America’s 5 Most Energy Efficient Cars

Interested in the absolute ultimate in fuel savings among passenger cars that you can find?

The disparity between cost to power the average 25-26 mpg new car sold in the U.S. versus the pinnacle among alternative-energy vehicles is quite significant.

Topping the charts are pure electric cars which beyond night-and-day improvements in “fuel” (electricity) savings, they also stand to radically improve emissions.

Having no tailpipe, thus zero emissions at the vehicle, battery electric cars’ effective emissions would depend on your particular source of electricity. Power company grids often have a blend that could include natural gas, coal, nuclear, and to a smaller degree typically, renewable hydropower, wind, solar. The EPA lets you figure that out by zip code.

Anyone with their own solar or other renewable energy source is an obvious candidate for an electric vehicle (EV), as excess juice is essentially like having your own free gas pump.

Compared to plug-in hybrids – which do offer the benefits of pure EVs when running in electric mode – battery electric EVs are the cleanest and most efficient overall as they never burn gas.

While some manufacturers have chosen to sell their electric cars that comply with California zero-emissions policies mainly in that state and one or more others that mirror it, our list avoids “compliance cars” with the least market share.

While some manufacturers have chosen to sell their electric cars that comply with California zero-emissions policies mainly in that state and one or more others that mirror it, our list avoids “compliance cars” with the least market share.

The EPA has contrived ways to explain these vehicles’ equivalent energy costs, and commonly talked about is miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe).

SEE ALSO: What MPGe Is – And How To Figure Plug-in Energy Costs

In simple terms, MPGe represents the number of miles a vehicle can travel using a quantity of “fuel” – actually electricity – with the same energy content as one gallon of gasoline. A gallon of gasoline is roughly equal to 33.7 kilowatt-hours of battery power.

It’s a complicated term, and other ways of looking at things is estimated fuel/energy cost per 25 miles, or per year, etc. Alternately, one could calculate Watt-hours per mile, or kilowatt-hours per 100 miles, or miles per kilowatt-hour, etc.

Or, you can examine other terms like annual fuel savings, or savings per 100 miles, etc. Any way you slice it, the more you look, the more the advantages are seen, even at a time when gas in the U.S. averages $2.20 per gallon.

The EPA regularly updates its fuel cost estimates to account for average gas prices, and assumes average electricity at 12 cents per kilowatt-hour. If you pay more or less, you’d adjust accordingly, but following are the highest efficiency cars out there based on nationally averaged numbers.

These cars are all eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit effectively cutting their net price by that much, as well as state and in cases local incentives up to several thousand dollars more

5. Mitsubishi i-MiEV 112 MPGe

Admittedly the i-MiEV is not the most advanced EV one can buy, but despite its being a converted Japanese “kei” car circa 2009 with updates since, its efficiency is quite good.

The EPA says compared to an average car a consumer would save $3,750 in “fuel” costs per five years for the EV with 59 miles total range. Cost to drive 25 miles is 98 cents and annual fuel costs is $600.

SEE ALSO: 2012 Mitsubishi i-MiEV Review – Video

The more modern Fiat 500e actually matches its 112 MPGe, but is limited to California and Oregon. Fiat says that $31,800 car can net down to $17,800 in California and the Mitsubishi therefore can net even lower.

The i-MiEV starts at $22,995 meaning a pre-tax price of $15,500 with federal credit and more is potentially available in state incentives. Some people have gotten them for under $13,000 and leasing is also an option.

4. Nissan Leaf 112 MPGe/114 MPGe


Nissan is now offering the 30-kWh 107-mile range battery in its base trim, but its 24-kWh version was rated 114 MPGe, and these may still be available.

2016 Nissan Leaf Review – Video

Not a big difference – and due to a 2 MPGe improvement in city rating – the Leaf otherwise is the established electric car in this segment to date.

The 24-kWh model is rated for 84 miles range, and the EPA says either version saves $3,750 over five years compared to an average car. Cost per 25 miles is 96 cents, and annual costs are $600.

3. Volkswagen e-Golf – 116 MPGe

This is an exception to our nationwide availability rule because its MPGe rating is high, and it is available in 11 states which is better than two or three.

These states are California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington D.C.

The 83-mile range e-Golf, says the EPA, saves $4,000 per five years and costs 95 cents per 25 miles. Annual “fuel” costs are $550.

VW advertises a starting price of $28,995.

2. Chevy Bolt 119 MPGe

Being launched now in California and Oregon, and expected for 50-state roll out beginning early next year, the Bolt looks like the no-brainer to buy.

It is a next-generation EV with 238 EPA-rated miles range, and happens also to offer exceptional efficiency.

EPA-projected savings per five years is $4,000, cost to drive 25 miles is figured at 92 cents, and annual “fuel” costs are $550.

What’s not to like about this car starting at $37,495?

1. BMW i3 BEV (60 Amp-Hour) 124 MPGe


The BMW i3 with 60-amp-hour battery has just 81 miles EPA-rated range, but is exceptionally sophisticated.

Its carbon-fiber reinforced body brings Formula One technology to passenger vehicle manufacture and its light weight contributes to energy savings.

Saving per five years is EPA-estimated at $4,000, cost per 25 miles is 88 cents, and annual fuel costs is $550.

A 114-mile estimated range 94 amp-hour battery model is also sold, rated for 118 MPGe.

The i3 starts at $43,600 and a range-extended version called the REx is also available.