With every passing year, the best fuel efficient cars become more advanced and more confident in their mission to go further with less. A decade ago, the most efficient cars were conventional gasoline-powered vehicles tuned to reach high MPGs. Just a few years ago, those engines were displaced by a new crop of hybrids like the Prius, boasting much better mileage and less nasty emissions.
By 2013, hybrids seem too thirsty compared to the emerging class of electric vehicles, or EVs. While most EVs haven’t yet taken mainstream auto markets by storm, momentum is building. Here, we look at the top fuel efficient cars of 2013 (most of which no longer take conventional fuel).
10. Toyota RAV4 Electric — MPGe: 76
Want an all-electric SUV? The RAV4 EV is your best and only bet. Toyota says it’s not really about offering consumers fuel efficiency so much as fulfilling new California emission regulations. Still, the electrified RAV4 is a valuable addition to the list of the most fuel efficient cars 2013.
The repurposed sport utility has a competitive range of 103 miles. The nation’s only electric crossover can also brag about its Tesla-made drivetrain. The flat battery pack means the CUV loses no cargo utility, unlike most other electric-converted cars. The second-generation RAV4 EV—starting at about $50,000—may very well be the cheapest Tesla you can buy.
9. Tesla Model S — MPGe: 95
The Model S is the only luxury electric car in production, and to some, it’s the only one worth buying. Tesla’s 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year is not the fastest electric vehicle in the world, but it is the fastest one available to consumers. Most crucially, its driving range far exceeds that of any other competing EV at 265 miles.
With a starting price of $73,000, the premium Model S is America’s best-selling EV so far this year, despite also being the most expensive. The high quality and revolutionary character of Tesla’s creation is unquestionable; with the equivalent of 95 miles-per-gallon, or MPGe, it’s a steal.
8. Ford Focus Electric — MPGe: 105
Like most EVs, the Ford Focus Electric is based on a conventional, gasoline-powered car that’s been converted to run on electricity. Unlike others, it is only sold as a drivetrain option for the regular Focus. And that’s okay, because the Focus is a well-made car that is fun to drive and also very practical. Being ‘fun to drive’ is key, because many of the best MPG cars, well, aren’t.
Ford seems to know the secret formula, though, because the Focus Electric simply drives like a Focus—with precision maneuvering and plenty of spunk. It supplies clean, dynamic handling and an agile overall performance that can’t be had in any other mainstream EV. With a solid fuel efficiency rating of 105 MPGe, the $40,000 all-electric Focus is a good bet for people who enjoy driving in addition to saving fuel.
7. Smart Fortwo Electric Drive — MPGe: 107
Smart’s Fortwo Electric Drive coupe, starting at $25,000, is among the more affordable EVs. It’s also America’s smallest vehicle period, providing seating ‘fortwo’ individuals and no more. Mercedes’ newly electrified ‘Smart car’ is an inexpensive and notably safe selection that has become popular in niche settings. Its 2013 range measures 68 miles—not bad for a neighborhood buggy. Fully charged, EPA officials say Smart’s Electric Drive gets 107 MPGe.
You won’t want to buy this baby Benz for speed, or for any other type of driving excitement, unless you count saving tons of fuel dollars and avoiding nasty air emissions among the joys of driving. If you do, then you just might love the Smart Fortwo.
6. Nissan LEAF — MPGe: 115.5
The relatively established LEAF has gained several serious competitors in the last year. It retains its edge, however, thanks to the high quality of this well-rounded EV. Moreover, the LEAF’s manufacturing costs have fallen and Nissan is passing those savings on to consumers: the world’s best-selling EV’s price just dropped to as low as $21,300—and sales are up, up, up.
The move parallels a total refresh which introduced a new entry-level trim for 2013: the freshly minted “S” recharges twice as quickly, has twice as much range, and—just in case—comes with a handy 6.6-kW outlet for mobile recharging.
5. Fiat 500e — MPGe: 116
Like Toyota’s entries, the subcompact Fiat 500e is strictly a ‘compliance’ hatchback, and its maker couldn’t care less who knows it. Chrysler’s unwanted child, the tiny 500e nonetheless wears its rejection well.
The “environmentally sexy" version of the Fiat 500 lasts a comparatively lengthy 87 miles, and boasts a stellar efficient rating of 116 MPGe. 500e’s price tag starts at a middling $31,800 before rebates. Despite its maker’s lack of enthusiasm, North America Fiat’s CEO remarked of the 500e’s recent arrival in California, “We’re pretty much sold out."
4. Honda Fit EV — MPGe: 118
The 82-mile ranging Fit EV is a trooper at both city and highway speeds, sipping electrons at 118 MPGe, an efficiency rating second only to Chevy’s Spark. Honda’s lease-only electric wagon can travel as far as 82 miles per charge.
And it’s getting more affordable; Honda just slashed the monthly lease by $130 as part of a new, consumer-friendly sales package offering such goodies as zero down payments and even free collision insurance. The limited-release Fit EV is a no-brainer for the green crowd, making hybrids like the Prius look wasteful. For everyone else, Honda is willing to lather on the honey until refusal becomes absurd.
3. Chevrolet Spark — MPGe: 119
While Chevy’s first foray into green autos was the hybrid Volt, the all-new Spark hatchback is 100% electric and more than twice as efficient as its older sibling. The EPA recently credited the newest, littlest Chevy with best-in-class mileage. Starting at $12,170, it also just became the cheapest EV for sale, beating the Fortwo by a slim margin.
“The 119-MPGe rating means that our battery is the most efficient on the market, which means the lowest cost per mile,” a Chevrolet spokesperson noted with pride. Those are fighting words, aimed chiefly at arch domestic rival Ford, whose Focus Electric will sell domestically at Spark’s expense.
2. Toyota Scion iQ — MPGe: 121
Tied with the Honda Fit EV, Toyota’s battery electric Scion is the nation’s cheapest vehicle to fuel, averaging an efficiency of 121 MPGe. Using 0.24 kWh per mile, the average motorist could drive about as cheaply with a 50-mpg Prius plus access to less than $2-a-gallon gasoline.
Despite its superior economy, Toyota doesn’t expect the novelty iQ, priced from $16,250, to be a big seller. Just 90 iQs are destined for the U.S. and most of those are headed to college campuses and private car-sharing programs. No harm done; given the iQ’s weak driving range of just 38 miles, we’re pretty sure it couldn’t function except in the tightest of urban settings anyhow.
1. Volkswagen XL1 — MPGe: 261
So what is the most fuel efficient car in 2013? Fully charged, VW says its limited-edition hybrid XL1 gets a little over 260 MPGe, courtesy of a diesel-electric match made in heaven. Although the supercar-hypermiler is still just a prototype, VW insists it is slated for European markets sometime this year.
For everyone else, the Swedes note the space-age shell is meant to help showcase the exceptionally efficient diesel-electric engine inside. They say this drivetrain could find itself in future Volkswagens, potentially bringing the efficiency magic of 260 MPGe to our favorite Vee Dubs—stay tuned!