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Top 20 Most Fuel-Efficient Cars of 2021

The price of gas is nothing if not volatile. Historical data from the Energy Information Administration shows United States retail gasoline prices bouncing around between $3 and $4 per gallon between 2011 and 2014, then falling below $2 per gallon in 2015 and remaining below $3 per gallon through 2020, with another dip below $2 in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But gas prices are rising again, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects that to continue for the foreseeable future.

There are plenty of ways to save when gas prices are high. But they’re more effective when paired with more durable changes, like swapping your old gas guzzler for a more fuel-efficient car.

As the auto industry moves steadily toward a low-emissions future dominated by hybrid-electric (a hybrid of gas and electric power), plug-in hybrids (a more efficient hybrid that can run on battery power alone for longer periods), and all-electric vehicles (which run exclusively on batteries and don’t have gasoline engines), drivers looking to trim their fuel bills and help the environment have no shortage of choices.

Key Metrics for Measuring Vehicle Fuel Economy & Fuel Cost

The most important metrics for evaluating vehicle fuel efficiency and overall fuel costs are:

City and Highway MPG

Miles per gallon (mpg) describes the number of miles a vehicle can travel on a single gallon of gasoline — a metric commonly known as gas mileage.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tests vehicles under conditions that approximate real-world city and highway driving conditions and assigns two ratings based on the observed results. Refer to the EPA’s website for more information about its EPA ratings, the agency’s fuel economy methodology, and periodic updates to that methodology.

For vehicle models with multiple versions with different mpg ratings, the analysis uses the base version’s rating (which is usually the highest).

Electric Vehicle Range

All-electric vehicles don’t use gasoline and therefore don’t have mpg ratings. Instead, the EPA assesses their efficiency using a comparable metric: range. An electric vehicle’s range is the number of miles it can travel on a single charge (before you need to plug it in again to recharge).

Range is not a direct proxy for an electric vehicle’s carbon footprint or total emissions. An electric vehicle’s carbon footprint is a function of the power generation inputs (for example, coal, oil, solar, or wind) where it’s charged and can therefore vary widely by time and place.

A vehicle with only a negligible carbon footprint when charged on a grid humming with renewable energy still has a significant carbon footprint when charged on a coal- or gas-dependent grid.

Estimated Annual Fuel Costs (Gasoline)

As a function of prevailing gas prices and driving behavior, this metric can change over time and varies by geographic location (for example, average gas prices are generally higher on the West Coast than in the south-central U.S.).

To calculate estimated annual fuel costs for each of these gas-powered and hybrid-electric vehicles, this analysis uses a simple average of the vehicle’s city and highway fuel economy ratings; an assumed average annual fuel price of $2.45 per gallon (the average of the EIA’s estimates for 2021 and 2022); and three approximate levels of driving: light (8,000 miles driven per year), average (13,500 miles per year), and heavy (18,000 miles per year).

Estimated Annual Fuel Costs (Electric)

Electric vehicles’ annual fuel costs are also volatile. This analysis uses the same three levels of driving (8,000 miles per year, 13,500 miles per year, and 18,000 miles per year) and an average electricity cost of $0.1054 per kilowatt-hour (the EIA’s national average in 2019, the most recent year for which figures are available).

Each electric vehicle’s actual fuel cost is a function of its range, annual miles driven, and the kilowatt-hours (kWh) required for a full charge.

The entries below also include the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for each model. Where multiple versions of the same model are available, the MSRP denotes the lowest-cost (base) version. Unless otherwise noted, all information applies to the 2021 model year for each vehicle.


Most Fuel-Efficient Cars: Electric Vehicles & Hybrid-Electric Cars

In no particular order, these are the most fuel-efficient hybrid and all-electric vehicles in the North American auto market this year.

All-electric vehicles are eligible for federal tax credits worth up to $7,500 per vehicle and may be eligible for state tax credits as well.

1. Chevrolet Bolt EV

  • MSRP (2021): $36,500
  • EPA Estimated Range: 259 miles
  • Battery Capacity: 66 kWh
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $214.87 (light driving), $362.59 (moderate driving), $483.66 (heavy driving)

The Chevrolet Bolt EV is a reasonably priced and surprisingly roomy hatchback that travels nearly 260 miles on a single charge and is remarkably peppy, going from 0 to 60 in under seven seconds.

The standard 120-volt charging cord works in any three-prong electrical outlet and provides about 4 miles of charge per hour or 48 miles of charge per 12 hours, making it ideal for overnight charging.

The optional 240-volt home charger ($599, not including the cost of professional rewiring) delivers 25 miles of charge per hour and is a better fit for drivers with long daily round-trip commutes (longer than 40 or 50 miles).

Chargers at Chevrolet’s growing network of public charging stations (findable through the myChevrolet Mobile App) deliver about 100 miles of charge in half an hour.


2. Tesla Model 3

  • MSRP (2021): $36,990
  • EPA Estimated Range: 353 miles
  • Battery Capacity: 82 kWh
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $195.87 (light driving), $330.53 (moderate driving), $440.71 (heavy driving)

The Tesla Model 3 is an entry-level luxury sedan that’s very competitively priced compared to the gas-powered Audi, BMW, and Mercedes sedans with which it competes.

With a 0-to-60 time of just over three seconds and 302 pound-feet of near-instant torque, it’s ludicrously fun to drive on the open road.

The standard 120-volt charger provides about 3 miles of charge per hour, making it a bit impractical for people with long commutes or lots of daily errands to run. Upgrade to the 240-volt wall connector ($500, not including rewiring costs) to unlock 44 miles of charge per hour.

When you’re out and about, use Tesla’s trip planner to hit one of its 20,000 (and counting) Superchargers, which add up to 200 miles of range in 15 minutes.


3. Tesla Model S

  • MSRP (2021): $69,420
  • EPA Estimated Range: 412 miles (Long Range version)
  • Battery Capacity: 100 kWh
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $204.66 (light driving), $345.36 (moderate driving), $460.49 (heavy driving)

The Tesla Model S is a larger, more upmarket sedan that doesn’t cost much more to drive than the Model 3 and has a longer range to boot: 390 miles for the Plaid version and 412 miles for the Long Range version.

With 0-to-60 time of two seconds flat and peak power output up to top speed, Plaid is ideal for performance hounds — though there’s really nowhere other than a test track to safely or legally get the full experience. Long Range’s three-second 0-to-60 time is no slouch, either.

Model S runs on the same charging infrastructure as the Model 3: the standard 120-volt charger, the much faster wall connector ($500, not including rewiring costs), and the public Supercharger network.


4. Hyundai Ioniq Electric

  • MSRP (2020): $33,045
  • EPA Estimated Range: 170 miles
  • Battery Capacity: 38.3 kWh
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $189.97 (light driving), $320.57 (moderate driving), $427.43 (heavy driving)

The Hyundai Ioniq Electric is the most affordable all-electric car on this list. But it’s only available in a handful of states:

  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Maryland
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

With a range under 200 miles, it’s also the least suitable for long road trips without breaks for charging, though Hyundai owners have access to a growing network of PlugShare charging stations across the country.

In public, high-speed DC charging gets the Ioniq Electric from 0% to 80% charge in under an hour; slower AC charging takes about six hours. Standard home charging takes about 19 hours (though you’re free to disconnect sooner if you don’t need a full charge) or about six hours with a higher-speed charger (cost varies).

With a 0-to-60 time of just under 10 seconds, the Ioniq Electric can’t match Tesla for acceleration or overall driving enjoyment. But it’s perfectly suitable for everyday use around town and on the highway.


5. Toyota Prius

  • MSRP (2021): $24,525
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 58 city, 53 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $353.15 (light driving), $595.95 (moderate driving), $794.59 (heavy driving)

One of the original gas-electric hybrids, the Toyota Prius hatchback remains one of the most popular hybrids on the road today. With an average fuel economy above 55 mpg (for the L Eco version), it’s also one of the most efficient.

And though it’s not nearly as quick to accelerate as all-electric competitors like the Tesla Model 3 or Chevrolet Bolt EV, its 121-horsepower hybrid powertrain (relatively low in power compared with the Model 3 and Bolt EV) holds its own at highway speeds and in tight merges.


6. Toyota Prius Prime

  • MSRP (2021): $28,220
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 54 city, 54 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $362.96 (light driving), $612.50 (moderate driving), $816.67 (heavy driving)

The Toyota Prius Prime is a plug-in hybrid sedan that can travel up to 25 miles in electric-only mode and averages 54 miles per gallon in hybrid mode.

Like the traditional gas-electric Prius, it takes its time accelerating and certainly isn’t the car you’d choose if open-road performance were your top priority. But it handles just fine in city and highway traffic.

If you’re looking to minimize gas consumption, use Prius Prime’s heads-up display to locate one of Toyota’s 26,000 public charging stations and top off in about two hours. Or wait until you arrive at home to plug Prius Prime into a standard three-prong wall outlet and get fully charged in under six hours.


7. Toyota Corolla Hybrid

  • MSRP (2021): $23,600
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 52 city, 53 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $373.33 (light driving), $630 (moderate driving), $840 (heavy driving)

The Toyota Corolla Hybrid is an even more efficient version of Toyota’s famously miserly compact car, which has been available in the U.S. for decades.

With a combined fuel economy only a few ticks below Prius, the Corolla Hybrid qualifies as an ultra-low emissions vehicle or super-ultra-low emissions vehicle, depending on the version. (J.D. Power’s low-emissions vehicle guide defines these and related terms.)

Horsepower ranges from 139 to 169, also depending on version. At this weight, that’s enough power to deliver noticeably better acceleration than either Prius.


8. Toyota Camry Hybrid

  • MSRP (2021): $27,270
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 51 city, 53 highway (LE)
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $376.92 (light driving), $636.06 (moderate driving), $845.08 (heavy driving)

Like the Corolla Hybrid, the Toyota Camry Hybrid is a hybrid-electric version of a popular Toyota model that’s been around forever (by auto industry standards, at least).

For maximum fuel efficiency, ride in EV or eco mode. For faster pickup and acceleration at highway speeds, switch to normal or sport modes, which match or exceed the acceleration capabilities of the non-hybrid Camry and other gas-only midsize sedans, like Honda Accord and Hyundai Sonata.

Note that the higher-priced XLE and XSE versions have lower fuel economy than the base LE — around 45 mpg, compared with LE’s 52 mpg city-highway average.


9. Ford Fusion Hybrid SE

  • MSRP (2020): $28,000
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 43 city, 41 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $466.67 (light driving), $787.50 (moderate driving), $1,050 (heavy driving)

The Ford Fusion Hybrid SE comes in two versions: a traditional gas-electric hybrid and a plug-in hybrid that can run on battery only for short distances. But there’s no difference in average fuel economy between the two, so heavy drivers might prefer the convenience of a car they don’t need to plug in for optimal performance.

Due to lower overall fuel economy, the Ford Fusion Hybrid has higher estimated fuel costs than its Toyota competitors. But a larger, more powerful engine that puts out 188 horsepower delivers noticeably more acceleration to highway speeds — a plus for buyers interested in performance.


10. Honda Insight

  • MSRP (2021): $23,130
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 55 city, 49 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $376.92 (light driving), $636.06 (moderate driving), $845.08 heavy driving)

The Honda Insight has been around nearly as long as the Prius and gone through almost as many iterations. Today, it appears as a slightly more compact version of the Honda Accord full-size sedan, which now has its own hybrid model priced somewhat higher (and chugging slightly more fuel) than the Insight.

For true Honda hybrid aficionados, Insight still delivers, with a combined city-highway gas mileage well above 50 mpg and a surprisingly strong powertrain that puts out 151 total horsepower.

Because the Insight is relatively light, that horsepower makes for impressive performance, with a lower 0-to-60 time than the Hyundai Ioniq Electric.


11. Honda Accord Hybrid

  • MSRP (2021): $26,570
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 48 city, 48 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $408.33 (light driving), $689.06 (moderate driving), $918.75 (heavy driving)

The Honda Accord Hybrid is the gas-electric version of Honda’s popular full-size sedan.

Opting for the hybrid over the gas-powered version increases combined fuel efficiency by 10 mpg without compromising performance — the horsepower rating is an impressive 212, significantly higher than most midsize competitors (and a noticeable boost to acceleration ability).

Plus, you can choose to operate exclusively on battery power over short distances (longer in low-speed city driving) to stretch gas mileage further.


12. Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Blue

  • MSRP (2020): $23,200
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 57 city, 59 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $337.93 (light driving), $570.26 (moderate driving), $760.34 (heavy driving)

The Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid Blue is this list’s most fuel-efficient vehicle that qualifies as a true hybrid. Billing itself as the most fuel-efficient car in America, it’s actually more efficient than the plug-in hybrid version of the Ioniq, which isn’t listed due to suboptimal fuel economy.

Note that the two higher-priced Ioniq versions, SE and SEL, have lower overall fuel economy (about 55 mpg on average).

With a 0-to-60 time of just over eight seconds, the Ioniq Hybrid Blue has significantly better acceleration than the Ioniq Electric, though it still can’t match the Tesla Model 3 or Chevrolet Bolt.

But on the plus side, there are no limitations in availability like there are for the plug-in model.


13. Kia Niro

  • MSRP (2020): $24,590
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 52 city, 49 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $388.12 (light driving), $654.95 (moderate driving), $873.27 (heavy driving)

As a subcompact crossover hybrid SUV, the Kia Niro is one of the roomier hybrids on this list. That’s a selling point for drivers seeking more cargo space than more traditional hybrid hatchbacks can provide and those seeking the confidence that comes with a higher weight (and better performance in crashes).

Despite its heft, Niro packs an efficient punch, clocking in above 50 mpg and nearly 140 horsepower. It won’t win any awards for acceleration and will undoubtedly frustrate drivers familiar with the Chevrolet Bolt’s energetic highway performance, but Niro is just fine for everyday driving.


14. Ford Escape FWD HEV

  • MSRP (2020): $24,885
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 44 city, 37 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $483.95 (light driving), $816.66 (moderate driving), $1,088.89 (heavy driving)

A compact SUV, the Ford Escape FWD HEV is even roomier than the Kia Niro, and its powerful hybrid engine supports a total system output of 200 horsepower — plenty of pickup for tight highway merges.

Fuel economy does suffer a bit as a result, with the combined city-highway rating barely topping 40 mpg. But that’s more than 10 mpg greater than the combined average for the Escape’s two non-hybrid versions and potentially thousands of dollars in saved fuel costs over the life of a well-used vehicle.


15. Toyota Sienna Hybrid 2WD

  • MSRP (2021): $34,460
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 36 city, 36 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $544.44 (light driving), $918.75 (moderate driving), $1,225 (heavy driving)

As a full-size minivan, the Toyota Sienna Hybrid 2WD is even more spacious than the Kia Niro hybrid crossover or the Ford Escape hybrid SUV. And unlike most automakers’ marquee minivan models, Sienna’s hybrid version is the whole ballgame.

You can’t buy a gas-only Sienna in the 2021 model year. All three versions are hybrids with comparable fuel-efficiency ratings (right around 36 mpg).

Despite a healthy total system output of 245 horsepower and a 0-to-60 time under eight seconds (quite good for a minivan), the Sienna hybrid qualifies as a super-ultra-low emissions vehicle.


16. Toyota Highlander Hybrid AWD

  • MSRP (2021): $38,510
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 36 city, 35 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $552.11 (light driving), $931.69 (moderate driving), $1,242.25 (heavy driving)

With room for eight passengers, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid AWD goes toe-to-toe with the Sienna on the capacity front and boasts similar fuel efficiency to boot.

Unlike Sienna, the Highlander does have a non-hybrid version with a modestly lower MSRP and significantly lower fuel economy (about 10 mpg lower on average).

Drivers who pay a bit more to trade up to the hybrid don’t miss much performance-wise thanks to a powerful hybrid-electric powertrain that notches total system output of 243 horsepower and a 0-to-60 time just over seven seconds, edging out the Sienna hybrid and most of the other hybrid-electric cars on this list.


Most Fuel-Efficient Cars: Gasoline Engine Cars

In no particular order, these are the most fuel-efficient gasoline cars in the North American market this year.

17. Chevrolet Spark

  • MSRP (2021): $13,400
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 30 city, 38 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $576.47 (light driving), $972.79 (moderate driving), $1,297.06 (heavy driving)

The Chevrolet Spark is by far the cheapest car on this list. To be fair, this two-door subcompact hatchback is also among the least roomy, making it an ideal commuter car for drivers not expected to assume carpooling duties.

The Spark’s fuel efficiency is almost entirely due to its low total weight, as Chevy’s boast to Spark buyers that “getting there’s going to be fun” hints at a surprisingly powerful engine and responsive handling that navigates highway and city congestion with ease.

Don’t be fooled by the 98-horsepower rating — that’s a lot of power at this weight.


18. Honda Civic Sedan

  • MSRP (2021): $21,250
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 32 city, 42 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $529.72 (light driving), $893.92 (moderate driving), $1,191.89 (heavy driving)

With an average gas mileage rating above 35 mpg, the Honda Civic sedan is the most efficient non-hybrid on this list.

It also bears more than a passing resemblance to Honda’s Insight hybrid, albeit with a more powerful engine (174 horsepower), considerably lower fuel efficiency, and a modestly lower price point. The more powerful engine improves acceleration and overall performance, with Civic’s 0-to-60 time clocking in under six seconds.

Another benefit of Civic or any other fuel-efficient Honda: The company makes some of the most dependable cars on the road, so you’re likely to drive your Civic (or Insight or Accord) for many years to come.


19. Toyota Corolla

  • MSRP (2021): $20,025
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 31 city, 38 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $568.12 (light driving), $958.70 (moderate driving), $1,278.26 (heavy driving)

The gas-only Toyota Corolla’s approximately 35 mpg average fuel-economy rating can’t compete with the hybrid version’s 50-mpg-plus rating.

But with a suggested retail price just a touch over $20,000 and the backing of Toyota’s legendary reputation for reliability, it’s a solid choice for drivers who’d rather pay a bit more for fuel over the life of the vehicle than pay an upfront premium for a hybrid drivetrain.

Unfortunately, the gas-only Corolla’s lower fuel efficiency and higher fuel costs aren’t matched by markedly better performance. The driving experience is roughly in line with the Corolla hybrid — perfectly fine for everyday use but not remarkable.


20. Toyota Camry

  • MSRP (2021): $24,970
  • EPA Estimated MPG: 28 city, 39 highway
  • Estimated Annual Fuel Cost: $585.07 (light driving), $987.31 (moderate driving), $1,316.42 (heavy driving)

Like the smaller Corolla, the gas-only version of the Toyota Camry can’t hold a candle to the hybrid version’s fuel economy. But the sticker price is a few thousand dollars lower, leaving open the possibility that occasional drivers, who don’t buy much fuel anyway, will still come out ahead.

In the meantime, the efficient yet surprisingly powerful 203-horsepower engine supports a super-ultra-low emissions vehicle designation while delivering adequate acceleration in tight merges.


Final Word

It’s fair to bet that every passenger vehicle on North American roads will be a long-range electric car or truck at some point in the distant future. When that day comes, the term “miles per gallon” — long among the most important metrics used by car buyers — will lose all meaning.

But we’re not there yet and won’t be for many years. In the meantime, drivers looking to reduce fuel costs and help the environment can and should prepare for rising gas prices by choosing to buy or lease cars with above-average fuel efficiency and below-average annual fuel costs.

Brian Martucci
Brian Martucci writes about credit cards, banking, insurance, travel, and more. When he's not investigating time- and money-saving strategies for Money Crashers readers, you can find him exploring his favorite trails or sampling a new cuisine. Reach him on Twitter @Brian_Martucci.

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