Frugal, agile, comfortable interstate transportation for aging geezer

I drive 900 interstate miles/week-end to/from out of state work and my 2008 Mini-S (middle aged fantasy - fun but flimsy) is aging fast, as is my lower back.
I need a replacement that gets >33 mpg @ 79 mph (guess we can ignore all those window sticker mileage estimates), can avoid and pass large trucks without raising my heart rate and preferably costs < $30K and won’t need repairs for 150K miles.
I already tried a Honda Civic Hybrid, and it gets worse mileage than the Mini (but is more comfortable) and has 0 to 60 times captured by sundials.
I’d like to buy American made even if not an American brand, but the criteria are more important.

I’d take a look at the VW Passat 2012 TDI diesel. They’ve gotten good reviews from the auto press and have been reported to get 45+ hwy mpg from owners. I’ve read one report of a VW dealer who drove his from Seattle to San Francisco (or some such trip) and got almost 900 miles out of single tank of diesel. If you do a lot of highway driving, this could be your ticket. For some reason, these TDI Passats are getting significantly BETTER hwy mpg than EPA rating. Base price is around $26k, assembled in USA, I believe.

PS–Here’s a link to the writeup from the guy who drove from Seattle to San Francisco on a single tank and got 55 mpg:

By the way, this car is also Motor Trend’s Car of the Year, and is built in Chattanooga. From what I’ve read, these cars are flying off dealer lots.

I agree with the VW diesel recommendation. Others would be cars from the Scion line (tC perhaps) and a Corrolla. They ride much better and there are very few non diesel, non hybrid cars that do as well. The 1.8 in this line and the Scions is one of the better combinations of economy and performance.
Mazda would be my next choice for sporty driving as well. BTW, a full size very comfy standard Camry has a 41 mpg rating highway in four cylinder form…not too shabby either. So, It should be pretty easy to meet your 33 plus mpg with highway a bunch of makes, some in v6 in Accords and Fusions as well. The bigger the more comfy.
I don’t have a clue where any is made…

Smalltownboy–I think you need to try a vehicle on for fit just as you would try on a pair of shoes. Our two vehicles are a Toyota 4Runner and a Toyota Sienna. Obviously, they don’t get the gasoline mileage you are seeking.
Based on trips to conferences for my institution in vehicles from its fleet, here are the ones that gave the mileage you are looking for:

  1. Ford Fusion–I found this vehicle comfortable and I had plenty of leg room.

  2. Ford Escape hybrid–this vehicle was my choice of the vehices I was assigned. I really liked the seating position.

  3. Honda Civic Hybrid. I didn’t have enough legroom–had the seat gone back another inch, it would have been satisfactory. My wife had to use one when she went on recruiting trips for the institution and didn’t have much good to say about it.

  4. Nissan Sentra-- This vehicle was amazingly comfortable for a 700 mile round trip and was the bottom of the line.

  5. Hyundai Sonata–I didn’t find this vehicle very comfortable.

I haven’t had any experience with VWs, so I can’t comment on these cars. I had a good impression of the 1960 Studebaker Lark V-8 that was in the fleet when I first began my tenure with the institution, but ancient history doesn’t apply to your situation.

A new Chrysler 300. It is a big car and for its size gets very good mpg. Expect it to be a comfortable ride on long interstate trips.

Before you buy anything be sure to test drive it, of course as any car that I know now, luxury and otherwise, has a firm suspension including my neighbor’s full size Buick. If you want to carry it as far as possible with buying a US made car, then you might want to wait, if you can, for the Chevrolet Cruze diesel that is reported to become available for 2013. That might mean the Fall of 2012, not long from now.

Among other things that is good about owning an old line US brand is that there are many more dealers than for foreign originated brands. For example, if the dealer nearest my house is not to my satisfaction, there are several others carrying the same brand within 20 miles.

VW pretty much has the diesel car market to itself. Waiting a little for other brands to come out with diesel cars will bring more price competition.

With your speed and fuel mileage requirements, a diesel car is your only answer for now and even that might not make it. Look at the fuel mileage threads on for more.

Look here to see fuel economy numbers:

Even though you will get worse mileage at 80 MPH, the relative differences between cars should hold. Test drive a Chevy Sonic w/ 6-spd manual and Ford Fiesta.

"Chevrolet Cruze diesel that is reported to become available for 2013. "

If the price is reasonable, that’s a bold move, unusual for GM. that would peak a renewed interest by many in their products.

I’d worry more about my back before I worried about fuel mileage, even with that many miles a week.

It’s called a Crown Vic…Lower your mileage to 26, 27 maybe…

I’d go for the Jetta TDI instead of the Passat TDI, that way you avoid the urea injection system.