Fast Cars With Good Gas Mileage at the 2012 L.A. Auto Show

Fast Cars With Good Gas Mileage at the 2012 L.A. Auto Show

Fast and Frugal

Few American cities press the need for cars to be both fun to drive and socially responsible than Los Angeles. It is here more than anywhere else that sporting driving character and prudent fuel economy compete for the discretionary dollars of the socially conscious driving enthusiast. So it is no surprise that Fiat, Ford, Mini and Volkswagen debuted cars at this year's L.A. auto show which exhibit both seemingly at odds virtues. Here are our favorite fast cars with good gas mileage from the show.

2013 Fiat 500c Abarth
Who doesn't love a saucy, topless and relatively efficient Italian? Wait, those don't exist.

Until now.

It is likely that the 2013 Fiat 500 Abarth's most desirable feature is its distinctive, blatty exhaust note. And we can't think of a way to make that particular feature of the car more appealing than to rip off its top. Also, with EPA fuel economy ratings of 24 city/34 highway/31 combined there's more than one reason to go Italian.

Under the hood is the same 160-horsepower, 170 pound-feet 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that powers the hardtop 500 Abarth. It's backed by a five-speed manual transmission and targets the same performance envelope as the coupe.

Remarkably, removing the 500's roof adds only 33 pounds to the Fiat's curb weight thanks to a minimal need for structural reinforcement. With the exception of a missing top and a marginally softer suspension, this is the same 500 Abarth that sold out in only two months this year.

2014 Ford Fiesta ST
There are two reasons the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST will be superbly awesome. One: oversteer. Two: 35 highway mpg.

That last detail is yet to be confirmed by the EPA, but the former we absolutely believe based on SVT's tuning of the Focus ST, which rotates willingly when driven with purpose.

With 197 hp, 214 lb-ft of torque, diminutive dimensions and a six-speed manual transmission, the 2014 Ford Fiesta ST offers a solid platform for frugal enthusiasts. Because it offers significantly more power than both the Fiat 500 Abarth and the Mini Cooper S, it should prove itself as a real driver's car.

Imagine, engaging and efficient.

2013 Mini John Cooper Works GP
Figure it this way: That the 2013 Mini John Cooper Works GP is slightly less efficient than the standard Mini Cooper S (26 city/35 highway mpg) matters little. Because with 211 hp propelling 2,612 pounds through a six-speed manual, the GP is the quickest Mini Cooper ever.

Sixty miles per hour arrives in 5.9 seconds and top speed is 150 mph. Still not convinced? This little rocket laps the Nurburgring North Loop in 8 minutes, 23 seconds.

Height-adjustable dampers (inverted up front for stiffness) allow the ride height to be reduced by up to 20mm relative to the standard car. More aggressive alignment settings further increase handling abilities. Six-piston front brake calipers clamp 13-inch front rotors and add both prestige and cost.

All of the 500 cars coming to the U.S. are painted Thunder Grey Metallic with red trim and come with unique "GP" badging. Even better — and Mini is serious about this — every car will cost $39,950. Production begins this fall.

2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible 2.0T
According to Klaus Bischoff, Volkswagen's head designer, "Retro is not the brand's thing" because it is always looking forward. If that's the case, we can't think of a more retro-styled non-retro car on the show floor this year.

It matters little, because with 200 horses and a six-speed manual transmission the Beetle Convertible earns a highway fuel economy rating of 30 mpg. Its 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder provides ample yank to motivate the topless retro roadster while still producing 21 city mpg.

And, because retro is so 1999, it now lacks a bud vase.

At launch the 2013 Volkswagen Beetle Convertible will be available in three decade-themed styles — one each for the '50s, '60s and '70s. Each version offers unique paint and interior and exterior details to match its period.

Starting at $27,795, the Beetle Turbo Convertible strikes a perfect balance between derivative good times and 21st-century concerns.

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