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The Most Fuel-Efficient Cars from the Past 20 Years

Looking to save money at the pump and on the purchase of your next vehicle? Check out our list of most fuel-efficient non-hybrid cars since 1999.

Most Fuel-Efficient Non-Hybrid Cars of All-Time

Man fueling up his car
Man fueling up his car

With gas prices cresting $5.00 a gallon, you may find yourself wondering if perhaps the latest Land Barge SUV is not the best bet for your wallet. On this train of thought, you may be considering hybrids or even full electric vehicles. They are quite efficient after all. However, they’re not cheap and maybe you’re on the fence about whether or not this approach is too complex or daunting from a day-to-day practicality perspective. In which case, you could find yourself Googling, “most fuel-efficient non-hybrid cars”.

Now, there is no shortage of new gas-powered cars that gently sip on 87-octane. You can even find some low cost 2022 models. However, if you were really trying to eek out every drop of gas from a gallon poured and every penny from a dollar spent, it would be worth opening that search up a bit. Like, all the way back to 1999. Used cars are cheaper, in general, than shiny new ones and you might be surprised to learn some of those old-timers are quite thrifty. Should you go down this path, be sure to consult our Age vs. Mileage article on buying a used vehicle so that you are as prepared as possible.

After that, check out our list below of the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid cars over the past twenty years. These are of the gas-powered variety only, no diesels here, and they are ranked by EPA estimates for highway efficiency from highest on down.

2022 Mitsubishi Mirage – 43 mpg

2022 Mitsubishi Mirage - mitsubishicars.com
2022 Mitsubishi Mirage - mitsubishicars.com

Mitsubishi’s Mirage takes a lot of good-natured flak for its puny size and basic amenities. However, it is a perennial poster child of fuel efficiency. Which is why we put on this list of Most Fuel-Efficient Cars 2021 and our Critics Choice For Cheap Fuel Economy article. Though the current year is the highway efficiency champ, the Mirage has been dominating this category for years. You can go back to 2014 and get yourself a dirt-cheap model with a 5-speed manual that should earn 36 mpg around town and 42 on the highway.

1999 Chevy Metro – 42 mpg

1999 Chevrolet Metro - ED Woodard on youtube.com
1999 Chevrolet Metro - ED Woodard on youtube.com

Oh ho! The forlorn Chevy Metro from the last millennium is here to show up the latest and greatest automotive efficiency wizards with its whopping 34 mpg in city driving and 42 out on the highway! Sporting a 3-cylinder mini motor with one liter of displacement, this OG of fuel economy gets around on a staggering 55 horsepower. If you can get it up to highway speed, you can thumb your nose at nearly every gas station you pass with this kind of efficiency. And cheap? There’s one on CarsForSale.com for $2,995! You can also find it under the Geo Metro and Suzuki Swift nameplate to really leave passerbys scratching their heads with wonder.

2022 Honda Civic – 42 mpg

2022 Honda Civic - hondanews.com
2022 Honda Civic - hondanews.com

While the 2022 Civic has the best highway efficiency of any Civic going back to 1999, the fact is you can buy most any Civic from the past 23 years and enjoy excellent fuel economy. You’ll also enjoy the kind of reliability that earned this compact sedan a spot on our list of Top 10 Reliable Cars With 200,000 Miles. If you go the used route, look for a 1999 Civic HX. Running a special lean-burn system with wide-band oxygen sensors, this particular model was rated for 38 mpg on the highway. In 2014, the Civic HF bumped that figure up to 40 thanks to unique aerodynamic features and lighter weight.

2022 Hyundai Accent/Kia Rio Twins – 41 mpg

2022 Hyundai Accent - hyundaiusa.com
2022 Hyundai Accent - hyundaiusa.com

These fraternal twins from South Korea’s Hyundai Group share running gear, namely a 1.6L four-cylinder engine and CVT powering the front wheels with 120 horses. You’ll also find identical fuel economy of 33 mpg in the city and 41 on the highway. Ultimately, you’ll probably be swayed by the sheet metal differences as these two subcompacts do a good job of masking their badge engineering foundations, are within $500 on base price, and share a lot of features. The good news is you can’t go wrong thanks to equally excellent warranties and that 40+ highway mpg rating.

2014-2017 Ford Fiesta SFE – 41 mpg

2014 Ford Fiesta SFE - media.ford.com
2014 Ford Fiesta SFE - media.ford.com

When Ford still made cars, they were good ones. Particularly the super small Fiesta with its feisty handling and tremendous fuel efficiency. To achieve 41 mpg on the highway and 31 around town, skip the hot rod ST model and look for an SFE, short for Super Fuel Efficiency. This variant ran on a turbocharged 1.0L three-cylinder motor with aerodynamic wheel designs mounted in low rolling-resistance tires. Ford offered this setup between 2011 and 2017, but the last four model years were the most efficient. However, even the 2011 Fiesta SFE is rated for 38 mpg on the highway.

2018 Honda Fit – 40 mpg

2018 Honda Fit - hondanews.com
2018 Honda Fit - hondanews.com

Another victim of the SUV-ification of America, Honda’s subcompact Fit was renowned for its spritely handing, Honda quality, and of course fuel economy. A 2018 model with the CVT is rated for 33 mpg in the city and 40 on the highway. Opting for Honda’s famous snick-snick manual transmission drops highway economy to 36, but if you go back another 10 years, you’ll not only save a bunch of money, you’ll find the Fit was slightly more economical with the 5-speed stick. And considering the 2009 made our list of Best Used Cars Under $5,000, you can’t go wrong here.

2022 Nissan Versa – 40 mpg

2022 Nissan Versa - nissanusa.com
2022 Nissan Versa - nissanusa.com

Nissan has been building fuel-sippers for decades, but when it comes to their champ, the latest 2022 Versa is the one to beat. And that’s no bad thing as the new Versa sports sheet metal giving it a mini-Maxima look versus the prior generations’ somewhat bland style. Nissan was also an early adopter of the CVT model, which is what you’ll find under the Versa, powered by a 122-horse four cylinder.

2011-2016 Chevy Cruze Eco – 40 mpg

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco - media.chevrolet.com
2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco - media.chevrolet.com

Flying somewhat under the radar is the Eco variant of Chevy’s Cruze compact sedan that was built between 2011 and 2016. Unique aspects to this model include a smaller gas tank, lightweight wheels, and rear spoiler, all in the name of stretching a gallon of gas. However, the Cruze Eco runs a turbocharged four-cylinder making a healthy 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. And to achieve the best efficiency, you’ll need the enthusiast-friendly 6-speed manual, which allows this small car to blend fuel economy with engaging driving dynamics.

2015 Toyota Corolla LE Eco – 40 mpg

2015 Toyota Corolla LE Eco - pressroom.toyota.com
2015 Toyota Corolla LE Eco - pressroom.toyota.com

No list of most fuel-efficient non-hybrid cars is complete without the Toyota Corolla. Long known for its miserly fuel consumption, the LE Eco model from 2015 does this trick best. Featuring a host of aerodynamic and efficiency-minded components, these Corollas are also nicely equipped with standard heated side mirrors, automatic climate control, and a 6-inch touchscreen infotainment display. Step up to a 2022 Corolla with a 6-speed manual for 39 highway miles per gallon. Go all the way back to 1999 and you’ll still get a solid 34 mpg on the open road. Point being, the Toyota Corolla has always been a contender in this category.

Honorable Mentions

There are plenty of other non-hybrid cars made over the past 20 years that earn high marks for their fuel efficiency, so here are some quick additional options when you’re looking to save a buck at the pump and on the price tag.

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Niel Stender

Niel Stender grew up doing replacement work on his 1990 Cherokee and 1989 Starion, so it’s not surprising that he would put his mechanical engineering degree from the University of New Hampshire to use in the car world as a vehicle dynamics engineer. Now engineering sentence structures, his writing infuses his auto experience with his time in marketing and his sales experience. Writing about cars for close to a decade now, he focuses on some of the more technical mechanical systems that are found under the hood and throughout a vehicle.

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