Efficient Cars That Pack Muscle

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It finally seems to have sunk in: High gas prices are here to stay. With pump prices floating near $3 per gallon for much of the past three years, sales of SUVs and other big vehicles have tanked. Whole new classes of minicars and economizers, meanwhile, are changing the way American car buyers shop: Sometimes, smaller is better.

Drivers still want some zip, however, and many smaller cars come with the trade-offs you might expect: They're slow and not much fun to drive. So U.S. News has developed an exclusive Muscle Per Gallon Index, using data provided by Kelley Blue Book. It ranks cars according to the blend of efficiency and performance they offer. Consumers choose cars for a lot of reasons–ranging from gas mileage to cool factor to space for kids and dogs. But once you've decided what kind of car you want, these rankings, which measure a combination of fuel economy and horsepower, can help refine your choices much better than simply looking at the gas mileage rating on the window sticker.

Many of the low-ranking cars get decent (not great) gas mileage–but have engines with weak power, especially for their class. The four-cylinder Kia Sportage SUV rates a respectable 23 miles per gallon in city driving, for instance, but its meager 140-horsepower engine is one of the weakest in a midsize SUV.

Among passenger cars under $30,000, here are our top 10 and bottom 10:

Best muscle per gallon rating:

Vehicle List Price City Mileage Horsepower
 
NISSAN 350Z V6 (3.5 Liter)
  $28,525 20 306
NISSAN ALTIMA 3.5 SE V6 (3.5 Liter)
  $24,625 21 270
NISSAN ALTIMA HYBRID 4-CYL HYBRID (2.5 Liter)
  $25,025 42 158
PONTIAC SOLSTICE GXP 4-CYL TURBO (2.0 Liter)
  $27,115 22 260
PONTICA GRAND PRIX GXP V8 (5.3 Liter)
  $29,500 18 303
SATURN SKY RED LINE 4-CYL TURBO (2.0 Liter)
  $29,025 22 260
TOYOTA AVALON XL V6 (3.5 Liter)
  $27,495 22 268
TOYOTA CAMRY HYBRID 4-CYL (2.4 Liter)
  $26,820 40 147
TOYOTA CAMRY LE V6 (3.5 Liter)
  $24,160 22 268
TOYOTA RAV4 V6 (3.5 Liter)
  $23,630 22 269

Worst muscle per gallon rating:

Vehicle List Price City Mileage Horsepower
 
CHEVROLET AVEO 5 SVM 4-CYL (1.6 Liter)
  $10,560 27 103
DODGE CARAVAN PASSENGER 4-CYL (2.4 Liter)
  $19,770 20 150
FORD EXPLORER XLT V6 (4.0 Liter)
  $25,995 15 210
FORD TAURUS SE 6-CYL (3.0 Liter)
  $21,745 20 153
HYUNDAI TIBURON GS 4-CYL (2.0 Liter)
  $17,295 23 138
KIA SPORTAGE LX 4-CYL (2.0 Liter)
  $16,495 23 140
MERCURY MOUNTAINEER V6 (4.0 Liter)
  $27,995 15 210
MITSUBISHI LANCER DE 4-CYL (2.0 Liter)
  $14,615 21 143
SUZUKI FORENZA 4-CYL (2.0 Liter)
  $14,624 23 127
SUZUKI RENO 4-CYL (2.0 Liter)
  $14,224 23 127

At the top of the list are a few cars–mostly hybrids–with city mileage over 30 mpg. But other honors go to vehicles like the Nissan 350 Z and the Toyota RAV 4: They crank out a lot of horsepower while still getting respectable mileage.

Most consumers, of course, aren't trying to decide between a sports car and a family-friendly SUV. And virtually everybody's on a budget. That's why our overall muscle-per-gallon list of more than 400 models can be sorted by price range, model name, gas mileage rating, or muscle-per-gallon rating. That allows you to compare cars in a given price range or simply look up cars you're interested in. Take a spin.


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  • Rick Newman

    Rick Newman is the author of Rebounders: How Winners Pivot From Setback to Success and the co-author of two other books. Follow him on Twitter or e-mail him at rnewman@usnews.com.

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