One of the most universal experiences as a car owner is paying for fuel. Whether that be electricity, gasoline, diesel, or yesterday’s fry oil, there’ll always be complaints about the cost unless it were free. Because of a changing climate, we now have a large offering of vehicles that, with the right driving, can stretch those fuel-up intervals to lengths previously unheard of. Those feats of engineering span all price points across many manufacturers looking to be efficient. Here’s a grouping of the most efficient new models you can buy today across any budget.
Getting into any new car for under $25,000 is nearly impossible, but the few you can get are some of the most efficient around. In this case, the fuel of choice is exclusively gasoline, and there’s nothing wrong with that. While electricity may be the newcomer and, arguably, the most efficient, there’s still plenty of life left for the internal combustion engine. However, at this price point, the only offering is from Volkswagen.
Somehow, after all the scandals costing VW money and the slow demise of the small sedan in America, the Jetta remains inexpensive and regularly available for under $25,000. For the money, it provides plenty of technological value and a bit of style to go along with supreme fuel efficiency thanks to a 1.5L turbocharged inline-four-cylinder. The latter is an update of the earlier 1.4L and, although larger in displacement, improves its performance without sacrificing efficiency.
Key to that last point is ACTplus, VW’s newest Active Cylinder Management system. ACTplus allows the Jetta to shut down two cylinders while cruising, reducing fuel consumption without hampering the driving experience. In support of that new tech are the previously established VTG turbocharger and Miller cycle combustion strategy that work to provide just enough power to keep the Jetta peppy. Peak figures land at 158 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque for the 1.5L, which aren’t awful considering the displacement, but the real focus was its economy, and in the Jetta, that lands at 42mpg on the highway and 29mpg in the city.
Volkswagen could’ve stopped there and listed it at the $25,000 mark, but it didn’t. Instead, three trims start below that figure. Likely, the best value within the three is the middle variant: the Sport trim. Just $1265 shy of this category's max figure, you get that 1.5L engine mated to a 6-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. LED headlights and taillights provide outward vision while the Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Assist, Forward Collision Warning, and Autonomous Emergency Braking aid with safety. In the wet, rain-sensing wipers help you see as the heated seated keep the chill away. Altogether, the Jetta Sport makes much sense for the money, especially considering its warranty.
Save for a few more months, and your efficient options become gasoline and electric-powered. Stepping up to this price range opens up the opportunity for a fun car from a few different manufacturers, as long as it’s something on the smaller side. Size directly correlates to efficiency, so just about everything here is best without a regularly full back seat.
If you’re set on sticking with dino juice as your energy source, the Audi A3 is the best in the range. EPA estimates the A3’s highway figure at 38mpg for the front-wheel-drive model sporting a 2.0L turbo-four with a 48-volt hybrid system and seven-speed S Tronic gearbox, though independent testers have beaten that figure with the heavier quattro model.
Audi’s current design language is full of angles and sharp lines that wear well on the fourth-gen A3 inside and out. Technology and standard equipment are relatively premium, considering it’s an Audi, so selectable drive modes, a 10.3” infotainment display, automated emergency braking with pedestrian detection, and LED lighting are all standard. Optional extras like the Black Optics sport package, 680-watt Bang & Olufsen stereo, and Audi virtual cockpit plus only add to the ownership experience while keeping the A3 well within budget.
Moving on from pure gasoline power, the plug-in hybrid BMW 330e is a family-sized option with more technology. Though the A3 is technically a hybrid, the BMW takes things further to offer pure electric drive for short distances and genuine rechargeability from any EV charger. The permanent synchronous magnet motor, 12 kWh battery, and 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline engine combine for 75MPGe across 22mi of electric driving and 310 miles combined. Performance isn’t the point here, so its 288 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque won’t blow anyone away, but the peak power and range figures are better than the all-electric i4 sedan. However, add on the M Sport Package, and its demeanor will change as the suspension is firmed up, the wheels get bigger, and the tires become performance-oriented.
Looking at standard features, BMW’s offerings are typical in that the best bits are optional extras available through one of their packages. That can be annoying to navigate for a car nearing $50,000, but it shouldn’t be surprising if you’ve ever considered a new BMW. Luckily, other, less-expensive options let you go full electric with the same, if not more, included features.
It’s tough to look at the modern European automotive landscape and not be interested in the cars Volvo is producing. Of all manufacturers within the last decade, none have put out such a distinct product leaning on the side of minimalism as Volvo. While Audi, BMW, and Mercedes go for a more elaborate approach, the Swedes have kept it purely Scandinavian, forgoing anything remotely shouty for a reserved but overtly warm and inviting feel.
The newest model to feature that design language is the EX30, and while it’s technically not out yet, deliveries are set for this upcoming summer, and dealers are taking reservations. It’ll be the smallest “SUV” that Volvo makes if you’d like to call it that. To many, it’s a hatchback with extra ground clearance, though it’s in a marketer’s best interests to lean away from that terminology. Whatever you want to classify the EX30 as understand that it’s a refreshing take on an EV at its most basic: a sustainable approach to modern transport.
Pricing for the single-motor variant starts at around $35,000, and for that, you get a 64kWh battery pack good for 275 miles of range and a vehicle made with recycled materials. The single motor is plenty, supplying 268 hp and 253 lb-ft of torque, though; splurge for the dual-motor and see those figures jump to 422 and 400, respectively. Regardless of the powertrain, interior and exterior appointments are the same. Externally, you get a futuristic design featuring muscular wheel arches, short overhangs, and contemporary takes on Volvo’s iconic rear light design. That said, the main focus should be on the interior built with carbon-neutral supplies.
Utilizing a large central screen as the only display, it’s Tesla-esque without the underlying cheapness. The dashboard actually has some shape and utilizes a soundbar across the top. Interestingly, the upholstery color choices determine the materials used to create the upholstery and the interior trim panel styles. The “Breeze” design features a light blue and grey color scheme with Pixel Knit fabric made entirely of recycled plastic bottles, but the “Indigo” theme replaces the plastic bottles with recycled denim jeans. It’s all very ecologically forward, and Volvo does that without sacrificing quality.
Over the $50,000 line, genuinely efficient options become very expensive. At this point, a plug-in hybrid is the least efficient you’ll get as EVs have become the platform of choice for nearly all manufacturers. Thankfully, some real competition between the major makes has led to a fairly substantial crop of vehicles capable of being the reliable rides we need to drive daily.
If you have a family that sees frequent road trips or wants to bring along the dog, then it’s tough to beat what the Mercedes-Benz EQB 350 offers for its near $53,000 price tag. As far as I could find, it’s the least expensive 7-seat EV SUV offered by a European manufacturer, but that’s not to say it’s cheap or lacking in standard features. Buyers can expect a level of appointment on par with the best in class, though a few options would go a long way in nailing the creature comforts.
The interior is essentially that of the GLB, the gas-powered SUV of the same size. A few small changes for the EV are present, but it remains a very nice place to be. Turbine-like air vents have been Mercedes’ style for a while now, and they look right at home in the EQB, flanked by arguably the best ambient lighting on the market. However, it’s certainly not as nice to look at as the dashboards on other models, such as the EQE or EQS; a future facelift may change that in the years to come. On the outside, I’d say it looks better than the slightly melty EQS, using much more square dimensions typical of a traditional two-box design. The Mercedes family attributes given to the lights look alright, though, from some angles, the rear gives off 5N Tiguan vibes.
Most disappointing has to be the drivetrain. Even as EVs are getting stronger, the EQB barely musters a respectable 245mi of estimated range, and you’ll need the bottom of the range 250+ variant to get that. The 300 and 350 models gain 4Matic AWD but drop their ranges to 232mi and 221mi, respectively. Sticking with the 250+ nets, just 188 hp and 284 lb-ft of torque from the 66.5kWh battery pack (96MPGe), good for an 8.0s 0-60. It's not exactly race-winning power, but you’ll be able to ferry the family around comfortably, and that’s the biggest win a parent can get. Though, if your family is a bit smaller and can fit in a mid-size sedan-sized package, Volvo has the most exciting of any supremely efficient vehicles.
Polestar may now be a standalone brand dedicated to EVs, but its time spent as Volvo’s performance arm still resonates through some of its models. The V60 Recharge is likely the best example of that, sporting a turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder paired with an 18.8 kWh battery pack for a combined 455 hp and 523 lb-ft of torque. Efficiency figures are similarly good at 74MPGe thanks to 41mi of EV range. As if that weren’t enough, manually adjustable Ohlins coilovers, enormous Brembo brakes, and 19” wheels combine to deliver a superb driving experience that could shame some recent sport sedans. You’ll eventually notice the 4200lb curb weight, but its 4.3s sprint to 60mph will make you forget just as quickly.
Inside the exquisitely styled wagon are sport seats and a stylized dashboard covered in Nappa leather upholstery, as is just about every other surface. Front and center is a 9.0” touchscreen infotainment screen that houses heating and A/C functions. Reviews have said it’s on the slower side, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functions are more than what some others in this article are given. Other standard features like the 15-speaker Bowers & Wilkins stereo and the Orrefors crystal shifter help the V60 Recharge punch above its weight.
Beyond this mark, the sky is your limit. EV technology is still cost-intensive, so wrapping that up in the most luxurious comforts possible is how many manufacturers move their model line forward. That means, with a big budget, your options are as free as ever; it all depends on what you like.
At the moment, the BMW iX has the best of any SUV with 87MPGe. Polarizing styling be dammed, BMW’s futuristic-to-a-fault SUV offers truly impressive EV performance. Its dual motors and 105.2 kWh battery pack produce 516 hp and 564 lb-ft of torque in its base xDrive50 trim, but driven calmly; they’ll deliver 300 mi of range. Stepping up to the M60 trim bumps power figures to 640 and 811, respectively, yet the range only falls to 296 mi.
Of course, it may be hard to focus on the performance, thanks to intense styling inside and out. BMW’s oversized kidney grilles have gotten mixed-at-best reviews, and those sentiments are sure to remain here, but the profile and rear look interesting enough without being offensive. The interior is full of diagonal lines and bright metallic accents, except for the instrument cluster/infotainment screen. That’s a curved rectangle mounted atop the dashboard. The seats feature good bolstering and integrated speakers, with a pseudo-diamond stitch pattern across the seating surfaces. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across the board, and a 5G Wi-Fi hotspot is optional. An 18-speaker Harman/Kardon stereo system is standard, while choosy audiophiles can upgrade to a 30-speaker Bowers & Wilkins setup. The iX is also equipped with a wide array of standard driver-assistance features, including parking sensors, autonomous emergency braking, automatic high beams, and lane-keeping assist systems.
Forgoing the size for a more traditional sedan leaves the Mercedes EQS as the most efficient vehicle on sale in terms of MPGe. Much of that is thanks to the very rounded styling necessary for its incredibly low 0.20 drag coefficient. Admittedly, I’ve already written about its many positives before in another article with a similar focus. If you’ve got the time, pop over there and give it a read, or watch the video right up top. You’ll get exactly what you’re looking for there.
So there you have it. Whereas this list would be spotted with diesel engines a decade prior, the electric revolution has firmly taken hold of today’s efficiency race, but it’s not a full takeover—yet. You can still find a few sipping gasoline at a minimal rate as the main source of fun. But what do you think? If you liked this article, head to the FCP Euro Blog and explore all the wonderful content relating to European vehicles. Then, head to YouTube to watch our build series’ and cross-country adventures.
Car and motorsports-obsessed writer/editor for FCP Euro's DIY Blog. Constantly dreaming of competing behind the wheel or searching for another project. Owner of a turbo Subaru Forester and a ratty Porsche 914, neither of which are running.