Already feeling the pinch from rising gas prices? Perhaps it's time to start thinking about a greener car. After all, there hasn't been this much choice in affordable, fuel-efficient cars ever before ? and the competition has driven manufacturers to turn what used to be the domain of poorly-built econoboxes into a thriving group of high-quality vehicles.
To help you sort through the most affordable green car choices out there, AutoTrader has put together a list of the most fuel-efficient cars available for under $25,000.
To make the list, each car's highway or city fuel economy had to be above 40 mpg or the combined city and highway fuel economy had to be over 35 mpg. And, of course, the lowest available MSRP had to be below $25,000 ? not including any extra charges such as destination or title fees. Vehicles are listed by price, with the most affordable first.
33 City / 41 Hwy
Although often maligned as a cutesy runt, there's no denying the smart fortwo can be bought at some bargain basement prices ? if you're willing to only have two seats and forego the air conditioning. Yes, you can still buy a vehicle in America without air conditioning (A/C costs an extra $740). As a reward for your spendthrift, living-with-less ways, the fortwo will treat you to some good fuel efficiency and the ability to fit into parking spots the width of a human hair.
29 City / 40 Hwy
Given its rock bottom pricing, many consider the totally redesigned 2011 Hyundai Elantra to be one of the best-looking small cars on the road today. And for the value conscious shopper, the Elantra offers considerable content even at its entry price. Fully loaded, with rear seat heaters and a massive touchscreen navigation system, it can be bought for more than about $22,000 (really, what other small vehicle in this class offers rear seat, rear-end warmers?).
28 City / 37 Hwy
Launched last year in a swarm of gen Y (or is it X?) social media blitzkriegs, the vaunted return of the Ford Fiesta came in the form of shiny, candy-like color options and the collection of a vast army of Twitter followers. The big surprise? Ford actually expects a large portion of Fiesta customers to be empty nest baby boomers looking to downsize while they convert those extra bedrooms into offices and indoor Zen gardens.
The base Fiesta is already pretty fuel efficient at 38 highway/29 city mpg, but when equipped with the Super Fuel Economy (SFE) package it crests the 40 mpg highway mark to join the new club of high mileage champs.
28 City / 42 Hwy
The Chevy Cruze Eco may not stand out from the crowd with its looks, but what it lacks in personality is made up for with a sense of purposeful frugality. By shedding such items as the center rear arm rest and spare tire, as well as using thinner sheetmetal where possible, the Cruze Eco is a base model Cruze on a vegan diet.
As with the Fiesta, the base Cruze is a relatively high mileage vehicle?returning 36 highway/26 city mpg?but in this new world of small cars the only metric that seems to count is how far over 40 mpg you can get. In this regard the Cruze Eco with manual transmission is clearly the winner. But beware, if you add an automatic transmission you not only drive up the price to over $19,000 you drop the mileage considerably to 37 highway/26 city mpg.
25 City / 35 Hwy
With its Aston-Martin-like grill, and its flowy, aerodynamic styling, it should come as no surprise that Ford is billing the new Focus as its most globally-integrated car ever?meaning that every Ford Focus sold around the world is built on the same platform and has the same styling.
Like its Fiesta cousin, the Ford Focus is all-new for 2012. And like the Chevrolet Cruze Eco, Ford is offering a Super Fuel Economy (SFE) package for maximum greenness. Yet, while its base price is a bit higher than the Cruze Eco, the Focus SFE comes equipped with automatic transmission and is able to maintain a 40 mpg rating at the same time.
35 City / 39 Hwy
Billed as a "sport hybrid," the all-new 2011 CR-Z has entered rather new territory. It's certainly much more fun to drive than the smart fortwo, but like the fortwo it only seats two people. In some circles a two-seater is viewed as the kiss of death to sales in the U.S. ? a fact that has made more than a few people question why the CR-Z is sold with a second row of small seats in parts of the world outside North America.
While the CR-Z has been criticized for not meeting up to the expectations of either its "sport" or "hybrid" badges?it only delivers so-so fuel economy for its size and has less power than most expect for a sports car?it seems to have struck a bit of a nerve in the younger crowd by providing hip looks in a green package. You might say it's the first affordable hybrid that makes hybrids cool.
30 City / 42 Hwy
Completely redesigned for 2011, the all-new Jetta has been met with both glowing endorsements and silent yawns. While some say that its styling is more drab and interior quality has dropped, there's no denying that it has become one of the most affordable, higher-class cars in America. Add in the new clean diesel turbocharged engine in the Jetta TDI and, voila, it's affordable and green.
As the only mid size wagon on this inexpensive green car list, the Jetta SportWagen has returned for 2011 ? but it hasn't adopted the new Jetta sedan's styling yet. It's a given that VW will eventually update the Jetta SportWagen to match the styling of its sibling, but if the old Jetta styling is what floats your boat, the 2011 Jetta SportWagen may be your last chance to get it on a new car.
For a vehicle with as much functionality and cargo room, the mileage of the SportWagen is impressive, but again, be careful when doing any financial calculations because diesel fuel tends to be more expensive than gasoline in the U.S. ? meaning any fuel economy savings could be cancelled out by high fuel prices. Even so, the modern clean diesel engine will produce fewer emissions than its gasoline sibling thanks to high tech emissions scrubbing equipment. And the fact that it's a diesel means the engine will likely outlast the rest of the car.
30 City / 42 Hwy
Based on the same powertrain as the Jetta, it's no wonder that the VW Golf TDI clean diesel has exactly the same fuel economy ratings. What's a bit strange, however, is that VW chose to give the Jetta TDI a lower starting price than the much smaller two-door Golf TDI. While the Golf also comes in a four-door configuration, that will add another $1,000 to the price.
As with the other modern clean diesels, the Golf TDI it is certainly an emissions champ. But beware that any hope that its higher mileage will lower your fuel bills could be dashed by the fact that diesel tends to be more expensive than gasoline in the U.S.
51 City / 48 Hwy
How could the perennial Toyota Prius possibly be left off a list of greenest and most affordable vehicles? Starting around $23,000 and providing a combined 50 mpg makes the Prius one of the best green bangs per buck in the world. Sure its styling is getting a little dated and it has the habit of eliciting love-it-or-hate-it reactions, but if what you're really in the game for is fuel economy at a low price, the Prius almost has to be on the shopping list.
40 City / 43 Hwy
Facing new, stiff competition from the likes of the Chevy Cruze, Hyundai Elantra and Ford Focus, Honda will start selling a redesigned Civic later in 2011. With this new design comes several new trims including one billed as the HF high fuel economy trim (not unlike the Cruze Eco or the Focus SFE) as well as the venerable hybrid. Pricing and full fuel economy statistics have not yet been released for the Civic HF, but Honda says that model will get 41 mpg on the highway ? but without the details we can't include it on the list.
Not only will the new Civic Hybrid sport the updated looks, it will get a major bump in fuel economy too, with Honda saying it should return about 45 mpg in combined city and highway driving.
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