Meet the 40 MPG Club
New Gasoline-powered Cars That Get 40 MPG or More on the Highway
It wasn't all that long ago that the total number of gasoline-powered cars in the U.S. that could achieve 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, for which we should all be grateful. At the same time, the Smart no longer makes the list, because revisions to the 2012 Smart Fortwo knocked the tiny car's EPA-rated highway mileage rating down to 38 mpg. More important, four members of the club have been kicked out in the wake of the EPA's probe of test results submitted by Hyundai Motors and its Kia subsidiary.
The Hyundai-Kia fuel-efficiency ratings rollback in 2012 saw the two Korean automakers lower the EPA ratings of 13 models, including all of their erstwhile entrants in the 40-mpg club: 2011 Hyundai Accent; the 2012 and 2011 Hyundai Elantra; 2012 Hyundai Veloster; and 2012 Kia Rio. The Elantra's highway fuel efficiency dropped to 38 mpg from the previously claimed 40 mpg. The other models fell to 37 mpg from their previous 40 mpg ratings.
Nevertheless, models from Chevrolet, Fiat, Ford, Honda and Mazda help fill the gap — then and now. That?s good news because gasoline prices in 2012 climbed to nearly $4 per gallon nationally and in 2013 are hovering around $3.50. Many fuel industry watchers say that the economic growth in developing nations and resulting demand for private transportation — not to mention political upheaval in the Middle East — mean that Americans should resign themselves to a future of expensive gasoline.
Here's a detailed look at the seven members of the gas-powered 40 mpg highway club, including the newly admitted 2013 Fiat 500. For each, we've included some insights into the way they achieve extreme efficiency without resorting to diesel engines, 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 this money 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: Keep in mind that most of the 40 mpg gasoline cars are specialized, low-volume variants of their mainstream counterparts. Some achieve their fuel efficiency through special equipment packages not found on more mainstream models. 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 broader list of fuel-efficient cars, check our story that lists the cars that get at least 30 mpg in the EPA's combined city/highway rating.
2013, 2012 and 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco
This is the third year for the Chevy Cruze Eco, which hit the market as a 2011 model. The EPA-estimated fuel economy of the 2013 Chevrolet Cruze Eco is 28 city/42 highway mpg for the model with a manual transmission. For the 2013 Chevrolet Cruze Eco, the mpg rating hasn't changed but the price now starts at $19,680. This is an increase of almost 2 percent from the 2012 model, and it's also $1,120 more than the comparably equipped Chevy Cruze LT.
General Motors attributes some of the Cruze Eco's fuel efficiency to aerodynamic improvements derived from the 500 hours of wind-tunnel testing that went into the development of the Chevrolet Volt, which shares the Cruze's platform. Much of the Cruze Eco's bodywork reflects this, 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, producing a coefficient of drag (Cd) of 0.298. The average modern automobile achieves a drag coefficient of between 0.30 and 0.35. Typically, only high-performance sports cars and highly fuel-efficient vehicles have a coefficient of drag less than 0.30.
The Chevy Cruze Eco is also relatively light at 3,011 pounds, which is 214 pounds less than a conventional Cruze 1LT. Simply reducing the size of the flanges for the bodywork by 1-2mm trimmed several pounds. The engineers also shaved the thickness of the sheet metal by about 0.1 millimeter in select components. In addition, each lightweight, cast-aluminum 17-inch wheel with its Goodyear low-rolling-resistance tire weighs only 36.5 pounds, some 5.3 pounds less than the 16-inch wheel-and-tire combination of the Cruze 1LT; this change represents a total savings of 21.2 pounds for all four wheels.
The final piece of the Cruze Eco's fuel-saving combination is the turbocharged 138-horsepower 1.4-liter 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.
2013 and 2012 Chevrolet Sonic Turbo
There are three Sonics that get the coveted 40 mpg highway rating for 2013. First, there's the sport-tuned 2013 Sonic RS hatchback. Next, the use of the optional ($700), turbocharged 1.4-liter Ecotec engine helps both the Sonic LT and Sonic LTZ into the 40 mpg club (both hatchbacks and sedans). This engine is only available with a six-speed manual transmission, which also helps enhance fuel efficiency.
With this turbocharged 1.4-liter engine, the Sonic delivers 29 city/40 highway mpg, while the standard 1.8-liter engine of the 2013 Chevrolet Sonic gets a rating of 25 city/35 highway mpg (in models with the six-speed automatic transmission).
The 2013 Chevrolet Sonic RS starts at $29,200. The LT sedan with the turbocharged 1.4-liter Ecotec starts at $15,765. The LT sedan with the turbo engine starts at $16,335, while the hatchback version starts at $16,935. Finally, the LTZ sedan with the turbo engine begins at $17,945 and the LTZ hatchback starts at $18,545.
2013 Fiat 500
Fiat missed the top tier of the fuel-efficiency club in 2012, but has managed to pack almost all of its 2013 Fiat 500 models into the 40 mpg highway club — provided that they have manual transmissions. The only members of the manually stirred 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 family, including both convertibles, got bumped up from 2012's ratings of 30 city/38 highway, courtesy of a taller final-drive gear ratio and improved aerodynamics. For 2013, they get 31 city/40 highway.
The extra efficiency doesn't even cost extra, although you have to be willing to drive a manual transmission. The optional six-speed automatic adds $1,250 to the base price of each Fiat 500 model, and reduces the car's EPA-rated fuel efficiency to 27 city/34 highway mpg.
Pricing for the five 40 mpg Fiat 500 models starts at $16,000 for the base Fiat 500 Pop with five-speed manual and rises to $22,500 for the top-of the-line C Lounge (the C is for convertible) with manual transmission.
2013, 2012 and 2011 Ford Fiesta SE SFE
SFE stands for "super fuel economy." It's a package of fuel-conserving measures that helps the 2013 Ford Fiesta achieve an EPA rating of 29 city/40 highway mpg. Surprisingly the 2013 Ford Fiesta SFE also represents a very good deal. The SFE package was a $695 option in 2012, but now it costs a mere $95, giving the 2013 Fiesta SE SFE Sedan a starting price of $15,295. The 2013 Fiesta SE SFE Hatchback starts at $16,295. The SFE option is only available on the SE trim level.
Like the Chevy Cruze Eco, the Fiesta SFE is in its third year in the market, so deals likely can be found on any remaining new 2012 Fiesta SE SFE models, as well as on used models or any fleet and lease returns that dealers might be trying to move out.
The SFE package 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 and a six-speed automated manual transmission.
There doesn't seem to be much of a secret to the Fiesta's fuel efficiency. It's a lightweight car with a small 1.6-liter engine that makes just 120 hp. But it's a noteworthy car because it comes with a transmission that functions like an automatic, which should broaden the car's appeal. (Only 10 percent of Americans prefer a car with a manual transmission.)
An automated manual transmission shifts automatically, just like the automatics people are used to driving. But it has the same dry-type clutch that gives a manual transmission better efficiency. Also, this automated manual weighs less than a conventional automatic, offers an optimal number of ratios to maximize engine efficiency and works relatively seamlessly so it won't distract the driver.
The Fiesta also features electric-assist steering, a measure that improves efficiency over pure hydraulic assist. It reduces mechanical friction while still delivering the speed-sensitive power assist that drivers expect. Ford soon expects to be using this steering technology in nearly 90 percent of its model lineup.
2013 and 2012 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, and while it is a bigger car with a bigger engine, the 2013 Focus SFE delivers 40 mpg on the EPA's highway cycle just like the Fiesta SFE. As with the Fiesta, the SFE option is only available on the SE trim level of the Focus.
The 2013 Focus SFE features a 2.0-liter inline-4 engine that incorporates high-pressure direct fuel injection. This technology improves the atomization of fuel in the cylinders, reducing fuel use while increasing power. Meanwhile, the use of variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust side of the engine broadens the available spread of that power across the rpm range, increasing usability. This revised engine not only gets fuel economy that's 10 percent better but also makes 160 hp.
And as with the 2013 Ford Fiesta, the Focus SFE uses an automated manual transmission, which combines the efficiency of a manual transmission with the convenience of an automatic. Ford says this six-speed transmission helps reduce fuel consumption by up to 9 percent compared to a traditional four-speed automatic.
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 vanes can be rotated into 15 different positions depending on the amount of cooling air required.
When the vents are fully closed, the reduction in aerodynamic drag effectively produces a 2 percent improvement in CO2 emissions, Ford says. As an additional benefit, the vanes stay closed when the engine starts up, helping the engine to reach its most efficient operating temperature more quickly, thereby reducing fuel consumption.
The SFE fuel-efficiency package is a $95 option on the 2013 Ford Focus sedan, raising its MSRP to $18,295.
2013 and 2012 Honda Civic HF
Honda's modern-day entry in the 40 mpg club came with the introduction of the 2012 Honda Civic HF. The initials stand for "high fuel efficiency." The moniker last appeared on the Honda CR-X HF, a sporty hatchback sold between 1984 and 1992 that had an EPA rating of 41 city/50 highway mpg. But that was in the days before systems for emissions, safety and infotainment started adding lots of weight to cars, thus robbing them of some fuel economy.
The 2013 Honda Civic HF, like the 2012 model, is equipped with a 1.8-liter inline-4 engine that combines a respectable 140 hp with an EPA highway rating of 41 mpg. It's equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission 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.
The MSRP of the 2013 Honda Civic HF is set at $19,765, up 1.6 percent from the 2012?s base price of $19,455, and there are no options to add. This makes it the second most expensive of the 2013 members of the 40 mpg club.
2013 and 2012 Mazda 3 Skyactiv
The 2013 Mazda 3 compact comes in a multitude of sedan and hatchback versions, but the fuel-efficient Mazda 3 i with Skyactiv is available only as a sedan, though it comes in three trim levels.
Pricing starts at $18,375 for the 2013 Mazda 3 i Sport with Skyactiv. It rises to $19,550 for the 2013 Mazda 3 i Touring and tops out at a hefty $22,800 for the fully loaded 2013 Mazda 3 i Grand Touring.
For 2012, there were just two 40 mpg models, the 3 i Touring and 3 i Grand Touring. The 2012s are available as sedans or hatchbacks. The Grand Touring version comes only with a six-speed automatic while the Touring versions can be had either with the automatic or with a six-speed manual (i Touring models produced before September 2011 used a five-speed manual).
The 2.0-liter Skyactiv inline-4 engine features lightweight components, variable valve timing and direct fuel injection. A long-stroke cylinder configuration and a tall 12:1 compression ratio also help promote thorough fuel combustion and thus improved power as well as efficiency. The Skyactiv engine delivers 155 hp, a 5 percent improvement over the standard 2.0-liter gasoline engine. Torque improves as well, with the engine rated at 148 pound-feet, 13 lb-ft more than the standard engine.
Surprisingly, the Skyactiv version of the Mazda 3 sedan does without low-rolling-resistance tires, lightweight cast-aluminum wheels and any extreme transmission gearing. There are some aerodynamic improvements in the sedan's design, so the car has a Cd of just 0.27, a figure that not only leads the market segment but also bests the much-hyped Chevy Cruze Eco's 0.29 Cd.
Look for More
So for 2013 there are just seven gasoline-powered cars that boast of achieving 40 mpg on the EPA's highway cycle. But we expect more to come, as government regulators continue to seek to reduce air emissions and oil consumption even as consumers hope to keep monthly fuel bills from matching their house payments.