Fuel Efficient Cars For Every Budget

Honda Fit

Even as gas prices take a sudden dip -- no complaints here -- most car buyers still care deeply about fuel efficiency. This is certainly no surprise. Greater fuel efficiency means less money spent on gas over the life of a car, fewer emissions into the air, and oftentimes greater resale value for the vehicle.

Buyers are in luck. Fuel efficient cars have come of age. There are numerous hybrid and compact cars that achieve better than 40 mpg, and a wide variety of vehicles of all types that garner greater fuel efficiency than ever before. If you're ready to go all-electric, you can buy a car that gets the equivalent of over 100 mpg. You may never need to buy gasoline again.

The EPA maintains a list of the most fuel efficient cars and trucks, and Consumer Reports regularly updates its "real world" fuel efficiency tests for most vehicles. This is helpful, but the most fuel efficient cars, compacts and all-electric, do not fully meet the needs of all car buyers. Check out this list of the best fuel efficient cars for every budget and need.

Honda Fit. Perfect for the mom on a budget.

Not all fuel efficient cars are hybrids or electric. The Honda Fit is a versatile hatchback that gets great gas mileage. The Fit includes plenty of cargo space, decent leg room for a subcompact, and comes with an affordable price -- less than $20,000.

The Fit's ride is comfortable and the handling is responsive. The "Magic Seat" in the back can fold down into several configurations, increasing cargo options. The optional "LaneWatch" feature places a camera underneath the passenger side mirror to warn the driver of any vehicles in the blind spot. 

Combined Fuel Economy: 36 mpg

Chevy Sonic appeals to the new graduate.

The super affordable Chevy Sonic is a sporty hatchback that offers plenty of safety features, superior rear seat legroom, and some fairly serious zip. The Sonic handles well, is available with a 138-hp turbocharged engine, and offers a rather pleasing, Mini Cooper-esque interior design. An optional touchscreen infotainment system is also available.

Combined Fuel Economy: 33 mpg

Nissan Leaf beckons the professional who is ready to go green.

If you want serious fuel efficiency, there may be no better vehicle for the price than the Nissan Leaf. The electric-powered Leaf gets about 75 miles on a full charge -- enough for most to get to work and back and run a couple errands on the way home. It takes approximately 6 hours on a 240-volt outlet to fully charge the vehicle (more than double that with a 120-volt outlet).

Caution: You are likely to pay in the mid- to upper-$30,000 range, even though the Leaf is an otherwise modest hatchback. In addition, you need to stay vigilant about keeping your Leaf charged. That said, it's one of the most fuel efficient cars ever made. Since it's electric, it's also one of the quietest.

Combined Fuel Economy: 114 mpg (electric)

Toyota Prius may be the perfect family car.

The Toyota Prius remains the standard bearer for fuel-efficient hybrids. Its iconic shape masks just how roomy it really is, seating four very comfortably. And while more expensive than most hatchbacks of a similar size, the Prius remains an overall great value. Admittedly, some are bothered by the car's bulky feel and tepid acceleration. Most, however, appreciate the cargo space, touchscreen controls, great gas mileage and reliability.

Combined Fuel Economy: 50 mpg

Smart FourTwo makes the car for today's active, empty nesters.

The adorable, two-person Smart FourTwo may be the perfect choice for the older couple who love urban life but still occasionally need a car to get around. Available for around $15,000, the FourTwo offers excellent maneuverability, is an obvious snap to park, and delivers respectable legroom for two.

The small engine offers meager acceleration, unfortunately, and the ride is not as smooth as many other vehicles. Note: The Smart FourTwo requires premium fuel.

Combined Fuel Economy: 36 mpg

Ford C-MAX Hybrid re-envisions the traditional wagon.

Ned something more like a station wagon? You're covered. Ford's C-Max Hybrid is a surprisingly practical, well-designed wagon that offers plenty of cargo space and excellent fuel efficiency. A plug-in version is also available, which allows the car to travel in electric-only mode for approximately 20 miles.

The C-Max has nice acceleration, the interior is comfortable and it sports Ford's highly-regarded touchscreen system.

Combined Fuel Economy: 40 mpg

Dodge Ram 1500 for family, fuel efficiency and heavy loads.

If you need a pick-up, you're in for a challenge -- only a few offer respectable fuel efficiency. The full-size Dodge Ram 1500 is one such vehicle, a two-wheel drive pick-up that can seat four, deliver a comfortable ride and still haul heavy loads. The Ram drives unexpectedly smoothly for a truck, and the interior is surprisingly refined and inviting.

Combined Fuel Economy: 23 mpg

Tesla Model S seeks wealthy executive.

The Tesla Model S is not cheap -- available for over $75,000 fully equipped -- but it may be the best vehicle money can buy. The Model S looks striking inside and out, offers plenty of room for four, and can reach speeds of up to 225mph. The interior is lush and modern, offering a range of entertainment and safety features. The ride is smooth and quiet. Oh, and it gets the equivalent of 100 mpg.

Owning the all-electric Tesla may mean never buying gas again.

Combined Fuel Economy: 100 mpg (electric)

Mazda 3 for the dad on the go.

The Mazda 3 hatchback is a sporty yet thoroughly practical car that offers plenty of room, a fast 155-hp engine, and a pleasing interior. It's a great combination of value and fun. The Mazda 3 also has a solid reputation for safety and reliability. Optional features include blind spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control.

Combined Fuel Economy: 33 mpg

Toyota Highlander hybrid appeals to the adventurous family.

It's not easy for big families to leave a small carbon footprint, hauling kids and friends while driving green. Sometimes, however, a full-size SUV is the vehicle that best meets their needs. For such families, the big, roomy Toyota Highlander hybrid is a great choice.

The Toyota Highlander hybrid seats up to eight, includes touchscreen and rear-seat controls, a comfortable interior, and a smooth, quiet ride.

Combined Fuel Economy: 28 mpg

If you are interested in which fuel efficient car is right for you, check out Lending Tree's auto loan tools and research.

Honda Fit Picture by SmadeMedia, used under CC license.

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