Nissan Nismo 350Z
Fast & Frugal Index: 103.58
The 350Z wouldn't normally come to mind when talking about fuel economy, given the stock car's powerful 306-bhp 3.5-liter V-6 and 6-speed manual gearbox. And yet, the car's highway rating of 25 mpg puts it on par with such family haulers as Nissan's own Altima, which also uses the VQ V-6. While the engine gives the 350Z good performance numbers, such as a 5.3-sec. 0-60 time, it's the Nismo tweaks to the chassis that put the Z over the top in the fun factor, pushing lateral acceleration to 0.96g and giving the car the ability to run through our 700-ft. slalom at 69.4 mph, a speed that matches the Aston Martin V8 Vantage. And yet, the car isn't a thirsty V-8. Also worth noting is that the Nissan has the largest fuel tank in the top 10 with a capacity of 20.0 gal. This volume, according to our theoretical range formula, can take you up to 500 miles -- but it will cost $80 to fill it up from bone dry.
Fast & Frugal Index: 105.93
The new 1 Series from BMW is not the entry-level car we thought it might be, but instead is an impressive performance car in its own right, thanks in no small part to its 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged inline-6. This beast of an engine develops 300 bhp and some rather impressive fuel economy (17 mpg city/25 mpg highway) considering its output. While the 1 Series has been criticized for its high sticker price, it still is less expensive than the 3 Series, while offering near-M3 performance. Speed and agility in a compact package are factors that have enabled the 135i to snare a spot on the index. This is due to its quick acceleration -- 4.8 sec. to 60 mph and a sub-14-sec. quarter mile -- and its ability to stick in the corners as evidenced by its 0.91g on the skidpad and 70.6 mph through the slalom. While the 128i does have a more efficient 230-bhp 3.0-liter six, it comes nowhere near its more powerful sibling in delivering the ultimate fun factor. In this case more, not less, is really more.
Mini Cooper S
Fast & Frugal Index: 107.13
The Mini Cooper S has the best fuel economy numbers of any car on our Fast and Frugal index with an EPA city rating of 26 mpg and a highway number of 34 mpg. The Mini's mini-appetite for fuel comes courtesy of a 1.6-liter turbocharged four, which makes 177 bhp. In addition to sub-7-sec. acceleration to 60 mph, the front-drive Mini has great grip and the added bonus of a functional rear seat along with decent cargo-carrying capacity. Although the Mini is not so mini in size, it's surprising that it has only a 10.6-gal. gas tank, the same size as in the Lotus Elise. But thanks to its superior fuel economy, the Mini has a maximum range above 350 miles and yet still comes in under $45 when it's time to fill 'er up. The go-kart handling of the Mini has won the car many kudos, but now with gas prices reaching new highs, perhaps the car will be as well known for its economy as it is for its performance.
Chevrolet Corvette Z51
Fast & Frugal Index: 107.27
A Corvette? Yes, a Corvette. Who says pushrods are outdated technology? Certainly not team Corvette, which knows the fuel economy secrets of a large-displacement engine loafing along at low rpm. The new LS3 powerplant produces a prodigious 430 bhp and yet the car is capable of scoring 26 mpg on the EPA highway cycle. And it's not unheard of seeing upward of 28 mpg cruising along at 70 mph with the 6-speed manual transmission in the top overdrive gear. Reports about the imminent death of the V-8, to paraphrase Mark Twain, have been greatly exaggerated. Perhaps we can also thank the annoying skip-shift feature for putting the Corvette on the list. It is a testament to American ingenuity that this V-8 2-seater can accelerate to 60 mph in less than 5 sec., pull more than 0.90g on the skidpad and rocket through the slalom at nearly 70 mph while averaging 21.0 mpg with no gas-guzzler tax. And with an 18.0-gal. tank, it can cruise well over 400 miles. Not bad work.
Lotus Elise SC
Fast & Frugal Index: 108.92
It's hard to lump sports cars in the same category as gas-guzzling SUVs when your example is the Lotus Elise SC. Its bonded aluminum chassis and diminutive size contribute to a curb weight of just over 2000 lb. And yet its supercharged 1.8-liter four is capable of generating 218 bhp and some pretty spectacular numbers including 0-60-mph acceleration of 4.6 sec., 71.0 mph through the slalom and 0.95g on the skidpad. The Elise not only goes, it sticks. While offering essentially the same performance as the Exige S, the SC roadster comes in with a sticker price of $54,000, about $10,000 less than its sibling, which puts it under our $60,000 price threshold. Perhaps the only disadvantage to the Elise, due in part to its small overall footprint, is the 10.6-gal. fuel tank, which gives this 2-seater maximum range of less than 300 miles. Still, it'll set you back less than $45 to top off the tank at $4 per gal.