Instead of steering you to one particular vehicle, we will point out that more than one may be a good choice based on its fuel efficiency and performance in safety tests, and then we’ll let you decide which one best suits your needs.
The rigorous crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety to determine the organization’s Top Safety Picks is a good place to start. You can also look up crash-test results from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The EPA’s fuel economy ratings will help you find the most efficient vehicles.
The good news is that some of the most fuel-efficient vehicles also are Top Safety Picks, including the Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt and the Toyota Prius.
The Volt operates as an electric vehicle for up to about 35 miles, and then it shifts to power from a gas engine. That translates to the equivalent of 94 mpg in electric mode and 37 mpg overall, according to the EPA. The Leaf is electric only and is rated the equivalent of 99 mpg from the EPA. The EPA says the Leaf has a range of about 75 miles, but there is no fallback once you run out of battery power; you need to recharge the batteries to get back on the road. The Prius is a hybrid that operates in an electric mode for brief intervals, boosting its mileage rating to 50 mpg from combined city-highway driving.
Several smaller cars that are EPA-rated above 35 mpg on the highway and are Top Safety Picks include the Hyundai Elantra, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa sedan, Chevrolet Cruze and Ford Focus. So you have plenty of choices. Ford is launching an electric Focus this year that gets the equivalent of 112 mpg and a range of about 75 miles.
Bear in mind that EPA estimates are just that — estimates — and your driving routine may not match the EPA’s results culled from controlled tests. Also be aware that smaller cars that perform well in crash tests may not fare as well in real-world driving, where they share the road with much larger vehicles such as SUVs and pickups. Larger vehicles tend to have lower death and injury rates because of their size and weight.
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