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Home » Auto Ownership

The Most Fuel Efficient Cars of 2011

Last updated by on 45 Comments

Update: I have since published a list of 2012, 2013, and 2014 most fuel efficient cars.

Economic Recovery Re-Emphasizes Importance of Fuel Efficiency

One downside to economic recovery (which nobody would complain about right now) is higher costs of fuel. 2011 gas prices are already firmly above $3 per gallon and analysts are predicting prices to head north of $4 per gallon by the end of summer. Over the next decade, $5, $6, or $7 per gallon is certainly within reach. If you bought a gas guzzler when prices dropped to $2 a gallon briefly, you should have known better.

Ford, GM, and many foreign automakers are building smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles in anticipation of the continued rise in fuel costs. My advice? Place a huge premium on fuel efficiency in the coming years. If you’re in the market for a new vehicle, this list of the 15 most fuel efficient cars of 2011 should help.

Did Electric Cars Make the List?

This list wasn’t the easiest to make. The most fuel efficient vehicles were pricey due to their new technology and scarcity. As such, I cut out any vehicle with an MSRP above $30,000. This automatically excluded the Tesla Roadster, other limited production, luxury, or obscure electric cars, alternative energy vehicles (natural gas, etc.), and the Chevy Volt.

Some of these vehicles might make sense economically with the right federal and state incentives (particularly, the Chevy Volt), but even with $5 per gallon gas, it might be tough to make your money back. At $3 per gallon, it’s almost impossible.

City vs. Highway MPG Efficiency

Another challenge was figuring out whether or not to focus on city vs. highway mpg – which created two separate and distinct lists. Going with city mpg resulted in a list dominated by expensive hybrids. This is a personal finance blog after all, so I ultimately decided to go with best highway mpg because it resulted in a much cheaper list of vehicles.

Annual Fuel Costs & Fuel Efficiency

In my cheapest new cars post, I included the annual fuel cost metric because I’m a firm believer that when you consider a vehicle purchase, you’re only touching the surface of overall vehicle cost if you only consider the purchase price. Surprisingly, only 5 of the 15 vehicles made this list. Small doesn’t always equate to the most fuel efficient, apparently.

Take note that annual fuel costs listed are based on 45% highway, 55% city driving, 15,000 annual miles and a fuel price of $ 3.09 per gallon. If you have a different driving makeup, you can plug in your mileage at fueleconomy.gov for each vehicle to find your specific fuel costs.

Here is the list of the 15 most fuel efficient cars of 2011. Enjoy!

15. Kia Forte

2011 Most Fuel-Efficient CarPrice: $15,390
Highway MPG: 36
City MPG: 26
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,589
Annual CO2 Produced: 6.2 tons
Comments: Much more attractive and more kick than it’s Rio sister, the Forte has that great 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty in addition to its strong fuel economy.

14. Kia Rio

2011 Kia RioPrice: $15,390
Highway MPG: 36
City MPG: 27
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,543
Annual CO2 Produced: 6.2 tons
Comments: For the same price, I’d opt for the more attractive Forte any day. It sports a 1.6L engine but gets only 1 mpg better in city mileage than the Forte’s 2.0L.

13. Hyundai Accent

2011 Hyundai AccentPrice: $13,175
Highway MPG: 36
City MPG: 27
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,543
Annual CO2 Produced: 6.2 tons
Comments: The hatchback version of this vehicle isn’t that bad looking. It’s over 2,000 cheaper than the Forte and Rio, with the same great warranty and fuel economy.

12. Mini Cooper

2011 mini cooperPrice: $20,100
Highway MPG: 36
City MPG: 28
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,613
Annual CO2 Produced: 6.0 tons
Comments: The Mini Cooper has looked the same for at least a decade (and pretty close to the original back in the 50’s. It’s a sexy little car, but read reviews inside and out, it has a lot of critics questioning its reliability.

11. Ford Fusion Hybrid (same vehicle as Mercury Milan Hybrid and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid)

2011 Ford Fusion HybridPrice: $28,240
Highway MPG: 36
City MPG: 41
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,187
Annual CO2 Produced: 4.8 tons
Comments: The Ford Fusion is nearly identical to the Mercury Milan and Lincoln MKZ, all of which come in a hybrid form. If price is your goal, the Fusion is easily the cheapest of the three. Still, compared to the Prius, Insight, and Camry hybrids, which all have better fuel economy, its price tag is too high. Ford is putting out an all-electric Focus in 2012. At the right price, it should be a game changer in the electric and hybrid markets.

10. Ford Fiesta

2011 Ford FiestaPrice: $14,390
Highway MPG: 38
City MPG: 29
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,404
Annual CO2 Produced: 5.7 tons
Comments: You know my love for the Ford Fiesta. It was my pick for the best inexpensive vehicle of 2011. Welcome back, Ford.

9. Honda CR-Z

2011 Honda CR-ZPrice: $19,200
Highway MPG: 39
City MPG: 35
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,251
Annual CO2 Produced: 5.1 tons
Comments: No, it’s not a typo. This is indeed the Honda CR-Z – not the CR-V. A sporty hybrid for under $20K? Also not a typo. Great job on this one, Honda.

8. Smart ForTwo

2011 Smart ForTwoPrice: $12,635
Highway MPG: 41
City MPG: 33
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,389
Annual CO2 Produced: 5.2 tons
Comments: Golf Car on steroids. If you’re going to charge over $12,000 for this car, at least make people feel like they are getting a good value and add in AC and a CD player!

7. Audi A3 (Diesel)

2011 Audi A3 DieselPrice: $30,250
Highway MPG: 42
City MPG: 30
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,469
Annual CO2 Produced: 6.2 tons
Comments: It broke my $30,000 rule, but only by $250, so I decided to include it. Note that with the diesels that make this list, annual fuel costs are actually higher than some of their gasoline counterparts because the cost of diesel has been higher than gasoline. They also put out slightly more pollution.

6. Volkswagen Jetta TDI (Diesel)

2011 Volkswagen Jetta TDIPrice: $22,995
Highway MPG: 42
City MPG: 30
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,469
Annual CO2 Produced: 6.2 tons
Comments: The latest generation Jetta TDI (diesel) gets a nice 42 mpg highway, but at $5k more than the Volkswagen Golf (which gets the same, it’s hard to make an argument for it.

5. Volkswagen Golf TDI (Diesel)

2011 Volkswagen Golf TDIPrice: $22,800
Highway MPG: 42
City MPG: 30
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,469
Annual CO2 Produced: 6.2 tons
Comments: Convenient hatchback, good looking, great mileage, and affordable. A little pricier than similar hatchbacks, but the added mpg might make it worth it.

4. Honda Civic Hybrid

2011 Honda Civic HybridPrice: $23,950
Highway MPG: 43
City MPG: 40
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,131
Annual CO2 Produced: 4.6 tons
Comments: Compared to the new Honda Insight and the competing Toyota Prius, the Civic Hybrid seems overpriced.

3. Honda Insight Hybrid

2011 Honda InsightPrice: $18,200
Highway MPG: 43
City MPG: 40
Annual Fuel Cost: $1,131
Annual CO2 Produced: 4.6 tons
Comments: Honda got it right here, but the Insight hasn’t received its due press. A hybrid that gets over 40 mpg in the city and highway for only $18k? Why isn’t this car more popular than it is! Perhaps the old (ugly) Insight model is dragging down its image.

2. Toyota Prius Hybrid

2011 Toyota PriusPrice: $21,600
Highway MPG: 48
City MPG: 51
Annual Fuel Cost: $927
Annual CO2 Produced: 3.8 tons
Comments: The Toyota Prius is in its 3rd generation, and it is still the most economical hybrid out there at almost 50 mpg highway and city. On price alone, the Insight gives it a run for its money. Is the extra fuel economy worth the extra $3,400.

1. Nissan Leaf Electric

The Nissan LeafPrice: $25,280 (after federal tax credit of $7,500)
Highway MPG: 99 (equivalent)
City MPG: 99 (equivalent)
Annual Fuel Cost: $561
Annual CO2 Produced: 0
Comments: The Nissan Leaf qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit this year, pushing its MSRP down to $25,280. Some states are offering a matching $7,500 credit. If yours does, you have to seriously consider it as your next new car before these credits dry up.

Best Fuel Efficient Car of 2011

If I lived in a state that gave a matching $7,500 tax credit on the Nissan Leaf, I’d probably buy it tomorrow. Under $18K for an electric vehicle with an equivalent 99 mpg is outstanding and I’d consider it a great investment, particularly if gas prices skyrocket (and even if they stay the same).

The reality is that there are few states that actually offer this credit. And as such, my pick is the Honda Insight. If it looked any more like the Prius, Toyota could file patent lawsuits (if they haven’t already). Yes, it does get a bit less mpg, but it’s $3,400 cheaper. It’s nicely equipped as well. And there’s no buzz around it, so you may be able to get it for a good deal from a dealer with a large inventory of them. The Prius, which still sets the standard for hybrids, comes in a close second and could easily reclaim the top spot if its price dropped a bit.

What’s your pick?


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.


45 Comments »
  • Robert says:

    This is great. I would agree that the Insight is a top challenger to the Prius. It’s still tough to beat the Prius though. It’s almost 20% more efficient than the Insight. And with the plug-in version coming in the near future, it will re-assert itself as the top fuel-efficient vehicle. No matching credits in my state for the Leaf. Damn!

    • James M says:

      I owned a “Smart Car”. Quite simply, the French should stick to wine. These cars, which now use Mitsi engines, rather than Mercedes like the originals, are junk. The mileage is no longer impressive at 40 mpg and NOBODY can service them. There might be 2 dealers in the eastern half of PA. You’d have an easier time finding a service center for the Space Shuttle.

      Go with the Insight/Fiesta or the VW’s. I have been waiting for 3 years for VW to bring the TDI Polo to the U.S. market. Over 70 mpg and it’s essentially a smaller Rabbit/Golf.

  • Matty says:

    Helpful list. I too find it interesting that some of these tiny little cars don’t have the best fuel economy. There’s no reason that the Smart car shouldn’t be getting at least 50 mpg, one would think. Many smaller cars in the past were getting just as good or better economy.

  • Pete says:

    I really like the stuff you put on your site thanks for the info, but the Gulf TDI starts at 23k. Not 17k. The base model starts at 18k. keep up the good work.

  • Joe says:

    I’m really glad to see that American car manufacturers are finally getting their heads in the game! That said, I’ve been eyeing a couple of VWs lately, so I was happy to see them on this list as well.

  • Josh says:

    I would take the diesel. I love diesel cars because they are so efficient and last long.

  • Julie K. says:

    Car producers will be put under greater pressure to invent more fuel efficient cars with less pollution of CO2 emissions. It is quite interesting to stimulate the sale of hybrid cars by state incentives. In Canadian provinces like British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, Prince Edward Island or Quebec have partial sales tax rebate on all hybrid vehicles. And I guess Nissan and Volkswagen are the hottest favourites for the future automotive industry in the North America.

  • Paul says:

    As a car guy, I am strongly anti-hybrid.

    With hybrid technology you are stuck lugging around hundreds of pounds of unused hardware (either the gas or electric engine depending on what mode you are in) at any given time. Additionally (with the exception of the Volt) hybrid tech is incredibly inefficient. If you must buy a hybrid, the volt is the way to go.

    That said, a diesel or traditional gas sipper is a far more practical, and environmentally friendly (nickel mining is some nasty nasty stuff), proposition until electrics hit the big time. The Leaf is a lovely start but its just a start.

    From this list I would definitely buy one of the VAG (Volkswagen Auto Group – VW/Audi) cars or the Fiesta.

    36 Highway MPG for the Mini seems very optimistic to me…

    • Dave says:

      1. You obviously don’t understand how a hybrid engine works or the difference between a Volt and a Prius drivetrain.

      2. If you’ve ever worked on lots of VAG cars, and worked on lots of Toyotas, you wouldn’t want anything to do with the VAG vehicle.

      3. The diesels are not a bad choice(as long as its not a VAG), if all you care about is fuel economy and not emissions. But where most cars suffer is at the transmission. This is what makes the toyota hybrid technology superior to all other petroleum powered vehicles. The CVT Hybrid Electric Transaxle is simple, efficient, and durable, with very few parts. There is really nothing to wear out amd very little heat(energy waste) created. Another advantage the toyota has, is in engine technology. From a fuel efficiency standpoint the hybrid engines run very cool( not that they keep the coolant temp low, but they don’t require much cooling and less heat is given off, thus less wasted heat/ energy) Then there is the emission standpoint: very low combustion temperatures keep nox level very low.

      • Paul says:

        1) I most certainly do. Running on all electric and utilizing the gasoline engine for additional generation is far more efficient than utilizing the gasoline engine for propulsion while the electric engine does nothing except acts as dead weight. A small gasoline engine doing nothing weighs far less than batteries doing nothing.

        2) I have and I do. Especially the diesels, easy easy easy. If we were comparing a TDI to a Corolla I may agree but we are comparing it to a Prius.

        3) It seems you are one of the VAG haters created in the late 90s or early 2000s. I feel your pain as, frankly, many from that period (and any built in Mexico at just about any point) were junk. To state that the CVT is simple and efficient is accurate but it is even more simple when mated to a gasoline engine (think Nissan). Additionally it seems you may not be familiar with the efficiency of a dual clutch transmission (note – they are FAR more complex than a CVT but work wonderfully).

        I fully understand the draw of a hybrid but:
        1) You will never get your investment back in saved gas mileage.
        2) They will always be worse for the environment (due to production and recycling issues) than a nearly comparable gasoline engine. Note I say nearly comparable because even a slightly less fuel efficient gas engine will be more environmentally friendly over the life cycle of the vehicle (I am thinking something like the traditional Civic, Elantra, Fiesta or now the Cruze Eco).

        Until they (figuratively and literally) can build a better battery, traditional efficient internal combustion (gas and diesel) will continue to be superior when you do a full analysis.

        • Keith says:

          Thank you Paul!
          More people need to open their eyes to the big picture…batteries are extremely toxic and have a (relatively) short life span. After much research, I just bought a Jetta TDI and love it. There is good reason why Europeans buy/drive over 50% diesels.

        • tony says:

          if i listen 2 all u guys i may get really confused but anyway i wanted 2 know if they hav seven or fifteen seaters hybrids coming soon on d market??????????

  • Byron says:

    I like the list you compiled. Its very helpful but what about the 2011 Hyundai Elantra? I think this car should have made the list. It has great gas mileage (29/40) at a reasonable price ($15K). Do you concur?

    • Darrent says:

      After the gas prices jumped the last week of February 2011. I am strongly considering the Elantra and it should be on this list. It seems to match or beat the Ford Fiesta gas mileage wise and looks a ton better.

  • Dano says:

    Hybrids are still way over priced. Take the Civic for example, the base model starts at $15,800 while the base hybrid starts at $23,950. No thanks, you’ll never make up $8000, plus the baseline civic will probably last twice as long

  • raoul says:

    Please stop perpetuating the myth that the leaf is a zero emission vehicle. You have to plug it in the the electrical grid to “fuel” it. the vast majority of electricity in the united states still comes from fossil fuels, mostly petroleum, coal and natural gas. I definitely agree that the leaf is a step in the right direction and is a very low emission vehicle but it is not a zero emission vehicle.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      I never said it was zero emission. If you have a number on CO2 provided, please let me know what it is. What if your electricity provider allows you to purchase electricity from green sources (some do this if you pay extra). Is it not a zero emission vehicle at that point? Lets not split hairs. The vehicle produces zero emissions when you drive it. The CO2 that is produced from the energy that goes into it can vary widely.

  • cgHipp says:

    The reason to choose the VW Jetta TDI (particularly the SportWagen) over the Golf TDI is the SIZE! I previously owned a ’98 non-TDI Golf for many years and now have the ’09 Jetta TDI, and there is a huge difference between the two when you’re trying to figure out where to put the stroller/car seat/groceries/luggage/tennis equipment/what have you. I loved my Golf and I love my Jetta TDI even more – it’s the perfect size for our family of four.

    • cacspauto says:

      I like the sportwagon tdi jetta but as a women I have heard such varied opinions on the Jetta’s fuel system and still knick knacks going off . What TDI year did you buy and what do you need to do to counteract the lack of reliabitlity in the fuel system as Consumer Reports warns ? What else do I need to worry about ??

  • Greg says:

    My Mom’s 1977 Datsun B-210 got 36mpg city and 50mpg highway!!! Why does it seem that our technological capabilities regarding the efficient use of natural resources has regressed in the last 30+ years? Conspiracy?

    It just amazes me that in the year 2011 we can’t compete with the fuel efficiency of an economy car produced in 1977.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      I agree. Blame the consumer, the auto companies, and the oil companies. Auto companies follow the trends of gas prices in whatever geography they are selling to. If prices go up, consumers demand more fuel efficient vehicles. If they don’t go up, they demand bigger gas guzzlers. Pretty soon, only the very elite will be able to afford those types of vehicles.

      • Smartopinion says:

        US will never fund an alternate fuel car… Simple reason Dollar value. Oil is traded ONLY in dollars. If alternate fuel cars becomes the standard of tomorrow then dollar value drop significantly and that will be the end of US dominance in terms of economy..

  • 401k says:

    We can’t deny the fact that fue-efficient cars are more expensive than those which are not.But in the long run, you can get to save more on fuel. They are also environment-friendly ones.

  • John says:

    I am going to make this as short as possible for time sake. This is a list of the cars I have owned and milage after simple modifications.
    Me- 93 del sol 1.5L man- 43 cty 53 hwy
    Wife- 00 2dr accord 2.3L auto- 27 cty 36 hwy
    Me- 97 prelude H22 auto- 25 cty 30 hwy
    Wife 97 civic hatch 1.6vtc- 34 cty 40 hwy
    Just a few. All of them made it to 250000 with no major problems and still running today
    Current drivers
    Me- 99 f150 4×4 super cab stepside 4.6L auto 18 cty 27 hwy 230000 miles numbers matching no rebuilds
    Wife- 03 civic 4dr 1.7vtc auto 36 cty 45 hwy 192000 miles numbers matching no rebuilds
    My truck sits alot because my daily driver is
    06 freightliner century Detroit 60 motor 721000 miles average 9 mpg
    Yea that’s right big rig any complaints about me polluting think of this. Pound for pound I get better fuel milage than any hybrid, pound for pound,
    Hybrid= 50 mpg load 1000 lbs. 45000 lbs 100 miles = 90 trips x 2 gal 180 gallons
    Century= 9 mpg load 45000 lbs. 45000 lbs 100 miles = 1 trip / 9 mpg 11.11 gallons
    Any other complaints Everything you own came on a truck in some shape or form
    Now that that is cleared up
    Two things can make a huge difference on fuel efficiency
    Tire inflation and oil type
    Mine and my wife’s vehicles Tire check at every fueling and I only run wix air/oil filters and royal purple full synthetic oil in my vehicles yea it costs a little more but don’t have to worry about maintainance light in civic for 15000+- miles and do the f150 every 6 months
    My del sol was the first test subject for synthetic oils and the royal purple blew out all other oils by a landslide. Wix only makes filters. They are high flow high filtration filters that do not allow oil back flow when the car is shut off. That means no dry starts. We only use cheveron gas and royal purple oil
    This has only been my experience with my cars. When I tell other people my secrets that I just shared with whomever reads this I get good feedback but if you drive like an &&&&&& then your results may vary
    I was an ASE cert auto tech for 9 years before the economy got us techs also and I started driving a truck
    My advice to everyone is take care of the small simple things, keep up the basic maintenance like oil, tune ups, and tires (tune ups incl brakes, timing belts, and such) and you will get many reliable years from any car
    Tires and oil are two of the most devastating things to fuel economy
    Take care of the little things and you won’t have to take care of big things
    Thanks for reading and happy motoring
    PS leave the big rigs their space PLEASE!! Truck trailer and load average 65-80000 lbs this size and weight does not stop like a car. I’m talking football fields of stopping distance. So PLEASE remember THE SPACE IN FRONT OF A TRUCK IS NOT THERE FOR CARS TO FILL UP. IT IS SO WE CAN STOP!
    Thanks everybody and drive SAFE

  • joe says:

    Electric cars are not “0” emissions. I would suggest you read a recent Scientific American article that describes the impact of all electric cars depending on where you live in the US and the source of your electric power. In many areas of the country the all electric car is more polluting than hybrid technology as you have substituted coal for your gas.

    • G.E. Miller says:

      The vehicle itself puts out zero emissions. If someone who purchased a Leaf was completely off grid via solar/wind, would it not be a zero emission vehicle?

      • Kage says:

        Frankly no! The car must be produced, material for the car must be mined and produced and the solar/wind “green energy” equipment must be produced… all requiring energy. Nothing is 100% green. Albeit the Leaf is better than a gasoline engine you still have to recycle those nasty batteries. I’m sure in the future the technology will become better.

        My personal problem is I live in a rural area and must commute to work driving farther than the little electric engine and batteries will carry me. Someday it’ll be there.

  • Warren says:

    The most fuel efficient car is any car that has four people car-pooled. There are plenty of people that 80% or 90% of the driving is too/from work. If someone wants to car-pool then looking at just fuel efficiency and forgetting about the comfort/usability of the back seat is defeating the purpose.

  • John says:

    It may not polute now but what happens when that big battery goes bad and sits in a landfill somewhere. One year out there will polute more than if the car was gas powered. Things will change when they create the tech to rebuild those batteries like they can with reg car batts. Just saying nothings perfectly designed. What it saves now it will release later.

  • Mikey says:

    I found it interesting that the ford fusion hybrid has a higher city MPG than on the highway as listed here. That seems incorrect to me. Is it?

  • JC says:

    Great list for the “US” market. Not so great a list in the world market. Points to consider:
    1979 VW Rabbit Diesel, 5-sp/no AC/55mpg/315K miles/routine mx
    1994 Geo Metro XF-i, 5-sp/no AC/57mpg/310K miles/routine mx
    2004 Suzuki Swift, 5-sp/no AC/44mpg/305k miles/routine mx
    Each of these cars ran strong/each was sold still running strong. Each was purchased for under $7K. So….fast forward to your list of the latest greatest “US offerings”. Strong list for here but all subpar when you create a list of what’s being offered to the rest of the world market. Europe and Asia figured this out ages ago. The great mpg product doesn’t make it here. $26K golfs and jettas are sub-par diesel products at these price points. So where are the Suzuki diesels, the smaller VW diesels, the SmartCar diesel, even the new boutique Fiat 500 has a diesel but not here. Carbon output on these is exceptional but we have Washington’s red tape(EPA, Commerce, DOT, yada yada); the market share cities of LA and NY; and the stellar US unions/auto makers/lobbyists to contend what gets delivered here. Hybrid development and sales receive Washington $$ incentives. Disappointed in the limited selection here but then the greater US auto buyer isn’t into small cars unless it’s boutique small. Cheers!

  • andrey says:

    You forgot Chevy cruze.

  • Mark says:

    Suzuki Alto? 4.7km per 100km and didn’t make the list.

  • alicakes says:

    My ? where did you get the prices? The Fiesta’s avg. $20,000.

  • Jose Rodriguez says:

    Does somebody have a list of States with a matching tax discount?

  • Megan says:

    This article makes me mad because it has false information. Electric cars are actually worse than gasoline fueled cars because they use coal powered power plants to get their energy, which causes twice as many CO2 emissions. Not to mention the cost of the infrastructure to support these cars. I just think they are a total waste of our resources.

  • Charles says:

    the Smart ForTwo is my favourate

  • brguitarist says:

    I bought a 2008 Civic Hybrid in February 2011 and have been very happy with it. Since purchasing it, I have averaged 39.99 mpg, about double what my previous car got.

  • Jennifer C. says:

    I’m glad to see that we are catching up with the times and using energy efficient cars more regularly. I can’t wait until it’s the standard that a car gets 90mpg and over.

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