Maybe you don't like them, but the Prius is the obvious automatic/CVT car that meets your criteria. Lots of them are available in your price range, they get better mpg, and reliability will probably be better too.
I don't know about the HX CVT (there weren't a whole lot of them made), but the hybrid CVT that Honda made at the same time for the Civic was very unreliable. I would do a little research and make sure the HX doesn't have the same reliability problems as the hybrid before considering a Honda CVT of that vintage. And in general the VW's of that vintage are relatively expensive to maintain.
If you're serious about maximizing mpg, a manual transmission would probably be the way to go; regardless of what the epa mpg's are. See the mpg data reported on this site or a lot of the ecomodder discussions. Another high MPG car is the Toyota Yaris.