Are you singing the gas prices blues? Given the huge jump in gas prices over the last couple of years, it's never been more important to own a fuel efficient car. In the wake of the gas-guzzling SUV craze of the '90s, more and more of us are ditching those hungry behemoths for fuel efficient cars that offer style and dependability.

Sure, you get to scoff at the high gas prices, but there will be trade-offs with a fuel efficient car; mainly a loss in acceleration and speed. Hybrid cars just don't have the get up and go of a gas-guzzling sports sedan. But, with gas prices climbing, it's becoming easier for consumers to opt to save money, instead of being first off the line at a red light

And as more and more people gravitate toward hybrid or fuel efficient cars, the biggest drawback is that they are harder to find on the sales lot! Automakers finally get it, and are scrambling to respond to demand, producing more fuel efficient car models and hybrids to showroom floors in an effort to cash-in on the hybrid trend.

So, which fuel efficient car should you have your eye on? We offer suggestions strictly by the numbers. The following fuel efficient cars offered the best overall mileage in 2006 from tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. Miles per gallon are expressed in a city/highway ratio, and all fuel efficient cars were equipped with manual transmissions unless otherwise noted.

Hybrids

· Toyota Prius 45/48 (automatic)

The Prius hybrid gives the Insight a run for its money in terms of customer satisfaction, reliability and performance. The 1.5-Liter 4-cylinder engine mated with an electric motor is the component of Toyota's vaunted Hybrid Synergy Drive system. A former Car of the Year in North America, Europe and Japan, potential buyers occasionally have to endure a waiting list for this fuel efficient car as well.

· Honda Civic Hybrid 45/40 (automatic)

The Civic Hybrid debuted in 2002 and is gaining a foothold in the fuel efficient car market by increasing the output of its 1.3-Liter 4-cylinder engine. Initially reviewed as a bit wimpy compared to the other hybrids, Honda has beefed up the zip on newer hybrids with the Integrated Motor Assist system providing seamless transfer of power between the gas and electric motors.

Compacts

· Kia Rio 32/27

Korean automaker Kia introduced the Rio in 2001 and got lots of attention for its low sticker price and unusually roomy interior for its class. It features a 110 horsepower 1.6-Liter dual overhead cam engine and a suspension that provides the touring comfort of a mid-sized car, while offering the savings on gas prices of a hybrid. Plus, Kia's 10-year powertrain warranty instills confidence in prospective buyers that are looking for a reliable commuter ride to work and back.

Sporty Gas Misers

· Scion xB 28/22

The xB is powered by 2.4-liter 158-hp four-cylinder engine that is mated to a five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission. Both transmissions are controlled through a high-mounted shifter, which easily falls into the drivers hand. Redesigned for 2008, the xB has a four-inch longer wheelbase than the old xB and is also three inches wider, while the overall length grows by a foot. Standard equipment includes 16-inch wheels, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with brake assist, vehicle stability control, and six-standard air bags.

· Pontiac Vibe 33/26

Built by Toyota for Pontiac, the Vibe offers Toyota reliability coupled with a roomy interior, and tons of space in the back. The Vibe sports a 130 horsepower 1.8-Liter 4-cylinder engine that is quick off the line and provides plenty of boost for passing and merging. Owners like this fuel efficient car for the ergonomic styling of the controls and the adjustable, tie-down anchors in the back for securing cargo. (Note: the Pontiac Vibe is also the same as the Toyota Matrix.)

SUV Class

· Ford Escape Hybrid 34/31

Ford was the first major manufacturer to introduce a hybrid SUV to the market. Strong sales indicate a desire among SUV enthusiasts to combine the higher profile of an SUV with the forgiving gas consumption of a hybrid. A gutsy 2.3-Liter 4-cylinder engine, coupled with a 94 horsepower electric motor provides the power of a 6-cylinder engine, but without the weight and pain at the pump. The Escape is also the first SUV hybrid on the market with Flexible Fuel capability, running on E85 (85 percent Ethanol/15 percent gasoline).

About Gas Mileage Figures

You know that old saying, "Your mileage may vary?" It's an old disclaimer, but it continues to hold true whether you purchase a fuel efficient car or not. Most of these figures were compiled under controlled conditions that don't necessarily translate well to the places that most of us live. Weather, terrain, your driving habits, and level of maintenance for the vehicle will all have a significant impact on the mileage that your vehicle achieves.

You don't have to drive like your Great-Aunt Edna to get better gas mileage, but given those high gas prices, consider proactive measures such as: getting a tuneup, slower acceleration from stoplights, coasting to stop signs, installing a new air filter, etc. These small changes in your driving habits can lead to significant savings over time on gas prices. Take that OPEC!


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