Best Fuel-Efficient Cars

The 2021 Tesla Model 3 offers the best fuel efficiency

We publish unbiased reviews; our opinions are our own and are not influenced by payments from advertisers. Learn about our independent review process and partners in our advertiser disclosure.

A fuel-efficient car uses the least amount of fuel to achieve the longest distance traveled. These environmentally-friendly vehicles are designed for high mileage when driving both in the city and on the highway, and they are available as either conventional cars, hybrids, and all-electric vehicles (EV). Nearly all car manufacturers produce fuel-efficient cars in a variety of models and a range of price points, making fuel-efficient cars available for every budget. 

Because there are so many vehicles on the market, narrowing your choices down to one can be a challenge. To help you decide, we examined a broad range of cars before selecting our top choices. We examined factors including the manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) along with the city miles per gallon (MPG) and highway MPG. 

Read on to see our choices for the best fuel-efficient cars.

Best Fuel-Efficient Cars in 2021

Best Overall : 2021 Tesla Model 3


Tesla

 Tesla

  • MSRP: $36,990
  • City MPG: 148
  • Highway MPG: 132

Why We Chose It: The all-electric 2021 Tesla Model 3 offers extreme fuel efficiency at a great price.

Pros
  • Affordable and luxurious

  • Very long driving range

  • High-tech gadgetry

Cons
  • Transition to EV can be hard for drivers accustomed to conventional cars

  • Prominent touchscreen can be distracting

  • Small back seat can be confining

Tesla, launched in 2003, is a leader in state-of-the-art technology. Offering a fully electric vehicle (EV), the Tesla Model 3 has one of the longest ranges for any car on the market today (an estimated 263 miles). The city MPG is 148 and the highway MPG is 132. And compared to other Tesla models, which can exceed $100,000, the Model 3 has an MSRP of just $36,990. 

People familiar with touchscreen interfaces will appreciate the high-tech system, though drivers new to the system will face an adjustment period, and its size can be distracting. Aesthetically, it delivers with clean lines and spare details. The 2021 model has updated features such as black exterior trim instead of chrome and an all-glass roof. It also has some cool amenities, including two wireless smartphone charging pads. 

Performance is excellent with exceptionally fast acceleration. However, if you constantly want to pack the car with a group of passengers, adults who are seated in the back may be in for a less-than-comfortable journey since the seats are low to the floor and there is limited leg and foot room. 

To charge, you can use Tesla’s Supercharger stations, go to public charging stations, or use the home charging station. The Tesla 3 is available in five exterior colors and two interior colors. And last but certainly not least, the 2021 Tesla 3 earned the top safety pick award from InsideEVs

If your car needs repairs, note that some Tesla owners report delays in getting parts when necessary.

Best for Families : 2021 Toyota Sienna


Toyota

 Toyota

  • MSRP: $34,460
  • City MPG: 36
  • Highway MPG: 36

Why We Chose It: As a sleek hybrid minivan, the 2021 Toyota Sienna accommodates a large group of passengers while remaining fuel efficient.

Pros
  • Excellent fuel economy

  • Seats seven people comfortably

  • Stylish, SUV-like design

Cons
  • Limited cargo space for large items

  • Acceleration is slow

  • Second-row seats are fixed

If you're looking for a fuel-efficient minivan, the 2021 Toyota Sienna, with an MSRP of $34,460, is an excellent choice. It offers 36 MPG for both city and highway.  Although this hybrid vehicle is an all-wheel-drive, seven-passenger van, it has an SUV appearance. It’s spacious, with lots of legroom throughout. 

It has a touchscreen interface mounted on the dashboard, connected with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and Amazon Alexa, plus an onboard Wi-Fi hotspot and seven USB ports distributed around the interior. And among its customizations are color-matched body side moldings—important for kids and teens who may be rough with the exterior. 

Although it’s a reliable vehicle that handles well, it can suffer from slow acceleration, especially if there are a lot of passengers. The design has limited cargo room, so if you need to cart around a bunch of sports equipment and other large items, it can be a tight squeeze, and the second rows don’t move. 

The 2021 Toyota Sienna won the top safety pick for minivans by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and as a maker, Toyota (started in 1937) is known for reliability, with an above-average rating from RepairPal.

Best for Long Commutes : 2021 Lexus ES


Lexus

 Lexus

  • MSRP:  $46,970
  • City MPG: 43
  • Highway MPG: 44

Why We Chose It: A comfortable, enjoyable ride during long commutes is paramount, and the 2021 Lexus ES delivers.

Pros
  • Comfortable interior

  • Powerful engine suits all conditions

  • Three drive modes, including “eco”

Cons
  • Entertainment system is lacking

  • Back seats don’t fold down

When it comes to being on the road for long periods, you will want to be certain that the car is comfortable. Typically known for its luxury cars, Lexus also offers a fuel-efficient car, the 2021 Lexus ES, which has an MSRP of $46,970. 

It combines fuel efficiency—43 city MPG, and 44 highway MPG—with an incredibly smooth driving experience as well as cool features that make driving fun. When listening to music or spoken word, you will appreciate the quiet. It has voice command navigation, a superior sound system, leather upholstery, and heated seats and comes in 10 exterior and interior colors. Add-ons include lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring systems. 

In addition to the normal driving mode, this car offers eco mode, which moderates the engine for increased fuel efficiency. Although you will get better mileage when driving in this mode, the car will be less responsive and will accelerate at a slower pace. You can also drive it in sport mode which will allow for speedier gear changes but will use more fuel. 

Because you'll be in the vehicle for long periods, reliability and safety are essential. Kelley Blue Book gave it perfect crash score ratings. Out of the many luxury car brands, J.D. Power gave Lexus (a company that launched in 1989) the reliability crown, and the 2021 Lexus ES  garnered 79 out of 100 for quality and reliability.

Best for Winter Driving : 2021 Subaru Outback


Subaru

 Subaru

  • MSRP: $26,795
  • City MPG: 26
  • Highway MPG: 33

Why We Chose It: The 2021 Subaru Outback is perfect for extreme weather conditions without sacrificing fuel economy.

Pros
  • All-wheel drive

  • Solid and well-built construction

  • Roomy cabin for excellent accommodation

Cons
  • Acceleration can be sluggish

  • Nothing special in the entertainment system

The 2021 Subaru Outback, with an MSRP of $26,795, has an all-wheel-drive system and high ground clearance, making it just right for getting around in harsh winter conditions. This gas-powered SUV-like wagon easily handles snow, sleet, and icy roads. It has excellent weight distribution and ground clearance for maximum stability, though because it’s heavy, fuel efficiency is impacted. 

Still, the model has a highly respectable 26 MPG for city driving and 33 MPG on the highway. It also comes with Subaru’s EyeSight system to monitor traffic, optimized cruise control, and a warning function if you veer out your lane. To enhance winter driving capability, engine block heaters and severe weather companion sets are available. It comes with the STARLINK Multimedia system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

Kelley Blue Book gave it a 5/5 for reliability. Subarus have been on the market since 1953 and since then have earned a reputation for being one of the top makers for reliability (though they have slipped a little over the past few years).

Best for City Driving : 2021 BMW Mini Cooper SE


Mini Logo

Mini Logo

  • MSRP: $29,900
  • City MPG: 115
  • Highway MPG: 100

Why We Chose It: Tiny cars are ideal for driving the narrow streets and sharp turns of cities, and the 2021 Mini Cooper SE is a small car with fantastic fuel economy.

Pros
  • Super small for tight spaces

  • Distinctive, attractive design

  • Powerful drive for its size

Cons
  • Limited driving range

  • Minimal storage and seating

  • Uncomfortable for long ventures

BMW’s 2021 Mini Cooper SE is a fully electric vehicle that offers 115 MPG for city driving and 100 MPG for highway driving. With an MSRP of $29,900, you will get a lot for your money in an exceptionally small package. 

Urban streets mean parking in tiny spots, and you’ll have no problem with a car this size, nor will you have trouble driving in and around obstacles and traffic. It is equipped with a diminutive touchscreen infotainment system, though you can upgrade it for a larger one. 

Although the Mini Cooper SE is a powerful drive, the range is lacking, with only 110 miles per charge. The means you’ll need to plan ahead. Charging can be done at public charging stations (which can take 40 minutes for an 80% charge) as well as at home, though it can take about 24 hours via a standard house outlet for a full charge. There are several apps, such as PlugShare, that provide charging station locations. 

This model obtained good safety ratings across the board by IIHS, however, BMW, which has been in the car business since 1919, doesn’t have a great reputation for reliability, earning an average score by RepairPal.

Best Budget Option : 2021 Hyundai Accent


Hyundai

 Hyundai

  • MSRP: $15,395
  • City MPG: 33
  • Highway MPG: 43

Why We Chose It: The 2021 Hyundai Accent has excellent fuel economy for an extremely low price.

Pros
  • Fits many budgets

  • Inexpensive to maintain

  • Good, simple quality

Cons
  • Cheap, uncomfortable seats

  • Few embedded perks

  • Can be noisy

The 2021 Hyundai Accent may not be swanky, but with an MSRP starting at $15,395, this gas-powered car has impressive fuel efficiency at 33 MPG for city driving and 43 for highway driving. 

This year and model offers impressive space for the driver and passengers with its raised roof and other nice features, such as a USB connection and four speakers, along with plenty of room for cups, bottles, and phones. 

Some downsides include cloth-covered seats that not everybody finds comfortable, and it's not whisper-quiet inside while driving. Still, if you want to get the most fuel efficiency for the least amount of money, you can’t go wrong with this brand and model. If you need repairs or any other services, parts are easy to come by and won’t set you back a fortune. 

Hyundai has been producing reliable, ultra-affordable cars since 1967. And while this sedan is on the basic side, it doesn’t skimp on safety, earning an almost entirely overall “good'' rating from IIHS, except for the passenger front impact that’s rated “acceptable."

Final Verdict

Fuel-efficient vehicles can be found in just about every price range, maker, and quality level. You have choices. It can be electric, a hybrid, or a conventional gas-powered model. Aside from the earth-friendly aspect, you need to determine your budget, transportation needs, and the features you want. 

For the lowest-priced vehicles, you’ll give up the more luxurious aspects and high-tech appeal, while the higher-priced vehicles can be too expensive or come with benefits that are unnecessary for you. The Tesla offers the highest MPG, while the Toyota is great for families, and the Lexus is great for long drives. Our Subaru pick is superb for winterly conditions, and the BMW Mini Cooper is ideal for city driving, while the most budget-friendly is the Hyundai. 

Compare the Best Fuel-Efficient Cars

Car Make and Model MSRP MPG City/Highway
2021 Tesla Model 3 Best Overall $36,990 148/132
2021 Toyota Sienna Best for Families $34,460 36/36
2021 Lexus ES Best for Long Commutes $46,970 43/44
2021 Subaru Outback Best for Winter Driving $26,795 26/33
2021 BMW Mini Cooper SE Best for City Driving $29,900 115/100
2021 Hyundai Accent Best Budget Option $15,395 33/43

FAQs

What Makes Cars More Fuel Efficient? 

A fuel-efficient vehicle is designed to consume the least amount of gas or energy for distance traveled. A car with a fuel-efficient, conventional gasoline-powered engine is designed to use the smallest amount of gas possible, while a hybrid car has two engines—a gas-powered and electric—and uses less fuel than a car with a conventional motor. 

All-electric vehicles convert electrical energy from a power grid and use 77% of that energy to power the car, while conventional cars convert about 12% to 30% of the energy. 

Are Fuel-Efficient Cars More Expensive Than Regular Cars? 

All-electric vehicles can be more expensive than gas-powered and hybrid vehicles, but over time they may cost less to fuel up and maintain. Gas-powered cars that are built for maximum fuel efficiency are not more expensive than their conventional counterpoints that aren’t. Hybrids tend to have a higher price point than conventional cars because they’re more expensive to produce. 

What Other Factors Can Affect a Car’s Fuel Efficiency? 

Larger, heavier vehicles tend to be less fuel-efficient than smaller, lighter vehicles. The way you drive, such as accelerating rapidly, breaking frequently, and driving in stop-and-go traffic, also affects fuel efficiency. Driving in cold weather is more taxing on fuel than driving in warm weather, as is driving on hilly terrain, towing heavy cargo, idling, and using the air conditioner and the four-wheel-drive function. 

What Are the Benefits of Driving a Fuel-Efficient Car?

Fuel-efficient cars produce fewer greenhouse gases so are better for the environment. As an owner, you can save money on fuel since you won’t be using as much as you would with a vehicle that uses more fuel, and you won’t have to stop at the pump or charging stations as frequently. You also may be eligible for a federal income tax credit of up to $7,500 for a plug-in vehicle purchased new in or after 2010. 

Methodology

To determine our list of best fuel-efficient cars, we evaluated more than 25 cars from a variety of manufacturers, focusing on models that advertise high city and highway mileage and good safety ratings. We also examined features including cost, interior size, comfort, ability to handle inclement weather, and manufacturer reputation. 

All of the choices on our list offered safe, affordable, fuel-efficient options for a variety of lifestyles and budgets.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Department of Energy. "All-Electric Vehicles." Accessed April 12, 2021.

  2. U.S. Department of Energy. "Federal Tax Credits for New All-Electric and Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles." Accessed April 12, 2021.