With national gasoline prices averaging about $3.80 a gallon and the fuel above $4 in many states, consumer auto information sites are taking a new look at the fuel economy of vehicles and making recommendations.
Edmunds.com looked at the fuel economy of vehicles in the 2008 model year and again this year. The industry has increased average fuel economy by 16 percent.
The Audi A3 had the biggest jump of any vehicle. Its fuel economy climbed 38.5 percent since the 2008 model year to an average 29.1 mpg in 2012.
The top 10 fuel economy gainers during that period represented a wide range of vehicles. The Chevrolet Equinox, a sport-utility, improved 32 percent to 25.1 mpg. The big Buick La- Crosse sedan jumped 24.1 percent to 26 mpg.
The 2008 spike in gas prices served as a wakeup call for manufacturers whose fleets just weren't cutting it for consumers who were demanding vehicles with better fuel economy," said Edmunds.com analyst Ivan Drury. "Automakers responded by de-emphasizing fuel-chugging V-6 and V-8 engines and turning their focus to fuel-sipping four-cylinder and diesel engines."
He said based on the improvements in fuel economy, it will cost a driver about $400 less per year to fuel a 2012 vehicle than a car sold during the 2008 model year. Meanwhile Kelley Blue Book, which operates the KBB.com website, has developed a list of the least expensive, fuel-efficient new cars, based on five years of ownership. That calculation factors in such things as depreciation, expected fuel costs, finance and insurance fees, maintenance and repair costs, and state fees for new models for the initial five-year ownership period.
"When it comes to purchasing an automobile, consumers need to think long term to determine all of the costs associated with owning a vehicle," said Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst of automotive insights for Kelley Blue Book.
The list illustrates that there's more than fuel efficiency when considering which vehicle to purchase - the Honda Insight is the only hybrid - but is also has some drawbacks that consumers should consider.
The calculations look at least-expensive trim versions; most consumers would likely include some options or buy a higher trim level.
Moreover, the list says nothing about how the vehicles' driving style, reliability, styling or other characteristics would influence a purchase decision.
For example, the Nissan Versa with a five-year total ownership cost of just under $26,000 has not fared well in recent automotive reviews, while the Hyundai Accent, which has a cost of about $2,000 more, has received good marks.
Likewise the Toyota Yaris, at just about $28,000 for a five-year cost, has a reputation as a reliable car, but reviewers have knocked the way it drives. Meanwhile, the Honda Fit at about $1,300 more is a favorite small car of the auto critics.