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Image: Porsche 911 Carrera
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Powered by a 350-hp 3.4-liter flat-six engine and optional seven speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission, the base Porsche 911 can sprint to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds and maintains an estimated 20/28 city/highway mpg.
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updated 5/23/2012 8:23:35 AM ET 2012-05-23T12:23:35

It doesn’t take a market research maven to determine that with gas prices still hovering around the $4.00 mark, fuel economy remains of paramount importance among new-car buyers. But what if your vehicular preferences run more toward the fast and the furious — can a true sports car be both entertaining to drive and fuel efficient?

The answer, surprisingly, is yes.

While the sports car market is still populated with plenty of gas-guzzlers, there are a number of models — some of which are among the quickest rides on the road — that boast downright decent fuel economy.

Forbes.com slideshow: 10 fast and fuel-frugal sports cars

Take, for example, the 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S, which can leap to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds, yet is rated by the Environmental Protection Agency to achieve an estimated 20 mpg around town and 27 mpg on the open road. While that’s not exactly Toyota Prius territory, it’s far more respectable than such notorious fuel swillers as the Aston Martin V12 Vantage and Lamborghini Aventador, each of which gets a combustible 11/17-mpg city/highway.

And while it could be said that anyone who’s able to afford a costly sports car could well absorb sky-high gasoline prices, consider the environmental effects of choosing a “greener” alternative. According to the EPA’s figures, the aforementioned 911 Carrera S will burn an average 10.3 fewer barrels of oil and spew 4.6 fewer tons of greenhouse-gas emissions annually than will either the comparably performing Lambo or Aston Martin. Such emissions include carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane, which are said to be major contributors to global warming. (For fuel economy and emissions ratings for all vehicles, check the EPA’s website.)

We sorted through both the EPA’s official fuel economy ratings and posted 0-60 mph times for all sport coupes/convertibles sold in the U.S. to compile a formidable list of ten models that can reach 60 mph in well under six seconds, yet achieve an estimated combined city/highway fuel economy of 22 mpg or better. These include fleet-footed models like the Porsche 911, Boxster and Cayman, the Lotus Evora, Nissan 370Z, Audi TT, Mercedes-Benz SLK, Hyundai Genesis Coupe, Infiniti G37 and an unexpectedly frugal version of the venerable Ford Mustang.

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While most of these cars offer the choice of either a standard stick shift or an automatic transmission, you’ll note that many models achieve their quickest 0-60 mph times and top fuel economy ratings with the latter, particularly if it’s a sophisticated dual-clutch automated manual gearbox. While such racecar-inspired transmissions can be operated by hand for a quasi-manual effect, in fully automatic mode they typically shift faster and more precisely than most humans could muster.

One caveat, however. The EPA’s ratings are based on standardized tests conducted under strictly controlled conditions on a dynamometer, which is like a treadmill for cars. Out in the real world lead-footed motorists will likely never achieve any of these models’ lofty estimates. The EPA cautions that “aggressive” driving (i.e. the manner for which sports cars are built) can reduce a vehicle’s gas mileage by as much as 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent in the city. As they say, your mileage may vary.

Given that corporate average fuel economy regulations here and in Europe are scheduled to rise significantly in the coming years, expect sports-car builders to pay added attention to their models’ mileage down the road. This will likely include expanded use of lighter-weight materials like aluminum and carbon fiber; all else being equal, decreasing a vehicle’s mass by 10 percent enables about a three percent increase in fuel economy. Expect widespread use of technology like direct fuel injection and turbocharging to help make smaller engines perform like larger ones, as well as a so-called stop-start function that automatically de-powers an engine while the car is at idle to save fuel.

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We’ll also be seeing more hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric sports cars in subsequent model years. The recently discontinued Tesla Roadster proved that a battery-powered sports car could maintain top performance (0-60 mph in around four seconds) and use no gasoline at all. Porsche is currently testing a plug-in hybrid 918 Spyder “supercar” it plans to introduce in the fourth quarter of 2013. While it’s expected to break the bank at a reported $845,000, Porsche says the 918 Spyder will boast the equivalent of over 770 horsepower and get around 78 mpg (three liters per 100 km).

Now that’s really fast and frugal.

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© 2012 Forbes.com

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