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msnbc.com contributor

Explainer: Ten cars with surprising gas mileage

  • Image: 2011 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe
    GM  /  Wieck
    The 2011 Chevrolet Corvette Coupe delivers an impressive 26 mpg on the highway.

    Everyone and his goldfish knows that you can get good gas mileage by driving a Toyota Prius. But many of us want to buy cars with features that typical high-mileage economy cars don’t provide.

    Those requirements don’t have to doom us to terrible fuel economy; we just have to choose our cars more carefully. So here’s a list of 10 vehicles with unexpectedly good fuel economy for their size and/or vehicle type.

    (Note: This is not a list of the 10 vehicles with the best fuel economy; you can find that list on the EPA’s website).

  • Audi Q7 TDI

    Audi

    EPA MPG city/highway/combined: 17/25/20
    Drivetrain: 3.0-l V6 diesel, 8-sp man.
    Vehicle category: 7-seat SUV

    With the Q7 you really can average 25 mpg on a long trip in a sure-footed quattro all-wheel-drive, three-row, seven-seat SUV. You do have to fuel it with diesel, which costs a bit more than gasoline, but you will only have to do that every 600-something miles. And you won’t pay any other penalties because the performance and smoothness of the drivetrain are indistinguishable from that of a comparable gas turbo V6.

  • Buick LaCrosse eAssist

    GM  /  Wieck

    EPA MPG city/highway/combined (estimated): 25/37/31
    Drivetrain: 2.4-l 4-cyl. Hybrid, 6-sp auto
    Vehicle category: mid-size car

    Here’s a midsized Buick — with all the luxury the brand implies — that delivers 37 mpg on the highway. The old advertising slogan was “Wouldn’t you really rather drive a Buick?” The answer to that question for many

    years was “no,” but now that the company’s products have become excellent, if the alternative is some cramped, buzzy econobox, here’s your 37 mpg solution. Because of the compact size of the “eAssist” mild hybrid system, the rear seats fold flat for a pass-through from the trunk — a feature that isn’t available in full hybrid sedans because the space behind the seat is occupied by electric drive electronics.

  • Chevrolet Equinox

    GM  /  Wieck

    EPA MPG city/highway/combined: 22/32/26
    Drivetrain: 2.4-l 4-cyl, 6-sp auto
    Vehicle category: SUV

    Compact SUVs are the new family cars for many consumers, but even though they aren’t gargantuan ground-pounders, they can still get pretty mediocre fuel economy, especially when equipped with a V6. Chevy has dropped in a brawny-but-smooth four-cylinder that delivers 32 mpg in highway driving, and buyers have been snapping them up as fast as the company can build them.

  • Chevrolet Corvette

    GM  /  Wieck

    EPA MPG city/highway/combined: 16/26/19
    Drivetrain: 6.2-l V8, 6-sp man.
    Vehicle category: two-seater

    No one buys sports cars for their fuel economy, but wouldn’t it be nice if some ludicrously fast 430 hp rocket also delivered 26 mpg on the highway? Well, here it is. The Corvette will crank out mile after mile of mid-20s mileage while you’re on the highway driving to the best curvy mountain roads or some distant race circuit for a bit of track day fun.

  • Ford Fusion Hybrid

    Ford  /  Wieck

    EPA MPG city/highway/combined: 41/36/39
    Drivetrain: 2.5-l 4-cyl. hybrid, CVT
    Vehicle category: midsize car

    Here’s the most efficient vehicle on this list, with 39 mpg in combined driving — the 41 mpg city, 36 mpg highway Ford Fusion Hybrid. It doesn’t carry the humpbacked styling or overt political connotations of a Prius, but it does deliver nearly the same gas mileage in a vehicle with a more comfortable ride and vastly better handling.

  • Ford F-150

    Ford  /  Wieck

    EPA MPG city/highway/combined: 17/23/20
    Drivetrain: 3.7-l V6, 6-sp auto
    Vehicle category: full-size truck

    It takes energy to move a load, and that energy comes from gas. Trucks burn more gas than cars even when they aren’t hauling loads because they are built big and sturdy enough to withstand heavy-duty use. That has typically meant that gas mileage ranged between “dismal” and merely “bad.” But Ford’s new V6-powered F-150 has achieved the widely accepted threshold of “decent” gas mileage — 20 mpg. That’s the truck’s combined EPA rating, and they EPA says it can do even better on the highway at 23 mpg. Our testing scored 20 mpg highway too, but other reviewers did better. Regardless, it is a big step forward considering that old trucks wouldn’t go 20 miles on a gallon of gas even if they started driving atop the Continental Divide.

  • Honda Odyssey

    Honda  /  Wieck

    EPA MPG city/highway/combined: 19/28/22
    Drivetrain: 3.5-l V6, 6-sp auto
    Vehicle category: minivan

    Remind me: Why do we call these things “minivans” again? They were pretty small when they started out, but now they are 4,500-pound, eight-passenger behemoths. It would be asking a lot for something this big to get reasonable gas mileage, but the Odyssey delivers, using cylinder deactivation to run on three cylinders when possible, along with a six-speed transmission to get the power to the wheels as efficiently as possible.

  • Hyundai Sonata

    David McNew  /  Getty Images

    EPA MPG city/highway/combined: 24/35/28
    Drivetrain: 2.4-l, 6-sp man.
    Vehicle category: large car

    The Hyundai Sonata has a smidge more interior space than the Fusion or LaCrosse and rates 35 mpg highway with its base engine and transmission. Hyundai also offers a hybrid version, but the everyday model provides 35 mpg on the window sticker, and anecdotal evidence says it will even get 40 mpg on the highway.

  • Hyundai Elantra

    Hyundai

    EPA MPG city/highway/combined: 29/40/33
    Drivetrain: 1.8-l 4-cyl, 6-sp auto
    Vehicle category: Compact car

    Forty mpg might be a stretch for the Sonata, but the compact Elantra should do that without breaking a sweat, according to the EPA’s 40 mpg highway rating. As with the bigger Hyundai, the Elantra achieves its segment-benchmark fuel economy rating with its base drivetrain, so the hundreds of thousands of Elantras the company sells will all contribute to the fleet of 40 mpg cars on the road. This is in contrast to the special, high-efficiency models from competitors, which cost more and will account for a paltry few percent of sales.

  • Volkswagen Passat

    Volkswagen

    EPA MPG city/highway/combined (estimated): 31/43/35
    Drivetrain: 2.0-l 4-cyl. diesel, 6-sp. dual-clutch auto-manual
    Vehicle category: large car

    If the diesel engine in the Q7 can get 26 mpg on the highway, what could one in a slippery sedan achieve? According to VW, the answer will be 43 mpg when the EPA’s official numbers are announced. That means the Passat will go more than 800 miles on a tank. Those of us who love pumping gas in the freezing cold or blazing heat might miss standing out in the weather regularly, but for the rest of us, incredible efficiency matched with a large fuel tank combine to provide unprecedented freedom from pumping fuel.

Photos: New York auto show

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  1. A model stands next to a Chrysler 300 S on display at the 2011 New York auto show in New York City. Held at the Jacob Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, the show is open to the public from Friday, April 22 through Sunday, May 1. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Gene Simmons (right), Eric Singer (center) and Tommy Thayer of the band Kiss appear on stage at the Mini news conference at the 2011 New York auto show. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Saab PhoeniX concept car is displayed during the 2011 New York auto show. The vehicle showcases design features and technologies which will shape the next generation of cars from Saab, the automaker says. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Scion Vice President Jack Hollis walks around the Scion FRS-S concept car at the 2011 New York auto show. Toyota is taking its youth-oriented Scion division — known for the boxy xB — in a new direction with the sexy, rear-wheel-drive sports car. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. The 2012 Hyundai Veloster is polished as it sits on display at the 2011 New York auto show. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. The new Volkswagen Bulli on display at the 2011 New York auto show. VW has resurrected its iconic microbus, which debuted in 1950 and became a favorite of hippies for its unique styling and copious space for travelers. (Spencer Platt / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. The Toyota Prius c concept car is shown during the press preview to the 2011 New York auto show. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Members of the press gather around the 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman during the 2011 New York auto show. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. The Lexus LF-Gh hybrid concept car is unveiled at a press event on the eve of the 2011 New York auto show. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. The 2012 Ford Focus, which boasts 40 mpg, is shown on the floor of the 2011 New York auto show. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The front light of a Boxster S Porsche is shown at the 2011 New York auto show. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. The 2012 Honda Civic Si Coupe makes its official debut at the 2011 New York auto show. (Andrew Gombert / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Honda Executive Vice President John Mendel introduces the 2012 Honda Civic lineup at the 2011 New York show. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. The Mercedes-Benz A Class concept car is seen on display at the 2011 New York auto show. (Jessica Rinaldi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The Nissan Leaf Nismo RC is shown at the 2011 New York auto show. The car uses a production Nisan LEAF electric powertrain wrapped in a unique two-door carbon fiber body with removable front and rear sections and a large adjustable rear wing. (Mary Altaffer / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Members of the automotive press inspect the new 2012 Honda Civic Si at a press event during the 2011 New York auto show. (Mike Segar / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. The 2011 Suzuki Kizashi on display during the 2011 New York auto show. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. A worker cleans the mirrors covering a Smart Electric Drive -- a battery-electric version of the Smart Fortwo micro car -- during the 2011 New York auto show. (Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image: Model next to Chrysler 300 S on display at New York International Auto Show
    Mike Segar / Reuters
    Above: Slideshow (18) Cars that rocked the Big Apple - New York auto show
  2. Image:
    Eugene Hoshiko / AP
    Slideshow (23) Cars that rocked the Big Apple - Shanghai auto show

Video: Putting cars on a diet

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