Fuel-Efficient Cars,

Efficiency-minded car buyers have three choices to get 30 mpg or better: diesels, hybrids, or subcompacts. But each brings tradeoffs. Subcompacts usually have low prices but lack the space, comfort, and versatility of larger diesels and hybrids. On the other hand, buyers of hybrids and diesels can expect to pay a premium over their equivalent models with conventional power trains.
This group highlights the diversity of cars that can attain such high overall fuel economy. It includes the new Honda CR-Z hybrid two-seater, manual and automatic versions of the new Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 subcompacts, and the larger, turbodiesel Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI (all available to subscribers). Prices of those cars also span a broad range. The subcompacts cost $14,770 to $17,795. The Honda CR-Z rang in at $21,510, and the Jetta wagon cost us $27,204. We can recommend the Jetta because of its high road-test score and average predicted reliability. The others are too new for us to have reliability data. The CR-Z also scores too low in our road tests for us to recommend.

The long-anticipated Fiesta is a European design that has been available overseas for two years. We bought a top trim level SES hatchback with a manual transmission and a midlevel trim SE sedan with an automatic transmission.

The Mazda2 shares a bit of the Fiesta’s basic architecture and has been sold in Europe for several years before coming here. But it is very different from the Fiesta. The Mazda2 doesn’t have the Fiesta’s transmission technology, amenities, and refinement, but it does have a roomier backseat. We bought a Mazda2 Touring with an automatic transmission and a Sport version with a manual transmission.

Honda’s CR-Z is a stylish, two-seat, hybrid runabout based on the current four-door Honda Insight. It has styling that is a clear homage to the CRX, a Civicbased coupe from the 1980s. Like the CRX, the CR-Z tries to prove that sporty and fuel-efficient are not mutually exclusive.

Although the Jetta sedan was redesigned for 2011, the SportWagen soldiers on with the previous design. The diesel TDI’s emissions are clean enough for it to be sold in all 50 states. Because many Jetta TDI buyers opt for a manual transmission, so did we. Compared with the other cars in this month’s test group, the Sport- Wagen is roomy and versatile and features a lot of high-end amenities, but it also costs considerably more.

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