Two Non-Hybrid 50+MPG Cars We Cannot Buy In America.


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The most fuel efficient cars in America available for sale to most of us are the Toyota Prius and the Honda Civic Hybrid. Sure, there is the Tesla electric car and the Aptera, but neither of those are available (or affordable) to everyone. The Toyota Prius gets 48 MPG city and 45 MPG highway, while the Honda Civic Hybrid gets 40 MPG city and 45 MPG highway. (According to Both of these cars are hybrids, meaning that they have have both a regular gasoline engine and an electric engine, and they use a combination of both to get such great mileage. The next most fuel efficient car on the list is the smart fortwo coupe, which gets 33 MPG city and 41 MPG highway. The smart fortwo is a “regular” car, with no hybrid technology. All three of these cars get great gas mileage, no doubt about it, and I would be happy to own any of the three. However, what if I told you that there were mass-market cars sold in other parts of the world that get even better gas mileage? And what if you knew that one of them was a full-size station wagon, and neither of them are hybrids?

Makes you curious, doesn’t it?

It made me curious enough to go looking for information about these cars after seeing them both featured on one of my favorite TV shows, Top Gear. In the show, the guys were participating in a race where they had to get from point A to point B on a single tank of gasoline, so they were allowed to pick any mass-market car they wanted for the challenge. To my surprise, one of them picked a Subaru Legacy station wagon and another picked a Volkswagon Polo BlueMotion (kind of like our Rabbit here in the States). Both cars have diesel engines, and both of them get better than 50 MPG on the highway…better than even the Prius. And because they have new diesel technology, they are purported to be even cleaner!

Let’s take a look at that Subaru Legacy Diesel first. This car, sold in regular fuel version here in the States, is only sold in Europe right now. Our version gets 20/26 MPG, but their version gets over 50 MPG on the highway. Absolutely amazing for an AWD station wagon! Our Subaru Forester gets about 33 MPG on the highway, which I was happy about – until I read about this Legacy Diesel. I have read that the car will be sold here in the U.S. within a few years, but it could not come fast enough if you ask me. Station wagon body, AWD, Subaru reliability, decent price, and 50 MPG. I cannot wait to see this here. Talk about a Prius fighter…

Next, let’s take a quick look at the VW Polo BlueMotion. This little hatchback is a diesel as well, and in combined testing in Europe, it averaged 61.8 MPG. Yes, I said 61.8 MPG. That is heads above the Prius or Civic, and it costs about the same (if not less). Sure, it’s a little smaller, but for 61.8 MPG, I would gladly trade size for fuel economy. The smart fortwo is half the size of the Polo, yet it only gets half the gas mileage. Unfortunately, there are no plans to bring the Polo to the U.S., which is pretty sad.

So while Toyota and Honda are definitely making strides on fuel economy on their cars for delivery here in America, there are a few other models available elsewhere that get much better mileage without hybrid technology. Hopefully cars like this will encourage Toyota and Honda to work even harder on their most fuel-efficient models, as gas prices will rise again and the demand will increase for the most fuel efficient cars out there. If I were in the market for a car that meets all my needs, I would definitely be waiting for that Legacy Diesel!

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  1. I would love to have both of those here as well.

    I love the Legacy’s, the 2010 model will be going through a design change (concept already released) so it could still be a couple years before we see it here in the new body.

    Also they no longer make the legacy in wagon form for the US anymore. It is only available in the Outback form, little higher ride height.

    I would love to have a manual, wagon, diesel legacy.

    The polo is also great.

    I want to also see the manufactures combine diesel and hybrid technology.

  2. Whoa, that’s awesome. I’m a huge Subaru fan but had no idea a Legacy had the potential to out-compete hybrids. Seriously, what are they waiting for to bring these models to the US?

  3. The Polo is actually one size smaller than the Golf/Rabbit. I think the Rabbit is considered a C class car while the Polo is a B class. For comparison your Mini would have been considered a B.

    So I can see how and why the Polo can get such good milage with the Diesel, but how about that Legacy? What is going on there? Subaru has always used the same engine in all their US cars in a 2l or 2.4l size I think. What motor do they have in this version that is so effiicent?

  4. Ahh there you go – thanks Ken. I think thats pretty good milage from a 2.0l engine. Subaru used to offer a CVT on their Justy when that was in our market, no?

  5. Diesel fuel has about 15% more embedded energy than gasoline, but these mileages are way more than just that 15%! It’s infuriating that car companies keep giving us the lowest rated cars while they sell much more efficient models overseas.

  6. The Justy did have a CVT, but not in the sense of the newer system developed. The old system was a steel belt, the new systems are steel chain.

    The Justy didn’t have enough power to keep decent performance with a Auto Tranny.

  7. Are the European mileage numbers in US or UK gallons? 50 MP(UK)G is only 42 MP(US)G. Which makes the numbers significantly different.

    That doesn’t mean Europe isn’t doing better than the US here, but the contrast isn’t quite so sharp.

  8. They are not planning on bringing the Polo to the States at all. The Subaru, yes, but not the Polo.

    Deanne – I hear you. Today’s base model civic gets less MPG than the one from 20 years ago.

  9. My 2006 Scion XB gets 35 MPG in the city and on the highway as long as it’s not freezing cold outside – and it has a regular gasoline engine. So what does Toyota do? They make a new version that gets lower MPG. Wha?

  10. The real story on Diesel:

    Originally, Diesel burned much more toxins than unleaded gas. Also, the government got involved (as they always do) and taxed it more than regular, because they wanted to tax the trucking industry, and because of its toxins.

    Less demand, meant less cars, less at the pumps, this meant less diesel-engine factories here in the US, and less diesel refineries.
    It can’t be fixed easily or quickly. But can be fixed.

    With the advent of clean diesel, it might grow, but again, government involvement to tax off their higher taxes is necessary. With the anti-oil company rhetoric from the Democrats, odds are this wont happen.

    Europe’s taxing was more evenly distributed, and (up until a few years ago) didn’t care about how dirty diesel engines burned… or the sulfur it produced. Hence why they have more.

    New demand will probably fix this, but it’ll take time to re-do enough infrastructure.

    Also, the government is so keen on using our food supply (bio fuels) instead and diesel gets left out due to inexperience and lack of knowledge…

  11. Sorry folks but diesel cars care not going to solve our problem with being 18 months past Peak Oil (and the residue being in other people’s countries). It’s just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

    FYI Britain uses Imperial Gallons (not US) and miles to measure distance.

    Also, check out this BBC site for the details on the reality of this fuel as a ‘green’ subsitute for petrol.

  12. I knew it! I’m from England and I am always telling my husband how much better gas mileage the cars get over there. I am constantly amazed what is considered “fuel efficient” in the US. These figures are more like it. Shows it can be done, so why isn’t it done in America?

  13. Diesel is way more expensive per gallon than regular gas. I hate the smell of it and the cost is exorbitant.
    I’m still waiting for corn prices to soar for an all new alcohol based fuel…. One, we can drive to our destination and drink if traffic sucks! LOL!

  14. I’m curious as to how these two diesels perform in Michigan winters? I have been leery of diesel vehicles because I’ve read that diesel fuel is stubborn to start if the car is parked outdoors in winter. Different types of heaters are recommended, all requiring access to an electrical outlet, which apartment dwellers do not have. Pricing the costs of various modifications, these seemed to offset the savings at the pump.

  15. I really think the entire auto industry – and the automobile journalist community – are being disingenuous with regard to fuel economy goals and achievements. Numbers that slip from what they were decades ago, or at best stay the same, are somehow being spun as “excellent fuel economy.” It’s not fair to us, the car buying public. Cars getting 40 mpg and more have been readily available certainly for well over 30 years. Why we can’t seem to get beyond that figure is mystifying to me. Or, I should say, why our attention span is so short that when we say we want economical cars, we forget all about that when someone says that we can have a car that’ll do 130 mph.

    Personally I’d get much more use out of, say, 100+ mpg than 100+ mph.

  16. The answer is not in oil. If we want to be less dependent on foreign oil, STOP PRODUCING CARs with a Gasoline engine. Hybrid cars can’t get great range because they have an extra 1500 lbs of a gasoline engine in them and the whole separate fuel storage. IF the us gov would get out of its own way and do the right thing instead of caring about the lobbyist.

    Look at the Honda Clarity Hydrogen fuel cell car. No gasoline, great range and you can have your own fuel station in your garage and can power your home and you can sell the extra back to the power company. That makes us less dependent on foreign oil.

  17. With the arrival of the Subaru and the Volkswagen the established manufacturers will have to consider aesthetics as well as furl efficiency. Who wants to be seen driving a Prius when you can have the Legacy?

  18. Regarding Chris’s post on the 15th, Chris, it’s the rare gasoline engine that weighs 1500 lbs!! Especially the compact and efficient ones used in the hybrid cars. They’re actually just a couple hundred pounds, plus the “peripheral” equipment, cooling systems, fuel delivery systems, exhaust systems, power transmission systems, much of which would still be needed with other types of power systems. Fully electric cars are not necessarily lighter than gasoline powered cars, because their battery packs are also quite heavy.

    Hydrogen cells are very promising technology that everybody is watching and waiting for, but they’re clearly not “here” yet, and it’s a little premature to say that their power systems will be necessarily lighter than the equivalent gasoline powerplant.

    So while your thought of each of us having our own hydrogen plant in our garage and being less reliant on foreign oil is a definite goal (unless you’re part of the Bush or Cheney families!) and a noble one, that’s only going to be a small fraction of people. I for one live in an apartment, that’s not an option for me. There will need to be a fuel distribution network established, just like the “gas stations,” in order to accommodate the new fuel types.

    It’s all coming, it’s all happening. I think the main thing is for each of us to remember our goals. Don’t get seduced by the 130+ mph speeds, the luxurious top grain leather seating, the 500 watt sound system and the overbearing road presence, at the expense of good fuel economy!

  19. I have been driving my Ford Escort DEISEL for 28 years now and it gets 60 MPG. I can’t understand why I my next new car will not do twice the MPG as this one!!!!!! I do own six of these little cars, so I might not have to get a new car in a while, although I would like some of the comforts of a modern buggie.

  20. @Bryan and David – that’s the insanity! Driving a 28 year old car, not being able to take advantage of any of the advances in safety, handling, emission controls, ease of maintenance, creature comforts, just because the car companies can’t manage to produce a car that gets better gas mileage than they did back then? Granted, you’ll never have to buy another car; but you’ll be stuck driving, what, a 1984 Ford Escort for the rest of your life? My mother is similarly blessed/stuck with a 1985 VW Jetta Diesel, for the same reason. It shouldn’t be this way.

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