Best and Worst 30 MPG Cars
Thanks to new engine technology, reductions in weight and breakthroughs in aerodynamics, fuel economy is getting better and better. And that's a great thing, considering the constant rise of gas prices nationwide over the past few years.
It's pretty standard for cars to achieve 30-plus combined miles per gallon these days. As such, fuel economy is no longer what defines these cars. With so many above the 30-mpg threshold, we decided to exclude both hybrid and electric cars to give you a sense of which gasoline and diesel vehicles are the best, and worst, around.
Click through to see which fuel-efficient cars stand out from the rest, in good ways and bad.
Research the Mazda
Best - Honda Civic Turbo
Historically, Honda hasn’t messed with turbos. But emissions and fuel economy regulations are so strict now that turbocharging just makes sense, providing more power and (at least on paper) better fuel economy. Paired with a CVT, the Civic doesn’t tip its hand that there’s a compressor under the hood – it’s smooth and torquey, if not quite as fun to drive as its ancestors. What it does bring to the table are striking looks and a mature, upscale interior. It’s one of the best cars in its segment right now, and it just so happens to sip fuel through a tiny straw.
Research the 2016 Honda Civic
Best - BMW 328d
Diesel is now saddled with the unfortunate baggage of the Volkswagen TDI cheating affair, but as far as we know the 328d is clean. It’s also a relative unicorn on these shores: a turbodiesel sedan with available xDrive all-wheel drive, and even a wagon version. It’s a manual transmission away from Europhile perfection, but there aren’t many cars that can touch what the 328d offers: diesel economy and grunt combined with BMW’s sporty driving dynamics. The Sports Wagon will return 34 mpg on the EPA combined cycle, too.
Research the BMW
Best - Mazda MX-5 Miata
The MX-5 (or Miata, as we still call it around the office) does so many things well we seem to recommend it no matter what the criteria. One of the best roadsters on sale today? You bet. A great performance bargain? Exactly. The most fun you can have getting 30 mpg combined? That’s a strong possibility. If you can get by with two seats and limited cargo room, there’s not much that can approach the Miata’s ability to produce smiles.
Research the Mazda
Best - Volkswagen Golf
Scandal or no, Volkswagen still makes fun-to-drive cars. The Golf, when equipped with a 1.8-liter turbo and six-speed manual transmission, achieves that perfect balance between performance, practicality, and fuel economy. It’s simply a great all-rounder if you don't strictly need a trunk.
Research the 2015 Volkswagen Golf
Best - Mazda 6
Mazda’s vehicles are usually at the top of our list in their respective segments, and the 6 is a prime example. It injects some near-European styling and sophistication into a staid and conservative (ok, boring) class of cars, and it’s also very rewarding to drive. The tradeoff is that it’s not particularly quick, so at least it is extremely fuel efficient.
Research the Mazda
Worst - Scion iM (Toyota Corolla iM)
It’s not that the iM is a bad car, per se. It is the sort of competent, approachable, practical hatchback we need more of on the road. The problem is most other cars in the segment. It gives up the fun to drive aspect to the Mazda3 and Golf, and the extreme practicality to offerings like the AWD Subaru Impreza. That’s some tough company. Also, a quick note: since the Scion brand isn't long for this world, this car will soon be renamed the Toyota Corolla iM. Other than the rebadging, it will be largely the same, for better or worse.
Research the 2016 Scion iM
Worst - Mitsubishi Mirage and Mirage G4
The poor Mirage can’t measure up. It vibrates like a paint shaker at idle, and the combination of a CVT and a three-cylinder powertrain make acceleration a noisy, slow affair. It may be cheap, but for most folks a nice used car would be a smarter move. The Scion iA (soon to be Toyota Yaris iA, née Mazda2 sedan) is a substantially better buy, even at a several thousand dollar premium.
Research the Mitsubishi Mirage G4
Worst - Dodge Dart
We can’t fault the Dart for being discontinued by parent company FCA, along with its Chrsyler 200 relative, after poor sales. It’s an attractive little car, it’s fairly fun to drive, and it offers a surprising array of engine choices for a compact sedan. But it also seemed a bit out of step with the competition, offering a mix of stand-out looks and driving enjoyment that didn’t resonate with consumers. With more sophisticated choices like the Civic Turbo or Mazda3, the Dart doesn’t quite add up.
Research the 2016 Dodge Dart
Worst - Chevrolet Spark
On the positive side of the scale, the Spark isn’t a Mirage. Small comfort, that. The refreshed and facelift Spark at least looks cheerful and perky. And while there needs to be a market for inexpensive new cars, that doesn’t mean they have to be enjoyable. The 1.2-liter Spark is troubling at freeway speeds, and the CVT isn’t the smoothest in its class. Spend more for something better, or less for something used.
Research the 2016 Chevrolet Spark
Worst - Hyundai Veloster Turbo
The Veloster, quite simply, has a problem. It looks like a hot hatch, and on paper the turbo 1.6-liter four and manual transmission should be entertaining, but it never lives up to its own hype. Tighter, more direct steering and some suspension revisions would go a long way, but that’s speaking in hypotheticals. In the real world, a Fiesta ST or a Mini Cooper are better bangs for the buck, and for the fuel bill.