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Home » Auto Ownership

The Most Fuel Efficient Cars of 2012

Last updated by on 10 Comments

Update: I have since published a list of the 2013 and 2014 most fuel efficient cars.

The Top Fuel Efficient Cars of 2012

Even in tough economic times, the price of fuel has hovered above $3 per gallon. And should the economy rebound, those prices could skyrocket. You’ll wish you had found a fuel efficient car sooner than later.

Automakers are stepping up their game. Back in August, I was excited to see the Obama administration and automakers agree to set a fleet-wide fuel efficiency average standard of 54.5 mpg by 2025. We have a long way to go to get there, but you can already see signs of progress. As evidence, there are three new 2012 model year vehicles to make this year’s list.

There are some big differences versus last year’s list.

First, I decided to included the top fuel sippers, regardless of their price. In the past, I focused only on cars that retailed under $30,000. I also ranked by combined mpg instead of highway mpg. Power (fuel) source is now also listed.

Not all of these cars will be economical, despite their fuel efficiency, as some are luxury and targeted to the “guilty-rich”. Only 2 made my cheapest new cars of 2012 list – the Scion IQ and Smart FourTwo. They, and a few others could end up saving you $500-$1,000 per year at today’s fuel prices vs. similar vehicles. Over the life of a car, that can really add up.

most fuel efficient cars 2012

Electric Car Tax Credits

There is presently a federal electric car tax credit available to Energy Star approved electric vehicles. It is worth noting because it is a whopping $7,500. Some states match all or a portion of that credit. It can take a pricey electric down to a competitive price level, and when you look at the fuel cost savings, it could result in a very frugal purchase. Three electrics made this list. The tax credit phases out for an automaker when they have produced their 200,000th electric vehicle.

What Cars were Excluded from the List?

For this list, I decided to focus on cars that have been or will be mass-produced for the 2012 model year.

Sadly, I had to drop the electric Azure Dynamics Transit Connect from the list, despite it achieving 62 city and hwy effective mpg’s, because I could not find the price publicly anywhere. It is a van that is built for stop & go, on-the-road businesses. This led me to believe that it is too low-volume in production and not a vehicle for the masses – even though a van that got 62 effective mpg’s would be awesome.

I also had to drop the Tesla Roadster and Tesla Model S because they did not have EPA tested effective mpg’s for the 2012 year as of yet (even though they surely would have made the list).

Obscure electric start-up or other limited run alternative energy models also did not make the list.

Where did these Fuel Efficiency Metrics Come from?

EPA combined, city, and highway mpg metrics, as well as annual fuel costs were grabbed from the U.S. Department of Energy’s fueleconomy.gov site.

With electrics, there are obviously no “gallons” to speak of.  The effective mpg’s are calculated by calculating that car’s required energy output to drive a mile and an electricity price of $0.12 kWh.

Annual fuel costs are based on 45% highway, 55% city driving, 15,000 annual miles and a fuel price of $ 3.30 per gallon for gas, $3.78 for diesel, and $0.12 kWh for electrics. If your driving profile is different, you can modify that on the site for each vehicle to find your specific annual fuel costs.

Without further ado, here are the top 15 most fuel efficient cars of 2012:

15. Volkswagen Golf TDI

2012 VW Golf TDIPrice: $26,105
Powered by: Diesel
Combined MPG: 34
City MPG: 30
Highway MPG: 42
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,668
Annual CO2 Produced: 6.3 tons
Comments: The VW Golf TDI is the only diesel to make this year’s list. The last few year’s have really dampened the excitement around diesels becoming a truly legitimate money-saving alternative.

14. Lexus HS 250H

2012 Lexus HS 250H Price: $37,905
Powered by: Gas-Electric Hybrid
Combined MPG: 35
City MPG: 35
Highway MPG: 34
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,414
Annual CO2 Produced: 5.1 tons
Comments: If you’re guilty-rich, you’ll love it. If you’re not, nothing to see here. Look away!

13. Smart ForTwo

2012 Smart FortwoPrice: $13,240
Powered by: Gasoline
Combined MPG: 36
City MPG: 33
Highway MPG: 41
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,488
Annual CO2 Produced: 5.1 tons
Comments: How does the smallest car to make the list come in at #13?

12. Scion IQ

2012 Scion IQPrice: $15,995
Powered by: Gas
Combined MPG: 37
City MPG: 36
Highway MPG: 37
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,338
Annual CO2 Produced: 5.0 tons
Comments: This newcomer from Scion has launched in California and will in the Midwest in March. It, sadly, is one of only two gasoline models to make the list. The IQ is tiny, but looks like a blast to drive. It came in at #5 on my list of the cheapest vehicles of 2012.

11. Honda CR-Z

2012 Honda CR-ZPrice: $20,135
Powered by: Gas-Electric Hybrid
Combined MPG: 37
City MPG: 35
Highway MPG: 39
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,338
Annual CO2 Produced: 5.0 tons
Comments: A damn fine looking, economical, and sporty hybrid that I can’t ever recall seeing on the road for some reason.

10. Ford Fusion Hybrid

2012 Ford Fusion HybridPrice: $29,495
Powered by: Gas-Electric Hybrid
Combined MPG: 39
City MPG: 41
Highway MPG: 36
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,269
Annual CO2 Produced: 4.7 tons
Comments: This car is almost identical to the Lincoln MKZ hybrid, at a lesser price.

9. Toyota Camry Hybrid LE

2012 Toyota Camry HybridPrice: $26,660
Powered by: Gas-Electric Hybrid
Combined MPG: 41
City MPG: 43
Highway MPG: 39
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,207
Annual CO2 Produced: 4.5 tons
Comments: At this price, both the Prius and Prius V seem like extreme bargains.

8. Toyota Prius V

2012 Toyota Prius VPrice: $27,160
Powered by: Gas-Electric Hybrid
Combined MPG: 42
City MPG: 44
Highway MPG: 40
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,179
Annual CO2 Produced: 4.4 tons
Comments: The Prius was so popular it has multiplied! The Prius V is a larger, more expensive version of the original Prius. Brand new in 2012.

7. Lexus CT 200H

2012 Lexus CT 200HPrice: $29,995
Powered by: Gas-Electric Hybrid
Combined MPG: 42
City MPG: 43
Highway MPG: 40
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,179
Annual CO2 Produced: 4.4 tons
Comments: A hybrid Lexus for under $30,000? Still too much for my blood…

6. Honda Insight

2012 Honda InsightPrice: $19,120
Powered by: Gas-Electric Hybrid
Combined MPG: 42
City MPG: 41
Highway MPG: 44
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,179
Annual CO2 Produced: 4.4 tons
Comments: 2012 brings improved fuel economy. At its price, it almost made my list of the cheapest new cars of 2012. Yet it is large enough for a family to get around – and has incredible fuel efficiency.

5. Honda Civic Hybrid

2012 Honda CivicPrice: $24,820
Powered by: Gas-Electric Hybrid
Combined MPG: 44
City MPG: 44
Highway MPG: 44
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,125
Annual CO2 Produced: 4.1 tons
Comments: The hybrid of this classic economical car is not quite as economical as its Insight cousin.

4. Toyota Prius

2012 Toyota PriusPrice: $22,880
Powered by: Gas-Electric Hybrid
Combined MPG: 50
City MPG: 51
Highway MPG: 48
Annual Fuel Cost: $990
Annual CO2 Produced: 3.6 tons
Comments: In its 3rd generation, the hybrid that started it all, the Prius is still the most popular fuel sipper out there. It is a great value for the price.

3. Chevy Volt

2012 Chevy VoltPrice: $32,495
Powered by: Electric
Combined MPG: 94 (electric only)
City MPG: 95
Highway MPG: 93
Annual Fuel Cost: $648 (electric only)
Annual CO2 Produced: 0
Comments: The Volt is a plug-in electric hybrid that runs on electric and switches to gas if the battery is depleted. It’s MSRP is $39,995 without federal tax credit – it is primarily an electric and does qualify for the federal tax credit. Note that gas only would make it 40 highway, 35 city, and 37 combined, with an annual fuel cost of $1,447.

2. Nissan Leaf

2012 Nissan LeafPrice: $21,625
Powered by: Electric
Combined MPG: 99
City MPG: 106
Highway MPG: 92
Annual Fuel Cost: $612
Annual CO2 Produced: 0
Comments: A re-starting problem really lowered the excitement around the launch of the Leaf. It also falls from the top to the 2nd most fuel efficient car spot as it is displaced by the cheaper Mitsubishi i.

1. Mitsubishi i

2012 Mitsubishi iPrice: $21,625
Powered by: Electric
Combined MPG: 112
City MPG: 129
Highway MPG: 99
Annual Fuel Cost: $540
Annual CO2 Produced: 0
Comments: Not yet released, but coming in early 2012, this will be the cheapest electric car on the market. It’s MSRP is $29,125, but a $7,500 hybrid tax credit brings that down to $21,625. State tax credits could bring it down further.

Best Fuel Efficient Car of 2012

Being in Michigan, I am bummed there are no electric tax credits in my state to match the $7,500 federal credit. If there were, I’d pre-order the Mitsubishi i or Nissan Leaf. The “i” (Jobs would roll in his grave) could be had for around $14k – putting it in third place of the cheapest vehicles for 2012. And with years of $1,000+ fuel savings ahead, it would be extremely economical. Unfortunately, only two states offer a credit of $6,000 or more, so reality must prevail.

Despite a strong first-year showing from the Mitsubishi i, the Honda Insight repeats for my pick of the best fuel efficient car. It’s cheapest model can be had for around $18,000, and that gets you a larger, highly functional car with an automatic transmission, 40+ mpg’s on the highway and in the city, a hybrid engine, and a nice set of features. It even slightly bumped its economy up by 1 mpg vs. last year for good measure.

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 7,500+ others by getting FREE email updates. You'll also find every post by category & every post in order.


10 Comments »
  • Jeff Crews says:

    Surprised that the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt didn’t get #1. It seems like they have had much of the media attention. I think it is very interesting on how fuel efficient cars have begun very popular over the past year or so.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    This is exciting. I keep a spreadsheet of my fuel costs. I should check to see how much I am spending on gas. This could help me make my decision to go full electric.

  • Ron @ High School Life says:

    Thanks for sharing this great post! I own a Prius, and it’s pretty good.

  • Pampibon says:

    I drive a 2006 Nissan Sentra with 90,000 miles on it. I bought it for $7k 2 years ago and between past repairs and repairs I plan to make — I will have spent $2k in the 3 years I have owned it. It runs decent.

    I anticipate keeping it for the next 3-5 years but am curious when is the best time to stop putting $ into repairs and switch to a newer car. The more I spend on the car, the more likely I will keep it past 5 years.

    What do you guys take into consideration when calculating how long you hold your car for and when is the best time to change cars?

  • Savvy Scot says:

    This article came at a good time! Thanks

  • Kevin@moneywisdomtips says:

    Technology is growing so fast today one wonders what it will look like 50yrs from now.Nice post

  • TDI owner says:

    I own a 2012 jetta TDI.
    I get 550 miles to a tank. Even with the cost of disel fuel around $4.30 my yearly expenditure will be $720.00

    I also had the option of a manual (don’t get that option with hybrids)
    AND I have tons of torque. Hybrids just can’t keep up.

    My mom has a prius. My mpg has been better than her’s consistently.

    Just something to think about.

  • J.H. says:

    I just discovered your blog today – it is an incredible resource.

    One important point to consider when thinking about an all-electric vehicle: To say that it produces zero CO2 is somewhat misleading because the electricity it takes to charge the vehicle’s batteries has to come from somewhere. In this country, that is often from coal or natural gas burning power plants. (Darn near 70% of our electricity still comes from fossil fuels, I believe.) Not saying I love it, but it’s reality and something to remember when all-electric car manufacturers claim “zero emissions.”

    If someone wants me to do the math and figure out how many tons of CO2 per year we’re actually talking, I would be happy to do so. Otherwise you can just take my word for it. :)

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