If you need to know how drastically the car market has changed, consider the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 2014 list of the 10 most fuel-efficient vehicles: They're all powered by electricity, not gasoline. For most consumers, however, an electric car is not a realistic solution, as most electric cars can't travel farther than 100 miles under ideal circumstances. And once depleted, batteries can takes hours to refuel.
So let's take a look at the EPA's most fuel-efficient vehicles – five powered by electricity and six fueled by gasoline.
Vehicles are listed in order by their combined EPA city/highway fuel economy rating. For electric vehicles, ratings are combined mpg-e, or miles per gallon equivalent.
1. Chevrolet Spark EV. EPA rating: 119 mpg-e. Price: $26,685-$27,010.
Surprise! The most fuel-efficient vehicle sold in the United States is a Chevrolet. The Spark EV has an 82-mile range and a top speed of 90 mph. Reaching 60 mph takes fewer than 8 seconds, thanks to the motor's 400 pound-feet of torque. And it's still as fun to drive as its gas-sipping cousin. Too bad it's sold only in Oregon and California.
2. Honda Fit EV. EPA rating: 118 mpg-e. Price: $389 per month (lease only).
The Fit EV is a bit bigger than the Spark EV, is almost as miserly with fuel and also has an 82-mile range. Recharging takes as little as three hours. But you can't buy one – it's offered only as a three-year lease at a fixed price in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Oregon.
3. Fiat 500e. EPA rating: 116 mpg-e. Price: $31,800.
How good is the Fiat 500e? Well, Road & Track named it its Best Electric. The 500e produces 111 horsepower and runs 87 miles on a single charge. It takes less than four hours to re-energize. If you need to drive farther or need a larger vehicle, 500e owners get 12 days of free car rentals annually. But it's sold only in California.
4. Nissan Leaf. EPA rating: 114 mpg-e. Price: $28,980-$35,020.
This vehicle's bizarre pseudo-crossover styling cloaks a vehicle that feels like a normal Japanese auto. Steering effort is light, as is the feel of the pedals. You can momentarily cancel Eco mode for that burst of speed by flooring the accelerator. The EPA estimates its range at 84 miles. Recharging takes 8 hours or more.
5. Smart Fortwo EV. EPA rating: 107 mpg-e. Price: $25,000-$28,000.
For American car buyers, who have gorged on SUVs like starved patrons at an all-you-can-eat buffet, the Smart Fortwo EV is an automotive diet lunch. It has just two seats, a top speed of 78 mph and a range of 68 miles. Recharging takes as little as six hours. And unlike other EVs, it's available as a convertible.
Top gas-powered fuel sippers:
1. (tie) Toyota Prius, Toyota Prius C. EPA rating: 50 mpg. Prices: $24,200-$30,005 (Prius); $19,080-$23,360 (Prius C).
Toyota describes the Prius as "an enthusiast's car for a new kind of enthusiast." But the thrills come not from the speedometer, but from the fuel gauge, which barely budges as the miles pass. The Prius C is 19.1 inches shorter than the Prius and returns 3 mpg more in city driving, but the Prius trumps the C on the highway.
2. (tie) Ford Fusion Hybrid, Honda Accord Hybrid. EPA rating: 47 mpg. Prices: $26,270-$32,600 (Fusion); $29,155-$34,905 (Accord).
It's hard to go wrong with either one of these hybrids. That said, the Ford Fusion Hybrid is better-looking and more fun to drive than the conservatively styled Honda Accord Hybrid. On the other hand, the Honda has a noticeably roomier cabin. And while the Ford is rated at 47 mpg city, 47 highway, the Honda returns 50 mpg city, 45 mpg highway.
3. (tie) Lincoln MKZ Hybrid, Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. EPA rating: 45 mpg. Prices: $35,190 (MKZ); $27,645-$31,895 (Jetta).
The Lincoln MKZ may be mechanically related to the Fusion Hybrid, but it gives up a couple mpg in the process. That said, Lincoln doesn't charge a premium for it; its price is the same as the MKZ's conventional gas model. By contrast, Volkswagen, like many automakers, charges a premium for the hybrid version of the Jetta.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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