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January 25, 2013 1:00 AM

Fuel economy adds big savings to new-vehicle purchase


Vehicles that require premium fuel can be costly. (Comstock)

Although the cost of gasoline has declined in the past few weeks, the cost of fueling a new car should still be a major consideration while shopping for a new car. These tips can save you hundreds of dollars a year, enough to spring for a new flat-screen TV if you keep your vehicle for several years.

Consider a hybrid

When one says "hybrid," the Toyota Prius springs immediately to mind. But there are many other hybrids on the market, including the Ford Fusion, GMC Yukon Denali, Honda Insight and CR-Z, Hyundai Sonata, Lexus ES 350h, Toyota Camry and Toyota Highlander, among many others.

Hybrids offer better fuel economy than their conventional counterparts, although they generally cost more. So it can take several years before you realize any savings.

For example, the 2013 Ford Fusion SE costs $24,495, and its 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine is rated by the EPA at about 26 mpg in combined city/highway driving.

In contrast, its hybrid counterpart, the Fusion SE Hybrid, costs $27,995, yet returns about 47 mpg in combined city/highway driving. It would take four years to recoup that $3,500 premium, according to the EPA.

Don't overlook diesels

If you equate diesel engines with the loud, smoky machines of the 1970s, your thinking is outdated. Modern diesels offered by Volkswagen, Audi, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and others offer good fuel economy, a smooth demeanor and -- thanks to turbochargers -- good performance.

Opt for a smaller engine

Consider a four-cylinder instead of a six, or a six instead of an eight. If you can live with a little less power, you can save money at the pump. Choosing the 1.4-liter, four-cylinder engine in the Chevrolet Sonic instead of the 1.8-liter, four-cylinder saves $250 a year on fuel, according to the EPA.

Skip all-wheel drive

Unless you're going off-road in an SUV, all-wheel drive is not worth considering in a car. While there might be a small benefit in traction in some situations, you'll pay more for all-wheel-drive models, and then continue to pay at the pump.

The all-wheel-drive Dodge Charger, with its V-6 engine and eight-speed automatic transmission, surrenders 2 mpg in fuel economy to its front-wheel-drive counterpart, or about $200 annually. That may not sound like a lot, but over 10 years, that's $2,000.

Watch what it drinks

Vehicles that require premium fuel can be costly. For example, the six-cylinder Volkswagen Passat requires premium gasoline; the five-cylinder Jetta doesn't. The difference is $400 a year, or $2,800 after seven years.

Skip gasoline entirely

If your new car will be used to commute, consider getting an electric car. The Nissan Leaf has a 100-mile range, while the Chevrolet Volt has a 40-mile range before a gas generator kicks in to recharge the battery.

Similar electric vehicles from Ford, Honda, Toyota and others are on the market or due shortly.

Some caveats, however: First, make sure your round-trip commute is within round-trip range of the batteries; recharging takes a long time, and charging stations are scarce. Second, you'll need a garage to recharge your car overnight. Apartment dwellers are, for the most part, out of luck.