By Suzanne Kane

Fuel-efficient cars are top-of-mind for many consumers today. But how do you figure out exactly what is the most fuel-efficient car for your own family’s needs? One way is to start with the experts. Consumer Reports lists their recommended picks in 6 classes. Each offers good fuel economy for vehicles in its class as well as ranks among the magazine’s top recommended vehicles.

We’ve listed Consumer Report’s picks here, along with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) fuel economy ratings, engine and horsepower specifications and some standard equipment for each.

* Budget Cars – Honda Fit – The front-wheel drive (FWD) 2009 Honda Fit is powered by a 117-hp 1.5-liter inline 4-cylinder engine. Classified by the EPA as a small station wagon, Fit achieves 28 mpg city/35 mpg highway/31 mpg combines in 5-speed automatic transmission and 27/33/29 mpg ratings for both A-S-5 and 5-speed manual transmissions. Curtain air bags and anti-lock brakes (ABS) are standard, while electronic stability control (ESC) is only available with optional navigation system.

* Small Cars – Toyota Prius – EPA classifies the Prius as a midsize car, a hybrid-electric vehicle (HEV). For 2009, the FWD Prius 1.5-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine with electric motor gets 48 mpg city/45 mpg highway/46 mpg combined. For 2010, Prius gets even better fuel economy with 51/48/50 mpg ratings due to its 134-hp 1.8-liter inline 4-cylinder engine. Every 2010 Prius has standard ABS, ESC, curtain airbags and driver knee airbag. Optional equipment includes lane-departure warning system and pre-collision warning system.

* Family Sedans – Toyota Camry Hybrid – The 2009 and 2010 midsize HEV Camry Hybrid, powered by a 147-hp 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and 40-hp electric motor (maximum horsepower output of 187) achieve EPA numbers of 33 mpg city/34 mpg highway/34 mpg combined. For 2010, the FWD Camry benefits from redesigned front-end styling. Both model year Hybrids have standard curtain airbags, driver knee airbag, ABS and ESC.

* Small SUVs – Toyota RAV4 – With its more powerful (than previous year) 179-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine, the 2009 Toyota RAV4 small SUV achieves EPA fuel economy ratings of 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway/24 mpg combined for 2-wheel drive (2WD) models and 21/27/24 mpg in 4-wheel drive (4WD). The 269-hp 3.5-liter V-6 engine RAV4 gets EPA numbers of 19/27/22 mpg (2WD) and 19/26/21 mpg (4WD). Curtain airbags and ESC are standard in all RAV4 models. Edmunds.com praises RAV4 for superb power and economy in the optional V-6, balanced ride and handling and roomy 2nd-row seat. The optional 3rd-row seating is cramped.

* Midsized SUVs – Toyota Highlander Hybrid – Offering the same power, quiet, comfortable ride and roominess as regular Highlanders, the 2009 Highlander Hybrid HEV (available in 4WD only), achieves EPA fuel economy of 27 mpg city/25 mpg highway/26 mpg combined. Consumer Reports finds its handling not too agile and the 3rd-row seat doesn’t fold in sections like some competitors. Redesigned in 2008, the up to 7-passenger seating Highlander Hybrid has standard ABS, ESC, curtain airbags for all three seating rows, driver knee airbag, hill-start assist and back-up camera.

* Minivans – Toyota Sienna – Powerful and efficient, the 2009 and 2010 Toyota Sienna 4-door 7-passenger minivan achieves combined EPA fuel economy of 19 mpg in 2WD and 18 mpg in all-wheel drive (AWD). The sole engine is a 266-hp 3.5-liter V-6. In 2WD, the V-6 engine is estimated to achieve 17/23/19 mpg. In AWD, the numbers are 16/21/18 mpg. ABS, ESC, and curtain airbags are standard. Limited gets front and rear park assist (optional on XLE). Also optional is 8-passenger seating. Consumer Reports says Toyota Sienna has the edge over the Honda Odyssey, although both minivans offer plenty of space and interiors on par with some luxury cars.

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