Fuel Efficient Cars


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Saving at the Gas Pump - Cars Best on Gas

First, let me start off by saying that I am not all that impressed by the newest hybrids, electric vehicles, and many modern high fuel efficiency vehicles.  One of the reasons why I'm not impressed is because the fuel efficiency of these modern vehicles are not that impressive when you consider that the simple cars best on gas 20-30 years ago can do better than many of the hybrid cars today!  You would think with all the advances in automotive technology over the years, that the highest fuel efficient vehicle should be available right now.  Why should a 20 year old vehicle get better fuel economy than a newer, more technologically advanced car?  Well, there are a few different reasons.  One reason is simply because many modern vehicles are heavier.  Simply put, more weight means that more work needs to be done by the engine to move the vehicle around, and that typically means that more fuel needs to be burned to accomplish that additional work.  Then the natural question moves to why are many modern vehicle heavier? A couple big reasons are that consumer expectations for modern vehicles are much higher than in the past.  People want to have all the latest features that promote occupant comfort and convenience.  These features come at a cost, not only in terms of initial purchase price, but also in terms of vehicle weight and fuel economy.  Features like power windows, power seats, air conditioning, and a host of electronic gadgetry in modern vehicles can tip the scales with additional weight.  You know the old saying, "You can't get something for nothing".  That's true in terms of vehicle features.  A more feature packed vehicle will cost you more to buy and then later at the gas pump.  Another big factor in vehicle weight are the government regulations that require modern vehicles to meet certain safety standards.  Now, I'm not saying that is a bad thing.   A safer vehicle is a good thing, but the fact is that these additional safety features can also add to the weight of a vehicle.  Vehicle weight aside, another reason why the cars best on gas are often older vehicles, is because today many people have a higher expectation for power and performance.  It's a fact that a gutless car is not as much fun to drive than a higher performance vehicle; however, horsepower takes fuel to generate.  If you want more horsepower, then you need to be prepared to feed all those extra horses!

Highest fuel efficiency - over 7000 mpg!

Experimental 7000+ mpg car!  Not something you'll see on the road.  

By now, you've probably figured out that I'm not that impressed with the latest hybrid and high fuel efficiency vehicle.  Not only are the MPG figures not that impressive, but they can cost an arm and a leg to buy!  What good is it to save some money at the gas pump, but it's going to cost you $30,000 - $40,000 to buy the latest hybrid with all the bells and whistles.  Another reason why I'm not that excited about modern hybrids is the battery packs in them.  Battery technology has come a long way, but the fact is that the batteries used in these hybrid vehicle are still heavy, expensive, and have a limited life span.  Then, after their useful life is up, you would not only need to pay a pretty penny to buy new batteries, but you may also be required you to pay an additional hazardous disposal fee to get them to take your old batteries.  I've personally looked into fuel efficient cars, and I've concluded that some of the cars best on gas are the older models.  Here are some of the gems from the past when it comes to highest fuel efficiency.  If you search around, you can still find some of these vehicles in good, roadworthy condition.  These are some of my favorite cars that are best on gas.

1992-1993 Honda Civic VX

Probably my favorite choice is the 92-93 Honda Civic VX hatchback.  In terms of fuel economy, this was an impressive car for it's time.  The peppy 90 HP 4 cylinder VTEC engine was more than adequate for power, while Honda engineers managed to squeeze out up to 50 mpg on the highway with this vehicle.  Some owners have reported well over 50 mpg on the freeway.  That's impressive when you consider this is a 20 year old engine design that put out respectable power.  Some of the ways that Honda engineers managed to achieve these impressive levels of fuel efficiency were with a lean burn engine, higher final drive gear ratio, good aerodynamics, and low rolling resistance tires.  

Honda Civic VX  

1992-1993 Honda Civic VX

Today, if I were looking to buy one of the highest fuel efficiency cars, then I'd try to find a nice 92-93 Civic VX in stock condition.  That can be a bit of a challenge to do, because these models are also popular in the Import performance scene.  Many of these cars have probably been modified, lowered, had the engine swapped out, or otherwise changed in such a way as to ruin the high fuel efficiency that these cars originally came with from the factory.  The key is to try to find one that is in original, stock condition.  They are out there.  You just have to be patient while you search, and then you need to be quicker to get it than the teenager that plans to lower it, put a noisy muffler on back, and add the loud stereo!

1984-1987 Honda Civic CRX HF

Another Honda that achieves impressive fuel economy is the Honda Civic CRX HF.  I chose the 1984-1987 time range because those were the lightest models weighing in at a hair over 1,700lbs.  Later models started gaining weight and within a few years the CRX HF was tipping the scales at nearly 2,000 lbs.  As mentioned earlier, generally less weight means less work (and less fuel) required to move the vehicle from point A to point B.  Unlike the Civic VX 4 seater (5 if you squeeze 3 in the back seat), the CRX is only a 2 seater so keep that in mind if you need additional room for carrying passengers.  Fuel efficiency over 50 mpg is possible from the fuel sipping 58 HP CRX 1.5L 4 cylinder engine.  You won't break any speed records with 58 HP on tap, but then again you probably aren't interested in ultimate performance if you are looking for ultimate fuel economy.   

Honda CRX HF

1984-1987 Honda Civic CRX HF

The CRX HF is another one of my top choices of the cars best on gas if you can find one in good, original condition.  Since it's older than the Civic VX, it might be a little harder to find one in excellent condition.  Then again, the CRX HF had a longer production run than the VX, so in that respect you might have better luck finding one in good condition since more of them were sold over the years.

1991-1994 Geo Metro XFi 

Another contender for the top choice of "cars best on gas" is the humble Geo Metro.  The Geo Metro was offered from 1989 to 1997, but the most fuel efficient ones were the XFi models offered from 91-94.  The earlier models were very light, weighing only around 1600 lbs.  The base model Metro could achieve close to to 50 mpg on the freeway.  That is impressive enough, but the XFi could push that to the upper 50's (rated 58 mpg) if driven carefully on the highway.  That's a lot of miles on a gallon of fuel!  Similar to the Honda Civic VX and CRX, this high fuel efficiency is achieved with low weight (with no frills features), a small and modest engine, and low rolling resistance.  If you've ever seen a Geo Metro, then you know that its looks were nothing to brag about, but the bragging began at the gas station where Metro owners saved big on fuel costs.  Another thing to note was the Geo Metro was a 4 seater car, and so it offers more passenger carrying capacity than the 2 seater CRX. 

Geo Metro XFi

1991-1994 Geo Metro XFi

The key to finding a Geo Metro with the highest fuel efficiency is to find one with the 55 HP 1.0L 3 cylinder engine.  Later models came with a bigger 1.3L 4 cylinder engine, but those were not nearly as fuel efficient as the tiny 3 cylinder engines.  If you are shopping around for a Metro with the motivation of finding one of the best cars on gas, then make sure that you verify it has the 1.0L 3 cylinder engine.  If you want one of the best fuel efficient cars, then try to find one of the 91-94 XFi model.  It came with some engine modifications geared towards maximum fuel efficiency including a lower lift camshaft and revised pistons with only 2 piston rings (to reduce friction).  To complement these engine changes, the engine management computer was reprogrammed for maximum fuel economy, and the final gear ratio was made higher to try to squeeze more miles out of every gallon of fuel.  The cost of the additional MPG of the XFi version was a further reduction in performance.  Power output of the modest 3 cylinder dropped from 55 HP to 48 HP in the XFi.

CONCLUSION:  I've owned a base model Geo Metro and got close to 50 mpg in freeway driving.  It would regularly get in the 40's mpg in overall driving.  It was a reliable little car, but it was not something you'd want to be driving up steep mountain passes regularly.  Even on flat road, it was a strain on the engine to keep the car moving along at 70 mph on the highway.  It was also a bit cramped inside.  No air conditioning also meant that it could be uncomfortable to drive on hot days.  Hey, you can't expect to get something for nothing!  The cars best on gas have to conserve fuel somehow.  Typically, you lose luxury features when you gain fuel economy.  If I was searching for a reasonably priced fuel efficient car today, then I'd look for a 1992-1993 Civic VX.  With attractive styling, a decent performing 90 HP engine, outstanding fuel efficiency of 50 mpg (or more) on the highway, and Honda's reputation for building reliable, quality vehicles, this is one of the cars best on gas that would be at the top of my list.