Cheap High MPG Cars: 1983

1983 was another banner year for high-MPG cars in America, with both import and domestic auto manufacturers well-represented among the ranks of cars that eclipsed a 40 MPG highway rating.

The high-MPG imports were lead by the Volkswagen Rabbit Diesel at 50 city / 67 highway, the Datsun (Nissan) Sentra at 48/62, and the Honda Civic at 46/59. The top of the charts included the Toyota Starlet, Renault Alliance, Isuzu I-Mark, and the Audi 4000 Coupe.

American auto manufacturers hit a high point with the Chevy Chevette and Pontiac 1000 oil burners at an amazing 43/60. Mopar put in some very respectable numbers with the Dodge Omni, Dodge Charger, and Plymouth Horizon, along with the Dodge and Plymouth Colts (which were rebadged Mitsubishi Precis). Ford lagged a bit behind GM and Mopar, but still managed to put a good number of Escorts and EXPs over the 40 MPG highway mark.

Amazingly, there were de-engined pony cars in the group, with four-cylinder versions of the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird landing mileage rankings of 26/42. Z-28s and Trans-Ams, they weren’t.

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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.

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Honda Civic Gas Mileage: 1978-2013

From its launch in the early 1970s, the Honda Civic has earned its reputation as a frugal choice for drivers on a tight budget. The Honda Civic’s gas mileage figures have consistently topped the charts over the years, even as the car has grown in size, weight, and engine displacement. While not the most miserly with gas, current Civic Si models come with high-performance 2.0 liter engines … a far cry from the tiny 1100cc engines found in the earliest (and equally tiny) Civics.

Today’s Civic Hybrid, on the other hand, uses a much smaller 1.3 liter gasoline engine in tandem with its electric motor. While the current Civic Hybrid’s performance can’t match the Si, its gas mileage figures are quite respectable at 44 combined.

The Civic CRX HF of the late 1980s is in particularly high demand from Honda enthusiasts and prices can be quite elevated, given the model year. Part of the secret behind the the high-MPG HF models is their low weight … the HF cars are lighter than their stable mates making them particularly attractive for the drag racing crowd. The power-to-weight ratio that delivers excellent gas mileage can be easily raised with an engine swap that delivers remarkable times in the quarter mile. 2012 marks the return of the HF designation.

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Honda Element Diesel Woodie

This wickedly cool chopped Honda Element Diesel Woodie concept didn’t appear at the 2007 Tokyo Auto Show. And it won’t make an appearance at SEMA, either. It’s actual whereabouts are a guarded secret. Power comes from a breathed on version of the diesel mill that currently powers the high-MPG diesel Honda CR-V that is currently … Read more

1982: A Banner Year for High MPG Cars

There’s no question that the gas crisis of the 1970s spurred the automakers into action, as the 1982 model year bustled with high mileage cars. Small cars that eclipsed 40 miles per gallon on the highway weren’t the exception in 1982 … they were the norm … with a good number of cars breaking the magic 50 miles per gallon mark.

The Japanese automakers lead the way, with the Isuzu I-Mark, Toyota Starlet, and Honda Civic all hitting the magic 50 MPG mark.

Mopar had more than its fair share of fuel-thrifty 50+ MPG vehicles in the 1982 model year, in stark contrast to today’s lineup. Dodge’s 1982 Omni and 024 got the groceries with a thimble full of gas, as did their 1982 Plymouth Horizon and TC3/Turismo stablemates.

While many of the General Motors economy cars built in this time period were truly forgettable, there was no end to the selection, with a host of GM vehicles beating 40 MPG highway, not just from Chevrolet, but from Pontiac, Buick, Oldsmobile, and yes … even Cadillac.

The Cadillac Cimmeron is perhaps the most unlikely of the GM offerings … who could possibly recall that there was a Caddy that pulled down 40 MPG on the highway?

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