Ever since the energy crisis of the 1970s, automakers have sought to develop cars that are increasingly fuel efficient. Bolstered by federal regulations that mandate emissions and efficiency, today there are several offerings that get upward of 40 miles per gallon, with even more efficient cars set to debut in the not-too-distant future.
The Toyota Prius is one of the best-selling hybrid electric vehicles in the United States. Originally available only in Japan, the Prius made its North American debut in 2001 and is currently in its third generation of production. While MPG ratings have varied for the different models, the current version is rated around 50 MPG. Besides its efficiency, the Toyota Prius offers the convenience of a five-door hatchback with seating for five. Many of its plastic components are actually derived from bioplastic materials, and an optional solar panel on the roof adds to its environmentally friendly image.
The Honda Insight was the first modern hybrid electric vehicle to be widely available in America. The three-door subcompact hatchback only had seating for two because of the large amount of space taken up by the electric battery packs. Efficiency ratings of the original Honda Insight were as high at 70 MPG, making it the most fuel-efficient car available at the time. The Insight was discontinued in 2006 as Honda turned its focus to producing hybrid versions of its existing models, but a new Insight arrived for the 2010 model year. Though not as efficient as its predecessor, the current Insight has an overall rating of around 41 MPG.
Honda Civic Hybrid
The Honda Civic Hybrid arrived in the United States for the 2003 model year. Unlike models such as the Toyota Prius and the Honda Insight, it was a hybrid version of an existing car. As a perennial best seller, the standard Civic had already gained a reputation as a strong entry-level performer, and adding a hybrid version allowed Honda to cater to a large number of potential buyers. The Civic Hybrid was redesigned for 2006. The current model is rated at 40 MPG in city driving and 45 MPG on the highway.
The Citroen C2 is a French-produced subcompact car that is rated at 42 MPG despite using a conventional gasoline engine. Rather than employing a hybrid electric drive system, the C2 is available with a series of small four-cylinder engines. Its relative efficiency is due to its small size and the use of many lightweight components. It also used a semiautomatic transmission and an automated system that shuts off the engine when the car is stopped to achieve its efficiency rating.
Other Efficient Cars
Several other models not available in the United States also achieve more than 40 MPG in fuel efficiency. Many of these cars use diesel engines, which are far more popular in Europe than in the United States. These include the Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion, the Smart "fortwo" diesel, and the Ford Fiesta ECOnetic. Each of these models is rated at more than 40 MPG, with the diesel Smart topping the list at more than 70 MPG. Marketing diesel engines in the United States is made difficult by strict emissions standards and a general negative public perception of diesel cars.