One would think that if we bought vehicles based on fuel economy, the roads would be filled with economy cars. But it doesn’t work that way. After you choose the vehicle types that meet your needs, you narrow down the choices even further. Comparing fuel economy is the quickest way to thin the list.
Fortunately, it isn’t difficult to find vehicles that get good gas mileage and still provide the power and space Americans demand. Some of them are hybrids, diesels, and truly viable electric cars. But exotic technology isn’t the only news in fuel savings—or even the most important.
Conventional gasoline-powered cars are still highly efficient and are scraping more miles out of every gallon of gas thanks to advances in engine technology, better aerodynamics, and clever computer controls.
You’ll find that within most vehicle classes, a majority of models have overall fuel economy pretty close to each other—sometimes just 1 or 2 miles per gallon. In those cases, the economic consequences are pretty slim. But within each class there are always outliers. A fuel-economy difference of 3 to 5 mpg can really add up in savings.
The typical person drives about 12,000 miles each year and pays an average of $2.35 for a gallon of regular gasoline, based on recent prices. If the models you are considering are separated by just 4 mpg, the results can be significant. For example, the Toyota Sienna minivan, which gets 21 mpg overall in our tests, would save about $315 per year in fuel costs alone compared with a 17-mpg Dodge Grand Caravan.
The same applies to midsized sedans. Choosing the 32-mpg Mazda6 over a 24-mpg Ford Fusion 1.5-liter four-cylinder would save about $295 per year. Stepping down one vehicle size could save a lot more. For example, driving a 26-mpg Subaru Forester rather than an 18-mpg Nissan Pathfinder would shave your fuel costs by more than $480 per year.
In the end, that savings could cover a monthly loan payment or two, or a significant portion of your annual insurance costs.
To see the real-world fuel economy of any current vehicle that Consumer Reports has tested, refer to the road-test highlights on the model pages or see our list of the best and worst for fuel economy.