By Clint Williams
Green Right Now
Drivers shopping for a new car with good fuel economy – 30 mpg or better – know they have to compromise. The sales of cars such as the Toyota Corolla demonstrate that in exchange for gas mileage, car buyers are willing to sacrifice some fun.
But there are cars economical to operate and fun to drive. Here are two:
The 2014 Sonic LT is EPA-rated to average 33 mpg in a combination of city and highway driving. You won’t get that, mostly because the turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine makes it so tempting to do the jackrabbit starts they tell you not to do.
The turbo cranks out 138 horsepower and snappy 148 pound-feet of torque. The six speed manual shifter clicks through nicely. An upshift light tells you when to move to a higher gear for best fuel efficiency, but, again, you won’t do it. This car begs to be redlined.
Fun to drive, yes. But there are practical features as well. The hatchback offers 19 cubic feet of storage and the rear has copious basement storage – among the deepest we’ve seen in any car. Sonic is the first and only car in its class to receive a 5-Star Overall Vehicle Score for safety from the National Highway Traffic Administration, and the 2013 model was named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The advanced safety package – a $395 option – includes forward collision alert and lane departure warning – crash-avoidance technologies typically found on cars costing much more.
The starting sticker price is $16,380.
Fiat 500T Sport
This small Italian hatchback is big on style, from the distinctive retro bubble look to the bold red and black interior. This is not a car for someone who wants to blend in.
The Fiat 500T wheelbase is just a smidgen more than 90 inches, but the front seat passengers have plenty of room. Headroom may be in issue for basketball forwards, but most folks will find it spacious. The backseat is tolerable for short trips – if those sitting up front slide their seats up a bit.
But this is a driver-centric car, thanks to a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine that cranks out 135 horsepower and a head-whipping 150 pound-feet of torque. The five-speed stick shift is mounted on center console, not the floor, and it’s quite comfortable. The car scoots from 0-60 mph in just over 8 seconds. Maybe it’s just the “go-cart effect”, but you always seem to feel like you’re going faster than you really are.
Standard safety trappings include stability and traction control, antilock disc brakes, a driver knee airbag, front side airbags and side curtain airbags.
Oh, and fuel economy isn’t bad – 34 mph highway.
The Fiat 500 starts at $19,500.
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