civic blends economy, tech, style, and even a little performance better than virtually any other car on the market regardless of price. And with the base 2.0-liter four paired with the CVT automatic, the Civic returns 41 miles per gallon on the highway and 30 in the city.
6. Chevy Sonic
Designed in Korea, based on a European platform, and built in the U.S., the Sonic is a World Car in every sense of the term. Chevy did its best to make its subcompact interesting and fun to drive, and for the most part, it succeeded. And with the available 1.4-liter turbocharged inline-four mated to a six-speed manual transmission, the Sonic returns an impressive 40 miles per gallon on the highway and 29 in the city. A refreshed model is on its way for 2017, but we don’t expect its lack of appetite for fuel to change.
7. Ford Focus SE EcoBoost
After years of being shunned for its rough idle and mechanical quirks, the inline-three is making a big comeback, and a lot of that has to do with Ford’s brilliant little 1.0-liter EcoBoost engine. With an engine block small enough to fit in a carry-on suitcase, the EcoBoost (a $795 option on the mid-level Focus SE) uses turbocharging and direct injection to pump out a respectable 120 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque — giving it nearly twice the power as the three found in the Mitsubishi Mirage. Mated to a six-speed manual transmission, the EcoBoost delivers 40 miles per gallon on the highway, and 28 in the city.
8. Mazda6 Grand Touring
Toyota may sell more Camrys, and the Accord may be better known, but for years, the Mazda6 has been the go-to for buyers who want their midsize sedans to be sexy, modern, and (gasp!) fun to drive. Of course, the 6 is all those things, but what’s even more impressive is that when Grand Touring models are optioned with the Technology Package i-ELOOP (a regenerative braking system that powers your car’s electrical system, lightening the engine’s load), the sedan returns 40 miles per gallon on the highway and 28 in the city. As if you needed another reason to buy one.
Check out Autos Cheat Sheet on Facebook