What Are Today's Most Fuel-Efficient Family Cars?
Remember sedans? Before the world went SUV-crazy, sedans were the most common vehicles you’d see on the road – four doors, five seats, an engine up front, a trunk in the back, and a smooth shape to pull all those pieces together. American families migrated to SUVs en masse for three reasons. They loved SUVs’ rugged styling, and the associated outdoorsy image; the high seats made getting in and out easier; and their cargo areas are typically larger and more versatile, thanks to their high backs and wide-opening hatches.
Still, sedans have a lot to recommend them. Lower to the ground and lighter, they are more fun to drive than similarly-priced SUVs. Their three-box shape, and separate trunk, make their interiors quieter and more refined. And thanks to their sleeker silhouettes and less weight, they offer substantially better fuel economy than SUVs. Indeed, look at the EPA ratings for compact and midsize sedans compared to similar SUVs, and you generally see at least a 5-MPG improvement both in the city and highway ratings; sometimes that advantage can stretch to 10 MPG or even more!
With the cost of fuel these days, those fuel savings can really add up to a lot – and the latest crop of efficient sedans has a lot to offer. Here are five of the most efficient models.
Toyota’s Camry has been one of the best-selling, and best-loved, sedans in America for almost 40 years, and it’s not hard to see why. It combines a spacious, practical interior with legendary Toyota durability, quality, and resale value. The latest model is almost full-sized in its dimensions, with a remarkably spacious interior that is packed with luxurious features and technology. The seats are lounge-like in their comfort, and the infotainment and climate systems are very easy to use. Equipment levels are high, including Toyota’s Safety Sense suite of active driver assists, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and more. Finally, thanks to its smooth, aerodynamic body and economical drivetrains – a 2.5-liter four-cylinder produces 203 hp, and hybrid and all-wheel drive versions are also available – it is also exceptionally efficient for a vehicle of its size.
- Starting MSRP: $26,220
- EPA Estimated City/Highway MPG: 28/39
Completely redesigned for 2022, the compact Civic has grown in size and stature, with more than enough room in its five-passenger cabin for your family. The styling inside and out is conservative but timeless, and the interior is just superb, with excellent quality, great seats, and intuitive controls. While there’s a large touch screen perched on the dash for infotainment – Apple CarPlay is standard – many functions are still operated with physical knobs and buttons which are very easy to use on the move. We also really like the Civic’s driving experience, which has a responsive, sporty edge that is surprising in a vehicle of this size and price. The 2.0-liter engine produces 158 hp and gives you 40 highway MPG. Standard safety equipment includes blind spot monitoring, lane keeping assist, automatic pre-collision braking, and more. If you’re looking for economical family driving but want something a little sporty, the Civic is your car.
- Starting MSRP: $25,050
- EPA Estimated City/Highway MPG: 31/40
The Corolla wasn’t just one of the best-selling cars in America last year, and for many years. It’s actually the best-selling car in the history of the world, ever! Tens of millions of Corollas have been made since the sixties, and many of them are still on the road thanks to their bulletproof reliability. For a compact car, the Corolla’s interior is surprisingly roomy, and unlike previous generations it also offers stylish design inside and out, and a sporty, responsive driving experience. The 1.8-liter four-cylinder produces 139 hp and is paired with an economical CVT transmission, delivering 38 highway MPG (an optional 2.0-liter gives you 40 MPG highway), while standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 gives you active cruise control, lane assist, automatic braking, pedestrian detection, and more. It’s a proven, faithful companion that will last a long time and treat you well at resale.
- Starting MSRP: $21,550
- EPA Estimated City/Highway MPG: 30/38
Elantra is an appealing, modern, and spacious compact sedan with surprising features and luxury for surprisingly little money. Its upscale interior includes features previously available only on high-end luxury cars. Even the base model comes with a large 8-inch touchscreen and wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are standard. It also comes with a wide range of safety systems to keep you safe; forward collision assist with pedestrian detection, rear cross-traffic collision avoidance assist, lane keeping assist, blind spot assist, and more are all standard. The 147-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivers 42 highway MPG, best in class, and better than many smaller cars, and starting at just over $20,000, the Elantra is also great value.
- Starting MSRP: $20,650
- EPA Estimated City/Highway MPG: 33/42
The five-seater Forte is available in a number of different trim levels – you can go basic, or full-on luxurious. Its 2-liter four-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive delivers surprising performance and great fuel economy: 41 highway MPG according to the EPA. Standard safety technology includes forward collision warning, pedestrian detection, and automatic braking assist. But what we really like about the Forte is its design – there is something very upscale and European about its interior and exterior styling, with a high-end feel that belies its sub-$20,000 starting price. The seats, interior trim, and controls all feel like they’re from a higher class of car, and the dash-mounted touch screen infotainment system is clear and easy to use, with wireless Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and available wireless charging. The Forte may be priced low, but its roomy interior, great safety features, and high level of equipment make it a great first family car.
- Starting MSRP: $19,690
- EPA Estimated City/Highway MPG: 31/41
Redesigned for 2022, the Versa is Nissan’s smallest and least expensive sedan, but it still has more than enough room for a young family, thanks to its tall proportions and long wheelbase. You sit higher and more upright in the Versa than in other, lower, sedans, which makes it comfortable even for tall folks, and the interior is nicely-made and well-equipped. The in-dash infotainment system offers CarPlay and Android Auto, and is very easy to use, with physical controls as well as a touch screen, and there are USB ports for you and your family to charge all your devices. And even at just over $15,000, you get safety technology like blind spot warning, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, and automatic emergency braking standard to keep you safe. Versa even has intelligent cruise control for longer trips – something you’ll enjoy along with its excellent fuel economy.
- Starting MSRP: $15,730
- EPA Estimated City/Highway MPG: 32/40