Cars have never been more fuel efficient.
The collective fuel economy of new cars in America reached 24.0 miles per gallon this year, according to estimates released by the Environmental Protection Agency this week, the highest industry average recorded since the federal government began keeping track of gas mileage in 1975.
That's good news for car buyers looking to spend less at the pump. Ten of 12 automakers measured by the EPA improved their fuel economy year over year. But when it comes to gas mileage, not all brands are created equal. Click through and you’ll find the highs and lows on each car brand, with one big curveball at the end:
For the second straight year, Mazda is expected to own the title of “most fuel-efficient brand” in America. Across its fleet, Mazda's cars got 27.0 mpg in 2012, and preliminary data shows that number should rise to 27.5 mpg once 2013’s numbers are finalized.
It’s Mazda3 compact sedan is a finalist for North American Car Of The Year. One reason why is that it gets 29 mpg in the city and 41 on the highway. We also really like the company’s CX-5 small SUV, which boasts a class-leading 35 mpg on the highway.
Honda has been making fuel-efficient cars since long before gas mileage became a key criteria for car shoppers. Over the past two years, the company has kept making strides, adding 2.9 mpg to its overall fuel-economy average.
The average Honda achieved 27 mpg in 2013, according to EPA estimates, which would make it the second-highest among all automakers. In terms of CO2 emissions, Honda vehicles emit less per mile than any other car brand, according to the EPA.
The company’s Honda Accord Hybrid, recently named Green Car Of The Year by Green Car Reports, gets 50 mpg in city driving and 45 mpg in highway driving, according to the EPA.
3. Subaru (tie)
Subaru’s 26.2 mpg average in ’13 is tied with Volkswagen for fourth place. Over the past two years, the company has added 2.3 mpg to its overall average, a leap surpassed only by Honda and Mazda.
3. Volkswagen (tie)
Volkswagen ranks fourth among the most-fuel efficient automakers, and has taken a different approach to bolstering its fuel economy. It has brought diesel engines popular in Europe to the United States in recent years, and sales of these diesel cars have taken off in 2013. VW has sold more than 100,000 diesels so far this year.
Its fleet average will rise from 25.8 mpg in 2012 to 26.2 in 2013, according to the EPA data.
Nissan’s 25.3 mpg average is good enough for fifth place among automakers, just ahead of Toyota.
Nissan has brought a hybrid version of its Pathfinder SUV to the market, one of the more intriguing vehicles of model year ’14. This family-friendly car achieves 25 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention the all-electric LEAF, a small hatchback that registers the electric equivalent of 129 mpg in city driving and 102 mpg on the highway.
Toyota is one of two automakers to see its fuel-economy average decrease in the EPA’s preliminary numbers, falling from 25.6 mpg last year to 25.2 mpg this year.
Toyota was one of the first automakers to jump on the fuel-efficiency bandwagon, bringing its hybrid Prius to the U.S. more than a decade ago. It shows how the competition has improved now that, should the preliminary numbers hold, Toyota will rank in the middle of the pack in terms of fuel efficiency, 6th of 12, according to the EPA numbers.
BMW’s overall fuel efficiency has been steadily climbing, from 22.7 mpg across its lineup in 2011 to a projected 24.4 mpg in 2013.
One of BMW’s more interesting offerings this year was its X1 small SUV, which achieves 24 mpg in city driving and 34 mpg on the highway. It’s essentially a bet that buyers don't need a car to be big to consider it luxury.
Despite seeing estimates for its ’13 fuel economy decrease, Ford is the best of the bunch among domestic manufacturers. It has an average of 22.6 mpg across its lineup.
The Ford Focus Electric is the most efficient vehicle in the lineup. The all-electric compact, which competes with the Nissan LEAF, achieves the equivalent of 110 mpg in city driving and 99 mpg on the highway.
Mercedes-Benz and its parent company, Daimler, haven’t ever really been the brand consumers first associate with fuel efficiency. But there’s good news and bad news here.
First, the bad news is that Daimler’s 22.2 mpg estimate for 2013 ranks toward the bottom of the EPA’s list. The good news is that the company has made strides over the past two years, improving its fuel efficiency by 16.2 percent, from 19.1 mpg to 22.2.
10. General Motors
The U.S. manufacturers are dragged down on this EPA list by their pickup trucks, while the likes of Mazda and Subaru have no such burden affecting their average.
The Chevy Silverado pickup may not affect GM as much, as it gets an EPA estimated 18 mpg in city driving and 24 mpg on the highway. General Motors nonetheless ranks second-to-last on the EPA list with a 22.0 mpg average.
Nobody can say, though, that GM hasn’t tried a throw-the-kitchen-sink style approach to addressing fuel economy. It pioneered the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt (101 mpge city/93 mpge highway), it offers an all-electric Chevy Spark (128 mpge city/109 mpge highway) and a Chevy Cruze with a diesel engine that achieves 46 mpg on the highway.
If it's any consolation to last-place Chrysler, the company's fuel economy has improved considerably in recent years. Just not enough to keep up with the rest of the pack.
Two years ago, Chrysler had a 19.1 mpg average across its fleet. Today, it stands at 21.6 mpg, an improvement of 2.5 mpg in that short timeframe.
Now for the curveball: In recent years, Hyundai and KIA have sold some of the most fuel-efficient cars on the market. Or have they?
Last November, an EPA investigation revealed that the two Korean companies had overstated the fuel economy on multiple models, forcing the companies to lower their mpg estimates and compensate affected customers.
Due to its ongoing investigation into the fuel-economy numbers, the EPA said in a statement that it did not include the companies in its analysis.