The Toyota Prius, not surprisingly, is one of the "greenest" vehicles on the market. Chevy boasts that its Cobalt coupe gets 33 miles per gallon. A thrifty threesome—the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, and Nissan Versa—each average better than 25 mpg and start at less than $15,000.
But are these cars any fun?
Americans certainly want to pinch pennies at the pump, especially with gas creeping toward $4 per gallon and the economy turning soft. But that doesn't mean they're willing to give up the joy of motoring. So while others offer lists of cars that are merely fuel-efficient, we prefer cars that are efficient and muscular both—and thus, score high on our "muscle per gallon" index.
We kept our methodology simple: For each car in the U.S. News Best Cars database, we multiplied the horsepower rating by the city mpg number, then divided by 100 to create an easy-to-follow index number. We ranked the cars by that number, in eight of the most popular categories. Our results reveal the wimpiest misers, the sloppiest gas hogs, and the cars that offer the best mix of performance and fuel economy.
On our list of small cars, for instance, there are 11 models that get city mileage of 25 mpg or better. But only one of those, the Honda Civic Hybrid, ranks in the top 10 on our muscle-per-gallon index. The Fit, Yaris, and Versa, by comparison, end up near the bottom—which means they're thrifty but not very sporting. Hybrids occupy the top spots in several categories, but they're usually pricey; not far behind, however, are relative bargains like the Nissan Rogue or Toyota RAV4.
Even among staid old minivans, there's a stark difference in horsepower and mileage. The Toyota Sienna, which tops the muscle-per-gallon list in the category, comes with a saucy V-6 engine that churns out 266 horsepower, with city mileage of 17 mpg. At the bottom of the list, the entry-level Chrysler Town & Country gets the same mileage—but from an engine that offers just 170 horsepower.
As for the Prius, there's still plenty to love. Among midsize cars, it ranks No. 5—and it's one of the cheaper cars on the list. But the top car—the Nissan Altima Hybrid—is more of a looker, with impressive mileage of 35 mpg, a zesty 198 horsepower, and a reasonable starting price of less than $26,000. That's the kind of all-around performance drivers love.
Here are the best and worst performers in eight categories; to see the entire list, click on the category name.