Consumers in the market for the top gas-friendly cars for 2012 have a few pleasant surprises in store. For one thing, they’re not all hybrids or electrics, not that there’s anything against those highly fuel-efficient vehicles. But sometimes you just need a bigger vehicle that gets the best fuel economy possible in the category, and serves your other needs as well.

We take a look at some of the most gas-friendly cars for 2012 here, as highlighted in a recent issue of Popular Mechanics (although we’re going for the 2012 models).

2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco – Although the regular version of the 2012 Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan isn’t too shabby at 25 mpg city/36 mpg highway, it’s the Cruze

Eco that really rings the fuel economy bell. With its 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission, some aerodynamics and other special features, the Cruze Eco gets 28 mpg city/42 mpg highway/33 mpg combined.

2012 Audi A3 TDI – One of two clean diesel-powered top gas-friendly cars for 2012 on the Popular Mechanics list, we find the 2012 Audi A3 TDI more than a capable

performer. The luxury wagon is powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel engine paired with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. This set-up delivers an outstanding 30 mpg city/42 mpg highway/34 mpg combined.

2012 Fiat 500The tiny 2012 Fiat 500, powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated with a five-speed manual transmission, records city/highway fuel economy estimated at 30/38 mpg.

2012 Ford Focus SFE – Decked out in Super Fuel Efficient (SFE) guise, the 2012 Ford Focus is right on the money in terms of fuel efficiency, getting an estimated 28 mpg city and 40 mpg highway fuel economy. Power comes from a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a six-speed automated manual transmission.

2012 Hyundai Elantra While Popular Mechanics hails the compact Hyundai Elantra, with its 29/40/33 mpg from the 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated with either six-speed manual or six-speed automatic, we might quibble. Why not the equally-performing and larger 2012 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid with its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission that ekes out 35 mpg city/40 mpg highway/37 mpg combined? Just asking.

2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI – The same 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel engine in the Audi A3 powers the 2012 Volkswagen Jetta TDI, but in the Jetta TDI, the best fuel economy comes when the engine is matched with a six-speed manual transmission. Then, the numbers come in at 30 mpg city/42 mpg highway/34 mpg combined.

2012 Honda Insight – A mild hybrid, the 2012 Honda Insight, powered by a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine and 101-volt NiMH battery pack, gets a highly fuel-efficient

41/44/42 mpg fuel economy. The Insight may not get the attention the Prius does, but it’s an excellent choice for the right consumer.

2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid – You buy a hybrid vehicle if you do a lot of city-type driving, and here is where the 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid shines, delivering a nice 41 mpg city/36 mpg highway/39 mpg combined. Not bad for a five-passenger midsize sedan with plenty of room inside – and all the special options available at Ford.

2012 Smart FortwoCabriolet (convertible) or coupe, the 2012 Smart Fortwo, with its 1.0-liter three-cylinder engine and five-speed automated manual transmission, nets an EPA-estimated 34/38/36 mpg fuel economy. It’s just a two-seater, though, and not appropriate for many buyers.

2012 Chevrolet VoltNot a pure electric vehicle, the midsize four-passenger 2012 Chevrolet Volt is a plug-in hybrid, powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder gasoline

engine and 111 kW lithium-ion battery pack. On gasoline only, the Volt has an estimated 35/40/37 mpg fuel economy. In electric-only mode, the MPGe is 95/93/94. Range on gasoline is 344 miles, while in electric-mode, the number is 35.

2012 Nissan Leaf – The EPA classifies the 2012 Nissan Leaf as a midsize car, but it’s a pure electric, delivering an MPGe (miles per gallon equivalency) of 106 city/92 highway/99 combined. The Leaf, powered by an 80 kW motor and lithium-ion battery pack, has a range of 73 miles between charges. Again, the Leaf is excellent for city driving for the eco-conscious consumer.

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