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Cheapest Fuel Efficient Cars: Fit Is Go!

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Fit Is GoI’m surprised it took this long for someone to produce a list of the top ten cars in price per miles per gallon but Consumer Reports finally came through. We all know that hybrid vehicles are great fuel efficient cars but we also know that there is a waiting list for the Prius, hybrid vehicles are expensive (with many of the hybrid vehicle tax breaks expiring), and take nearly a decade to break-even on gas prices. It turns out that the most fuel efficient car, dollar for dollar in price, is the manual transmission Honda Fit Sport at $464 per MPG, edging out its base-model non-sport sibling and the base Toyota Prius.

Here are some thoughts I had about the list:

  • If you’re trying to do any break-even comparisons between cars, you can use this list to help you. Look for a pricier car with a higher MPG and you can calculate the break-even versus a cheaper car. For example, the $23,780 Toyota Prius with 44 MPG will catch up to the Mazda3i ($17,290, 30 MPG) in terms of base cost + fuel when the odometer hits ~152,978 miles at $4/gallon gasoline. That’s a lot of miles huh?
  • Four Hondas are on the list, including the Fit and Fit Sport taking the top spot. Three Toyotas (Scion is a subsidiary of Toyota) are on the list along with a Hyundai, Nissan, and the lone “American” car the Mazda3 (Mazda has Japanese origins but is now a Ford brand, hence the quotes).
  • I’m surprised to see only three manual vehicles on the list because manuals often get great fuel mileage and because manual transmissions vehicles are usually cheaper than the automatic ones, usually resulting in lower vehicle costs. A great frugal tip on cars is that you can save a few hundred dollars to a grand on a car if you buy a manual.
  • I’m not surprised to see that these are all small vehicles (you could argue that the Fit is smaller than small).
  • The difference between #1 (Honda Fit Sport) and #10 (Scion tC) in price per MPG is pretty significant – $194 per MPG.

Full table after the jump.

Model As tested Price Overall mpg Price per mpg
Honda Fit Sport (manual) $15,765 34 $464
Honda Fit (base) 15,245 32 476
Toyota Prius (base) 23,780 44 540
Mazda3 i (manual) 17,290 30 576
Toyota Prius Touring 24,803 42 591
Nissan Versa 1.8 SL 16,675 28 596
Honda Civic Hybrid 22,400 37 605
Honda Civic EX (manual) 18,810 31 607
Hyundai Elantra GLS 17,555 27 650
Scion tC (base) 17,115 26 658


In addition to being fuel efficient vehicles, every car on the list is “recommended” by Consumer Reports, meaning it meets their quality requirements, and is have strong owner-cost ratings so you can be assured you’re not going to face huge maintenance issues down the road. I think those are two very important considerations when buying a car but I’m not at all surprised CR took that into account.

Best fuel economy for the buck [Consumer Reports]

(photo: chicanerii)

{ 23 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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23 Responses to “Cheapest Fuel Efficient Cars: Fit Is Go!”

  1. Jeremy says:

    Interesting. I paid around 12k for a used 2006 pontiac grand am, and it has a rated MPG of 20/29 and my overall MPG over the past 3 months is around 27. Not bad. I paid a lot less buying used, and I don’t have to drive something as ugly as a Scion or Hyundai to get the same fuel efficiency :D

  2. CK says:

    It would be interesting to figure in cargo/passenger volume as well. As well as safety. Of course this starts to make things a lot more subjective and difficult to compare.

  3. Traciatim says:

    I’m with Jeremy, though I went with a 2002 Ford Taurus in 2004 . . . I don’t get the MPG that he does because I drive a little aggressively though and I drive mainly in the city so I’m pulling about 22MPG.

    I’d also like to point out that when rated in deaths per million registered vehicles in 2005 Mini cars were at 144, small cars at 106 and Large at 67. I’m not sure where the Grand Am and Taurus sit, but I sure don’t want to be the person that turns in to a pinball in an accident. Can you imagine my 3300lb Taurus smacking head long at 60MPG in to a 2500lb Fit?

    Oh, and how is it that my 200HP 3.0L V6 pulling a 3300lb ‘old guy’ car is rated at 28MPG on the highway and a little 2500lb tin can with 109HP 1.5L I4 is only rates at 34MPG?

  4. Traciatim says:

    Sorry, that should by 60MPH in the collision comparison.

  5. Jeremy says:

    Oops, I should add that I have a 2005, which we purchased in 2006. They stopped making the grand am in 05 and stuck with the G6 since then. But like Traciatim said, I need a little more car for my job (hauling boxes of junk to various locations) and the added safety with all the idiots on the road driving big trucks and oversized SUVs is an added bonus.

  6. AwDude says:

    To answer your question “Oh, and how is it that my 200HP 3.0L V6 pulling a 3300lb ‘old guy’ car is rated at 28MPG on the highway and a little 2500lb tin can with 109HP 1.5L I4 is only rates at 34MPG?”

    As you have stated, your Taurus really gets only 22mpg while the Fit really does get 34 mpg or better. Most of us get better.

  7. Dave says:

    I would have to argue that this list does not tell the whole picture. I guess if you were only concerned about the fuel economy of the car and price, and did not care about anything else, this would be useful. However, I think Edmunds’ True Cost to Own (TCO) is a much better way to evaluate cars. TCO gives the 5 year cost of owning the vehicle including Depreciation, Financing, Insurance, Taxes, Fuel, Maintenance & Repairs. Granted some of these are estimates (since the cars are new) but at least it does consider some of the other costs associated with owning a car. Fuel ends up being about 1/3-1/4 of the cost of owning a car over the first 5 years. The cars on the list are generally not expensive to own, except for the Prius, which costs approximately $0.61 a mile (as opposed to $0.47 a mile for the Honda Fit (base)). The reason? Depreciation, financing, taxes, and insurance are all much higher for the Prius, which more than offsets the savings in fuel.

  8. Rick Morley says:

    I’m surprised hwo low all these figures are. I have a Toyota Corolla. It is not a hybrid. And yet it gets great gas mileage. I typically get 43mpg in the summer, and 38 in the winter. This is mostly city driving. My summer mileage is just barely below the prius’ mileage. Is that for real? I’ve never driven a Prius myself, so I can’t say what kind of mileage I’d get with it.

    In any case, I bought my Corolla new, so I paid just under $400 per MPG.

  9. jim says:

    Dave: You’re right, the TCO is a more accurate measure from a cost perspective but we need a modified TCO that excludes fuel. I believe TCO includes fuel right? (I’m not 100% sure about this) Otherwise, you have a self-referential measure…

    Rick: Low as in price or low as in fuel efficiency? Remember that the EPA changed how they calculated it so it is lower than what you might be accustomed to.. though more accurate. I’d rather the estimate be low (how it appears now), than the reverse (how it used to be). As long as they’re all accurate…

  10. Rick Morley says:

    Low as in fuel efficiency. My car is a 2004 model, which I believe is before the new EPA guidelines were released (I think). The sticker on the window had said 32 city / 41 highway, and yet I do average more than that, even in the city.

    In any case, I’m still surprised on the number of people that still drive vehicles under 25mpg, which the price of gas as it is these days.

  11. Dave says:

    Jim,

    I don’t see why you can’t just use the TCO (or the equivalent Cost per Mile) to compare. Fuel is included in the TCO and it should be. Example:

    2008 Toyota Prius (base) vs. Honda Fit
    True Cost to Own (based on first 5 yrs), assumes 15000 miles per yr, purchased with 10% down
    MSRP $22875 vs $13950
    Depreciation $15918 vs $8568
    Financing $5442 vs $2780
    Insurance $10323 vs $8993
    Taxes & Fees (for MD) $1974 vs $1128
    Fuel $6700 vs $9722
    Maintenance $4629 vs $3403
    Repairs $797 vs $797
    —————————-
    Total $45783 vs $35391
    Dividing by 15000x5yrs gives you:
    $.61 a mile for the Prius vs $.47 for the Fit.

  12. jim says:

    Rick: The cost to change is pretty high, but I agree with you.

    Dave: Thinking about it some more, and with your explanation, there’s no reason why TCO wouldn’t be a better metric whether it included fuel or not.

  13. Traciatim says:

    awDude, If you in fact read my post you would realize why I would get 22MPG when my car is rated at 20MPG city and 27MPG highway.

    What my point was is that I find it very interesting that this little 2500lb car with an engine making 109HP is rated to get 34MPG on the highway when my 3300lb 200HP car is rated at 27MPG. You would think in 6 years with all the push to get cars more efficient that the progress would be better.

    Take for example a cheaper Ford Focus S, it puts out 140HP and lugs around an extra 200lbs over the fit . . . yet is rated at 35MPG on the highway. How can an engine push 200 extra lbs, in a bigger car down the highway and get slightly better gas mileage? Cause it’s more efficient.

    How come the $14,755 35MPG focus ($421 / MPG) isn’t on top of that list . . . If you include the $1000 rebate then it’s a 13,755 35MPG focus, or $393 / MPG . . . I guess we skip over ford because we like sending our money away.

  14. James says:

    Traciatim,
    are you really worried about 144 deaths per million? if you do the math it’s unbelievably unlikely you’ll be killed in any size car ( based on the numbers given):
    144/1,000,000=0.000144 67/1,000,000=0.000001

    “I’d also like to point out that when rated in deaths per million registered vehicles in 2005 Mini cars were at 144, small cars at 106 and Large at 67. I’m not sure where the Grand Am and Taurus sit, but I sure don’t want to be the person that turns in to a pinball in an accident. Can you imagine my 3300lb Taurus smacking head long at 60MPG in to a 2500lb Fit?”

  15. Rick Morley says:

    I have an answer why TCO isn’t what’s used most often. Because it’s difficult to calculate. Anyone can look at a invoice sticker on a car and see what the purchase price is. Anyone can see what MPG the car gets. But how can you calculate, say, what the repair costs will be over the next 5-10 years? Your car might break down. It might not. How can you see what the insurance costs of the vehicle will be? You insurance company may or may not appreciate if you gave them a list of 10 cars and asked for quotes. How can you know what the depreciation of the car will be over the next 5 years? Especially if it is a new model? Does depreciation even matter? I personally don’t plan on selling my car, but keeping it for 10-15 years until it dies. For me, depreciation is irrelevant.

    This is kind of like megapixels on a camera, or GHz on a computer. The number is just a quick way to evaluate how good the device is. But determining the overall quality of a camera is a much more involved and opinionated process. What’s good for one may not be good for another.

    So by all means, try to calculate the TCO of your new car, but realize it’s probably different for you than for your friend who might have the same car, or the reviewer in the latest issue of Consumer Reports.

  16. jim says:

    Very true, but I do think that you can still use it as a basis for comparison amongst vehicles since you’re speaking in generalities. Sure, your actually TCO on a vehicle won’t match the Edmunds determined value but I’d imagine it’d be close enough to make a good comparison.

    It’s always tricky dealing with these sorts of things but I think TCO, while imperfect, is a more complete measure than sticker price.

  17. ChristianPF says:

    I bought the fit sport (auto) 2 years ago and while I have loved the car, Honda jacked up the MPG estimates… I believe the estimates were 33/37 and as a very conservative driver I would occasionally get 31 mpgs with a lot of highway driving. The best tank I have gotten yet was 34 mpg … nonetheless, I am excited that the Fit is at the top of the list!!

  18. saladdin says:

    I just don’t understand the “safety” reason that people bring up to justify buying those large tanks. It’s not like older 10 year old Saturns just spontaneously combust while driving down the road. I think it is like the old faithful “I need more room” reason some us.

    saladdin

  19. Traciatim says:

    saladdin, it could have something to to with the fact that small cars have FAR higher death rates in accidents. A quick google found a chart on crashtest.com that shows death rates per million vehicles per year in cars less than 2500lbs were 109, from 2500-2999 were 83, 3000-3499 were 60, and from 3500-3999 were 53 . . . less than half the rate of small cars.

    I would call that a fairly good reason.

  20. jim says:

    Traciatim, while I’m sure the statistics are accurate… you’re bending them to fit your logic. The probability of being in a fatal accident is low and that should factor more into your decision than what happens in the event you are in one. That’s my take anyway, I personally feel you can drive whatever you want but you lose the right to complain about fuel prices (not that you have, just saying I laugh to myself when people driving huge trucks for no reason complain about $4/gal gas).

  21. saladdin says:

    Odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime 1 in 5000.

    saladdin

    http://www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov/medical.htm

  22. Traciatim says:

    Guys,ignoring the stats doesn’t change the fact that you are far more likely to be injured or killed in a sub-compact car over a mid-sized to large-sized car.

    Another quick google finds this fascinating chart, though the data is old I’m just doing quick searching here to show the points. People get hurt/killed less in bigger cars (I’m talking cars only here, SUVs and Trucks roll and junk so have higher death rates and contrary to popular belief are not safer).
    http://i201.photobucket.com/albums/aa229/Traciatim/CarDeatheAndInjuries-ByClass-1980.png
    or
    http://tinyurl.com/62mr2r

    Another quick search finds this stat sladdin, I just found it on a list of odds site so I’m not sure how accurate it is or where they got their data.
    dying from a car accident: 18,585 to 1
    being struck by lightning: 576,000 to 1
    being killed by lightning: 2,320,000 to 1

  23. pjkPA says:

    In a article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette “Bigger is Safer” it states ” .. about twice as many people are killed or serious injured when two small cars hit than when two big cars hit.”

    Big cars being 3500lbs to 4,000lbs.
    (Chevy Impala range)

    The new CAFE standards will cause more people to be killed and seriously injured, that is a fact.

    We obviously care more about gas mileage than we do human life. The US auto manufacturers have long stated this and are being overridden by radicals who have their own agenda.

    It has long been known that if we stopped building cars that weigh less than 3,000lbs (Chevy Cobalt weighs 3,000lbs) we could save 10,000 lives a year. Instead we will be killing more people by forcing the auto industry to build smaller cars.

    The last thing the US has to worry about is “global warming”. Half the scientists are now saying the earth is cooling but the radicals insist on forcing our industry to add senseless costs. If you don’t have a job …you can care less about some eccentric scientists theories especially when half of them disagree. What we need is some common sense.


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