Cars Getting Better Fuel Economy Than Advertised


Automotive Editor

Armaan Almeida was an Automotive Editor who produced buying guides and sneak previews, in addition to publishing daily news stories and tracking monthly deals, incentives and pricing trends from Toyota, Nissan and Lexus.

, Automotive Editor - June 19, 2015

Recent reports suggest a reversal in trend as automakers refine drivetrain efficiency and drivers refine driving behavior.

Fuel economy. It's a topic that's been covered in great length, especially with the wild fluctuation in gas prices. And in a report released earlier this week, AAA actually found that 8 in 10 drivers get better fuel economy than their stickers indicate.

This is in stark contrast to what happened to Hyundai and Kia back in 2012 when the automakers overstated the fuel efficiency of around 1.2 million vehicles, including big sellers like the Hyundai Elantra and Kia Soul. The Korean automaker felt the wrath as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Justice Department issued fines that totalled over $300 million. And that doesn't take into account the fact that they had to pay current owners $353 a pop for misconstruing their MPG claims. In all, the debacle cost Hyundai and Kia $700 million.

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Vehicles With Gains, Losses

Not all vehicles garnered better-than-expected numbers. Buyers who opted for manual-transmissions reported 17% better fuel economy than their respective EPA ratings. That means if they were driving a 2013 Honda Fit equipped with a 6-speed, they easily beat out the 27/33 mpg rating and got around 31/38 mpg. That being said, owners of the same vehicles equipped with automatic transmissions still got around a 7% gain--truly remarkable gains.

Owners of diesel-powered vehicles like the best-selling TDI-powered Volkswagen trio of the Golf / Jetta / Passat garnered the biggest increases in fuel economy--a full 20%. Volkswagen also offers two other TDI vehicles, the 2015 Beetle TDI and 2015 Touareg TDI. Diesel vehicles usually get exemplary fuel economy due to the fact that their augmented with efficient turbochargers. The engine does not have to work as hard or spin as fast, improving efficiency.

Minivan owners reported fuel economy on par or slightly below their EPA ratings, however. That's not to say that they aren't efficient. Best-sellers like the 2015 Honda Odyssey (19/28 mpg) and 2015 Toyota Sienna (18/25 mpg) get respectable numbers, especially when you consider how large and luxurious they really are.

Truck owners with V8 engines surprisingly also reported fuel economy that was 5% higher than their EPA ratings, while truck owners with turbocharged V6 engines like those found on the 2015 Ford F-150 EcoBoost actually reported fuel economy ratings which were 9% lower than advertised. We can chalk that up to more driver behavior than anything else.

The largest group (though crossovers are catching up) are drivers who own sedans. Those equipped with V6 engines saw a 9% increase in fuel economy versus turbocharged 4-cylinder sedans, whose owners saw a 4% drop in comparison. Again, this can be attributed more to driver behavior than anything else, as the seamless and slightly-less direct acceleration of a turbocharged vehicle leaves something to be desired in terms of low-RPM torque.

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Fuel Economy


A topic that doesn't really get mentioned is the fact that all cars need to be broken in. The tolerances in today's engines are tighter than ever, with short skirt pistons and lower-viscosity lubricants ruling the reciprocating landscape. As vehicles are driven over the course of a couple oil changes, the tolerances inside the engine loosen ever-so-slightly, reducing friction and parasitic drag. In other words, fuel economy and performance improve as a vehicles engine and transmission break-in.

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Things You Can Do To Improve Fuel Economy

You might be reading all of this and thinking to yourself, "wait, why am I not hitting those numbers?". More likely than not, the reason is because of your driving behavior. Here are a few tips that AAA says you should adhere to:

  1. Accelerate Slowly: We've all been there. You want to get onto that pesky 405 on-ramp but there's a stoplight right before the entrance. You stab the accelerator pedal in hopes of making it, but the light turns red before you get there. Even if you had made the light, your difference in commute time would even out on the off-ramp. So take it easy when accelerating. It's safer and you'll get to your destination in the same amount of time.
  2. Avoid High Speeds: Again, think ahead. Constantly accelerating to get to a higher speed will kill your fuel economy. Vehicles are more efficient when you keep speeds between 30 - 50 mph. According to their research, the U.S. Department of Energy says that for every 5 mph above 50 mph you drive, you're essentially paying an additional 19 cents per gallon of gas.
  3. Avoid Idling: For every minute you idle, you lose roughly 3 cents in fuel costs, not to mention unnecessary strain on your vehicle's cooling system. So if you're waiting in that long line at In-N-Out or waiting to pick up the kids from school, killing the ignition will improve your overall fuel economy.

The Takeaway

In the end, we, the consumers win. Vehicles are getting better in every facet, from fuel economy to safety. And this trend will only continue as automakers burn the midnight oil to get to where the stringent CAFE requirements need them to go--higher.

, Automotive Editor

Armaan Almeida was an Automotive Editor who produced buying guides and sneak previews, in addition to publishing daily news stories and tracking monthly deals, incentives and pricing trends from Toyota, Nissan and Lexus.

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