Eight Gas-Powered Cars That Get 40 mpg Highway

by Alison Lakin
For a long time in North America, subcompacts didn’t offer much beyond high fuel economy and a low price tag. Options sheets were limited to a few comforts such as air conditioning, but they did have great fuel economy (perhaps also because there were far fewer safety features as well). Now we demand more features and comfort from our cars and better safety systems, all of which have added weight and reduced fuel economy over time. 

It’s taken a while, but fuel-efficient cars are back on the menu, and we now have a choice of eight well-appointed gas sippers that don’t need a hybrid drivetrain or a diesel engine to hit 40 mpg on the highway. Here are the cars that made the cut. 

2011 Hyundai Elantra

Hyundai Elantra
Hyundai’s newest compact is graced with Hyundai's "fluidic sculpture" design language, and its larger size compared to the last generation’s actually bumps the sedan into the EPA's "midsize" category. Front legroom is now best in class too. Despite its bigger proportions, the 2011 Elantra has dropped weight by featuring a smaller, lighter and more powerful 1.8-liter engine, replacing the old 2.0-liter mill; not only does it shed 74 pounds and produce seven percent more horsepower (for a total of 148), its dual continuously variable valve timing enables 40 mpg on the highway, an 18 percent improvement in fuel economy. Around town, it’s no slouch either, returning 29 mpg.

2012 Ford Focus SE SFE

Ford Focus
Like Hyundai, Ford’s been churning out best sellers recently, and the 160 hp Focus is no exception. Its exciting exterior design, with a wide-mouthed air dam and a choice of four- or five-door body styles, makes for an engaging look. The Super Fuel Economy (SFE) package available on the SE trim (for $495) adds specialized aero wheel covers, low rolling resistance tires, rear disc brakes and a rear spoiler to bump fuel economy a couple mpgs to 40 mpg highway and 28 city. At this trim, you’ll get your best features as options, like MyFord and Sync voice-activated systems, so expect to see the $17,400 starting price (four-door sedan) rise quickly if you’re a technology nut. 

2012 Honda Civic HF

Honda Civic HF
Honda’s newly redesigned Civic delivers more space and efficiency to the Civic platform. The car itself is dramatically different, with a streamlined interior look and a better-looking heads-up multi-information display. New to Honda’s lineup is the Civic HF, a specialized trim, which utilizes a unique decklid spoiler and lightweight aerodynamic wheels with low rolling resistance tires to aid in fuel economy. You’re also able to use ECO Assist, Honda’s system that gives drivers feedback to encourage efficient driving.

All this gives the HF a two mile-per-gallon advantage over the standard Civic, which hits 41 mpg highway and 29 mpg city, even using the carryover 1.8-liter engine with 140 hp. But it doesn’t come cheap. At $19,455, the HF is the most expensive car on the list. 

2012 Hyundai Accent

Hyundai Accent
Hyundai has another car on the list, and it’s the subcompact Accent. At roughly 2,500 lbs, it only needs a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and 138 hp to power the wheels. Both the sedan and five-door hatchback look good inside and out, offer numerous standard and optional features and get great fuel economy, yet the new Accent undercuts comparably equipped competitors by hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, and hits the 40 mpg highway mark without any add-on packages. Automatic-equipped Accents come with an Active ECO mode, which the company says improves fuel economy an additional seven percent. Do the math, and you get 32 mpg city and 43 mpg highway.

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

Chevrolet Cruze
Its upscale interior may be the highlight of the Cruze, but the fact that Chevrolet has opted to include a highly efficient Eco trim in their all-new Cruze lineup is surely a sign that our American car companies are making a few changes to their lineups. The Eco uses a 1.4-liter turbocharged engine to deliver 138 hp and a whopping 42 mpg highway and 28 mpg city. Helping with aerodynamics are a few modifications, like ultra-low rolling resistance tires, 17-inch wheels, unique front fascia, aero panels and a rear spoiler. It’ll set you back $18,425 to start, but expect to pay a little more for things like Bluetooth and an automatic transmission.

2011 Ford Fiesta SE SFE

Ford Fiesta
Efficiency is the Fiesta’s primary selling point, and at 40 mpg, it’s hard to argue with it, especially when you consider the low base price. Ford is also offering a lot of proper, premium technology in a small package, such as a fuel-saving dual-clutch transmission, an LCD display and voice-activated SYNC audio control. Its 1.6-liter inline four-cylinder engine produces 120 horsepower and returns 40 mpg highway, 30 mpg city with the optional SFE package. Like Ford’s Focus, the Fiesta employs similar modifications – 15-inch aero wheels, underbody shields, a PowerShift six-speed automatic transmission and grille shutters – to keep gas consumption low. The Fiesta’s smaller, but the base price is too – and the compact car starts at $14,500 for the SE sedan.

2012 Kia Rio

Kia Rio
The Kia Rio is one of the newest models on this list, and it joins the ranks of the 40 mpg family thanks to its frugal 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 138 hp. Sound familiar? It should. The Kia Rio is the stable-mate to the Accent, and a stripped-down version should be priced at under $13,000, with more comfortable trims going for a little more. As with the rest of the Kia lineup, the styling is sporty and modern both inside and out. The Rio will also include a system that turns the engine off at stoplights to help keep fuel consumption down and deliver 30 mpg in the city.

2011 Smart ForTwo

Smart Fortwo
The littlest car on the list offers up big fuel economy numbers at 33 mpg city and 41 mpg highway. Some might say a two-seater like this should net even better mileage considering what it has to work with, like its 1,800 lb curb weight, or the small 1.0-liter engine that produces just 70 horsepower. You won’t be going anywhere fast – the ForTwo reaches 60 mph in 12.8 seconds, but 41 mpg is nothing to sniff at. Neither is the price; the two seater starts at just $10,990, making it the least expensive vehicle on the list as well. 


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