NEW YORK (MainStreet) – The sports car isn't fuel efficient, because, until recently, it didn't have to be.
A sports car is, at its core, a frivolity. It is vastly overpowered for all but the most desolate U.S. roads. Its lack of seating and lip-service cargo space prevent it from serving any true practical purpose. It's a statement vehicle, and that statement tends to be that the driver can afford it -- or at least has the ability to sign the lease agreement.
It definitely doesn't say that the person owning it cares all that much about fuel efficiency standards that are inching toward the Environmental Protection Agency's goal of a combined fleet fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that cars and light trucks purchased in 2014 got an average of 25.4 miles to the gallon, and sports cars typically have a tough time meeting even that modest mark. Of the 313 vehicles identified as sports cars by the EPA between the 2015 and 2016 model years, roughly 70 manage more than 25 miles per gallon combined.
It certainly doesn't help that cars including the supercharged, 8-cylinder Chevrolet Camaro (14 miles per gallon), the Ferrari FF (13 mpg) and the Bugatti Veyron (10 mpg) are dragging down the numbers on the low end. But even relatively accessible offerings like the 4-cylinder Ford Mustang (26 mpg) and 3.6-liter, 6-cylinder Dodge Challenger (24.5 mpg) flirt with that bare-minimum mileage. They still fare better than the Nissan GT-R (19 mpg), Jaguar F Type S convertible (19 mpg) and Aston Martin DB9 (15 mpg) that all struggle to hit the 19 miles per gallon that was the Department of Transportation standard in 1999.
This may all sound like welcome news to collectors who equate fuel consumption with “muscle” and multiple trips to the gas station with the price of beauty. However, even automakers are starting to realize that fuel-guzzling sports cars that are basically the enlarged prostate of the automotive industry are not only increasingly unattractive, but worth addressing.
Through July, Porsche's sales in the U.S. were up 9.7% over 2014. However, take its SUVs (and their 30% uptick) out of the mix, and Porsche's U.S. car sales are actually down 9.8% in 2015. It's a similar case for Audi, whose SUV sales are up 34.1%, but whose car sales are relatively flat with 1.6% growth. Jaguar, Maserati and Bentley have all seen sales declines this year, while Land Rover and Mini watch sales soar by roughly 20% apiece.
The sports car isn't dying: it's just evolving. Buyers are expecting better fuel economy and, failing that, more utility out of their high-horsepower splurges. With help from the EPA's FuelEconomy.gov site, we compiled a list of the most fuel-efficient sports cars on the market. While the EPA didn't include Tesla's Model S and its P85D performance model in its list, we're doing so simply, because excluding a vehicle with 762 horsepower and 253 miles of electric range borders on madness:
12. 2016 Mercedes-Benz SLK300
Starting price: $47,000
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 28.5 mpg
The former SLK250 is the luxury segment's answer to the four-cylinder versions of the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro.
The base 2.0-liter 4-cylinder sits just fine with those drivers who'll never need more than 241 horsepower and love their vehicle for more aesthetic reasons. The more muscle-minded buyer will wonder why you ever settle for anything less than the AMG V8 and 400 horsepower of the SLK55.
However, all of the above look the same when you're sitting in commuter or beach traffic. With that in mind, you may as well take the one that gives you the same retractable hardtop, memory seats, heated mirrors, garage door opener, integrated compass and Bluetooth audio streaming while sucking down way less gas.
11. 2016 Alfa Romeo 4C
Starting price: $53,900
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 29 mpg
No, it isn't the official sports car of the Davis family, but it is Alfa-Romeo's fuel-efficient return to the U.S. market that it had abandoned for the last 20 years.
You can thank Fiat and its purchase of Chrysler for that, but you can also thank Fiat for creating a carbon fiber body light enough to allow a 237-horsepower 4-cylinder engine to push the 4C from 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds and to a top speed of 160 miles per hour. The 7-Inch touchscreen display and Bluetooth are fairly spare “perks,” but you're getting a gorgeous-looking Italian vehicle that looks like a supercar, even if it's priced and performs like a luxury coupe.
10. Tie: 2016 Subaru BRZ /2016 Scion FR-S
Starting price: $25,695/$26,100
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 29.5 mpg
They're the same car, save for a few superficial diffences. Jointly developed by both Toyota and Subaru and manufactured solely by Subaru, BRZ and FR-S are sold in Japan as the Toyota 86. The differences between the two come down to paint, body configurations and other trinkets, but that rear-wheel-drive and 2.0-liter 200-horsepower engine are what keep knowledgeable performance car enthusiasts coming back for more. No, it isn't going to blow anyone off the line, but it handles incredibly well in the turns and sounds loud and proud when you're redlining your way through the gearbox.
9. 2015 Fiat 500 Abarth
Starting price: $22,495
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 31 mpg
The cinquecento may be a tiny car, but it's now Dodge's Italian cousin and has a whole lot of brawn to live up to. The 500 measures a scant 144 inches long and 64 inches wide, gives parallel parkers a 30.6-inch turning radius for squeezing into tight spots and finds room for 9.5 cubic feet of trunk space -- nearly double that of the Mini. The retractable, pool-cover-style sunroof, power outlets, five cup holders, cruise control, power windows and 38 miles-per-gallon highway mileage are a whole lot cooler to the post-bailout buyer base than gas-guzzling reincarnations of the Dodge Charger and Challenger, but don't discount that 1.4-liter, 160-horsepower engine. Thanks to its performance suspension and electronic stability control, it can keep pace with some surprising competitors.
8. 2016 Hyundai Veloster
Starting price: $18,000
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 31 mpg
Aimed toward the same drivers who loved the Mini's deceptive quickness, the Veloster's a light little speedster whose 1.6-liter engine and 132 horsepower are more than adequate for its needs -- but whose $3,600 201-hp turbo upgrade makes it deceptively quick. Unlike the Mini, however, the Veloster's sleek styling evokes more of a sports car than a retro subcompact. Given the frugal nature of today's car buyer, the Veloster's popularity is likely based more on its combined 31 miles per gallon and ten-year warranty than its alloy wheels, 7-inch touchscreen entertainment system with game console capability or Blue Link telematics and roadside assistance. Yet the fact that its driver's side has one door and the other has two gives it just enough character to make a case to bold-thinking bargain buyers.
7. 2016 Mazda MX-5 Miata
Starting price: $24,915
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 31.5 mpg
It's been a retiree favorite for years, but this drop-top two-seater is also a favorite among gearheads for a few big reasons: it hugs turns like a rally car and puts out Porsche Boxster performance without the price. Redesigned this year with lower ground clearance than ever and with musclebound, stingray-style curves, the Miata is also 148 pounds lighter. That's great for its mileage and for the addition of perks like a Mazda Connect touchscreen and communications system, but it also helps that 2.0-liter, 155-horsepower engine seem a bit peppier.
6. 2016 Mini Cooper Coupe
Starting price: $22,000
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 32 mpg
Small cars were once underpowered, cramped and inherently bad vehicles fit only for game show giveaways. As films like 2002's Austin Powers: Goldmember and 2003's The Italian Job showed U.S. audiences, however, a modernized take on the classic British Mini could not only be fuel-efficient, but fun and fast at the same time.
The Mini's toys, including Mini Connected entertainment center featuring a 6.5-inch high-definition display, Apple-designed Bluetooth interface and app for smartphone and iTunes connectivity and optional GPS all make this remarkably zippy 121 horsepower subcompact a fun ride. The Sirius satellite radio, Pandora and HD radio just provide the soundtrack.
5. 2016 Mazda 3
Starting price: $16,945
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 35 mpg
The Mazda3 makes earns the “sporty” distinction thanks to a striking amount of power in an extremely small space. A 2-liter engine gives this little hatch 155 horsepower, which basically dusts most vehicles in its class while still putting up nearly 36 miles per gallon of fuel efficiency. Meanwhile, even this vehicle's lesser trims come with standard Bluetooth, six-speaker audio and the Mazda Connect system with 7-inch full color touchscreen, multi-function Commander control, voice command, HD Radio, Pandora, auto text and voice reply and E911 emergency notification. The 12 cubic feet of trunk space isn't great, but it works out just fine if you travel light.
4. 2016 Honda CR-Z EX
Starting price: $21,990
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 37.5 mpg automatic, 34.5 mpg manual
We were going to go with the base model for slightly less, but the 130 horsepower on this light little tuner favorite made us think the leather steering wheel, aluminum pedals, ambient console lighting, seven-speaker sound system, optional navigation and fog lights might be fun little add-ons. Granted, if you're going to get this car street ready, you're likely going to make a whole lot of modifications after it leaves the dealership, but given the cost of the remaining cars on this list, it doesn't hurt to splurge.
Starting price: $847,975
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 67 mpge
When we say the following, keep in mind that we're talking about a hybrid: 887 horsepower, 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds, a top speed of 214 mph. The electric motors put out 286 horsepower on their own and, combined with a 601-horsepower, 4.6-liter V8, push this carbon-fiber dream car either through electric power alone, various hybrid modes or its red-button “hot lap” mode. At this price, a leather-and-brushed-aluminum interior is a given -- as are a rain-sensing windshield wiper, heated side mirrors, backup camera and Porsche Communication Management (with 3D navigation display, 7-inch touch screen, central high-resolution 8-inch TFT display, two USB ports, SD card, WiFi and Bluetooth, satellite radio, HD radio and a Burmester 11-speaker surround sound system). Yes, it's efficient... until you run out of electricity. Then, the mileage drops to a scant 22 mpg combined.
2. 2015 BMW i8
Starting price: $136,500
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 78 mpg
Don't let the scissor doors fool you: this is every bit the fuel-sipping plug-in hybrid. That 357-horsepower, twin turbo engine on the front axle has only three cylinders and gets a whole lot of help from an electric motor on the rear axle. A combination of aluminum and carbon fiber lighten the frame enough to give the i8 a combined range of 330 miles and keep its gas-only fuel consumption down to a manageable 28 mpg combined. An 8.8-inch touchscreen display handles the navigation, telematics, concierge service, HD radio and satellite radio through voice commands, while a full-color heads-up display keeps all pertinent information at eye level. Combined with memory that restores your seat, climate, mirror, audio and light settings, all of the above gives the i8 supercar feel with more sensible mileage.
1. 2015 Tesla Model S P85D
Starting price: $108,000
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 93 mpg
Yeah, we're not leaving this off the list. Beyond its 254-mile electric range, 259 horsepower up front motor and 503 hp in the rear, the Model S P85D tops out at 155 mph and has a ton of tech features controlled by its 17-inch touchscreen. Your radio, backup camera, phone, climate controls, calendar and navigation are all built in, but so are autopilot features that can take over when stop-and-go traffic won't let you open up the throttle and hit more open road.