Meet the 40 MPG Club
New Gasoline-Powered Cars That Get 40 MPG or More on the Highway
It wasn't long ago that the total number of gasoline-powered cars on sale in the U.S. capable of achieving 40 miles per gallon or more on the highway amounted to exactly one: the 2010 Smart Fortwo.
The 40 mpg club for gas burners is bigger these days. It has 12 members now, up from seven for the 2013 model year, and is growing despite several setbacks.
The Smart no longer makes the list because powertrain changes in 2012 knocked the tiny car's EPA-rated highway mileage rating down to 38 mpg. More important, four early members of the club were kicked out in the wake of the EPA's probe of fuel economy test results submitted by Hyundai Motors and its Kia subsidiary.
Nevertheless, models from Chevrolet, Dodge, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Mazda and Nissan have filled the gap and added to the total. That's good news because gasoline prices are hovering around $3.40 a gallon nationally and few fuel price watchers expect the country to fall back into the good old sub-$3 days.
Here's a detailed look at the 12 members of the gas-powered 40 mpg highway club, including the newly admitted 2014 Dodge Dart Aero and a Mitsubishi Mirage with a tiny 1.2-liter engine. In addition to getting an impressive 44 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA, the Mirage is the only gasoline-fueled new car on sale in the U.S. that posts a 40 mpg combined city-highway fuel economy average.
Each model listed includes some insights into the way it achieves extreme efficiency without resorting to a diesel engine, hybrid technology or electric power. This reliance on the conventional internal-combustion engine is important because it helps keep the cars affordable.
While alternative-fuel vehicles offer advanced technology and sometimes significant fuel efficiency, they also tend to come with a big price premium. It can take years to earn back the purchase price through fuel savings alone, so a more affordable conventional car with a good mpg rating can be a smarter choice for many consumers.
A word of advice: Most of the 40 mpg gasoline cars are specialized, low-volume variants of their mainstream counterparts. Many achieve their fuel efficiency through special equipment packages not found on more mainstream models.
So if fuel efficiency is a feature that's at the top of your shopping list, make sure you zero in on the super-saver versions. And if you want to see a much broader list of fuel-efficient cars, including diesels and electric-drive models, check our story that lists the new cars that get at least 30 mpg in the EPA's combined city/highway rating. We cover late-model used cars that get at least 30 mpg in a separate article.
2014 Chevrolet Cruze Eco
This is the fourth year for the 42 mpg highway Chevy Cruze Eco, which first hit the market as a 2011 model. The EPA-estimated fuel economy of the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze Eco is unchanged from the previous model year at 33 mpg combined (42 highway/28 city) for the six-speed manual transmission model. The Cruze Eco with six-speed automatic doesn't quite make the cut, earning an EPA highway rating of a mere 39 mpg.
General Motors attributes some of the Cruze Eco's fuel efficiency to aerodynamic improvements, including the partial blockage of the upper grille to reduce drag, an extension of the front chin spoiler, a rear spoiler, underbody panels to reduce drag and a lower overall ride height. The Eco also has a shutter behind the lower part of the front grille that closes at high speed to reduce aerodynamic drag and then opens at low speed to optimize engine-cooling airflow.
GM says that these and related enhancements reduce aerodynamic drag by 10 percent over a non-Eco Cruze.
The Chevy Cruze Eco is also relatively light at 3,011 pounds, 214 pounds less than a conventional Cruze 1LT. The engineers accomplished this by reducing the size or thickness of some of the sheet metal and by using lightweight, cast-aluminum 17-inch wheels.
The final piece of the Cruze Eco's fuel-saving combination is the turbocharged 138-horsepower 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual transmission. It has an especially tall overdrive ratio for 6th gear that reduces engine rpm at cruising speed for better fuel economy.
2014 Chevrolet Sonic Turbo
There are two trim levels of the Sonic that get the coveted 40 mpg highway rating for 2014, both with the optional ($700) turbocharged 1.4-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. That combo helps both the Sonic LT and Sonic LTZ into the 40 mpg highway club (both hatchbacks and sedans).
With this turbocharged 1.4-liter engine and the manual transmission, the Sonic delivers 33 mpg combined (40 highway/29 city).
2014 Dodge Dart Aero
For its Dart small sedan, Dodge uses a suite of aerodynamic and weight-saving tweaks to boost the Aero version into 40 mpg territory on the highway.
Two transmissions are offered, and both versions achieve more than 40 mpg on the highway. The 2014 Dodge Dart Aero with the six-speed manual transmission is EPA-rated at 32 mpg combined (41 highway/28 city), and the Aero with a six-speed automatic has a rating of 32 mpg combined (40 highway/28 city).
All Dart Aeros use a turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Major aerodynamic improvements on the Aero versus other Dart models include active grille shutters and underbody air deflectors and channeling to reduce the turbulence that makes cars work harder (thus using more fuel) to move forward.
2014 Fiat 500
Fiat manages to place almost all of its 2014 Fiat 500 models into the 40-mpg highway club — provided that they have manual transmissions. The only members of the manual-transmission Fiat 500 family that are not EPA-rated at 40 mpg on the open road are the sporty turbocharged 500T and Abarth models. The rest of the manual transmission family, including both convertibles, get 34 mpg combined (40 highway/31 city) ratings for 2014, courtesy of a tall final-drive gear ratio and improved aerodynamics.
The optional six-speed automatic reduces the car's EPA-rated fuel efficiency to 34 mpg highway.
2014 Ford Fiesta SE SFE and SE with EcoBoost
SFE stands for "super fuel economy." It's a package of fuel-conserving measures that specially equips the 2014 Ford Fiesta with the standard 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic to achieve an EPA rating of 34 mpg combined (41 highway/30 city). The Ford Fiesta SE SFE debuted in the 2011 model year.
The SFE package with the 1.6-liter engine and automatic transmission costs a mere $95. It includes aerodynamic enhancements, notably blocked portions of the lower grille and special underbody panels. The package also includes lightweight cast-aluminum wheels with low-rolling-resistance tires.
A separate Fiesta SE fuel-efficiency package is the new-for-2014 EcoBoost that equips the car with Ford's turbocharged 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual. The Fiesta SE with EcoBoost gets a thrifty-at-the-pump rating of 37 mpg combined (45 highway/32 city). The package has an MSRP of $995.
The SFE and EcoBoost packages are available only on the Fiesta SE trim level in both hatchback and sedan styles.
2014 Ford Focus SFE
Ford introduced the compact Focus sedan with optional SFE package as a 2012 model. It's the Fiesta SFE's big brother, delivering 40 mpg on the EPA's highway cycle. As with the Fiesta, the SFE option is only available on the SE trim level of the Focus.
The 2014 Focus SE features a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. As with the Fiesta SFE, the Focus SFE uses a six-speed automated manual transmission. Ford says the six-speed transmission helps reduce fuel consumption by up to 9 percent compared to a traditional four-speed automatic. The EPA rating is 33 mpg combined (40 highway/28 city).
The SFE package includes fully active shutters behind the grille to help optimize aerodynamics. If air is required to cool the engine, the vents open. If no airflow is needed, the vents close, significantly reducing aerodynamic drag.
The SFE fuel-efficiency package is a $95 option on the 2014 Ford Focus SE sedan.
2014 Honda Civic HF
The 2014 Honda Civic HF is Honda's modern-day entry in the 40 mpg highway club, coming in at 35 mpg combined (41 highway/31 city). The latest Civic HF trim level was introduced with the 2012 Honda Civic HF, and the initials stand for "high fuel efficiency."
The 2014 Honda Civic HF is equipped with a 1.8-liter inline-4 engine that combines a respectable 140 hp with that 41 mpg highway rating. It's equipped with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and a special package of components to improve aerodynamics.
This car features Eco Assist, a Honda technology that is designed to help drivers develop a fuel-efficient driving style. It uses dashboard visual aids to tell them when they are driving efficiently — and when they aren't.
2014 Mazda 3
The 2014 Mazda 3 compact comes in a multitude of sedan and hatchback versions. This year marks the first time the fuel-efficient compact gets 40-mpg highway ratings for most of its hatchbacks as well as the sedans, which bump up to 41 mpg on the highway for the 2014 model.
In past years, only a few select Mazda 3 sedan models came with an optional high-efficiency package. But all 2014 Mazda3 i trim levels with the 2.0-liter engine are in the 40 mpg-plus highway club.
The 2.0-liter Skyactiv inline-4 engine that helps Mazda deliver the fuel-efficiency goods features lightweight components, variable valve timing and direct fuel injection. There also are a number of aerodynamic improvements in both body styles.
Full ratings on the 2.0-liter sedans with automatic transmission are 34 mpg combined (41 highway/30 city). Sedans with a manual transmission get 33 mpg combined (41 highway/29 city). Mazda 3 hatchbacks with the 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission are rated at 33 combined (40 highway/30 city), while models with a manual transmission get a 33 combined (40 highway/29 city) rating.
2014 Mazda 6 with i-Eloop
It's a mouthful, but at least Mazda doesn't stick i-Eloop on the side of the car in shiny chrome. i-Eloop is Mazda's way of saying this one style of the midsize Mazda 6 sedan is equipped with a special package of fuel-saving technologies. It is offered as an option on the 2014 Mazda 6 i Grand Touring sedan, bringing with it an EPA rating of 32 mpg combined (40 highway/28 city).
i-Eloop stands for "intelligent energy loop," a specialized regenerative braking system that lets Mazda models equipped with the package store braking energy in a super capacitor. The stored power is used to help operate onboard electronics when the engine is shut down during stops, thanks to the engine stop-start system, and to charge the 12-volt battery so engine power isn't diverted to those chores.
2014 Mitsubishi Mirage
Mitsubishi's all-new 2014 Mirage hatchback comes in CVT and five-speed manual versions that both break the 40-mpg highway barrier.
A tiny, fuel-sipping 1.2-liter three-cylinder engine is one part of Mitsubishi's fuel economy recipe, along with a lightweight chassis and a CVT in the 40 mpg combined (44 highway/37 city) DE and DS styles. The DE and DS hatchbacks with five-speed manuals are rated at 37 mpg combined (42 highway/34 city).
Both are rated at 34 mpg combined (40 highway/30 city). A rear spoiler, special underbody air deflectors that reduce efficiency-robbing turbulence and low-rolling-resistance tires make up the FE+ package and, along with the CVT, earn the FE+ Sentras their 40 mpg club membership. Standard Sentras with the CVT get a 39-mpg highway rating.
2014 Nissan Versa
Nissan's other 40-mpg clubber is the 2014 Versa. All Versa sedan styles with the CVT get the EPA's 35 mpg combined (40 highway/31 city) rating, as do CVT-equipped Versa Note hatchbacks.
The CVT is a real fuel economy booster, adding 4 mpg to the compact car's highway rating when compared to the base model with the five-speed manual, and boosting highway mileage by 5 mpg over the base model with the four-speed automatic.
2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco
Toyota's first member of the gasoline-only 40 mpg highway club is the 2014 Toyota Corolla LE Eco, a model that comes with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine coupled with a CVT. The Corolla LE Eco is rated at 35 mpg combined (42 highway/30 city). Due to slightly different equipment, the Corolla LE Eco Plus and Corolla LE Eco Premium styles are rated at 34 mpg combined (40 highway/30 city).
All three Eco models use specially tuned engines and transmissions, the efficiency of the CVT, a variety of aerodynamic tweaks and low-rolling-resistance tires to hit or exceed the 40 mpg (highway) mark.
Look for More
The 40 mpg club membership roll for the 2014 model year is 71 percent longer than the 2012 and 2013 lists, when there were just seven gasoline-powered cars that boasted of achieving 40 mpg on the EPA's highway cycle. That's a pretty rapid growth rate, and we expect more to come as government regulators continue to seek to reduce emissions and oil consumption and as consumers try to keep monthly fuel bills from matching their house payments.