You are here

The 7 Most Fun-to-Drive, Most Fuel-Efficient, Gasoline-Only Cars on Sale Today

No matter whether you’re a die-hard electric-car- and hybrid-hater or just someone who appreciates the analog sensations of an internal combustion engine, there are still good reasons for opting out of the transition to electric, at least for the time being, and the primary one is fun. Yes, electric vehicles can be fun, but to date it’s mostly only one kind of fun, centered on acceleration above all else, as even the most dynamic-handling electric cars still weigh more than 4,000 pounds. Want a nimble, compact, lightweight sports car that doesn’t need 400-plus-horsepower to haul itself around in an entertaining manner? Your only option is to ditch the batteries altogether.

Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you have to give up entirely on the idea of being at least somewhat environmentally conscious. A handful of cars on sale for the 2020 and 2021 model years provide genuine fun-to-drive dynamics while managing 30 mpg or better in the EPA’s combined city/highway rating. While there are at least 15 cars that meet the definition of being fun-to-drive and still suitably efficient, we’ve hand-picked a list of the seven best. Curious about the other fun-but-not-quite-as-fun high-mpg cars? The full list is at the bottom.

The Most Fun-to-Drive, Fuel-Efficient Combustion-Engine Cars on Sale Today

7. 2020 Audi A4

  • 27 mpg city
  • 35 mpg hwy
  • 30 mpg combined

The only true luxury car on this list, the current-generation Audi A4 has impressed with its rigid chassis and nimble feel since its launch for the 2017 model year. That the A4 manages to combine fun (even if imperfect) dynamics with a luxurious, high-tech interior, and a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder rated for 188 hp and 236 lb-ft of torque, all while scoring 30 mpg combined per the EPA is simply amazing—it’s an incredibly well rounded car.

6. 2020 Volkswagen Golf (1.4-liter, automatic)

  • 29 mpg city
  • 35 mpg hwy
  • 32 mpg combined

While it can’t hang with the GTI or the (for now discontinued) Golf R that are more likely to catch an enthusiast’s eye, it shares the same core structure, and that imparts the Golf with a fundamental goodness that shines through even in the base model. An all-new eighth-generation Golf should reach the U.S. soon, but even the seventh-gen model is worthy of this list.

5. 2021 Mini Cooper Hardtop Two-Door

  • 28 mpg city
  • 37 mpg hwy
  • 31 mpg combined

Of course a Mini makes the list, right? Even though we enthusiasts love to take potshots at how not-Mini the current range of Mini-branded vehicles is compared to the Minis of yesteryear, the reality is that, by today’s standards, Minis are tiny. The base Cooper Hardtop two-door, for example, weighs just 2,767 pounds—nearly 200 pounds less than the lightest VW Golf available.

4. 2020 Honda Civic Sedan

  • 32 mpg city
  • 42 mpg hwy
  • 36 mpg combined

If you’re even half-heartedly into performance cars, you’ve spent the last few years inundated with praise for the Honda Civic Type R—and every bit of it is well deserved. Happily for those who don’t have nearly S40,000 to drop on a fun Honda, the current Civic platform, much like the Golf’s, is so inherently good that even the cheapest Civic you can buy is a genuinely fun way to get around. In fact, the Civic Sport was so good it won an Automobile All-Stars award in 2017, with our evaluators highlighting its steering feel, handling, and punchy 180-hp turbo 1.5-liter.

3. 2020 Mini Cooper S Hardtop 2-Door

  • 26 mpg city
  • 35 mpg hwy
  • 30 mpg combined

Another Mini? Yep, and it should be no surprise—even fitted with a turbocharger and upgraded to 189 hp in Cooper S form (that’s 54 horsepower more than the base Cooper two-door), the little Mini still weighs just 2,862 pounds—a great recipe for solid hatchback dynamics.

2. 2020 Fiat 124 Spider Six-Speed Manual

  • 26 mpg city
  • 35 mpg hwy
  • 30 mpg combined

At last we meet our first true sports car on this list. The Fiat 124 Spider’s Mazda Miata-based chassis lends it inherent handling credibility, even if the longer wheelbase and 1.4-liter turbocharged engine do change its demeanor somewhat. With two seats, rear-wheel drive, and a six-speed-manual transmission, it’s not just the first true, classically defined sports car on the list, it’s the only car that meets the full classical definition of a sports car on this list.

1. 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata Six-Speed Automatic

  • 26 mpg city
  • 35 mpg hwy
  • 30 mpg combined

But wait, isn’t the Mazda MX-5 Miata the very definition of the true classical sports car? As the best-selling example of the breed in history, yes, it is. But the Miata you’re thinking of has a manual transmission. Yes, the six-speed manual is still available in today’s Miata, but it only manages a combined 29 mpg, leaving the six-speed automatic as the only choice to join this 30-mpg-plus club.  If you can forgive the manual its 1 mpg shortfall, however, there’s no purer driving experience available at a dealership today with anything close to the Miata’s gas mileage.

The Full List of 2020-2021 Fun-to-Drive, 30-MPG-Plus Internal Combustion Engine Cars

  • 2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata: 30 mpg combined
  • 2020 Fiat 124 Spider: 30 mpg combined
  • 2020 Mini Cooper S Hardtop 2-Door: 30 mpg combined
  • 2020 Honda Civic Four-Door: 36 mpg combined
  • 2021 Mini Cooper Hardtop Two-Door: 31 mpg combined
  • 2020 Volkswagen Golf (1.4-liter, automatic): 32 mpg combined
  • 2020 Audi A4 2.0: 30 mpg combined
  • 2021 Honda Civic Five-Door: 34 mpg combined
  • 2021 Mazda 3 Four-Door FWD: 31 mpg combined
  • 2020 Nissan Altima SR: 31 mpg combined
  • 2021 Hyundai Kona FWD: 30 mpg combined
  • 2021 Hyundai Veloster: 30 mpg combined
  • 2020 Nissan Altima: 32 mpg combined
  • 2021 Toyota Corolla XSE: 34 mpg combined
  • 2021 Toyota Corolla Hatchback: 35 mpg combined

The post The 7 Most Fun-to-Drive, Most Fuel-Efficient, Gasoline-Only Cars on Sale Today appeared first on Automobile Magazine.