Last Updated: Friday, 02 October 2020
When gasoline prices first jumped in the summer of 2005, consumer interest in fuel efficient cars increased dramatically. Individuals that were used to paying around $20 to fill up their cars were suddenly paying over $50. That summer was a wake up call for everyone that thought paying $3.00 or more for a gallon of gasoline would never happen.
Fuel Efficient Technologies
We've already talked about some of the technologies that make cars more fuel efficient. But as a reminder, efficiency is a function of the car's weight, friction, and the efficiency of the engine itself. Producing a fuel efficient car means attacking all three of these areas.
We would expect the top performing automobiles on the market today to exhibit these types of characteristics:
- Low Drag Coefficient: Streamlined in appearance to reduce the car's wind drag.
- Low Curb Weight: Lighter cars simply take less energy to move around.
- Advanced Engines: This can include new technologies as well as utilizing different fuel sources such as alcohol, natural gas, and electricity.
- Advanced Transmissions and Braking Systems: A lot of friction occurs in a car's transmission, and some advanced braking systems can actually be used to recover energy.
Top Fuel Efficient Vehicles
We're going to get right to the point, and provide a list of the most fuel-efficient cars on the road today (2020 / 2021 models). Later, we will talk briefly about some of the concept cars that are going to hit the market in the next several years.
The list below contains the make and model of the car as well as the Miles per Gallon (MPG) rating for a combination of city and highway driving:
- Two-Seaters: Fiat 124 Spider 1.4 L, 4 cyl, Manual 6-spd, Turbo, 30 MPG
- Two-Seaters: Mazda MX-5 2.0 L, 4 cyl, Automatic (S6), 30 MPG
- Minicompacts: MINI Cooper Convertible 1.5 L, 3 cyl, Manual 6-spd, Turbo, 31 MPG
- Subcompacts: Chevrolet Spark 1.4 L, 4 cyl, Automatic (variable gear ratios), 33 MPG
- Subcompacts: Chevrolet Spark 1.4 L, 4 cyl, Manual 5-spd, 33 MPG
- Subcompacts: Chevrolet Spark ACTIV 1.4 L, 4 cyl, Automatic (variable gear ratios), 33 MPG
- Compacts: Toyota Prius c 1.5 L, 4 cyl, Automatic (variable gear ratios) Hybrid, 46 MPG
- Midsize: Toyota Prius Eco 1.8 L, 4 cyl, Automatic (variable gear ratios) Hybrid, 56 MPG
- Large: Hyundai Ioniq Blue 1.6 L, 4 cyl, Automatic (AM6) Hybrid, 58 MPG
- Small Station Wagons: Kia Niro FE 1.6 L, 4 cyl, Automatic (AM6) Hybrid, 50 MPG
- Midsize Station Wagons: Volvo V90 FWD 2.0 L, 4 cyl, Automatic (S8), Turbo, 27 MPG
SUVs and Trucks
- Small Pickup Trucks: Chevrolet Colorado 2WD 2.8 L, 4 cyl, Automatic 6-spd, Diesel, 23 MPG
- Small Pickup Trucks: GMC Canyon 2WD 2.8 L, 4 cyl, Automatic 6-spd, Diesel, 23 MPG
- Standard Pickup Trucks: Ford F150 Pickup 2WD 3.0 L, 6 cyl, Automatic (S10), Diesel, 25 MPG
- Small Sport Utility Vehicles: Hyundai Kona Electric A-1, 150 kW ACPM/B EV, 120 MPG
- Small Sport Utility Vehicles: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid AWD 2.5 L, 4 cyl, Automatic (AV-S6) Hybrid, 40 MPG
- Standard Sport Utility Vehicles: Tesla Model X Long Range A-1, 193 (front), 205/375 (rear) kW ACPM EV, 96 MPG
- Standard Sport Utility Vehicles: Lexus RX 450h AWD 3.5 L, 6 cyl, Automatic (AV-S6) Hybrid, 30 MPG
- Minivans: Chrysler Pacifica Plug-in Hybrid 3.6 L, 6 cyl, Automatic (variable gear ratios) PHEV, 48 MPG
- Minivans: Chrysler Pacifica 3.6 L, 6 cyl, Automatic 9-spd, 22 MPG
- Minivans: Chrysler Pacifica (w / Stop-Start option) 3.6 L, 6 cyl, Automatic 9-spd, 22 MPG
- Minivans: Honda Odyssey 3.5 L, 6 cyl, Automatic (S9), 22 MPG
- Minivans: Honda Odyssey 3.5 L, 6 cyl, Automatic (S10), 22 MPG
- Minivans: Toyota Sienna 2WD 3.5 L, 6 cyl, Automatic (S8), 22 MPG
Cars of the Future
Over the next several years, the industry is going to see an important new technology emerge: fuel cells. Right now, fuel cell vehicles (FCV) are not expected to reach the mass market until at least 2021, but this new technology has some manufacturers and environmentalists excited.
FCVs bring to the market such benefits as reduced emissions, lower dependence on foreign oil, as well as a fuel economy benefit. That means a FCV is not only environmentally friendly, but it's also cheap (actually inexpensive) to operate.
Just like battery powered electric vehicles, FCVs are driven by electric motors. But unlike electric vehicles with batteries, FCVs are able to generate their own electricity through a chemical process involving hydrogen gas and oxygen.
FCVs that are fueled by hydrogen gas will emit zero pollutants, only water and heat. If hydrogen rich fuel such as methanol or natural gas is used, a reformer is utilized to extract the hydrogen atoms.
Fuel Cell Cars
These cars are so new that only prototypes are in development right now, but the results are encouraging. The current list of FCV cars includes:
- 2020 Toyota Mirai: 66 miles per kilogram city and 66 miles per kilogram on the highway. Cruising range is currently 312 miles.
- 2020 Hyundai Nexo: 48 miles per kilogram city and 50 miles per kilogram on the highway. Cruising range is currently 265 miles.
- 2020 Honda Clarity: 68 miles per kilogram city and 66 miles per kilogram on the highway. Cruising range is currently 366 miles.
With new technologies come new concepts too, such as miles per kilogram of fuel. A kilogram is around 2.2 pounds of fuel, which is the way that hydrogen gas will be measured. Another challenge with these vehicles right now is cruising range, which should only get better with time.
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