Top 5 Family Fuel Sippers for 2011

The 2011 manufacturer's season is beginning and over the next few months, every car maker selling vehicles in America will have models promoting eco-friendliness and superior fuel mileage. Here, FutureCars will show you the top five cars for fuel economy that are available nationally starting this fall.
audi a3 tdi
The Audi A3 TDI gets 30mpg city and 42mpg highway out of its diesel engine

by Aaron Turpen

We will focus on family cars (those that seat at least four) and on vehicles that will be available in mass-produced numbers and that aren't limited by small production or regional releases. So vehicles that would otherwise likely top our list, like the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt, will not be here. The aim of this list is to give you an idea of what's available to you right now, no matter which part of the U.S. you live in. All models listed are 2011 models and mileage numbers are from the EPA.

ford fusion

Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan Hybrids, 41/36

These two cars are both made by Ford and have the same configuration with only minor brand details and some cosmetic differences between them. They get 41mpg in the city and 36mpg highway. For those with a luxury bent, the Ford Lincoln MKZ Hybrid also has the same mileage numbers, but in a luxury vehicle package. It should be noted that there is no "hybrid premium" for the MKZ, which sells for the same price as the standard gasoline-only version.

The Fusion Hybrid has an MSRP of $28,100 with a large package of goodies including eco-friendly cloth seating and Ford's SmartGauge Cluster. The Milan has a similar price at $28,345 MSRP.

camry hybrid

Toyota Camry Hybrid, 31/35

This car is larger than the popular Prius hybrid, though it doesn't get the mileage the Prius is capable of (51/48 estimated), but 31 in the city and 35 on the highway is not too shabby. For comparison, the base model Camry is $7,000 cheaper and gets 22/33.

The Camry Hybrid has an MSRP of $26,575 and comes with several features such as solar energy absorbing glass and a noise-reducing windshield.

vw jetta

Volkswagen Golf and Jetta TDI, 30/42

These two models from GW both come with a TDI diesel engine available. Mileage is 30mpg in the city and 42 on the highway in either automatic or manual transmission (both 6-speed) and with the extremely low-emissions diesel packaged in a 4cyl 2.0L block. The Jetta SportWagon gets 30/42 as well, so is also worth looking at if you'd rather have a wagon.

Both the Jetta and the Golf have similar prices, starting at $22,300 MSRP for the TDI. The Jetta SportWagon starts at $24,615. The Golf is a compact car, but is listed here because it is comparable to the Jetta in mileage and price.

Audi A3 TDI 30/42

Another German make, the Audi A3 gets 30mpg city and 42 highway with that company's 4 cylinder, 2.0L TDI diesel engine in 6-speed automatic. This is a popular hatchback that comes in a 4-door model that is nearly a compact in size.

This is the highest-priced car on our list here, but is also the only car that is considered a luxury vehicle ("entry-level luxury" is the official segment). The base price for the TDI option is about $30,000, but the A3 comes with all of the luxury options most would expect from a car in this segment.

Hyundai Sonata 24/35

The fastest-growing vehicle maker in the world, Hyundai is the little Korean company that could. This year's Sonata gets 24mpg in the city and an impressive 35mpg on the highway. There is a hybrid version of this car, but it is not yet widely available.

This is the lowest-priced vehicle on our list at only $19,195 MSRP, base. It uses a GDI engine, standard, and has a comparatively large trunk.

Some things to consider:

Before you settle on a car of choice, you should consider your lifestyle and driving habits. If you drive mainly on surface streets, then city mileage numbers should matter most and you'll likely find the best options to be hybrids. If most of your driving, however, is at highway speeds (55+), then you will need to consider highway mileage and a hybrid is probably your worst option, although the Ford hybrids are giving impressive highway numbers.

Also keep in mind that the EPA's mileage numbers may not be what you experience in the real world. Most drivers can expect to get 3-4 miles per gallon less than the EPA's estimates while some may get better mileage. It's all dependent on driving habits, conditions, and vehicle encumbrance (weight). EPA numbers are achieved under optimal conditions with only the driver in the car.

You should also be aware that while both standard and automatic transmissions are available on many models, the old truism that the standard transmission gets better mileage is no longer the case. With the introduction of variable gears and added gearing, many automatic trans options are outperforming manual shifting.

The cars on this list are all family vehicles. If you don't have a need to carry several people or are mainly looking for a commuter, then there are many smaller options with higher mileage numbers available. The Honda Civic Hybrid, for instance, gets 40mpg in the city and 43mpg on the highway and is only one of many in this class getting above 40mpg.

FutureCars hopes that by this time next year, we'll be listing more alternatives that are widely available to Americans rather than only those using petroleum fuels.

*Photos from their respective manufacturers.

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