The best deals on high-MPG cars

(MoneyWatch) With gas prices at record levels in California and higher than normal for this time of year elsewhere, shoppers can still get deals on some high-MPG cars as dealers try to clear out 2012 models.

With refinery disruptions in California, gas there is averaging $4.61 a gallon for regular according to the AAA fuel gauge. And nationally, the price is stuck at $3.79 a gallon -- 34 cents a gallon higher than a year ago despite the U.S. price of crude oil having fallen.

With the 2013 model year already underway, automakers are offering a combination of zero percent financing and rebates or lease deals on some cars that can help you make fewer visits to the gas pump. "The end of the year usually means great deals available for car shoppers, and this fall is no exception," says Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book.

Kelley has compiled a list of the best current deals, and they include some small cars with strong mileage ratings.

Kelley analysts began with its Fair Purchase Price -- what a typical consumer is likely to pay for a given model.

They then calculated what monthly payments would be if you have a strong credit rating and can qualify for the zero percent financing deal. Where rebates are being offered, we added the likely transaction price if you took the rebate instead.

Here is a look at three of those high-MPG cars.

  • Ford Focus SE Completely redesigned for this 2012 model, the Focus drew praise from reviewers both for its sportier exterior and more comfortable, high-tech interior. The Focus is rated for 26 MPG in city driving, 36 highway. The Kelley transaction price is $17,239, resulting in payments of $287 a month on a zero percent, five-year loan. Or, if you take the $2,000 rebate being offered instead and get alternative financing, your price would be $15,239.
  • Mazda3 Also redesigned in 2012, the Mazda 3 intrigued reviewers with its combination of strong performance and good fuel economy. The EPA rates the Mazda3 at 25 MPG in city driving, 33 on the highway. The Kelley price on the i Sport Sedan version is $16,658, with five-year zero percent loan payments of $278. Mazda is not offering a cash rebate on the car. But if you are interested in leasing, a three-year lease with payments of $166 a month is available, with $1,976 due at signing.
  • Fiat 500 Fun and stylish, the 500 is rated at 30 MPG in city driving and 38 on the highway. With its small size, reviewers like it more for city driving than highway cruising. If that suits your needs, the Kelley price on the so-called Pop version is $15,353. That translates to a five-year zero percent loan with monthly payments of $256. Or, if you take the $500 rebate being offered by Chrysler Group, your price would be $14,853.

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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