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Cars with the Most Thrill per Gallon

2008 Chevy Tahoe Hybrid

Tahoe Hybrid: Fuel efficient hauler

The Toyota Prius, not surprisingly, is one of the “greenest” vehicles of the year. Chevy boasts that its Cobalt coupe gets 33 miles per gallon. A thrifty threesome--the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, and Nissan Versa -- each average better than 25 miles per gallon, and start at less than $15,000.

But are these cars any fun?

Americans certainly want to pinch pennies at the pump, especially with gas creeping toward $4 per gallon and the economy turning soft. But that doesn’t mean they’re willing to give up the joy of motoring. So while others offer lists of cars that are merely fuel-efficient, we prefer cars that are efficient and muscular both--and thus, score high on our “muscle per gallon” index.

We kept our methodology simple: For each car in the U.S.News Best Cars database, we multiplied the horsepower rating by the city MPG number, then divided by 100, to create an easy-to-follow index number. Then we ranked the cars by that number, in eight of the most popular categories. Our results reveal the wimpiest misers, the sloppiest gas hogs, and the cars that offer the best mix of performance and fuel economy.

2008 Dodge Viper

Dodge Viper: 600hp

On our list of small cars, for instance, there are 11 models that get city mileage of 25 MPG or better. But only one of those, the Civic Hybrid, ranks in the top 10 on our muscle-per-gallon index. The Fit, Yaris, and Versa, by comparison, end up near the bottom. Hybrids occupy the top spots in several categories, but they’re usually pricey; not far behind, however, are relative bargains like the Nissan Rogue or Toyota RAV4. Even among staid old minivans, there’s a stark difference in horsepower and mileage. The Toyota Sienna, which tops the muscle-per-gallon list in the category, comes with a saucy V-6 engine that churns out 266 horsepower, with city mileage of 17 MPG. At the bottom of the list, the entry-level Chrysler Town & Country gets the same mileage--but from an engine that offers just 170 horsepower.

2008 Honda Civic Hybrid

Civic Hybrid: Well balanced

As for the Prius, there’s still plenty to love. Among midsize cars, it ranks No. 5 -- and it’s one of the cheaper cars on the list.  But the top car -- the Nissan Altima Hybrid -- is more of a looker, with impressive mileage of 35 MPG, 198 horsepower, and a reasonable starting price of less than $26,000. That’s the kind of all-around performance drivers love.

Here are the best and worst Muscle Per Gallon performers in eight categories, with city mpg and horsepower listed for each. To see the entire list, click on the category name:

Small Cars

Best: Honda Civic Hybrid $22,600 / 40 mpg / 110 hp
Worst: Saab 9-3 $35,215 / 15 mpg / 255hp

Midsize Cars

Best: Nissan Altima Hybrid $25,170 / 35 mpg / 198 hp
Worst: Chrysler Sebring $23,515 / 16 mpg / 173 hp

Large Cars

Best: Lexus GS-450 Hybrid $54,900 / 22 mpg / 292 hp
Worst: Buick Lucerne $26,755 / 16 mpg / 197 hp

Compact SUVs

Best: Ford Escape Hybrid $26,505 / 34 mpg / 155 hp
Worst: Jeep Wrangler $20,795 / 15 mpg / 202 hp

Midsize SUVs

Best: Toyota Highlander Hybrid $39,950 / 27 mpg / 209 hp
Worst: Ford Explorer $28,305 / 13 mpg / 210 hp

Large SUVs

Best: Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid/GMC Yukon Hybrid $52,395 / 20 mpg / 332 hp
Worst: Jeep Commander (V-6) $27,415 / 14 mpg / 210 hp

Sports Cars

Best: Dodge Viper $85,210 / 13 mpg / 600 hp
Worst: Hyundai Tiburon (V-6) $22,375 / 16 mpg / 172 hp

Minivans

Best: Toyota Sienna $29,525 / 17 mpg / 266 hp
Worst: Chrysler Town & Country $22,510 / 17 mpg / 170 hp