Performance cars are often restricted to those who can afford the upkeep that such expensive rides require. While the cost of repairs and insurance can be expensive enough by themselves, filling the tank can be one of your biggest expenses and the most unpredictable one at that. Unlike other automotive costs, fuel is going to be a constant strain on your wallet, and it'll never leave you. In fact, the price of gas will certainly skyrocket eventually, as oil will ultimately become harder to find, making it more valuable. As a result, you may want to look for a car that gets decent mileage when the inevitable price hikes come your way.
Thankfully, your next car won’t have to be a Prius if you want to be frugal. There currently exist many cars that will put a smile on your face both on the road and at the pump. With cars like these, you’ll be able to keep calm whenever you need to refuel. While there’s a long list of fun, modern, fuel-efficient cars on the market today, keep in mind that new innovations that increase fuel economy and performance are created every year. It won’t be long before every car will be getting incredible fuel economy. Heck, some of the fastest cars in the world are hybrids. Here are 20 exciting cars you can pick up that won’t make you fear the pump.
20 Ford Focus ST
The Ford Focus ST is one of the best performance bargains on the market today. While the ST is currently overshadowed by its more powerful, all-wheel-drive brother, there are several reasons to get an ST instead of the Focus RS. The RS, on top of being more expensive and difficult to find, doesn’t get very good fuel economy, especially given its small stature and motor.
The Focus ST, on the other hand, is rated at 22 MPG city and 30 MPG highway.
And don’t forget, just because the ST isn’t as fast as the RS doesn’t make the ST any less of an amazing car. It’s worth noting that the ST is only offered with a manual, meaning that your mileage may be less predictable than that of automatic cars.
19 Subaru BRZ/Toyota 86
There are few old-school performance cars left on the market today now that many cars have switched over to a front-wheel-drive platform. Cars with naturally aspirated motors are also harder to come by anymore, as every company is relying on turbo power. The Subaru BRZ and its twin, the Toyota 86, are modern cars with a retro design philosophy. Using naturally aspirated motors that power the rear wheels through an excellent chassis results in an outstanding cheap car that’s fun to drive. You’ll even be able to get around 33 MPG highway in this exciting coupe. Even if it lacks the turbo punch that other cars have, these cars are neither slow nor boring. Even though the platform is a few years old now, it’s still one of the few affordable options for those who demand a rear-wheel-drive coupe.
18 Honda Civic Si
If you want the best fun-to-fuel efficiency ratio for a low price, the Civic Si is hard to beat. With a 205-horsepower turbocharged motor that’s hooked up to an obligatory manual transmission, this Civic is designed for drivers.
When it comes to fuel efficiency, you’ll be able to pass many gas stations thanks to this car’s ability to get nearly 40 MPG highway.
It wasn’t that long ago when such numbers were only obtainable with either a hybrid or a paperweight economy car. Even though the Civic doesn’t have the high-revving VTEC anymore, this turbocharged motor still holds its own, even if it isn’t as unique as the old engines. On top of it all, the Civic Si is still a Honda, so it’ll even be cheap to maintain as well.
17 Ford Mustang EcoBoost
Many people view today’s four-cylinder muscle cars as heresy. These people believe that muscle cars can only be powered by a thirsty V8. While it's true that such cars are best enjoyed with big V8, four-cylinder motors have become so good, they produce as much power as the V8 motors from a decade ago. Actually, that’s not true.
The EcoBoost Mustang produces 310 horsepower, while a ten-year-old Mustang produced only 300 from its 4.6-liter V8.
Even though the four-cylinder will never produce the low-end torque of the V8, it’s time to face the fact that times are changing, and a four-cylinder Mustang isn’t a punishment to own. You even get a line lock on every Mustang, so you can burn rubber easily with your turbo four-cylinder. And on top of the tire-smoking fun, you’ll enjoy over 30 MPG on the highway as well.
16 Subaru WRX
While the Subaru WRX doesn’t get the best fuel economy, there aren’t many cars on the market that can provide decent performance all year around. Rated at 18 MPG city and 24 MPG highway, the WRX doesn’t do that badly for a turbocharged full-time all-wheel-drive car. Unfortunately, the fastest variant of the WRX, the STI, gets fairly poor fuel economy, as it isn’t even able to achieve an average of 20 MPG. However, don’t think that you need the STI to have an exciting machine, as the WRX still puts down 268 horsepower and is easy to modify if you need that extra power. However, if you do modify your car, you may want to hold on to those factory parts, as modifications could ruin the fuel economy advantage over the STI.
15 Mini Cooper JCW
While the new Mini Cooper John Cooper Works is considerably larger than Minis of old, this version is still a tiny car that offers plenty of practicality for its size. While its 228-horsepower rating may seem low in comparison to other cars, it’s worth remembering how light the car is. Even with less than 300 horsepower, the JCW is still capable of going from zero to 60 in under six seconds. Of course, this Mini gets good mileage, with a high city rating of 25 MPG and over 30 on the highway. Even if the Mini isn’t the fastest or most economical option overall, it still provides a strong balance of economy and performance. Not to mention, there aren’t many cars that will out-corner a Mini for the price.
14 Fiat 500 Abarth
A Fiat may not be the most advisable choice for a new car due to their legendarily poor reliability, but they do have their strengths. While 500 Abarth is a risky choice in this aspect, it does make up for it by being an aggressive-looking, fuel-efficient hot hatch. You can pick up a Fiat 500 Abarth for well under MSRP these days, and it'll achieve about 27 MPG combined. Altogether, this means that you can buy a quick car that can dart around the city with plenty of power while avoiding the pump. If you pick up a Fiat 500 Abarth, you’ll have a car that'll save you money at the gas station. Just hope that your new car doesn’t become too fond of your mechanic.
13 Audi RS 3
If you want a small car that offers supercar levels of acceleration while getting nearly 30 MPG, there aren’t many alternatives to the Audi RS 3. With so much horsepower from a small turbocharged motor and Audi’s signature full-time all-wheel-drive system, you’d never expect this car to return the kind of gas mileage that it does. This little sedan is a remarkable machine that can do almost anything short of having a roomy back seat. It’s a common misbelief that turbocharging is a good way to get more performance without sacrificing fuel economy. This is untrue, as you’ll need the extra fuel to make use of the turbocharger. However, Audi seems to have found a way to get the power and fuel economy from one small turbocharged package.
12 Chevrolet Camaro
While the Camaro may not be as popular as the Mustang, it still has a lot to offer over the well-known pony. While the classic V8 models won’t be able to make this list for obvious reasons, the other motors are hardly a penalty box.
The slowest model, the 2.0-liter turbocharged straight four, can still hustle to 60 in under six seconds and benefits from its Cadillac ATS-derived chasses.
To top it all off, this frugal muscle car can get up to 31 MPG highway. However, if you want a faster, more track-ready Camaro, the V6 model can be had with the 1LE package. While the V6 1LE will suck fuel faster than the four-banger, it'll cost less per gallon, as it runs on regular rather than premium.
11 Mazda Miata/Fiat 124
The Mazda Miata has always been the option for those who want a sports car that’s cheap to own and refuel. The current version of the Miata is no exception to this, retaining a simple, lightweight rear-wheel-drive design with plenty of trunk space, even with the top down. Of course, with little weight to pull around and a frugal yet peppy engine, the Miata has great fuel economy, as it’s rated for 26 MPG city, 35 MPG highway. If you’re willing to gamble with a Fiat motor, the Fiat 124, Fiat’s version of the Miata, has a more powerful turbocharged motor that’s even more economical. These two cars are really the last classic convertible sports cars available today, and both benefit from the lightweight design. Whichever of these two cars you prefer, they both make for cheap cars to keep fueled.
10 Smart ForTwo Brabus
Smart Cars aren't popular vehicles among car enthusiasts. However, Smart does offer a performance model for those wanting a little power in a car that could fit inside a New York apartment.
While the Brabus Smart ForTwo isn't available in North America, this Smart Car offers just over 100 horsepower from its turbocharged three-cylinder motor.
While that may not sound like a lot of power, remember that the Smart Car weighs only a little more than one ton, meaning that this diminutive car can quickly dart through traffic. The Brabus is even equipped with a dual-clutch transmission that's designed for performance driving. It can even get over 50 MPG. Just remember to pack lightly, as these tiny cars aren’t nearly as practical as Smart would like you to believe.
9 VW Golf R
There’s not much that can be said about the VW Golf that isn’t already known by all car enthusiasts. It’s an excellent car that’s both practical and fun to drive. While the Golf GTI is the usual choice for a sporty Golf, the Golf R is the better choice. It’s more powerful due to a larger turbocharger and hugs corners with an all-wheel-drive system. Despite those changes, the Golf R only loses a couple of MPGs in comparison to the front-wheel-drive GTI. If you want a hot hatch that goes fast in a straight line and around corners, either Golf is a great choice, but the more expensive Golf R has enough positives to offset the slight hit in gas mileage. In fact, the Golf R may be an even better alternative to the Subaru WRX.
8 Nissan Sentra NISMO
The Nissan Sentra is usually a cheap sedan that doesn’t have much to offer in the fun department. However, Nissan decided to remedy this by producing the Sentra NISMO. This car features sticky tires, large brakes and sporty red trim on the exterior to transform this daily driver into a sharp looker. Of course, it also has a turbocharger, making it good for 188 horsepower, which is more than enough to move a car that weighs only 3,000 pounds.
Of course, being lightweight, this NISMO is rated at 25 MPG city and 31 MPG highway.
Just make sure to buy it with a manual transmission, as you really don’t want a performance car with a mushy CVT. You’ll even see better mileage if you decide to row your own gears, according to the EPA.
7 Tesla Model S P100d
What’s the best way to save money at the gas station? Buy a car that doesn’t need gas at all. The Tesla Model S P100d is faster than just about any car on the market, only falling short of the most expensive hypercars in the world. While the large Tesla isn’t the best handling car on the market, it would undeniably be fun to floor it around town, accelerating faster than everyone else with the car’s instant torque. Besides, there aren’t many other electric cars that are fun to drive in any aspect. If you want a car that’ll go around corners better, you’ll probably want to wait for the new Tesla Roadster to come out. Even though the P100d is quite expensive, it’ll be almost free to run in comparison to gasoline cars.
6 Dodge Challenger GT
The Hellcat and the Demon tend to hog the spotlight of the Dodge Challenger lineup due to their incredible power and performance. However, there’s another new Challenger available to those who must drive in the snow. The Challenger GT is the only all-wheel-drive muscle car ever made, making it the only muscle car for low-grip situations. While it's unfortunately only powered by a V6 motor instead of a Hemi, the portly GT still hustles to 60 faster than several other cars on this list, such as the Honda Civic Si.
Even with all-wheel drive and a hefty curb weight, the GT manages to get up to 27 MPG highway, better than many other cars that spin all their wheels.
If you’re in the market for a coupe that’s drivable in any condition, the Challenger GT is one of your few options.
5 Alfa Romeo 4C
The 4C was the first Alfa Romeo available to the American people after a long time, and it was a great car to reintroduce the brand with. Due to a carbon-fiber tub chassis, the 4C is an extremely lightweight car with a sexy body and a powerful motor. If there’s a car that’s suited for track work, it’s the 4C. What makes it all even more impressive is that the 4C, despite being a mid-engine exotic car, is the most economical two-seater available, second only to the Fiat 124. But don’t think that this car sacrifices performance to get that sort of economy. It’s faster than many older supercars and will attract just as many eyes as one. If you’re looking for a striking sports car that'll stand out from the pack, the 4C will absolutely get the job done.
4 Chevrolet Corvette
The Chevrolet Corvette has long been a pioneer of fuel-efficient muscle, utilizing new ideas such as a manual transmission with automatic overdrive and the much-derided skip-shift feature. The current Corvette features a seven-speed manual transmission, so drivers can enjoy the benefits of a six-speed manual without the sixth gear being uselessly tall.
If you’re not a fan of shifting gears yourself, the Corvette offers an excellent eight-speed automatic that'll allow you to accelerate quickly and conserve gas.
While the Corvette’s fuel economy figures aren’t particularly amazing for an ordinary car, the Corvette still does well for a V8 powered sports car. Muscle cars have come a long way since the ‘60s, when getting to double digits was considered an impressive feat. Not only will the Corvette go faster than many expensive European cars, but it'll also save you a little on fuel.
3 Cadillac ATS
If there’s one car that has a better chassis than the BMW 3-series, it would be the Cadillac ATS. While this Cadillac does have its flaws, it does make for a competent sports car.
Unlike Cadillacs of old, this little Caddy can get up to 30 MPG highway with every motor available, even the V6.
If you really want a fun-to-drive Cadillac, you can even get it with a manual transmission and a sexy coupe body. Cadillac does make a car worth checking out if you want a compact luxury car that can outperform a BMW and still returns decent fuel economy. Just keep in mind that the faster ATS-V trades its fuel economy for a couple of turbochargers. Regardless, the standard car still offers a lot of performance for little gas.
2 BMW 328d
While diesel isn't usually the preferred fuel for sports cars, that doesn’t mean that a diesel car can’t be fun. It’s hard to come up with a car that’s more well-rounded than the BMW 3-series. After many decades of almost no diesel car options on the American market, BMW started offering their 3-series with a diesel motor. While this car isn’t quite the hot rod that the regular model is, the 3-series chassis will corner well enough to make up for the lack of oomph. Of course, the biggest benefit of the diesel is fuel economy, as this car is rated for 31 MPG city and 43 MPG highway. If you want a sedan that’ll go around a corner while getting the fuel economy of a hybrid, the BMW 328d is the way to go.
1 Kia Stinger
Kia’s new sports sedan has been making headlines these days, receiving praise from many different automotive journalists. Kia seems to have outdone themselves with the Stinger, as this car can take on the BMWs and the Mercedes-Benzes of the world. When optioned with the base four-cylinder motor, the Stinger can even achieve nearly 30 MPG highway. However, it does start to suck more fuel when it’s equipped with the twin-turbocharged V6. Not to mention, if you decide to equip your car with optional all-wheel drive, that system will obviously take its cut from your tank. However, the standard four-cylinder car is still a strong contender in comparison to its much pricier German competition. If there’s a new sedan that both provides a good driving experience and returns decent mileage, then Kia has made that car for you.