I owned a 2002 Hyundai Accent GS 2 door 5 speed 1.6L DOHC hatchback. It got low 30's in town and an easy 40+ mpg on the highway. I should have never traded it in on the 2003 SRT-4.
I also had a 1991 Chevrolet Cavalier RS 2 door coupe 5 speed 2.2L OHV 4 cylinder. It too would usually get just over 30 mpg in town and just over 40 mpg on the highway. I saw as high as 45 mpg on the highway with it, and that's before I knew how to drive to get the best FE!!
The 2nd generation Cavaliers ('90-'94) can be bought for $500 - $1k in running shape and they're a dime a dozen in junk yards so parts are cheap and easy to get. I'll be playing with aero mods on my '91 Cavalier Station Wagon to see what it can get on the highway in the next few months.
Just look at my Mazda, 1995 Protege Lx 5speed. Getting great results using what i have learned from this website. The best i could get when i bought it used was 37 mpg hwy 30 or so city, i drove it "normal"(70 to 75 on the hwy, fast starts, no shut off at lights, worn parts). I could still pick one up around 1500 or so with 120k on the clock. They are safe for a small car with crash bars and solid, sturdy passenger cabin.
Malibu Maxx. Only made 4 years and taken off the market BECAUSE it's an FE sleeper. I can get 41.8 MPG sustained at 62 MPH on flat ground on cruise control, bone stock, and my wife's is the luxury model.
It has more cargo room than a Jeep Liberty, seats 5, and is actually 1/2" SHORTER than its smaller brother the Malibu. 40+ MPG for a "station wagon"!!!
Looking to trade for an early 1988 Honda CRX HF (Pillar mounted seat belts)
Ford Escort - I've had a wagon for almost 10 years now (gave it to my daughter 2 years ago but left it in my name). She claims to break 40mpg every so often, judging by the line of cars I've seen behind her when passing her out on the road, I believe it.
Dodge/Mitsubishi Colt is one to look out for as well. As well as any other relatives like the Eagle Summit. 80s versions had a "dual stick" feature, basically high and low range gearing for sport or economy, or if you like, an "8 speed" gearbox.
I remember The RoadWarrior..To understand who he was, you have to go back to another time..the world was powered by the black fuel & the desert sprouted great cities..Gone now, swept away..two mighty warrior tribes went to war & touched off a blaze which engulfed them all. Without fuel, they were nothing..thundering machines sputtered & stopped..Only those mobile enough to scavenge, brutal enough to pillage would survive. The gangs took over the highways, ready to wage war for a tank of juice
A 2007+ Mini with the new 4cyl from PSA is supposed to get low 30s. The S model is turbocharged now instead of supercharged. I'll bet a good driver could realistically get upper 30s with the normally aspirated version at least.
That said, how about old sports cars? Opel GTs, Saab Sonnet, Fiat 850. I've never owned those but they're small, lightweight, and have very small engines.