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All Contents © 2020The Kiplinger Washington Editors
By Jessica L. Anderson, Associate Editor
| January 29, 2014
The vehicles we spotlight here are the least thirsty in their price categories, based on annual fuel costs. The fuel cost assumes 15,000 miles of combined city and highway driving each year and gasoline prices of $3.40 a gallon for regular, $3.70 for premium and $3.90 for diesel, or for electric cars, 12 cents per kilowatt hour.
Many of the winners sport an alternative powertrain: either gas-electric hybrid or all electric. "Green" is still a red-hot buzzword in the auto industry, with carmakers competing to showcase their commitment to fuel economy. All electric vehicles qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit.
To be eligible for the most-fuel-efficient award, each model must have been designated a top 25 pick in its category, and no vehicle can win if another trim level of that model has won in a lower-price category.
Because of the increase in crossover models, this year we split the large and midsize crossovers into separate categories. SOURCES: Kelley Blue Book (new-vehicle data, ownership costs); Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (Top Safety Picks); FuelEconomy.gov (plug-in vehicle annual fuel costs)
MPG: City: 53; Hwy: 46
Sticker price: $19,890
Invoice price: $18,937
KBB Fair Purchase Price: NA
Resale value: 3-year: 53%; 5-year: 37%
The littlest Prius has a strong family resemblance to the full-size Prius and a name that has earned green cred over the years. Delivering 50 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, the affordable Prius c boasts the best city fuel economy of any vehicle that doesn't plug in. It costs just a grand a year to fuel.
MPG: City: 41; Hwy: 44
Sticker price: $21,290
Invoice price: $20,317
Resale value: 3-year: 45%; 5-year: 33%
Honda’s Insight offers utility and reliability with a low price of entry into the hybrid market (the base model has a sticker price of $19,515). Combined city and highway driving nets 42 miles per gallon and keeps your annual fuel cost to $1,200. An Eco Display and score based on your driving efficiency coach you to save even more fuel.
MPGe: City: 128; Hwy: 109
Sticker price: $27,495 (1LT)
Invoice price: $26,428
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $26,628
Resale value: 3-year: 42%; 5-year: 26%
The all-electric version of Chevy’s subcompact is wallet-friendly: Charging for a year adds just $500 to your electric bill. It’s a blast to drive, too, with 400 lb-ft of instant torque. Technology includes Chevy MyLink with apps for Pandora and Stitcher radio as well as iPhone functionality with Siri Personal Assistant. The Spark EV features ten airbags and made the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Top Safety Pick list. As with all EVs, the Spark qualifies for a $7,500 federal tax credit.
MPGe: City: 132; Hwy: 105
Sticker price: $37,415
Invoice price: NA
Resale value: 3-year: 38%; 5-year: 25%
Honda's Fit EV costs $500 a year to charge and has a range of 82 miles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The zippy subcompact is available only for lease in a handful of states (California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island). But it has a new price, lowering the leasing cost to $259 a month.
MPG: City: 47; Hwy: 46
Sticker price: $40,570
Invoice price: $37,148
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $37,567
Resale value: 3-year: 51%; 5-year: 39%
The gas-engine Accord is also our Best in Class winner in the $25,000-$30,000 price category. The plug-in model is loaded with standard features, such as dual-zone climate control and heated seats, a rearview camera, a navigation system and safety features such as forward collision and lane departure warning. It was named a Top Safety Pick + by the IIHS.
MPGe: City: 88; Hwy: 90
Sticker price: $91,070
Resale value: 3-year: NA; 5-year: NA
The Tesla’s high price tag is less daunting when you compare the luxury EV’s “fuel economy” with that of the luxury competition. The EPA gives the Model S a 265-mile range and annual charging cost of just $700. And the $7,500 tax credit trims the sticker price. The 60 kWh model, which has a 208-mile range, starts at $71,070.
MPG: City: 25; Hwy: 34
Sticker price: $26,555
Invoice price: $25,265
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $26,555
Resale value: 3-year: 56%; 5-year: 39%
Scion entered the enthusiast market last year with its new halo car, the FR-S. The rear-wheel-drive coupe sports a 2.0-liter, 200-horsepower engine that was a joint effort with Subaru. (The FR-S shares the engine and its platform with the Subaru BRZ; see the next slide.)
Sticker price: $29,490
Invoice price: $28,009
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $28,605
Resale value: 3-year: 57%; 5-year: 39%
You wouldn't expect it given the brand's largely utilitarian lineup, but Subaru’s BRZ is downright sexy. Its lithe body will surprise those used to Subaru's staid designs; navigation, among other higher-end features, is standard. Because it shares its 200-hp engine and rear-drive platform with the Scion FR-S, it also shares its fuel economy plaudits.
MPG: City: 45; Hwy: 40
Sticker price: $25,995
Invoice price: $24,294
Resale value: 3-year: 51%; 5-year: 34%
Ford’s hybrid answer to Toyota’s Prius v wagon provides plenty of value to sway buyers. It has a lower price and more power than the Prius v, and it gets a smidge better fuel economy. Fueling for a year costs $1,200. An innovative hands-free lift gate feature allows you to open the rear hatch with a kick of the foot under the bumper.
MPG: City: 19; Hwy: 28
Sticker price: $29,655
Invoice price: $28,290
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $27,128
Resale value: 3-year: 55%; 5-year: 39%
The Odyssey is a perennial Kiplinger pick for value. Its blend of reliability and safety—it is the only Top Safety Pick in the minivan space—complements its high resale values and the lowest five-year ownership cost in its category. The cost to fill up: $2,300 a year.
MPG: City: 26; Hwy: 33
Sticker price: $23,350
Invoice price: $21,756
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $22,394
Resale value: 3-year: 50%; 5-year: 36%
Redesigned for 2014, Nissan’s best-selling crossover seats up to seven, has a comfortable and spacious cabin and, with combined city and highway mileage of 28 mpg, keeps the annual fuel cost to just $1,800. Available technology includes Nissan’s Around View Monitor, which gives you a bird’s-eye view of the vehicle and makes parking a snap.
MPG: City: 32; Hwy: 28
Sticker price: $47,320
Invoice price: $44,535
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $45,256
Resale value: 3-year: 60%; 5-year: 45%
With 30 mpg in combined city and highway driving and an annual fuel cost of $1,850, the Lexus RX hybrid combines luxury with a green powertrain. It’s no slouch on the road, either; it puts out 295 horses, and the all-wheel drive model includes a second electric motor dedicated to the rear wheels for better performance.
MPG: City: 20; Hwy: 28
Sticker price: $43,185
Invoice price: $40,081
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $41,297
Resale value: 3-year: 58%; 5-year: 41%
A new powertrain for 2014 allows Acura’s family-friendly crossover to save on gas. The 290-horsepower V6 features direct injection as well as variable cylinder management, which employs fewer cylinders when conditions allow. Add in a new two-wheel drive base model (the previous generation was all-wheel drive only) and annual fuel costs drop to $2,400.
MPG: City: 17; Hwy: 22
Sticker price: $33,680
Invoice price: $31,053
KBB Fair Purchase Price: $31,507
Resale value: 3-year: 68%; 5-year: 57%
The 2014 4Runner gets new sheet metal and interior refinements such as soft-touch surfaces, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and an Eco-Driving feedback system. More legroom and reclining seats make the second row more comfortable, and a one-touch walk-in function makes the third row easily accessible.