I don’t know if this was the first, but back in 1990, before hybrids, the 1990 Geo Metro could get 45 mpg on the highway and 38 in the city, bringing the average to 41 mpg. There have also been people who claimed to have altered regular gasoline powered cars so that they were getting as many mpg as some hybrids. While I wouldn’t believe everyone who says this, it’s quite possible that some of these people are not exaggerating. I had the luck of buying a used 1994 4 cylinder engine manual Ford Probe from a guy who had to sell in a hurry because he was moving to New York City. He told me his uncle, who worked for Ford, had had it custom made for him as a present and he’d had the car for 10 years. The car got 50 mpg on the highway, which is way above what Ford Probes are supposed to average.
That depends on whether you are interested in factory models or home projects. I’m pretty sure that someone somewhere has built a 40+ mpg car a long time ago just by tinkering in his garage or working in an engineering laboratory, but I can’t track down the very first one. In general, cars get better gas mileage when they are lighter and lower in horsepower. So, all one would need to do to get better mpg on a gasoline-driven car is to replace the engine with something a lot smaller and get rid of as much extra weight as possible. In the past, professional cyclists have sanded the paint off of their frames to make them lighter, and I suspect that some high mpg enthusiasts have done the same thing. However, modern cycling events have minimum weight limits for the bicycles, and with new carbon frames, it is no longer advantageous to sand away the paint. Diesel engines also tend to get better mpg than regular gasoline engines.
If you are looking to consider the mpg equivalent of early electric vehicles, you’ll find that they blow internal combustion engine vehicles completely out of the water. Unfortunately, data collected on the mpg equivalent of electric cars before the 69mpg equivalent EV1 was produced is scarce.
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