When it comes to birthdays, you may have heard that 40 is the new 30. That applies to automotive fuel efficiency, too. Every manufacturer is now gunning for the big 4-0.
There are many ways to get to 40 mpg (or close to it). Not all that achieve it are tiny little cars, and -- surprisingly -- many are not hybrids. Here are a few to consider based on how you drive and the space you need. (Prices are MSRP plus destination. Fuel economy figures are the official EPA ratings, with city rating first and highway second.)
Before you decide on a vehicle, think about how and where you drive. Urban drivers generally do better with hybrids, which thrive in stop-and-go city slogging. At 51/48 mpg, the Toyota Prius ($24,280) is super-efficient in town.
Drivers who frequent freeways have more choices, because most cars get better gas mileage covering long distances without stopping. The Chevrolet Cruze Eco ($17,275) gets up to 42 mpg when, er, cruising.
For city dwellers, small cars have the benefit of being compact and maneuverable, as well as fuel-efficient. The tiny smart fortwo ($13,980) returns 33/41 mpg. Scion's new iQ has a similar shape as the fortwo, but adds a small back seat; available in October for $15,995, it scores 36/37.
Dripping with Italian style, Fiat's 500 sips at a rate of 30/38 and starts at $16,000. A Mini Cooper ($20,100) offers up loads of driving fun while achieving 29/37.
Four-door fans will want to check out Hyundai's 2012 Accent (30/40, $14,995), the Ford Fiesta (29/40, $13,995), the Mazda2 (29/35, $14,975), and the adorable 2012 Kia Rio that will be available this fall (30/40, estimated $13,000).
Bigger and better
Fuel-efficient doesn't have to mean cramped. Nissan's 2012 Versa sedan has the room of a midsize and, at $11,750, the lowest base price of any new car in the U.S. Equipped with an optional CVT transmission, its fuel economy is 30/38.
The stylish 2012 Hyundai Elantra ($17,205) gets up to 40 mpg, and certain 2012 Ford Focus models ($17,295) can do the same.
Toyota's spacious Prius V wagon (estimated $27,000) goes on sale this fall with a 44/40 rating. The Toyota Camry hybrid begins at $27,810 and returns 31/34. Ford's Fusion hybrid ($29,395) is even more impressive at 41/36.
The 2012 Honda Civic line achieves impressive fuel savings: A standard sedan equipped with a five-speed automatic ($17,375) gets 28/39 mpg. The more aerodynamic HF model ($20,225) returns 29/41, and the hybrid ($24,820) gets 44/44.
The number of vehicles that use alternative energies is growing every year. The 2012 Honda Civic natural-gas model arrives this fall at an estimated price of $26,000 and will be available in nearly every state. The 2011 model is rated at 24/36, with Consumer Reports pegging operating costs at 30 percent less than the gasoline-powered Civic.
Volkswagen offers TDI diesel engines, which are fun and frugal. Available in Golf ($23,995) and Jetta models ($23,765 sedan, $25,765 SportWagen), their torque-rich driving dynamic returns an impressive 30/42 mpg.
Nissan's electric Leaf ($25,280 after the $7,500 federal tax credit) gets the equivalent of 106/92 mpg, but its 100-mile range may limit its appeal for some.
Chevrolet's "extended range" electric car, the Volt ($33,500 after federal tax credit), is EPA-equivalent-rated at 95/90 mpg. With its gasoline-powered generator that extends its range for hundreds of miles before recharging, it could be your only vehicle.