To Honor Earth Day, Check Out These Fuel-Sippers

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CARS.COM — Fuel economy has taken a bit of a beating lately. Amid months of low gas prices, sales of gas-hogging SUVs and pickup trucks are up as car buyers feel less pain at the pump. But today is Earth Day, so let’s take a moment to consider other factors besides cost when car shopping — namely our collective responsibility for protecting the planet.

Related: Cheap Gas Drives Cost of Owning Car to Six-Year Low

In March, according to the University of Michigan’s Transportation Research Institute, the average fuel economy for new cars sold in the U.S. remained stagnant from the previous month at 25.3 mpg. While that’s still a 5.2 mpg improvement since the institute began tracking vehicles’ window-sticker fuel economy in 2007, the measure is down 0.5 mpg since an August 2014 peak. Meanwhile, TRI’s Eco-Driving Index shows that greenhouse-gas emissions emitted by the average U.S. driver were up 6 percent from the record best, also achieved in August 2014.

So what do we expect you to do, run out and buy a Tesla Model S with its practical all-electric range of around 250 miles but impractical price north of $71,000? Or a Chevrolet Volt, which has a practical price of less than half of the Tesla’s, but a much less practical all-electric range than the Model S?

No, but fortunately there is some mileage middle ground to be had. We examined the fuel economy of every model-year 2016 vehicle on Cars.com to find the most fuel-efficient conventional vehicle. We stipulated that it not be a hybrid or electric, and must run on regular gasoline as opposed to premium gas or diesel fuel.

Using the EPA-estimated combined fuel-economy rating as our benchmark, we came up with a gas-only fuel-economy best of 35 mpg. As it turns out, it’s actually quite a reasonably priced field, comprising 22 variants of eight models that all start at less than $22,000. These 2016 subcompact and compact hatchbacks and sedans, followed by starting prices (with destination charge) for the lowest trim level that achieves 35 mpg, include:

If you’re a true fuel-economy overachiever, you could go electric and enjoy mileage of 100 to 124 mpg-equivalent. These options include the 2016 Tesla Model S and Model X, Kia Soul EV, Ford Focus Electric, Chevrolet Spark EV and Volt, Nissan Leaf, Fiat 500e, Volkswagen e-Golf and BMW i3.

Now, if you just don’t care about any of this Earth Day/environmental stuff, or have a specific set of automotive needs that prevent fuel economy from being a determining factor in your car choices, we’ve got you covered there, too. The dubious distinction of having the worst fuel economy for any regular-gas-burning passenger vehicle available in the U.S. goes to … the 2016 GMC Savana van. Six versions of the Savana across its 2500 and 3500 trims get just 13 mpg. And at a starting price of $33,985, the Savana 2500 LS is a heck of a lot cheaper than the actual worst-fuel-economy car, the 2016 Lamborghini Aventador, which costs $406,695 and gets 12 mpg — plus, you’ll save on the cost of premium fuel.

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Former Assistant Managing Editor-News Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers. Email Matt Schmitz

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