A new year has descended and so has the annual armada of new cars, trucks and vans. Last October, the Environmental Protection Agency rated the new 2002 models–865 in all–for fuel efficiency and found the following:

On average, 2002 model cars get lower gas mileage than 2001 models.

More than one-third of all 2002 models get less than 20 miles per gallon.

The average fuel efficiency of 2002 model cars exceeds that of sport utility vehicles (the ever-present SUVs) by a paltry 6 miles per gallon.

When it comes to efficiency, leading the pack for the third consecutive year were two foreign-made hybrid cars, the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius. They average 64 miles per gallon and 48 miles per gallon, respectively. Hybrids are powered by both gas and electric engines, exploiting the best qualities of each to produce a better whole. (They are quiet, yet never need to be plugged in.) And they’re clearly a giant step forward in the increasingly important direction of energy independence–not to mention cleaner air.

Of course, I was particularly interested to see where my own vehicle fits into the fuel economy picture. What I found is that my dozen-year-old car manages to beat out 864 of the 865 new models rated by the EPA in sheer miles to the gallon. It’s not a hybrid, although it is more fuel efficient than the Toyota Prius. It’s a plain old Honda CRX HF, which has gotten 50 miles per gallon on unleaded gas consistently since it was purchased new in 1990 at a Honda dealer in Athens, Ga., for approximately $10,000.

Unfortunately, Honda retired the CRX model in 1991. Apparently, efficiency, practicality, energy independence and the promise of cleaner air don’t sell as well as inefficiency, impracticality, energy dependence and the surety of air pollution.

Americans have fascinating priorities.