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Cheap High MPG Cars: 1986 – 1989

Looking to buy a truly inexpensive car that provides 40 to 50 miles per gallon (or more) on the highway? The 1986 through 1989 model years provide a range of small fuel efficient cars that can be had for a song and dance. If you need to get around on the least amount of money, one of these vehicles just might be the ticket. There’s little doubt that it pays to be a careful high-MPG car shopper. While the 86-89 ranks are full of both domestic and imported high MPG choices, some imports are certainly better left alone. Parts may be an issue for marquees like Daihatsu and Renault that no longer have a broad support system here in the States. (Perhaps the Charade wasn’t the best name for a car, after all?)

The GM-branded imports of this period – Chevy Sprint, Geo Metro, and Pontiac Firefly – are rebadged Suzukis, most notable for their remarkably small and fuel-efficient three-cylinder engines, in both standard and turbo form.

The 1986-1989 vintage is prime for small vehicles with diesel engines for those that want to experiment with either biodiesel or vegetable oil conversion kits without investing thousands upon thousands of dollars in a test vehicle.

While the Volkswagen Jetta and Golf diesels are certainly the most commonplace among the compact import diesels, keep an eye out for the rare Nissan Sentra diesel, and the Isuzu Pup diesel pickups. The domestic manufacturers flirted with small diesels during this timeframe as well, with the Chevy Chevette diesel, the Ford Tempo diesel, the Ford Escort diesel, the Lincoln-Mercury Topaz diesel, and the Lynx diesel.


Fuel Efficient 1988 – 1989 Cars

Year Manufacturer Model Engine Disp. Fuel Trans. City Hwy
1989 Honda Civic CRX HF 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 50 56
1989 Honda Civic CRX HF 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 45 52
1989 Chevrolet Sprint 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 38 40
1989 Chevrolet Sprint 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 46 50
1989 Chevrolet Turbo Sprint 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 37 42
1989 Daihatsu Charade 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 38 42
1989 Daihatsu Charade 4 cylinder 1.3 liter R (M5) Manual 35 39
1989 Daihatsu Charade E 4 cylinder 1.3 liter R (M5) Manual 38 42
1989 Ford Festiva 4 cylinder 1.3 liter R (M4) Manual 38 40
1989 Ford Festiva 4 cylinder 1.3 liter R (M5) Manual 39 43
1989 Geo Metro 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 53 58
1989 Geo Metro LSi 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 38 40
1989 Geo Metro LSi 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 46 50
1989 Geo Spectrum 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 37 41
1989 Isuzu I-Mark 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 37 41
1989 Pontiac Firefly 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 38 40
1989 Pontiac Firefly 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 38 40
1989 Pontiac Firefly 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 46 50
1989 Pontiac Firefly 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 46 50
1989 Pontiac Sunburst 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 37 41
1989 Pontiac Turbo Firefly 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 37 42
1989 Suzuki Swift 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 38 40
1989 Suzuki Swift 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 46 50
1989 Suzuki Swift 4 cylinder 1.3 liter R (M5) Manual 40 44
1989 Suzuki Swift GA 4 cylinder 1.3 liter R (M5) Manual 39 45
1989 Toyota Tercel 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M4) Manual 35 41
1989 Volkswagen Golf 4 cylinder 1.6 liter D (M5) Manual 37 44
1989 Volkswagen Jetta 4 cylinder 1.6 liter D (M5) Manual 37 44
1988 Honda Civic CRX HF 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 50 56
1988 Honda Civic CRX HF 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 45 53
1988 Chevrolet Sprint Metro 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 54 58
1988 Chevrolet Turbo Sprint 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 37 43
1988 Pontiac Turbo Firefly 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 37 43
1988 Suzuki Forsa Turbo 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 37 43
1988 Chevrolet Spectrum 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 37 41
1988 Chevrolet Sprint 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 38 40
1988 Chevrolet Sprint 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 44 49
1988 Daihatsu Charade 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 38 42
1988 Ford Festiva 4 cylinder 1.3 liter R (M4) Manual 38 40
1988 Ford Festiva 4 cylinder 1.3 liter R (M5) Manual 39 43
1988 Honda Civic 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M4) Manual 35 38
1988 Honda Civic 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M4) Manual 35 38
1988 Isuzu I-Mark 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 37 41
1988 Pontiac Firefly 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 38 40
1988 Pontiac Firefly 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 44 49
1988 Pontiac Sunburst 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 37 41
1988 Subaru Subaru Justy 3 cylinder 1.2 liter R (M5) Manual 36 39
1988 Suzuki Forsa 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 38 40
1988 Suzuki Forsa 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 44 49
1988 Toyota Tercel EZ 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M4) Manual 35 41

Fuel Efficient 1986 – 1987 Cars

Year Manufacturer Model Engine Disp. Fuel Trans. City Hwy
1987 Honda Civic Coupe HF 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 52 57
1987 Honda Civic Coupe HF 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 45 50
1987 Chevrolet Sprint ER 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 54 58
1987 Chevrolet Turbo Sprint 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 37 43
1987 Pontiac Turbo Firefly 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 37 43
1987 Suzuki Forsa Turbo 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 37 43
1987 Chevrolet Spectrum 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 37 41
1987 Chevrolet Sprint 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 38 40
1987 Chevrolet Sprint 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 44 49
1987 Honda Civic 4 cylinder 1.3 liter R (M4) Manual 37 43
1987 Isuzu I-Mark 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 37 41
1987 Pontiac Firefly 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 38 40
1987 Pontiac Firefly 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 44 49
1987 Pontiac Sunburst 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 37 41
1987 Subaru Subaru Justy 3 cylinder 1.2 liter R (M5) Manual 38 41
1987 Suzuki Forsa 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 38 40
1987 Suzuki Forsa 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 44 49
1987 Toyota Tercel 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M4) Manual 36 41
1987 Ford Escort 4 cylinder 2.0 liter D (M5) Manual 37 45
1987 Lincoln-Mercury Lynx 4 cylinder 2.0 liter D (M5) Manual 37 45
1987 Volkswagen Golf 4 cylinder 1.6 liter D (M5) Manual 36 41
1987 Isuzu PUP-2WD 4 cylinder 2.2 liter D (M4) Manual 35 39
1986 Honda Civic Coupe HF 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 52 57
1986 Honda Civic Coupe HF 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 45 50
1986 Chevrolet Sprint 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 40 42
1986 Chevrolet Sprint 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 44 50
1986 Chevrolet Sprint ER 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 55 60
1986 Pontiac Firefly FE 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 40 42
1986 Pontiac Firefly FE 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 44 50
1986 Chevrolet Chevette CS 4 cylinder 1.8 liter D (M5) Manual 40 46
1986 Chevrolet Spectrum 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 38 42
1986 Chevrolet Sprint Plus 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 41 43
1986 Chevrolet Sprint Plus 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 44 50
1986 Nissan Sentra 4 cylinder 1.7 liter D (M4) Manual 45 50
1986 Dodge Colt 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M4) Manual 36 41
1986 Honda Civic 4 cylinder 1.3 liter R (M4) Manual 37 43
1986 Isuzu I-Mark 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 38 42
1986 Mitsubishi Mirage 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M4) Manual 36 41
1986 Plymouth Colt 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M4) Manual 36 41
1986 Pontiac Firefly 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (A3) Auto 41 43
1986 Pontiac Firefly 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 44 50
1986 Pontiac Sunburst 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 38 42
1986 Toyota Tercel 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M4) Manual 35 39
1986 Ford Escort 4 cylinder 2.0 liter D (M5) Manual 36 43
1986 Ford Escort FS 4 cylinder 2.0 liter D (M5) Manual 41 49
1986 Ford Tempo 4 cylinder 2.0 liter D (M5) Manual 36 44
1986 Lincoln-Mercury Lynx 4 cylinder 2.0 liter D (M5) Manual 36 43
1986 Lincoln-Mercury Topaz 4 cylinder 2.0 liter D (M5) Manual 36 44
1986 Renault Alliance/Encore 4 cylinder 1.4 liter R (M4) Manual 35 41
1986 Volkswagen Golf 4 cylinder 1.6 liter D (M5) Manual 37 44
1986 Volkswagen Jetta 4 cylinder 1.6 liter D (M5) Manual 36 43
1986 Volkswagen Jetta 4 cylinder 1.6 liter D (M5) Manual 37 44
1986 Ford Escort Wagon 4 cylinder 2.0 liter D (M5) Manual 36 43
1986 Lincoln-Mercury Lynx Wagon 4 cylinder 2.0 liter D (M5) Manual 36 43
1986 Isuzu PUP 2WD 4 cylinder 2.2 liter D (M4) Manual 35 38

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2 comments ↓

#1 Khendra on 08.11.08 at 12:59 pm

1988 Ford Festiva is one of my mom’s all-time favorite cars; fuel-efficient on both city and highway! It got 44 MPG on the highway; she measured it. I remember riding in it as my mom drove around when I was little (I’m 23 now). I have an 07 Toyota Corolla that is supposed to get 38 MPG on the highway (lower in the city; around 27), but I probably accelerate too quickly and drive 70 MPH too much b/c my tank seems to die quickly compared to that old Festiva mom rode.

#2 Mickey on 11.08.08 at 2:24 pm

The 86 Chevy Sprint ER is one of the best little cars I’ve ever seen. People say they are just a piece of junk, but those people are the kind of people who expect the Sprint to go 0 to 60 in less then 6 seconds and still get 50 mpg while blasting the radio and setting fire to the little heater. I admit that they are a little uncomfortable and they are slow, but if take care of a Sprint it will take care of you. 🙂

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