Small cars are the bread and butter for car manufacturers in almost every market except the United States because they’re compact, fuel-efficient, easy to maneuver in congested cities, and typically more economical than larger models. While small cars are not as popular in the U.S. as they are in other countries, the segment as a whole has been on the rise in the U.S. due to soaring gas prices. If you’re a looking to buy a small car to achieve better fuel economy and save money at the pump, don’t just assume all small cars will feature similar fuel economy; sports-tuned models with turbocharged high-horsepower engines and manual transmissions tend to have much lower fuel economy than their non-sporty counterparts. In fact, as you will see, the difference in fuel economy between trim levels of the same model can vary greatly.
5. 2012 Volkswagen Golf R
MPG: 19 city/27 hwy/22 combined
Alternative Model: Golf 2.0L TDI 2dr
MPG: 30 city/42 hwy/33 combined
The 2012 Golf R is an enthusiast’s version of the Volkswagen Golf and Volkswagen GTI offering turbocharged power, precise handling, and 243 lb-ft of torquey fun via a 256-horsepower/2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine. The Golf R is the type of hatchback that racecar drivers would enjoy driving when they’re not circling the racetrack, and it offers a sophistication and formidable list of standard options. If you want higher fuel economy and a lower selling price, try the diesel-powered Golf TDI -- although diesel fuel is pricey, so is premium gas, which is the fuel required for the Golf R. Diesels are known for their torque-driven power and their fuel economy, as well as their higher price tags. This one is still just under $10K less than the Golf R and it gets 42 mpg on the highway. Not too shabby.