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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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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Super Cheap High MPG Cars: 1978-1981

Looking for a car that gets crazy great gas mileage but don’t want to spend a lot of cash? This list of knuckle-busting (can we call them classic?) small cars from 1978 through 1981 haul down some impressive gas mileage figures and can be had for chump change … if you’re handy.

It’s not just that they’re cheap … these cars are past the magic 25-year point that may actually make them qualify as antique cars, dependent on state regulations. While the thought of a rusty old Dodge Omni or Plymouth Horizon with historic plates might lead to hysterics, the owner can take solace in those remarkably high gas mileage figures.

The possibilities run from wannabe exotics to the work-a-day. Imagine finding a Dodge De Tomaso, under a tarp in a barn … only to realize that it’s not only "the Italian sports car from Detroit," it’s worthy of a 50 mile per gallon highway rating. Need to haul around some stuff? How about a 1980 Chevy Luv pickup truck that pulls down 53 miles per gallon on the highway? We sure could use some of those small diesel pickup trucks today …

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