Wheels

Five Fun, Fuel-Efficient Cars

High mileage doesn’t have to lower a driver’s expectations

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You want to be environmentally responsible, and, let’s face it, filling up the SUV just to run errands or commute to work is getting a little ridiculous. A gas-sipping second – or even third – car makes sense, but who wants to spend their time in a small car with sluggish acceleration and less-than-inspiring handling?

The Hunt Magazine has identified five cars that can zip past the gas station while turning your everyday commute into a fun driving experience.

Aston Martin Cygnet

Although it’s not yet available in the U.S., this luxury car is so tiny you practically could tuck it into your carry-on and bring it home from Europe. It has all the luxurious feel of an Aston Martin, complete with the signature grille, but is just 3 meters long, which translates to a tick under 10 feet on the right side of the road. Designed for city commuting and parking, it’s predicted to get 56.5 mpg.

Scion iQ

If you want a similar car without the luxury touches – one that shares a platform with the Cygnet – check out the Scion iQ. Unfortunately, the earthquake in Japan delayed the U.S. launch of the iQ, which is not expected to put in an appearance on this side of the Atlantic until 2012. Don’t fear a collision in these Matchbox-sized vehicles; they’re equipped with 11 airbags, including a rear airbag curtain.

Fiat 500

Fiat 500

Italian design shows in the 500 and 500c, which features a power-retractable cloth top that gives new meaning to the word convertible. Powered by a 101-horsepower, 4-liter engine that cruises about town at 27 to 30 mpg and gets 34 to 38 mpg on the highway, this little auto has a solid, quality feel and is fun to drive. Larger than the Smart or Scion iQ, the Fiat 500 is notable for its handling and braking. This three-door, four-seater (although you probably drew the short straw if you’re in the back seat) boasts an interior that is elegant and functional, but what really sets it apart is the way it makes you smile.

Mini Cooper

Mini convertible

OK, we know it takes premium gas. But it still uses less premium gas; the Mini gets 37 on the highway and 29 in the city for a combined 32 mpg. The 1.6-liter, 16-valve engine pairs with a six-speed transmission for responsive acceleration. And speaking of speed, with a manual transmission the muscular Mini goes from zero to 60 in 8.4 seconds. The Cooper S’s turbocharged version leaps to 60 in just 6.6 seconds. Coupled with a wide stance that gives it stability on winding roads, the Mini makes running those errands a thrilling experience. While the front seats are just fine, the back seats are probably more comfortable for your dog – assuming it’s a smaller breed.

Lexus RX 450h

A hybrid engine powers this five-passenger mid-size SUV, which offers seating for normal-sized people, 40 cubic feet of cargo space, and a smooth ride, features not usually found in cars that get 30 mpg on the highway and 28 mpg in the city.

RX 450h

Combine that comfort with performance – the RX 450h‘s 295-horsepower engine dashes from zero to 60 in 7.4 seconds – and this car is perfect for getting the kids from school to soccer.

Honda Civic

While it may be the car of the masses, there’s good reason for its immense popularity. The Civic offers responsive handling and an inline 4-cylinder gasoline engine that gets 28 mpg about town and 38 to 39 mpg on the highway. (A hybrid version is available, too, which achieves 44 mpg.) Its front seat offers 42 inches of leg room and 39 inches of head room, making it comfortable for even taller drivers.

Civic EX-L sedan

Its reliability is legendary — just swing by any college campus and see the Honda hand-me-downs — and its top trim level, the EX-L, offers luxurious amenities such as heated seats, a leather-trimmed interior, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and heated side mirrors.

Audi A3 TDI

Since the Cygnet and iQ aren’t readily available as of this writing, we”ll offer you another alternative – diesel. Audi’s A3 TDI boasts a turbocharged, direct-injection clean diesel engine that achieves 42 mpg on the highway.

Audi A3 TDI

It produced 30 percent less CO2 emissions than a comparable gasoline engine while ferrying five passengers with ample cargo space.

This sporty hatchback also sports the classic Audi looks and interior feel, with touches like a leather-wrapped four-spoke steering wheel and state-of-the-art integrated navigation and music systems.