We are living in a golden age of vehicle performance. The market is now filled with more high-horsepower, high-tech cars than ever before. And one of the biggest benefits of that tech is that you can have a fast, fun-to-drive car that is also easy on gas. In other words, these days you can have your cake and eat it, too.
In selecting the 10 best fuel-efficient sports cars, we kept in mind the likelihood that if you’re interested in a sports car with good gas mileage, you are also interested in saving money overall. So we stuck to the affordable end of the market, which is where most of the high-mileage sports cars reside anyway — most of which are coupes and convertibles and all of which are highly appealing.
2020 Mazda MX-5 Miata
It’s hard to believe, but the Mazda MX-5 Miata is 30 years old. Now in its fourth generation, it is currently powered by a 181-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. A six-speed manual, befitting a sports car, is the standard transmission, but the optional six-speed automatic transmission is a reasonable choice as well.
What is magical about the Miata is its handling prowess. It seems to maneuver via mind control versus the steering wheel, accelerator, and brakes. The Miata demonstrates in the clearest terms why performance drivers factor rear-wheel drive. In the classic sports car tradition, the MX-5 has a standard folding, fabric-covered top, although a power-operated partially retractable hardtop version is also available for a lot more money. On top of all that, the MX-5 Miata delivers excellent fuel economy with an EPA combined fuel economy estimate of about 30 mpg.
2020 Honda Civic Si Coupe
If you seek a “hot hatch” circa 2020, a great car to eyeball is the Honda Civic Si. Though the Si is only offered as a Sedan or Coupe rather than a hatchback, it’s affordable, fun, and — of course — highly efficient. Its 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 205 horsepower and 192 lb-ft of torque driving through a six-speed manual transmission, making things very hot indeed.
At the same time, the Civic Si offers new tech like adaptive cruise control, and it will accommodate up to four passengers in addition to one (happy) driver. It is a front-wheel drive platform, but even diehard enthusiasts will applaud its handling. For dual-purpose commuting and canyon-running, the Civic Si has no equals at the price. Like the Miata, it delivers an EPA combined fuel economy rating of 30 mpg.
2020 Fiat 124 Spider Abarth
The FIAT 124 Spider and the Mazda MX-5 Miata are built in a Mazda factory in Hiroshima, Japan, and share a platform. What they do not share are engines. Mazda recently upgraded the Miata powerplant to a 181-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder. The Abarth version of the Fiat 124 Spider is fitted with a 164-horsepower 1.4-liter 4-cylinder. The good news is the Fiat’s engine offers significantly more peak torque than the Mazda’s.
As with the Miata, you have your choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. The 124 Spider offers the same sweet, intuitive handling as the Miata, and to our practiced eyes, it is better looking. Fans of the original 124 Spider will note some similarities. The 2020 FIAT 124 Spider Abarth features a bunch of available upgrades, and it delivers a 29-mpg EPA overall rating.
2020 Hyundai Veloster
The Hyundai Veloster is a sporty hatchback that gives buyers a choice of low purchase price or higher performance. In base form, the Veloster is one of the biggest sporty-car bargains in the American market with an MSRP well under $19,000.
Then there’s the Ultimate Turbo version. It costs about $10,000 more, and it offers 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of peak torque. Interestingly, it also offers virtually the same fuel economy — almost 30 mpg combined — as the base 2.0-liter with 147 horsepower. The base engine is fitted with a six-speed automatic, while the turbo engine has a seven-speed auto. The Veloster is a sleek-looking front-drive Coupe that’s a handy size, more than 10 inches shorter than the Honda Civic Si.
2020 Mini Cooper S Convertible
Mini offers several cars that could fit on this list. We chose the Mini Cooper S for its winning combination of looks, performance, and economy in an open car. It is a front-driver and not a classic sports car because it has a back seat, but it handles nicely and is a ball to drive.
In Cooper S form, the MINI Convertible offers 189 horsepower from its 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. The John Cooper Works version offers 228 horsepower and costs $6,000 more. You decide. Beyond the engines, another charming thing about the open-top Mini is the interior. It has a design all its own — part high tech, part throwback. In Cooper S form with the 189-horsepower engine, the Mini Convertible delivers 29 mpg in mixed driving, according to EPA.
2020 Alfa Romeo 4C Spider
With a price that is double the cost of many of the cars on this list, you might say the Alfa Romeo 4C Spider doesn’t really belong. But we couldn’t help being romanced by its heady combination of high performance and thrifty fuel economy.
The stunning looking 4C isn’t the roomiest sports car of all-time, but the interior is beautifully finished. You get the flavor of a Ferrari without needing to win the lottery. The Alfa has an overachieving 237-horsepower 1.7-liter four-cylinder engine and a sophisticated suspension that we can’t get enough of. The high horsepower is amplified by the car’s light (2,500-lb) curb weight. For all its power, though, the Alfa 4C still offers fuel economy deserving of this list — 28 mpg overall.
2020 Volkswagen Golf GTI
Most cars on our list of the best fuel-efficient sports cars are two-door models, unlike the five-door Volkswagen Golf GTI. But we think you can immediately grasp why it is here.
The VW GTI started the hot hatchback trend decades ago, and it has become an all-around performance icon. It offers great handling, impressive acceleration, and, of course, very good fuel economy. The engine in the current GTI is a 228-horsepower four-cylinder backed by either a six-speed manual or a 7-speed automatic that you can shift manually if you feel the urge. The current five-door configuration is VW’s recognition that the overall car market prefers the convenience of easy rear-seat access. The GTI is front-wheel drive, but you’ll appreciate its overall handling abilities. It delivers 27 mpg overall, according to EPA’s fuel economy ratings.
2020 Subaru BRZ Limited
The Subaru BRZ and the Toyota 86 are the result of a collaboration between the two Japanese car companies. You could certainly make the case that of the two Toyota has more institutional knowledge about building sports cars, but Subaru took the lead on this model.
These two sports coupes are nominally four-passengers vehicles, but you’re well-advised to limit it to two. At the heart of the BRZ is the Subaru-designed and engineered 200-horsepower horizontally opposed four-cylinder. Its boxer configuration allows a low hood, one of the car’s most noticeable features. The BRZ is slightly more well-equipped than the 86, but their handling is similar. Fuel economy is 24 mpg combined.
2020 Toyota 86
We’re tempted to copy the BRZ description and paste it here, but we won’t — despite the fact that the two cars are so similar. When introduced, the 86 was part of the since-discontinued Scion brand, Toyota’s eventually abortive attempt to woo younger buyers. It turned out that many oldsters also liked the value of the Scion offerings, so that effort came to naught.
The Toyota 86 is a very nice remnant of the experiment, though, and a car we likely would not have if Scion had never existed. With the 200-horsepower Subaru engine and the choice of six-speed automatic or manual transmissions, the 86 is very rewarding to drive. And if you guessed that overall fuel economy was just about 24 mpg, you’d be very right.
2020 Ford Mustang 2.3 EcoBoost
The current Ford Mustang is an incredible mashup of traditional “pony car” — a segment named after the Mustang — and highly efficient modern tech. In the days of the late, unlamented Mustang II, a four-cylinder engine in a Mustang was reviled. But times have changed, as have the horsepower numbers of the Mustang’s four-cylinder. These days the 2.3-liter EcoBoost turbo engine offers 310 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque, which means a Mustang so equipped is extremely fun to drive.
Since it is 22 inches longer than the Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86, the Mustang doesn’t feel as agile, but the handling is far and away better than previous editions of America’s favorite sporty car. You can also opt for electronic driver-assist features like adaptive cruise control. Interestingly, the larger, more powerful Mustang delivers the same EPA fuel economy numbers as the BRZ and 86.