Fuel economy for the hotly contested family sedan segment has improved quite a bit in the past several years.
All the cars featured below are rated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for at least 40 mpg combined. Only one is a plug-in hybrid, which the EPA places ahead of other plug-in hybrid variants themselves trailing only marginally behind.
A big asterisk is needed in qualifying “most fuel efficient.” This list defers to the EPA’s ranking sensibility, but there are other ways to look at things. Namely, if you can take advantage of plug-in electricity with PHEVs, that type of drivetrain stands to save further on energy costs with zero range anxiety still included.
If, for example, you drove the Ford Fusion Energi or C-Max Energi with maximum electric usage – possibly augmented with intraday charging to extend EV range – your daily average energy usage could potentially be lower depending on driving distance.
The same is true of the 53-mile EV range 2016 Chevy Volt. As a compact-class car, it is smaller than all the vehicles here, however.
All the “family” cars on the following list are midsized or large, and comfortably fit five passengers.
In any event, the EPA’s scoring accounts for averaged usage scenarios with 15,000 miles annually, and one thing about regular hybrids which it ranks highest is they are relatively consistent – they always use gas, true, but their energy budget is more steady.
Another qualifier is this list, by EPA reckoning, is of “sedans.” One of the cars, by our reckoning is not sedan, but the EPA calls it one.
Worth observing also, but not on this list, is the pending 2016 Chevy Malibu Hybrid. It uses a modified variant of the Volt’s transmission, and is projected to rank better than our present number-one mpg car, and could be very competitive.
As an honorable mention also is for the 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid introduced for 2014, and already discontinued for 2016.
Its 50 mpg city, 45 highway, 47 combined would have made it the mpg champ on our list.
“Due to the move of Accord Hybrid production from Marysville to Japan, we decided to skip the 2016 model year for Accord Hybrid and bring the model
back for the 2017 MY with an updated 2-motor hybrid system,” said Honda’s Northeast Regional Manager Chris Naughton. “Stay tuned for more details, including specific timing.”
5. 2016 Hyundai Sonata Plug-in Hybrid
38 mpg city, 41 highway, 40 combined
The highest-mpg overall plug-in hybrid by EPA accounting, and the only one on this list is the Sonata PHEV.
Powered by a 2.0-liter GDI engine mated to plug-in hybrid architecture, it packs a larger battery than other PHEVs, and its 27-mile “all-electric range” is is second only to the Volt.
The front-wheel-drive mid-sized Sonata is roomy and with respectable power for 0-60 times perhaps in the 7-8 second range.
4. 2016 Ford C-Max Hybrid
42 mpg city, 37 highway, 40 combined
The C-Max is the oddball here, as the EPA lists it with “sedans,” however it is not a sedan, but a max-sized hatchback.
Interior space for the car classed as “large” by the EPA is excellent, and power to the front wheels is supplied by a 2.0-liter four merged with electric power.
This was Ford’s answer to the Prius a few years ago, and aggressive posturing early on positioned it as larger, faster, more fun to drive, and with nearly as good mpg as the generation-three Prius’ 50 mpg.
Since then, the 2016 Prius has also grown slightly, and has improved mpg. The Prius v wagon, for that matter is worth looking at as well.
And, Ford has had to downgrade its official mpg twice – and for Fusion variants once – since it pinned on an ambitious 47 mpg window sticker, but the C-Max does remain larger and quicker.
Notable also, is the 2016 C-Max Energi Plug-in Hybrid variant of this car would have ranked seventh place.
3. 2016 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE
43 mpg city, 41 highway, 42 combined
Needing no introduction, the Camry Hybrid is the best-selling hybrid sedan in America.
It uses a form of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive in 2.0-liter gas-electric format and was extensively refreshed for 2015 but carries forward the 2012 powertrain.
The vehicle is the most-established in this genre of hybrid sedan, and an all-around excellent performer.
Worth noting also, the 2016 Camry Hybrid XLE and SE trim levels are rated just behind the C-Max, at 40 mpg city, 37 highway, 40 combined. Their higher equipment levels and thus curb weight bump them slightly down on EPA ratings.
2. 2016 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid SE
40 mpg city, 44 highway, 42 combined
This is the non-plug-in regular hybrid version and it shares all major attributes with its plug-in sibling except it does not drive any significant distance on electricity alone.
The roomy FWD regular hybrid was redesigned last year, and blends in upscale touches to position it as a contender against much-better established hybrids from Toyota, particularly the Camry.
Noteworthy is the regular Sonata Hybrid trim level, rated 39 mpg city, 44 highway, 42 combined, is only off by one mpg in the city figure. It ostensibly ranks fourth, but is essentially the same car as our second-ranked Sonata Hybrid SE.
1. Ford Fusion Hybrid
44 mpg city, 41 highway, 42 combined
Top ranked, the midsized Fusion hybrid fits the mold and is a variation on the theme of the rest.
It ties for combined mpg with the Hyundai, but its 44 city mpg is higher so the EPA gives this one the nod.
An enjoyable car, it’s spacious and competent on the road while returning the highest mpg in its class.
A Few Qualifying Words
Like the C-Max, a hatchback which the EPA classes as a “sedan,” the Toyota Prius Liftback has traditionally been classed in its lists of sedans. In theory, assuming EPA does this again when the 2016 Prius is listed, we’d amend the above to make the fourth-generation Prius number one.
It’s officially rated 54 mpg city, 50 highway, 52 combined. A trim level two Eco is rated 58 city, 53 highway, 56 combined. It won’t be on the market until early 2016.
Coming back to the list as a whole, as always, your real world results could vary, and a car choice is of course dependent on many other variables than only energy efficiency.
It’s a tight field at any rate with overlapping benefits of cars that all follow a similar approach to maximizing mpg, while delivering roomy, sufficiently powerful performers.
We’ve linked reviews to each to at least help you if you are in the market, and need to whittle down the choices.