10 Cars That Are More Efficient Than a Prius

Craig Cole
by Craig Cole

Toyota’s Prius has become the go-to vehicle for people looking to save money at the gas pump. Sure, it looks like an alien science project gone wrong and its driving dynamics are less fun than a trip to the ER, but this car’s groundbreaking combination of high technology, phenomenal fuel economy and unimpeachable reliability have made it a perennial favorite.

It’s hard to find cars that are more economical that the Prius, in fact the nameplate has become so synonymous with fuel efficiency Toyota has expanded the number of modes it offers. The lineup now includes a more-compact c-variant, an extra-spacious v-model and of course an electric plug-in version. Still, there are a handful of vehicles that manage to top this venerable nameplate and here they are.

But before we jump into the list it’s probably worth noting exactly how fuel-efficient the Prius is. In its latest iteration the car delivers some pretty amazing numbers. All told it averages a cool 50 miles per gallon. In stop-and-go urban driving its hybrid system can recuperate even more energy, resulting in a city rating of 51. Its highway score is nearly as impressive at 48 MPG. To top the Prius you’ve pretty much got to go electric with a pure EV or a plug-in hybrid.

And Tesla’s Model S sedan is proof that luxury and efficiency are not utterly incompatible. This large four-door can seat up to seven and offers a number of advanced features. It’s rear-wheel drive, is equipped with a single-speed transmission and its bodywork is fashioned of weight-saving aluminum. But perhaps more impressively, when properly equipped its electron-powered drivetrain can propel it from a standstill to 60 miles an hour in just 4.2 seconds. With the standard 60 kWh battery pack it offers 208 miles of range and a combined fuel-economy rating of 95 MPGe, which is short for “miles per gallon equivalent” since you can’t pump a gallon of electrons into a battery. It also stickers at 94 MPGe city and 97 highway.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Tesla Model S Review

Topping Tesla’s all-electric wonder is the humble Ford Focus EV. This electrified hatchback returns an impressive 105 MPGe combined. That figure is derived from its city rating of 110 and its highway score of 99.

SEE ALSO: 2012 Ford Focus Electric Review

The car is juiced by a 23 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that’s liquid cooled. Depending on driving habits the Focus EV should deliver a range of 76 miles; terminal velocity is 84 MPH.

Like the punch line to a bad joke the smart fortwo is repulsive and oftentimes offensive. Daimler’s itsy-bitsy city car looks great on paper but in the real world it suffers from abysmal execution that makes it one of the least enjoyable cars to drive.

SEE ALSO: 2013 smart fortwo electric drive Review

But things get dramatically better when you discard its unrefined gasoline engine and insufferable automated manual transmission. An all-electric drivetrain transforms this frumpy little vehicle into something that’s torquey and kind of fun; it’s also super efficient. Still, the car averages 107 MPGe. In the city it stickers at 122 while on the highway it’s rated at 93.

Topping the smart is Mitsubishi’s strangely named i-MiEV. However you say it, aye-me’ev, aye-my-E-V, aye-meev, the meaning and pronunciation have been lost to history, this tiny four-door delivers a combined consumption score of 112 MPGe. In the city it’s rated at 126, while its highway figure is 99.

It’s powered by a water-cooled AC, permanent-magnet electric motor that cranks out 66 hp and 145 lb-ft of torque. This little dynamo is juiced by a 16 kWh lithium-ion battery that provides a claimed range of 62 miles.

Trumping the i-, the i-Me, well, the Mitsubishi mentioned before is Nissan’s Leaf, another pure-electric vehicle. This car is powered by an 80 kW electric motor that delivers a deceptively robust 107 hp. Predictably it features a lithium-ion battery that’s rated at 24 kWh and provides a claimed maximum range of 85 miles, though this is dependent on more variables than we could possibly list. As always, your mileage WILL vary.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Nissan Leaf Review

All told the Leaf stickers at 114 MPGe combined, a figured that’s derived from its urban rating of 126 and its interstate score of 101. Like other electric vehicles weight is something of a problem; the Leaf strains the scales at around 3,300 pounds!

Topping Nissan’s EV offering is Fiat’s cute-as-a-pumpkin 500e. This Cinquecento is amped up with a 24 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that’s mounted underneath the car’s floor. This location helps lower its center of gravity for sportier handling. Propulsion is provided by an electric motor that provides 111 hp and 147 lb-ft of twist.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Fiat 500e Five-Point Inspection

Add it all up and the 500e stickers at 116 MPGe. Around town it should deliver 122 MPGe while on the highway it ought to muster 108. Regrettable this car is only offered in California and Oregon at this time, which is too bad because it’s actually quite a bit of fun to drive thanks to the low-mounted battery and abundant torque.

Narrowly squeaking past the Fiat is Honda’s Fit EV. This robotic-looking hatchback returns a combined MPGe rating of 118. That figure is derived from its city score of 132 and its highway rating of 105.

A 30 kWh lithium-ion battery pack provides the juice to an AC permanent-magnet motor that delivers a maximum of 123 hp (in sport mode) and 189 lb-ft of torque. In Normal and Econ modes power output is reduced. Combined the Honda Fit EV’s maximum combined range is 82 miles. Like the Fiat, this car is only available in certain coastal markets in the U.S.

If there’s a small electric car with a wild side it might be the Chevrolet Spark EV. Its onboard motor is rated at a generous 140 hp, but the torque is where this little beast absolutely crushes the competition. The car is endowed with a whopping 327 lb-ft of twist! That’s a crazy amount in such a tiny package.

SEE ALSO: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV Review

The Spark EV also features an 18.4 kWh lithium-ion battery that provides an estimated combined driving range of 82 miles. On the economy front it’s rated at 119 MPGe combined, 128 in the city and 109 on the highway.

Topping all challengers is the BMW i3. This strange-looking luxury hatchback returns a combined consumption score of 124 MPGe; its city rating is 137 while its highway score is 111.

Ensuring the car is at least somewhat fun to drive it features an electric motor that delivers 170 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque. These figures are good enough for a zero to 60 jaunt of just 7.2 seconds. Not surprisingly a lithium-ion battery pack provides the power.

SEE ALSO: 2014 BMW i3 Review

Mixing things up the i3 is also available with a gasoline-powered range extender. This inline two-cylinder provides electricity to recharge the battery and can increase the car’s driving range by 75 miles. This extra-cost option is great for longer trips and situations when a charging station is not nearby.

Essentially all of the vehicles mentioned in this list are pure-electrics. Accordingly they have limited driving range. It’s understandable these cars aren’t for everyone because many people need to travel longer distances than they can provide.

We thought it appropriate to highlight a few other super-efficient vehicles, ones that might be more useful to a greater number of drivers, plus we only listed nine vehicles above.

Amazingly the Honda Accord Hybrid nearly matches the combined efficiency of the Prius. This sizable sedan delivers an awe-inspiring 47 miles per gallon combined. Its city score is 50 MPG and its highway rating is 45.
The Accord Hybrid even manages to out thrift its smaller brother, the electrified Civic. This car averages 45 MPG combined, 44 in the city and 48 on the interstate.
Finally the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid should deliver a combined rating of 45 MPG. Its city score is 42 and its highway rating is 48.
Craig Cole
Craig Cole

Born and raised in metro Detroit, Craig was steeped in mechanics from childhood. He feels as much at home with a wrench or welding gun in his hand as he does behind the wheel or in front of a camera. Putting his Bachelor's Degree in Journalism to good use, he's always pumping out videos, reviews, and features for AutoGuide.com. When the workday is over, he can be found out driving his fully restored 1936 Ford V8 sedan. Craig has covered the automotive industry full time for more than 10 years and is a member of the Automotive Press Association (APA) and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA).

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2 of 7 comments
  • Frank Thomas Frank Thomas on Oct 21, 2014

    Autoguide FAIL. What gets better miles per GALLON than a Prius? How about all of these electric cars! Waste of time. How about ACTUALLY compiling a list of cars that legitimately get better mpg, none of this "mpg equivalent" bs.

  • Narg Narg on Oct 21, 2014

    All of these are "Strong" hybrids or electric cars. In the 1990's Chevy sold a Geo Metro that did better than the Prius on just plain old gas, period. Both on highway AND in city.