2007 Gas Sippers -- $3 a Gallon Is Back

Maybe you saw the story online or in your local newspaper. Here we go again — gasoline prices in some parts of California hit $3 a gallon and kept moving higher.

Experts think price hikes of that ilk will stretch across the country as we enter the warm weather-driving season. Add to that extensive work at some West coast refineries, plus the ongoing unknown factors in the Middle East, and it is easy to see that as the thermometer goes up so will prices at the old gas station. The Associated Press reported that gasoline is about $3.20 on Maui, and averages about $3.10 a gallon in the San Francisco area. As we have seen in the past, prices will vary depending on location.

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Therefore, we thought it was appropriate to roll out our annual gas sippers column a bit early this season. Here are some of the cars that we think will allow you to snarl like the MGM Lion at your local gas station.

Honda Fit

We think it's the best choice for those who want to have a little fun while saving on gas.

The Fit is EPA rated at 33/38 miles per gallon with the slick shifting 5-speed manual transmission. Switch to the 5-speed automatic and that comes out to 31-38 miles per gallon. The little 1.5-liter, 109-horsepower engine gives its all with zero to sixty coming up in 9 seconds. Inside, there is ample room for four and visibility is good. Handling is above the econobox standard and the price is right with a base of $13,850

Toyota Prius

There is little doubt that this is the class leader when it comes to hybrids on virtually every front.

It's a well-built little car with loads of room inside, with gas mileage in the low 40-mile per gallon range, according to the e-mails we've received from real-world owners. Our recent test Prius gave us 38.7 miles per gallon. A base model starts at $22,175 and Toyota dealers are now offering mild incentives as inventories surpass demand for the first time. It is a high tech, high quality little gas sipper - that also attracts customers for its lower emissions.

Toyota Yaris

We just had a blast driving this little economy car.

We liked the driving position, and the way it easily scooted around town on the thousand and one errands we all have to do. You sit up and pay attention to the world around you in the Yaris, and the list of standard equipment is high - so there's bang for the buck. Look for 34 to 40- miles per gallon of $3 dollar gas, with prices starting at $10,950 for the base hatchback. With the 4-speed automatic, zero to sixty kicks up in about 9.8 seconds - Go Yaris, GO!

Honda Civic

The Civic is our recommendation at the Honda garage if you do not see fit to buy a Fit. It is good fun to drive in the gas models and even more fun if you can find an Si model. The frugality factor increases if you spring for a hybrid. All are high quality, well-built cars with the out of this world, high mounted dash panel that some love (we did), and some hate. The EX model with a five-speed manual will hit sixty in the low eight-second range, and produce 30-39 miles per gallon according to the EPA. Switch to the hybrid, and the EPA rises to 46-51 miles per gallon. We got just over 40 MPG in our weeklong test. We put the Civic on our first top ten list because of its unimpeachable reliability record, fun to drive factor and high build quality.

Scion xB.

Scheduled to undergo a styling change in the near future, this box on wheels has turned into a bit of a cult favorite. The xB is a little noisy, and has a stiffer ride than some may be accustomed to, but we found it to be great fun to drive. It is EPA rated at 30/33 miles per gallon with the 5-speed stick, and 30-34 with the 4-speed automatic. With the stick, zero to sixty clicks in at 9.8 seconds, about par for most of this class. The new model will be more rounded in appearance, but still identifiable as an xB.

Chevy Aveo

The Aveo is a very nice set of wheels from General Motors' (GM) South Korean manufacturing branch. We thought it had a most pleasant interior and overall was a serious update from the earlier Aveo. Power is a bit on the weak side, but EPA mileage is 26-34 with the 4-speed automatic. We rang up 27 in our test. Look for a tick or two miles per gallon more with the 5-speed stick.

Other recommendations include the fun-to-drive Mazda 3, the Scion Xa, Ford Escape hybrid, and the upcoming Saturn Astra (which in Opel form, was Europe's second best selling car last year), and the soon to be tested Nissan Varsa.

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In case you were wondering, on the other end of the scale there's the Lamborghini Gallardo at 9.3 miles per gallon from its 520-horsepower V-10, and the 16-cylinder 1001-horsepower Bugatti Veyron, that gives owners an even 9-miles per gallon. But at a base price of $1.4 million - who cares?

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