When car buyers think of fuel efficiency, many automatically think of hybrid models. Hybrids we’ve tested often lead their classes in gas mileage. And they can be ideal for lower-speed urban and suburban driving, when the vehicle can optimize its electric power.
But not all hybrids are created equal. With some, the trade-off for a high miles-per-gallon figure is performance that’s less smooth and refined. With others, it’s a smaller cargo area or less flexibility in carrying gear. Many automakers also load up their hybrids with extra features, which adds to their already higher sticker prices. And in a few cases, the hybrid’s added fuel economy isn’t much better than a conventional version of the same model.
Another option for stretching your fuel dollars is a diesel-powered vehicle. Diesels usually provide about 30 percent better fuel economy than similar gasoline cars. They’re commonplace in Europe, but most American drivers haven’t warmed to them, perhaps remembering the noisy, smelly, and sooty models of yesteryear.
But today’s modern diesels are so much more refined that some can be hard to distinguish from regular gasoline vehicles. Moreover, diesel cars are usually super-efficient while cruising on the highway, so they can be a better option than a hybrid for longer-distance commuters and other frequent freeway travelers.
On the downside, there are relatively few diesel models from which to choose, they generally cost more to buy than their gasoline counterparts, it can be harder to find diesel fuel in some areas, and the fuel is usually more expensive than even premium gasoline. So when comparing vehicles, carefully run the mpg and pump-price numbers in your area to see which type of car is best for your situation.
We recently tested several fuel-efficient cars, including new hybrid versions of the Honda Accord and Subaru XV Crosstrek, and new diesel versions of the BMW 3 Series and Jeep Grand Cherokee. In addition, we just posted tests of the updated Dodge Dart, Honda Civic, and Volkswagen Passat.
The Accord Hybrid delivered an impressive 40 mpg overall in our combined city and highway fuel-economy tests, which makes it the most efficient midsized sedan we’ve tested. That said, buyers who are expecting the EPA figure of 47 mpg that’s posted on the window sticker may be disappointed. We’ve found that the EPA tests often exaggerate the fuel economy of hybrids.
Miles per gallon aside, the Accord Hybrid doesn’t measure up to the standard Accord in such areas as ride comfort, emergency handling, and quietness. As a result, it scored lower in our tests than the four-cylinder Accord. It costs about $6,500 more.
The XV Crosstrek Hybrid also left us under­whelmed. In this case, the hybrid version improves slightly on the drivability of the regular one, but it averaged only an additional 2 mpg overall in our tests. Considering it costs about $3,000 more than the regular version we tested, the hybrid might not be worth the extra money.
The Jeep and BMW diesels turned in a more impressive showing. Compared with their gasoline counterparts, they boosted fuel economy by a significant 6 and 7 mpg overall to 24 and 35 mpg, respectively—without a huge compromise in performance or refinement. And with their excellent highway efficiency of 32 and 49 mpg, they provide lengthy cruising ranges of 785 and 735 miles. You’ll pass by a lot of filling stations over that distance.
Both vehicles scored near the top of their classes in our testing.
But we can’t recommended any of the four models because their powertrains are too new for us to have reliability data.
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