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When It Comes to MPG, 40 Is the New 30

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It's an interesting race that will heat up even more with gas prices soaring.

Who has the most fuel efficient gas powered, non hybrid car?

By the way, to get into this race you better get over 40mpg.

That's the new threshold to prove your car is within a sip or two of gas to getting the type of mileage we've come to expect in a hybrid.

And the automakers are pushing this message harder than ever.

Ford clearly states you can get 40mpg in both the Fiesta as well as the new Focus, which goes on sale this spring. Hyundai ads for the Elantra are also pushing the 40mpg message. According to Hyundai's John Krafcik, "I think there is a big difference in consumers minds or at least in the marketing magic between a 39 and a 40. It's only 1mpg, but I think it is significant in the minds of consumers. I think it is important though for a bigger reason than that. You get into the 40's and it is a number that people associate with hybrids."

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Ahh, the rarified air of fuel efficient hybrids. When gas prices soar, so do sales of hybrids. Look at Toyota Prius sales last month, up more than 70%. So if an automaker can sell a straight gas powered car with mileage that's even close, sales should also spike in this environment. For those keep score, here is a list of some of the latest, non-hybrid models, promising to get over 40mpg on the highway.

  • '11 Chevy Cruze Eco: 42mpg highway
  • '11 VW Jetta TDI: 42mpg highway
  • '11 Smart For Two: 41 mpg highway
  • '11 Hyundai Elantra: 40mpg highway
  • '12 Ford Fiesta: 40mpg highway
  • '12 Ford Focus SFE: 40mpg highway
  • '12 Honda Civic HF: 40mpg highway

Now, for the fine print. And within all god things there is some fine print. First, bear in mind that with most of these models, getting 40 or more mpg will require you drive a stick-shift version. Can't or don't want to do that? Go for the automatic and sacrifice 3 or 4mpg. Also, these models are often getting top mileage with a fuel efficient pack, like the Chevy Cruze Eco or the Ford Focus SFE. Those packages will add to your sticker price. Not a lot, but enough to note.

The bottom line is that getting 40mpg in a non-hybrid is not a dream, nor does it mean you have to drive in a tin can. As the automakers have improved the internal combustion engine, so has the mileage we're getting. makes you wonder when we'll see non-hybrids get 50mpg? it's not as far away as you think.

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