Have you ever found yourself tearing across a post-apocalyptic desert wasteland, desperately hoping that your fuel tank won’t run dry? Although not everyone spends their free time pondering Mad Max-related scenarios, we at CarGurus occasionally do. A few weeks ago, we discussed some of the best cars for a summer adventure, and one in particular caught our interest: the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TDI. We pointed out that with it’s 14.6-gallon tank and great fuel economy, the SportWagen should be able to get you roughly 600 miles before needing a fill-up. That got us thinking—just how far can someone get on one tank of gas? We decided to look at the data to figure it out.
First, a little math. We used the standard combined-fuel-economy formula (.55 X city mpg) + (.45 X highway mpg) and multiplied that number by the largest fuel-tank size in a given vehicle. So, for instance, with the Volkswagen Golf SportWagen TDI, we multiplied the 14.6-gallon tank by its combined fuel economy of 35.95 miles per gallon. Based on these numbers, that car’s range topped out at 524.87 miles, and we’re sorry about the misinformation in our earlier article. But you’ll soon find out that while the new Volkswagen’s range is still impressive, it’s not the right place to keep your bug-out bag.
12. Toyota’s Camry has succeeded to a remarkable degree despite the widespread perception that it’s dull. That’s no doubt at least part of the reason Toyota’s 2015 redesign aimed to add some excitement to the Camry’s look, and it differs from our reviewer’s opinion that the V6 available in non-Hybrid 2015 trims is “robust and brawny.” The 2015 Toyota Camry Hybrid LE’s 2.5-liter inline 4-cylinder with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) won’t earn similar kudos, but its combined-mileage rating of 39.1 mpg and 17-gallon fuel tank give it a range of 664.7 miles per tank. That range may not be exciting on its own, but if you can’t find some excitement within 660 miles of wherever you are, that’s probably not the car’s fault. You’ve heard of this new thing called the Internet, right?
11. The Volkswagen Passat is a rather interesting case in that its TDI Turbodiesel engine set the standard for this range metric back in 1997. The ‘97 Volkswagen Passat TDI Sedan and Wagon had a range extensive enough to place it on this list. In fact the TDI had similar range numbers every year it was offered. But if you’re looking for the most range out of a single tank of diesel, the 2014 Volkswagen Passat will get you farthest. “But wait a second!” you might be thinking, “Wouldn’t the newer ‘15 model be the better option? The numbers provided by the EPA are practically identical!”
This is true, until we remember how combined fuel economy is calculated. It’s true that a ‘14 Passat gets 31 mpg city and 43 highway, while the ‘15 Passat gets 30 mpg city and 44 highway, but though these numbers look like they should produce a combined mpg with the same value, city fuel economy is favored 55/45 when estimating the combined value. This makes the ‘14’s 36.4 combined mileage a whopping 0.1 greater than the 2015 model, whose combined mileage comes in at a lowly 36.3. This rating coupled with the 18.5-gallon fuel tank gives the ‘14 Passat a total vehicle range of 673.4 miles per tank.
10. The 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid is another interesting case: While the 2013 lineup that introduced the Fusion Energi hybrid used an engine with better mileage specs than the previous version, that design also gave the 2013 Fusion Energi a gas tank 3.5 gallons smaller than the one in the 2012 Fusion Hybrid. So while the Fusion Energi’s hybrid engine offers a combined mileage rating of 42.65 mpg, the second-highest rating on this list, its 14-gallon tank leaves it with an estimated range of 597.1 miles. The 2012 Fusion Hybrid’s 17.5-gallon tank gives it a range of just over 678 miles despite its combined mileage rating of 38.75 mpg. The 2012 Fusion was a champ in other ways as well, having earned kudos from U.S. News and World Report as Best Affordable Midsize Car for the Money and for Families.
9. Lexus introduced the ES 300h to the U.S. in 2013, extending its hybrid technology to its best-selling sedan lineup. Since its introduction, the ES 300h has been able to get some of the best range available out of that hybrid powertrain. That powertrain is capable of squeezing out a 39.55 combined mileage rating, and with a 17.2-gallon tank, this Lexus can get 680.26 miles on a tank of gasoline. Although the Avalon Hybrid uses the same hybrid powertrain as the Lexus ES 300h, it also has a fuel tank that’s 0.2 gallons smaller. This reduces the Avalon’s overall range to 672.35 miles per tank, a number that would still land the Avalon on this list. The ES 300h brings quiet power and comfort to Toyota’s Luxury marque in an environmentally responsible package. The hybrid offers some of the lowest emissions for a vehicle its size with a rating of 223 grams of CO2 per mile. So if you want a full-size luxury sedan that will bring you nearly 700 miles while also producing a small carbon footprint, the ES 300h is the car for you.
8. Introduced in 2007, the Nissan Altima Hybrid was Nissan’s first foray into the hybrid marketplace, and its success was questionable. Nissan restricted sale of the Altima Hybrid to the 10 states in the U.S. that followed California’s very strict energy and efficiency laws. Needless to say, the restriction hurt sales, and Nissan discontinued the Altima Hybrid following the abysmally low sales of the 2011 model year. Despite not being embraced by the U.S. market, the Altima Hybrid offered some impressive fuel-efficiency benchmarks, with the 2010 Altima Hybrid capable of going 682 miles on a single tank of gasoline. Now, before you start congratulating Nissan on beating Toyota and the ES 300h at the hybrid game, you should note that the Altima Hybrid uses the Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD), which was developed in-house by…Toyota. Yup, the Altima Hybrid uses the very same hybrid engine as the Toyota Prius, as well as the previously mentioned Lexus ES 300h and Toyota Camry Hybrid.
7. Well, the Golf SportWagen TDI fell more than 100 miles short of making this list. In fact, as it turns out, Volkswagen AG’s best long-range car is actually an Audi. The Audi A8 is a huge sedan, and if you want maximum range, you’ll need to choose the biggest one. Employing a 3.0-liter diesel V6, the Audi A8 L 3.0 TDI offers an impressive 29.4 combined mpg to go along with a 23.8-gallon fuel tank. More recent iterations of the luxury sedan carry only 21.7 gallons, so you’ll want to look for a 2014 on the used car market if you want the full 699.72-mile range. In terms of luxury, only the Lexus ES 300h comes close to matching the A8. But with its Bang & Olufsen sound system, panorama sunroof, and 22-way power adjustable seats, we honestly can’t think of a more luxurious way to cross 700 miles than in an extended-wheelbase A8.
6. This is a jalopy special, and admittedly it’s going to be tough to find a 1991 Chevrolet C/K 1500, but if you can find a diesel one, you’ll be able to drive it an incredibly long way without re-fueling. While 1992 ushered in Chevrolet’s 6.5-liter turbodiesel V8, that much more powerful engine also used more fuel. If you only want a car that can take you as far from home as possible, 1991 is the year to pick. The anemic 140-hp naturally aspirated diesel V8 managed an unimpressive 20.7 combined mpg, but it also included a 34-gallon tank. This is a slow, underpowered and relatively inefficient truck. It will cost and arm and a leg to fill up at first, but you won’t have to do it again until you’re 703.8 miles down the road.
5. Oh, how far trucks have come. The 2015 GMC Sierra 1500 (and its twin, the 2015 Chevy Silverado 1500) has a 34-gallon tank and returns 20.7 miles per gallon, just like the diesel-powered 1991 Chevy C/K. We’d choose the 2-wheel-drive, 8-foot-bed trim for each…but that’s about where the similarities stop. Compared to the C/K’s 140 hp, the Sierra produces an astonishing 355 horsepower. The C/K used a diesel engine famous for its impressive 255 lb-ft of torque, but the Sierra’s gas engine outpaces it with 383 lb-ft. These trucks might have an identical range of 703.8 miles, but while the C/K will get you there, the Sierra will get you there comfortably, and that’s an important distinction to make.
4. Ford’s 2015 F-150 got more attention than just about any other new American light truck in decades, largely due to its pioneering use of aluminum in body panels, which helped the truck shed more than 700 pounds of curb weight. That weight savings certainly paid off from an efficiency and range standpoint, leaving Ford’s finest in fourth place on this list of longest-range vehicles, behind just a single truck. With a combined-mileage EPA estimate of 19.7 mpg and an available 36-gallon “Extended Range” fuel tank, most rear-wheel-drive versions of the 2015 F-150 are rated to travel 709.2 miles on a single tank. Other makers have seen the value of Ford’s approach, and now even GM, which released ads that made unflattering comparisons between aluminum and high-strength steel, now seems interested in using aluminum in its new Silverado.
3. Mercedes-Benz has been building diesel-powered cars for almost 80 years now, having produced the first passenger car with a turbodiesel engine back in the ‘70s. The company now offers its BlueTec “clean diesel” engines in four of its vehicle “classes.” The most widely used of its BlueTec engines is a 2.1-liter twin-turbo inline 4-cylinder, which is offered in the E-Class sedan as well as the GLK-Class and M-Class SUVs. The 2015 Mercedes-Benz E250 BlueTec has the greatest range of those vehicles, with its 21.1-gallon tank and 34.3-mpg combined-mileage estimate providing a range of 723.73 miles on a full tank. Our reviewer found the front seats of the very similar 2014 version comfortable, but only wanted to nap in the back seat, which sits low in the car and has a reclined back. Ah, what we wouldn’t give for a 720-mile nap—even at Interstate speeds, that would be a nice bit of rest.
2. When we think of hyper-efficient cars, the company that comes to mind is, more often than not, Toyota. For good reason, too; the Prius is the most iconic and best-selling hybrid on the road every year, and its hybrid technology is found all over the place, from Toyota’s options to those of its luxury brand, Lexus. But you know what? Honda makes an outstanding hybrid drivetrain too, and the 2015 Honda Accord Hybrid Touring is an exceptionally efficient car. The Accord Hybrid returns nearly 9 combined mpg more than its rival, the Toyota Camry Hybrid. That means the Accord Hybrid can travel nearly 90 miles further, despite a fuel tank that is 1.2 gallons smaller. Honda Accords have always been great highway cruisers, and with a total range of 754.45 miles, you can pick one up with the assurance that you’ll be cruising a long way between trips to the pump.
1. We’re sure a lot of you didn’t think that a pickup was going to take the number 1 spot on this list. But the 2016 Ram 1500 and 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 couple with the available 32-gallon fuel tank to extend the Ram 1500’s total vehicle range to 755.2 miles on a single tank of diesel. Who would’ve thought that your best option for a non-stop road trip would be to fill up this large work truck with diesel fuel and just hit the road. VM Motori, an Italian diesel engine manufacturer, developed an efficient, smooth oil-burner to answer FCA’s search for a more efficient powerhouse. The 1500 comes in with a combined mileage of 23.6, which isn’t bad seeing as how the EcoDiesel can still produce 410 lb-ft of torque. But like every pickup, the Ram 1500 has the advantage of having a massive fuel tank. And that’s just fine. This list isn’t about the most efficient. It’s about going to the gas station less often. Who cares how much gas you get while you’re there so long as you don’t have to go there often.
What car that you’ve owned had the longest range?
–John Harrington, Matt Smith, and Steve Halloran
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Used Kia Optima Hybrid
Used Volkswagen Passat
Used Lexus ES 300h
Used Nissan Altima
Used Audi A8
Used Toyota Camry
Used Chevrolet C/K 1500
Used GMC Sierra 1500
Used Ford F-150
Used Mercedes-Benz E-Class
Used Honda Accord
Used Ram 1500