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In the last 17 years, no vehicle in America outsold the Ford F-150 on a monthly or yearly basis—not once. In May of this year, however, Honda moved more Civics and Accords and Toyota more Corollas and Camrys than Ford’s best-seller. America has been sideswiped by the $4 gallon and auto industry heads believe the higher gas prices are permanent, not just a temporary shift or spike.

From a manufacturing perspective, it’s increasingly difficult to build fuel-sipping vehicles, as current safety and emissions technologies add weight, a primary nemesis of fuel economy. Hybrid technology and low mass are the most cost-effective strategies to better fuel economy, and the bulk of our list of the ten most fuel-efficient vehicles utilize one or both. Toyota plays both sides, managing to field three of the top ten—four if you count the Nissan Altima, which uses the Toyota Camry’s hybrid drive system under license.That five of the vehicles on our list are hybrids is a harbinger of things to come. Although there’s only one diesel in this group, expect that to change. The following vehicles are ranked according to their EPA combined fuel-economy ratings. Since the EPA calculation favors city mileage, that number is used here as a tie-breaker.

The Toyota Prius, the gold standard for fuel economy, is a bit like steamed broccoli: utterly insipid but wholesome just the same. Iconic status was guaranteed when Hollywood types with air-conditioned mega-mansions trotted out Priuses as their green beards, even before the car was immortalized with its own episode of South Park. An anodyne ownership experience includes tepid acceleration, numb steering, and nonlinear brakes. Of note are the unbeatable fuel economy, impressively low price tag, and unique, futuristic lines that house a large amount of usable space. Stay tuned for the next-generation Prius and a plug-in version, which will further increase fuel economy, in 2011. City: 48 mpg/Highway: 45 mpg

The Prius’s main contender is the Honda Civic hybrid, a more quotidian approach to economical hybrid transportation. In rendering the hybrid more aerodynamic, Honda also made it one of the better-looking Civic offerings, more likely to appeal to those who don’t need to wear their environmentalism on their lapel, although this may be part of the reason that it hasn’t seen near the sales success as the Prius. The Civic hybrid drives more like a regular car than the competition, is a more responsive handler, and is a touch less sluggish. The Civic’s hybrid system is simple and compact, but doesn’t deliver quite the miserly numbers of the Prius.City: 40 mpg/Highway: 45 mpg

A small sum of money gets you a Lilliputian car that returns the third-best fuel mileage of any vehicle here. The Smart Fortwo delivers solidly on its niche-market promise: it’s the ultimate urban vehicular solution as defined by stylish cachet, excellent fuel economy, and—by virtue of being the smallest—the biggest gun in the parking wars. Your mileage may vary; ours did, with an average of four fewer mpg than the EPA’s combined number. Given that the Fortwo is the slowest-accelerating passenger vehicle in the country (say a Hail Mary before merging onto a freeway), a lead foot, with a resulting impact in fuel economy, is practically a safety requirement.
City: 33 mpg/Highway: 41 mpg

The Nissan Altima hybrid is sold only in California and the seven eastern states that share Cali’s CARB air-quality statutes, which is a shame as it delivers hybrid efficiency in a stylish, pleasurable-to-drive sedan. The Altima hybrid delivers similar fuel economy numbers to the Camry hybrid, which isn’t surprising considering Nissan licensed Toyota’s Synergy Drive for the effort. Paired with Nissan’s 2.5-liter gasoline engine, the Altima hybrid returns performance numbers better than the standard model. It delivers on its sporty looks and design-forward interior with a fun, enthusiastic chassis and precise steering. If the name “Camry” makes your inner rebel cringe, you’d do well to consider the Altima hybrid. City: 35 mpg/Highway: 33 mpg

Yellow-paintbrush-wielding New York cabbies can’t be wrong: the Toyota Camry hybrid is good at moving passengers economically and without drama. Unlike the Altima hybrid, you can buy the Camry hybrid nationwide. Hybridization did nothing to impact the virtues that make the Camry an award-winning family-hauling appliance: laudable road manners, quiet and comfortable operation, and a highly competent overall experience. Stepping up to the hybrid also begets stability control and the top-of-the-line XLE interior package, minus leather seats. City: 33 mpg/Highway: 34 mpg

The TDI, as equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, shines in highway driving, returning fuel economy on par with the air-hockey-table-sized Smart Fortwo. Diesel currently outpaces gasoline prices by about 20 percent, but the TDI betters the fuel economy of the next-thriftiest Jetta model by over 30 percent. The SportWagen, while more expensive than the sedan, suffers no penalty in fuel economy. It offers more luggage volume than the Prius and just slightly less passenger volume while being good-looking and offering a driving experience that won’t approximate the work of an anesthesiologist. Both aesthetically and dynamically, the diesel-sipping Jetta TDI is engineered to be enjoyed by the user, not just employed. City: 30 mpg/Highway: 41 mpg

The lone American ranger in this group is the Ford Escape hybrid, the roughest and tumblin-est vehicle here, if mostly by posture. Refreshed for 2009, the Escape addresses many of the issues that made it an almost unacceptable compromise, including the anemic performance, punishing ride, and poor brake feel. The stronger four-cylinder now boasts 177 horsepower in addition to its hybrid-electric drive, the revised suspension system includes a rear anti-roll bar, and the brakes feel something like normal. The Escape is a hybrid SUV with solid moves at an affordable price tag, for which no excuses need be made. Though an official fuel-economy rating has yet to be obtained for the new model, not much change is expected from 2008. City: 34 mpg/Highway: 30 mpg

It’s a happy day for consumers when one of the most fuel-efficient vehicles sold is also one of the cheapest. The Yaris isn’t even too much of a slowpoke, scampering to 60 mph in under nine seconds. If the petite Yaris seems more quirky than masculine, it’s because it was designed for markets where gas has always been expensive and they say things like sauve qui peut. Those hoping for Lotus Elise–like reflexes or Gatsbyesque luxury will be disappointed, but those without champagne expectations will enjoy a plush ride and solid build quality. Despite a short wheelbase, the Yaris can transport deceptively large quantities of cargo. City: 29 mpg/Highway: 36 mpg

It’s not surprising that a small car designed and manufactured by BMW is a pleasurable thing, but that it’s extra miserly is icing on the strudel. Thanks to a recent redesign, a new 1.6-liter four-cylinder, slightly smaller dimensions, and a new six-speed transmission conspire to produce good fuel efficiency, particularly on the highway, where an extra cog makes all the difference. The Mini and slightly longer Mini Clubman get the same fuel economy, so there’s no penalty for the latter other than greater expense and a reduced number of parking opportunities. Watch those options, though. Despite a reasonable $18,700 entry price, the last naturally aspirated Mini Cooper we tested cost as much as a Camry hybrid. City: 28 mpg/Highway: 37 mpg

We crowned the Honda Fit the best of seven inexpensive people movers in a recent comparison test because it makes us smile like few cars this affordable or stingy on gas can. Mini-minivan styling might not seduce the vain, but the upshot to odd proportions is oodles of usable space—this thing is like a clown’s bottomless suitcase. You’ll need to mate a five-speed manual transmission to the Fit’s 1.5-liter engine for the best mileage, but this is something you’ll want to do anyway if you view cloverleafs as opportunities rather than nuisances. In Sport form, the Fit serves up similar fun and more passenger and cargo room than either the Mini Cooper or Clubman for almost $4K less. City: 28 mpg/Highway: 34 mpg
source - Yahoo Auto

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