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Compact Cars Push the 40 MPG Barrier

by Brian Wong (Feb 9, 2011)

With gas prices shooting up and the government leading a movement to make the future of cars even more green, carmakers are responding by producing even more fuel efficient cars. Recently the government mandated new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for the future. CAFE standards measure the average fuel economy of a carmaker's entire lineup of cars, and the new benchmark has been set at 35.7 mpg for passenger vehicles by 2015. Carmakers face financial penalties should their fleets not meet these new fuel economy regulations, so there is great incentive to build greener and more efficient cars.

To meet these standards, carmakers are starting to spread green technology across all of their cars, not just niche hybrids and electrics. These new compact cars are products of this new philosophy, blending excellent fuel economy with a low MSRP in cars that are easy to live with. They are the 2011 Chevrolet Cruze, 2011 Hyundai Elantra, and the upcoming 2012 Ford Focus.

Each of these three cars boasts highway mileage numbers of 40 mpg or greater. Previously, these fuel economy figures were only found on hybrids (like the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius), diesels, or on sub-compact cars where you have to sacrifice interior space. What makes the following cars notable is that they don't fit any of these labels - they take regular gas, skip hybrid drivetrains which add weight and cost, and carry backseats you don't feel bad about making your friends sit in.

The Chevrolet Cruze has been making the rounds for a couple of months now, and the new compact from Chevy is available is a specialized "Eco" trim that pushes fuel economy all the way up to 42 mpg on the highway. The Eco version of the Cruze sports several modifications when compared to the normal model, including a new set of wheels that are lighter, some thinner pieces of sheet metal, and a few mechanical changes under the hood. The largest change though is found up front behind the grille, where the Cruze Eco features an active shutter system which closes plastic shutters when the Cruze gets up to speed, making it much more aerodynamic.

The redesigned Hyundai Elantra debuted at the end of 2010 and what makes it different than the other two cars mentioned is that you don't need to get a specialized trim to make it to 40 mpg/highway. No tricks - all Elantras hit the mark, regardless of trim or transmission. Credit goes to the new, 148-horsepower four-cylinder that adds power as well as fuel efficiency compared to last year's engine. It also adds new styling inside and out, which makes the Elantra a pretty enticing package.

Set for a Spring 2011 release, the 2012 Ford Focus is the second car that Ford has brought over from abroad as a part of its global platform initiative. The current Focus has been getting a little stale and is due for a redesign, so the new car is a welcome change with modern styling and better proportions. Much like the Cruze, there will be a specialized eco-version of the Focus that Ford says will eclipse 40 mpg on the highway.

Fuel economy without compromise looks to be the future of motoring and that's a great thing for consumers and the environment alike. These three cars each offer great efficiency, without skimping in other areas all for a sticker price that falls under $20,000. So if you're looking to go green with your next car, remember to give these cars a peek - you won't be disappointed.

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