The family friendly gas mileage champions

The Car Family

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What a difference a year makes. In 2004 there were only a handful of cars, largely subcompact or hybrids that could crack the desirable highway and into combined 30-mpg mark. Today there are dozens from the Ford Escape/Mercury Mariner SUV to the Toyota Prius that can be fun to drive, especially if it is to the gas station. In addition, a great many new hybrids are due out such as the Toyota Camry. Just off the pace of these economy champions is our family favorite, the four cylinder Honda Accord with a manual transmission that delivers 26/34 on regular fuel with a list price for the Value edition of just over $18,000.

Contrary to what has been a constant in the past, good fuel mileage no longer equates to poor performance, The Car Family is proud to report that the 2006 gas mileage leaders are peppy, ride well, and can hold a family of four. Although some of these fuel misers are diesel powered and thus may not be available in all states, a great variety run on unleaded and are for sale most everywhere. Even better news awaits the consumer as these fuel sippers as a whole cost less than the national average of about $25,000 for a new car meaning you can have your cake and eat it too.

We didn’t test the Honda Insight because it only has room for two, but it is the champion with a combined 60-mpg average. Others in this category come are our two-time car of the year, the Toyota Prius that averaged 55 mpg and competes for most interior room with much larger cars. There are no SUV in the high mileage category with the Saturn Greeline Vue and the Ford Escape having the best at arouund 27 mpg in real world operating conditions.

Honda’s Civic Hybrid is a great highway car, but does not have the utility of the Prius. It is quick and handy and gets over 50 mpg. Next in line come the many diesels from Volkswagen. We tested last year’s Passat diesel wagon and were extremely impressed. We got over 38 mpg in mixed driving and the car was downright energetic. However, they are not currently marketing this model. Other Volkswagen diesels getting over 30 are the New Beetle, the Golf, and Jetta.

Gasoline powered sedans that are fun to drive, economical to operate, and are definitely worth a test drive are the Toyota Corolla, Scion xA, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, the non-hybrid version of the new Honda Civic, the MINI Cooper, Hyundai Accent, Mazda 3, and Nissan Sentra. Interestingly, the Corolla and Sentra are being redone this year meaning you can count on the 2007 models being even better. If you want handling, the Mazda and MINI are in a class of their own.

If you need more room the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix can get you over 30 mpg with a standard transmission and are quite frisky. However, our favorites in this sized category are the Ford Escape and Mercury Mariner with two-wheel drive. They are easy to drive, love to please, and come well loaded with standard equipment. On the other hand, they are at the top of the price level of fuel-efficient vehicles coming in at about $28,000. If you spend more you can get the larger Toyota Highlander hybrid.

If you are looking for the gas mileage champions by category the minicompact field is lead by the fun MINI Cooper with a 28/36 rating. We love this car, but don’t expect much room to haul anything. The MINI is probably going to be offered in a longer version soon and we recommend you seriously consider it if you like to drive rather than be driven. Subcompact cars are lead by the Volkswagen diesel propelled New Beetle at 37/44. We like the Beetle and it has good safety ratings, too. In the compact field the Honda Civic hybrid is our favorite. It runs smoothly and the new model is very competent on the highway. The government claims 49/51 for this model, but we averaged about 43. The Toyota Prius rules the midsize grouping with at 60/51 rating. We recorded 46 mpg in mixed driving. If you really want a bargain latch onto a Hyundai Elantra with 27/34 ratings and a base price under $14,000. Hyundai’s Sonata also claims a top listing for large cars with a 24/34 rating. We tested both the V6 and four-cylinder version and really liked the latter. It was responsive, roomy, and is priced around $18,000 with an excellent warranty.

The station wagon winners were the Matrix, Vibe, and Scion xB. The Scion is quite fun to drive, but it lacks the utility of the other two. Toyota is coming out with a larger version soon. Look for prices around $15,000 and up in this grouping. If you need a touch more room the venerable Ford Focus provides 26/34-mpg figures and is a workhorse. You can get exceptional deals on this model as they have been around for a long time. If you live where snow and rain rule the roads the Subaru Legacy wagon is a winner with a government highway listing of 30 mpg.

If you need more utility the Ford Ranger pick-up offers 24/29 figures as does its sister model, the Mazda B2300 with the Toyota Tacoma just a step back at 21/26. Although not listed as a leader by the government, our favorite is the Isuzu I-280 and Chevrolet Colorado with 20/27 fuel mileage just beating out the Ford Ranger. We were impressed by the ride of these trucks and there were some great deals out there for these models. The SUV non-hybrid category winners are the Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute. We like the handling of the Mazda more, but they both are easy to maneuver and offer good family space inside. As for the vans, despite the fact that the Mazda MPV having nearly identical consumption ratings, Honda’s large and powerful Honda Odyssey is the best here with 20/28 ratings. If you travel in town a great deal the MPV is going to be a better performer and easier to park and maneuver. If you have children and carry a great deal of odds and end get the Dodge Caravan with the Stow and Go option.


Mom’s view: I really am not into small cars, but the Toyota Prius is a joy to drive. The folds down seats offer plenty of versatility and I can drive over 500 miles without refueling. I also liked the Dodge Caravan and think that every mother should check out its storage options.


Dad’s view: I loved the Ford Escape. It handled very well. I also was totally surprised by the Isuzu and Chevrolet Colorado pick-ups. Except for some poorly placed tie downs in the bed they have a pleasant ride and with the manual transmission can keep up with traffic when loaded. I have seen fabulous prices on these models.


Young working girl’s view: I did like the diesel Passat wagon we tested, but since they don’t have a new model this year my choice would be the Hyundai Sonata. It surprised me with its quality interior, great warranty, and acceleration and room. The handling wasn’t what I liked, but the pricing is good.

I also found the Prius excellent and the Dodge Caravan was dog friendly and easy to drive.

College going male’s view: The Scions are my favorite. Easy to park in the smallest parking spaces on campus, capable of carrying my adopted English Mastiff Brutus to the dog park, and trendy, they deserve attention. The Honda Civic non-hybrid would be my second choice since I like the interior and its legendary quality reputation.

Family conference: If you car about the environment and aren’t into conspicuous consumption all of these should be considered for daily driving. For a list of all vehicle websites go to and click on business.

Best gas mileage popular cars by manufacture with government highway estimates.

Acura RS, 34; Audi A3, 31; BMW 325i, 29; Buick Allure, Lacrosse, 30; Cadillac CTS, 27; Chevrolet Aveo, 35; Chevrolet Cobalt, 34; Chrysler Sebring, 30; Chrysler PT Cruiser, 29; Dodge Stratus and Charger, 30; Dodge Magnum, 28; Dodge Caravan, 26; Ford Escape, 31; Ford Focus wagon, 34; Honda Civic Hybrid, 51; Honda Civic, 38;Honda CR-V, 29; Honda Odyssey, 38; Honda Accord, 34; Hyundai Accent, 35; Hyundai Elantra, 34; Hyundai Sonata, 34; Infiniti G35, 26; Isuzu I 280 truck, 27; Jaguar S-Type, 28; Jeep Liberty diesel, 26; Kia Rio, 35; Kia Optima, 34; Lexus RX 400h, 28; Lincoln Zephyr, 28; Mazda Tribute Hybrid, 29; Mazda 3, 35;Mercedes Benz E320 Diesel, 37; Mercury Mariner Hybrid, 29; Mercury Milan, 32; MINI Cooper, 36; MINI Cooper convertible, 35; Mitsubishi Lancer, 34; Nissan Sentra, 35; Pontiac Vibe, 36; Saab 9-3 SportCombi, 31; Saturn Ion, 31; Scion xA, 37; Subaru Legacy AWD 30; Suzuki Aerio, 31; Toyota Prius, 51; Toyota Highland Hybrid, 28; Toyota Corolla, 34; Volkswagen New Beetle diesel, 44; Volkswagen Jetta Diesel, 41; Volkswagen Golf, 44; Volvo S40, 32; Volvo V50, 32.