Ten Most Fuel-Efficient Cars of 2014

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Introduction: Ten Most Fuel-Efficient Cars of 2014

Toyota Prius V
Toyota Prius V. Toyota

The EPA has listed the ten most fuel-efficient 2014 cars on sale in America -- but are they cars you would actually want to drive? This list goes beyond the numbers and tells you which ones are worth buying and which ones are best left at the showroom. Here they are, ranked lowest-to-highest by EPA combined fuel economy. (NOTE: This list excludes electric cars and plug-in hybrids since real-world MPG varies so much.)

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#10: 2014 Lexus CT 200h

Lexus CT 200h
Lexus CT 200h. Photo © Aaron Gold

EPA estimates: 43 MPG city/40 MPG highway/42 MPG combined

Price range: $32,945 - $39,000

The CT 200h combines the powertrain of the Prius with a small 5-door hatchback body designed for European buyers (who, by the way, are the CT's actual target market). The CT lacks the Prius' extreme aerodynamics, which accounts for the lower fuel economy -- but 42 MPG is easy to achieve in mixed driving, and like the Prius, the CT 200h's fuel economy skyrockets in slow stop-and-go traffic. And the fact that it's the least-expensive Lexus doesn't hurt much, either. When I first saw the CT, I didn't know what to make of it, but after spending time behind the wheel, I grew to like it -- though it's not as spacious nor as fuel-efficient as the Prius, it's still a great mix of luxury and fuel economy.

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#9: 2014 Toyota Prius V

Toyota Prius V
Toyota Prius V. Photo © Toyota

EPA estimates: 44 MPG city/40 MPG highway/42 MPG combined

Price range: $27,560 - $37,250

The Prius v comes straight from Toyota's Really Good Idea Department. Essentially a Prius with a station-wagon butt grafted on, the Prius v offers the cargo capacity of a small SUV with roughly double the gas mileage. EPA fuel economy estimates are significantly lower than the regular Prius but better than any small SUV, even those with hybrids and diesel. I had no trouble averaging well over 46 MPG in mixed driving, and I saw figures as high as 55 MPG in town. Remarkable. The only downside is the price: Add on a few options, and the Prius v gets very expensive.

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#8: 2014 Ford C-Max Hybrid

Ford C-Max Hybrid
Ford C-Max Hybrid. Photo © Aaron Gold

EPA estimates: 45 MPG city/40 MPG highway/43 MPG combined

Price range: $25,995 - $34,235

Like the Prius v, the Ford C-Max is a handy cross between an SUV and a wagon. Ford introduced it last year, but the C-Max (as well as Ford's other hybrids) ran into a spot of bother when its real-world fuel economy turned out to be lower than the advertised 43 MPG. Ford quickly revised the figures to a more realistic 43 MPG, which is still pretty good considering the C-Max's cargo capacity. You can even get a plug-in version called the C-Max Energi, though its bigger battery pack eats valuable cargo space. The C-Max is the only competitor to Toyota's brilliant Prius v; the Toyota delivers better utility and fuel economy, but the C-Max is a lot more enjoyable to drive.

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#7: 2014 Honda Civic Hybrid

2013 Honda Civic Hybrid
2013 Honda Civic Hybrid. Photo © Honda

EPA estimates: 44 MPG city/44 MPG highway/44 MPG combined

Price range: $25,150 - $27,850

I've never had much luck matching the Civic Hybrid's EPA figures, though the closest I came was in the current version: 42.1 MPG, despite gentle driving and liberal use of the "ECON" mode. That's not a bad figure, but it's comparable to what modern-day diesel return in real-world driving, and well behind the Toyota Prius (which can be had, in sparsely-equipped trim, for around the same money). I do like the Civic for its roomy back seat and day-to-day livability, but I'd gravitate towards the conventionally-powered Civic HF, which is rated at 29 MPG city and 41 MPG highway. With a price tag of $20,555, it may well save you more money in the long run than the Civic Hybrid.

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#6: 2014 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid

Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid
Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. Photo © Volkswagen

EPA estimates: 42 MPG city/48 MPG highway/45 MPG combined

Price range: $28,080 - $32,265

When the Jetta Hybrid popped onto the market last year, a lot of car fans breathed a sigh of relief: Here, finally, was a hybrid that drove like a regular gas-engine car, with a hybrid drivetrain that was almost completely unobtrusive -- while you were accelerating, that is. Unfortunately, Volkswagen's regenerative braking system isn't quite ready for prime time; you never know exactly how much braking effort you're going to get when you step on the brake. And for 2014, Volkswagen has upped the price by nearly $2,300, which certainly does nothing to endear the car to me. Still, the Jetta Hybrid is good fun in the curves and delivers on its EPA fuel economy estimates -- though I would also consider the diesel-powered Jetta TDI which, despite its more modest EPA figures, can easily return 50 MPG on the highway.

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#5: 2014 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid

Lincoln MKZ
Lincoln MKZ. Photo © Aaron Gold

EPA estimates: 45 MPG city/45 MPG highway/45 MPG combined

Price range: $37,085 - $49,385

The MKZ is subtle in its beauty and sublime to drive, and the hybrid does return quite good fuel economy -- I averaged just shy of 40 MPG, a bit short of its EPA estimate but a good showing nonetheless. As a hybrid, it does the job well, and it acquits itself nicely as a driver's car, but the but MKZ stumbles in the role of a luxury car -- the interior simply isn't luxurious enough, and the MyLincoln Touch system is difficult to use while bombing down the freeway. The Lexus ES 300h does a better job, and while its EPA estimates are lower than the Lincoln's, its real-world fuel economy should be about the same.

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#4: 2014 Ford Fusion Hybrid

Ford Fusion Hybrid
Ford Fusion Hybrid. Photo © Ford

EPA estimates: 47 MPG city/47 MPG highway/47 MPG combined

Price range: $27,995 - $38,170

Like the Ford C-Max Hybrid, the Fusion Hybrid has been the subject of some controversy surrounding its ability to meet its EPA fuel economy estimates. Unlike the C-Max, Ford has not revised the Fusion Hybrid's figures, but they have made a series of tweaks to increase real-world gas mileage. I haven't driven the improved version, but judging from the 37 MPG I saw in the 2013 Fusion Hybrid, those would need to be some pretty serious tweaks! Shame, because aside from the fuel economy issues, this is a lovely car with a high-lux interior, lots of passenger space and a decent-sized trunk, the latter a rare find in a hybrid sedan.

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#3: 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid

Honda Accord Hybrid
Honda Accord Hybrid. Photo © Aaron Gold

EPA estimates: 50 MPG city/45 MPG highway/47 MPG combined

Price range: $29,895 - $35,695

The all-new Honda Accord Hybrid is the only newcomer on this list, and it's a darn good one. The EPA fuel economy numbers are darn close to the Prius, and unlike most hybrid sedans, the Accord Hybrid really delivers -- I averaged just shy of 45 MPG, and probably would have done better were it not for a fast cruise up the About.com Top Secret Curvy Test Road. (Hey, it's a Honda, I had to!) The Accord Hybrid's ingenious new hybrid drivetrain provides a smoother flow of power than most hybrids, and the Accord body shell offers lots of backspace room; the only real downside is the small trunk. No question, this is the fuel-efficient family sedan of the future.

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#2: 2014 Toyota Prius

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius. Photo © Aaron Gold

EPA estimates: 51 MPG city/48 MPG highway/50 MPG combined

Price range: $25,010 - $31,210

Here it is, Ol' Reliable, the 800 lb gorilla of the hybrid market, and in my opinion, the Prius deserves all the praise that's been heaped upon it. The Prius has all the passenger and luggage room a family of four requires, and most drivers will see 47 to 48 MPG in mixed driving, week in and week out. The wedge-shaped Prius has been with us for nearly a decade, and yet driving one still makes me feel as if I've been zapped into the future. Car fanatics argue that the fun-to-drive factor is almost nil, and that may be true -- but the Prius set the pace for environmentally-responsible motoring, and it still does the job better than any other car.

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#1: Toyota Prius c

Toyota Prius c
Toyota Prius c. Photo © Toyota

EPA estimates: 53 MPG city/46 MPG highway/50 MPG combined

Price range: $19,890 - $25,320

The Prius c (for "compact") is the smallest and least-expensive member of the Prius family. It's cute outside and spacious inside, but most importantly -- and just like every other Toyota hybrid -- it does exactly what it promises. With a light foot on the throttle, the Prius c will easily exceed 50 MPG in city driving; last time I drove one, I averaged 52.3 MPG. The Prius c's truncated hatchback shape means its not as aerodynamic as the regular Prius, hence the lower highway MPG figure (though by sticking to the speed limit, I was able to exceed 60 MPG on the freeway). In terms of fuel economy, the Prius c easily tops its slightly-less-expensive rival, the Honda Insight, by a sizeable margin. Small in size, low in price, and long on fuel economy, the Prius c is a great starter hybrid.

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