Sporty + Fuel efficient = gimme gimme
June 3, 2011 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Does a sporty yet fuel efficient car exist?

Moving on from my beloved Lexus IS 350, which was excellent for city driving because it was so quick and nimble. I'd love to find a car that shares those qualities but does a little better in terms of fuel efficiency. Is it an either/or sorta thing, or is there a perfect car out there for me? Thanks!
posted by malhouse to Travel & Transportation (41 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Just to clarify, you're definitely looking for a new (in the last 5 years or so, at least) car?
posted by saladin at 1:44 PM on June 3, 2011

Mini Cooper?
posted by mattbucher at 1:45 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

posted by jillithd at 1:45 PM on June 3, 2011

My Lotus Elise got ~30mpg and aside from being completely unreliable and poorly built, it was incredibly fun to drive.
posted by foodgeek at 1:50 PM on June 3, 2011

Lexus CTh?
posted by bitdamaged at 1:52 PM on June 3, 2011

The 2012 Ford Fiesta and Focus are quite nice. Just purchased the Focus SEL model a few weeks ago...can drop the shifter into "Sporty" mode and its like a manual drive that reads my mind. Suspension and handling is also great, loaded with luxury features (MySync, Touch display, remote starter, voice control, GPS, multi-color ambient lighting, leather interior, etc). You can get a decent car that gets up to 40mpg, packed with goodies, for around $25k.
posted by samsara at 1:53 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Definitely the Mini Cooper. Had one for five years before I got married, and they are a) loads of fun, b) drive like they're on rails and c) get pretty good mileage (32 mpg, 29 city 37 hwy).

Also, other Mini drivers wave at you. That's cool and stuff.
posted by Mooski at 1:56 PM on June 3, 2011 [3 favorites]

The Honda Fit Sport has a nimble feel and a surprising amount of get-up-n-go. The small frame and tight turn radius make city maneuvers super easy, and you can fit a lot of cargo in it, too. It's a lot of fun to drive, and I routinely get between 38 and 40 miles to the gallon on the highway.
posted by vorfeed at 1:57 PM on June 3, 2011

(Oh....and before you say "ewww focus?" the American design has been completely overhauled to be more in line with the European version. Very slick looking car. )
posted by samsara at 1:58 PM on June 3, 2011

BMW 118d - 0-60 in 8.7 seconds, 62 mpg (we've got bigger gallons than you though - don't know what that is in US gallons)
posted by ComfySofa at 2:02 PM on June 3, 2011

Can you define "fuel efficiency?" Usually you're looking at a car that's genuinely good at one, while being acceptable for the other - the Honda Fit is surprisingly sporty for a fuel-efficient car, but it's certainly no sports car; the recent Mazda3 offerings are a blast to drive but the mileage is merely okay (25-30mpg). (Also, while it moves like a champ, the recent redesign is... I'll be generous and say polarizing.)
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:03 PM on June 3, 2011


Honda S2000?

One of the small BMWs?
posted by box at 2:13 PM on June 3, 2011

If your definition of "sporty" is about handling rather than performance, then most certainly yes. Small cars that weigh relatively little are better suited to handling well, and if you're willing to pay for it, cars like the Mini Cooper specialize in delivering on that score while giving you good gas mileage. And if you don't want to pay for it, a first-generation Honda Fit Sport is a great place to look.

If your definition of "sporty" is about appearance or straight-line performance, however, don't hold your breath.
posted by davejay at 2:17 PM on June 3, 2011

BMW 335d (1, 2)
posted by Dasein at 2:17 PM on June 3, 2011

[unless you're willing to pay a lot and put up with a lot, as with the Lotus Elise mentioned earlier.]
posted by davejay at 2:18 PM on June 3, 2011

Miatas are NOT fuel efficient..but are wicked fun to drive....
posted by tomswift at 2:21 PM on June 3, 2011

I love my Volkswagen TDI (clean diesel). Available in a variety of body styles, gets 45 mpg on the regular, more if you do highway miles exclusively. Diesel is more expensive than regular fuel, but worth it, I think.
posted by jeffmshaw at 2:23 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

nthing Mini Cooper. We have an S and still average 30+ mpg with combo city/highway driving, even chipped (not that I would ever do anything to violate my warranty, no sir). The base models are even more fuel-efficient and all of them are fun to drive.
posted by bedhead at 2:28 PM on June 3, 2011

Well, I can't get that first Washington Post link to actually load for me, so here is an alternate place to read the same article.

The Mini Cooper and Ford Focus are good cars. But if the OP is looking for a car like his IS350, I really don't think he's going to be happy with a Mazda 2 (I mean, come on, the thing has a third the horsepower of his Lexus and skinny tires) or a Honda Fit. Ditto the CTh, which is slow and indifferent in the corners. The Miata/S2000/Elise are very different cars from the OP's, and not nearly as practical if it's his only car. The 335d is roughly the same size, has comparable performance, probably slightly better handling, and has the best diesel engine available for sale in North America (too bad Jag doesn't sell their 3.0 l here). If I were shopping for a car in that size and price range, it would be the clear choice for me.
posted by Dasein at 2:30 PM on June 3, 2011

Apologies, looks like the 118d isn't available in the US. Which is a shame.
posted by ComfySofa at 2:32 PM on June 3, 2011

You trip over fuel efficient sporty cars outside of the US, primarily because of the much more widespread use of diesel technology. As it completely depends on what you consider "sporty" and "fuel efficient" you potentially have more than a few vehicles to choose from, even here in the States. If its "sporty" then the Mazda 3, new Focus, Mini Cooper and baby audi and BMWs spring to mind. All should at least get low to mid 30's in mixed driving. If you are looking more toward the sport end of things, the new Mustang GT even in v8 garb easily gets in the high 20's on the highway (my cousin has an '11 GT, 412hp and was getting 28+mpg within 1000 miles of new) and the V6 gets low 30s. That's a 305hp v6.
the BMW 3 series turbo diesel would be the ticket, but its an expensive ticket to be sure.
posted by chosemerveilleux at 2:37 PM on June 3, 2011

Lotus Elise. And have fun.
posted by glaucon at 2:43 PM on June 3, 2011

2nd both the Ford Fiesta and the Mini Cooper. Both are sporty and a blast to drive.
posted by BenS at 3:38 PM on June 3, 2011

Best answer: Hi! I was recently in the market for a car matching your description (sporty in the same way as an IS 350 but with better gas mileage) and I was coming from owning an Infiniti G35 (very similar to your evaporators IS 350 in most respects). I found that a) virtually every car in the IS 350's class gets better gas mileage in the real world than the IS 350, and b) in exchange for even better gas mileage, I was willing to settle for just slightly less 0-60 oomph but with superior handling to make up for it (it's not hard to find better handling than the IS 350, which is really more a muscle car than a handling car).

In the description of "similar to an IS350 in terms of size and style but better handling and slightly less power," you've got the BMW 328i (best of the bunch), Mercedes C300 (arguably better and grippier than the BMW except that it's too quiet and not hard enough for some tastes), and various Acura offerings. The BMW 335d is amazing and gets great gas mileage, but you'll pay a premium for the car itself, and that extra money can buy a lot of gas. You might also consider an Infiniti G37, because it's hella fast, super nice, and the pricing tends to be good enough that you can just spend the cash you saved on the gas you need. Seriously, even at $4.50 a gallon, $10,000 will buy you a hell of a lot of gas. So if it's the expense of the gas you're concerned about (as opposed to the environmental issues), remember that saving money on the purchase is just as good and more effective than buying a more fuel-efficient car.
posted by The World Famous at 3:43 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

If money is no object, the correct answer is almost certainly the Tesla Roadster. 0-60 in 3.7 seconds. 124 MPGe city, 119 MPGe highway. If I were a rich man...
posted by eschatfische at 4:18 PM on June 3, 2011

Fuel economy has a lot to do with how you drive. If you like putting your foot in it and driving hard no car gets good economy. I drive my BMW 550 very conservatively most of the time and almost always get 25 mpg or more. when i don't the mileage goes way down but that is what I got it for. That isn't great by prius standards but by big v8 sedans it is fantastic.
For a good, easy to drive car that can get up and go when you want it to get a two door V6 accord. They are definately in the fast car category and Hondas tend to handle pretty good. The only downside for sportyness is the fwd. If you aren't a drifter or taking it to drag races or track days you will never miss the rwd. If you just must have rwd get a BMW 3 series that strikes your fancy. The deisels are good and so are the gasoline engines. The 3 series can give pretty good mileage if driven responsibly, and when you want it the power is there.
posted by bartonlong at 4:32 PM on June 3, 2011

Just seconding what bartonlong said, when I was agonizing over whether to get a car that gets better gas mileage than what I ended up with, my wife rolled her eyes at me and pointed out that I'm going to get terrible gas mileage no matter what car I drive, so I shouldn't have even let it be a factor in my decision.
posted by The World Famous at 4:34 PM on June 3, 2011

Honda CR-Z
posted by elsietheeel at 4:38 PM on June 3, 2011

Love my Mini! It's super fun to drive and gets pretty good mileage. If you can wait a few years, maybe get the amazing Mini Rocketman (but get in line behind me!).
posted by TochterAusElysium at 4:54 PM on June 3, 2011

Mazdaspeed 3. I am on my third one. It's glorious. 236 hp. Very good on gas if you keep an eye on your tire inflation. I get 600 km out of a tank highway driving. A fill is $67 Cdn. I don't know about city driving because I am having too much fun to take the exit.

Con: It's not a quiet car on the highway so to fix that they put a Bose system in it with subwoofers under the front seats. Glorious.
posted by pink candy floss at 4:55 PM on June 3, 2011

Another vote for the Mini. It isn't a muscle car, but tons of fun to drive. Over 100k miles on ours and it still makes the commute a little bit better.
posted by meinvt at 5:22 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love my Celica, though they stopped making them in 2005. I see used ones with less than 50,000 miles every once in a while. Very agile, and averages 30 mpg in the city and 35 on the highway. I wanted a Mini or a Audi TT but they weren't in the budget. The celica was an "entry level" vehicle so it's not "luxuriously appointed," but it's very comfortable to sit in and drive. They have a very high-revving engine that really hits its stride at about 4200 rpm.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:24 PM on June 3, 2011

I do nothing to try and save fuel and I still get 30 MPG highway from my Saab 93. Anything with a turbo will give you what feels like 2 extra cylinders with minimal mileage penalties (except you might need premium fuel). Less torque though as the power comes at higher RPM's. It sure is fun to pass on the highway though.

For the opposite (low RPM grunt) get a diesel, but your choices are fewer in the US. I'd love a used BMW diesel and it might be my next (3-5 years) car.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 7:36 PM on June 3, 2011

Seconding the TDI Jetta. 40+ MPG and wicked fun to drive!
posted by TheCoug at 8:07 PM on June 3, 2011

Take a look at the VW TDI Golf. Surprisingly nimble and over 40 MPG. The Jetta's a little heavier, and a little more... refined. The Golf always felt like it had some kick in it.
posted by OneMonkeysUncle at 9:03 PM on June 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Like foodgeek and glaucon, my Lotus Elise gets more than 30 mpg and is the most fun you can have with your clothes on. Unlike foodgeek my car has proved mechanically reliable and the build quality is what you can expect from a car that light and relatively cheap. It's entirely impractical for commuting or buying flat packed furniture but who cares? As OneMonkeysUncle says, if you want a fun car with good mileage get a second hand, manual diesel Golf. A Ford Focus is always a good option too.
posted by joannemullen at 9:35 PM on June 3, 2011

The Jetta's a little heavier, and a little more... refined.

Just as a note, this no longer applies to the Jetta. The 2011 model has been significantly cheapened and positioned below the Golf. I agree that a Golf TDI would be well worth a spin, but steer clear of the Jetta.
posted by Dasein at 9:52 PM on June 3, 2011

Audi or BMW with a recent diesel engine. Recent 3.0 - 3.5 liter diesel engines are crazy fun to drive. Easily available in around 250hp, and all the torque makes them ridiculously fun. New diesels aren't like the old diesels.
posted by krilli at 1:33 AM on June 4, 2011

Another VW Golf TDI here. Torque!
posted by janell at 8:35 AM on June 4, 2011

One thing to note about the Golf TDI - it's a good engine, but I'm not sure it would really meet the OP's needs for sportiness around town. Off the line in city driving, the TDI is significantly slower than the gas engine. It's at its best on longer highway commutes.
posted by Dasein at 9:46 PM on June 4, 2011

No idea about fuel economy, but I just took an Imprezza out for a test drive, and it was a blast. Screw the fuel, as others have mentioned, if you're driving like an idiot, you aren't going to be saving it regardless of the car.

Although if you really want to compare mileage on sporty cars, look no further than Top Gear
posted by felspar at 11:35 PM on June 4, 2011

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