Gas Mileage: It’s not what you drive, it’s how you drive.

Gas mileage is very important for today’s cars.  What with gas approaching $4.00 a gallon, it’s becoming a serious issue for all but the wealthy.

I hope that everyone understands that the EPA mileage rating you see on a car’s window sticker is something that will rarely be seen in the real world.  There are some proposed rules changes that will improve the accuracy of what the sticker says and what you actually see.

But, as Jeremy Clarkson says, “It’s not what you drive, it’s how you drive.”

I used the Consumer Reports ratings of the observed gas mileage on various recent test vehicles.  I think their work is a little closer to real world conditions.  For comparison sake, we’ll look at these vehicles and some equivalents from

We’ll also compare some real world driving experience from your truly.

Now, first of all, because the Polo BlueMotion isn’t available in the US, the Toyota Prius is the most fuel efficient vehicle here.  Yes, a pure gas (well diesel) guzzle gets better mileage than the vaunted Prius). says the Prius gets 51mpg in the city and 48mpg on the highway.  That’s not shabby.  But what do you really get?  Well, CR got 32 city and 55 highway.  Wow, that’s a huge difference.   I won’t go into why, but that’s real world and I guess if you obey the speed limit (or a little under), then you could get those numbers.

One important not, being a hybrid doesn’t really help on the highway, once the batteries are flat, then you’re on the engine 100%.  Still, 55mpg is a respectable number.

Other hybrids are not so impressive.  That’s where I want to put my real world experience in the mix.

Now, let’s look at the Ford Fusion Hybrid.  One reason is that I almost bought one.  The second reason is that the car I did by, gets equivalent mileage.  The EPA estimates 41mpg in city and 36mpg on the highway.  CR got 25 in the city and 40 on the highway.

That’s really very interesting, because my Subaru WRX with a turbocharged 2.5 liter engine gets the exact same real world city mpg.  Actually, with a little effort I can get up to 28mpg.  I’ve gotten 43, but that was right after I filled and I coasted down a looooong hill.  But I can easily get 25mpg on a complete tank of gas.  I usually play a little on the weekends, but during the week, 28 is easily doable.

Of course, my car can trade some of that economy for power and blow the doors off the Fusion too.

OTOH, my car really is built for performance and it shows on the highway.  It’s got a very short top gear, which improves performance, but limits fuel economy.  I have gotten 33.3 mpg on a long highway run before (65mph, for about 3 hours).  Normally, I get between 25mpg and 28mpg (70-75 mph).  Once you get up to 80mph, the fuel economy drops to around 23-24mpg.

In pure city driving (which is what I do in my commute), my turbo-charged performance car is tied for the 9th most fuel efficient vehicle tested by Consumer Reports.  (With one Caveat.  The Altima Hybrid, gets 27 city, but only 36 highway and I could nearly match those numbers.  Nearly.)

So remember, if you can’t afford a hybrid or a pure electric, then drive efficiently.  You’d be surprised at how much more mileage you can get from your own car with careful driving.


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3 Responses to Gas Mileage: It’s not what you drive, it’s how you drive.

  1. MR. G says:

    You’re excluding a lot of important details with your sources.

    To begin, the EPA rating has been accurate since 2008 (when they changed their testing methods). Nowadays, the EPA actually *under*-estimate cars’ MPG figures. Coincidentally, you didn’t mention that the CR article which mentioned the Prius gets 32MPG city is talking about the 2002 Prius (nor that the post-2008 EPA rating for the 02 Prius is now 41MPG, not 50MPG). CR also tested newer 2010-2011 Prius which they say gets 44MPG overall which is well within range of the EPA 50MPG figure for the 2010-2011 Prius.

    I also looked up the 2010 Fusion Hybrid EPA figures and looked up the figure CR got. CR got 34MPG v the EPA’s 39MPG — again, well within figures. CR seems to consistently get lower figures, but considering it’s usually 5-10MPG, I’m guessing what the issue really is is that CR isn’t driving economically.

    Your whole article is about ‘driving economically’, but it seems you forgot to take this into consideration when using CR as a source. Look up the folks at MPGoMatic who tests cars with MPG in mind — usually, they get better ratings than the EPA in every single vehicle they drive.

    Don’t get me wrong, I do agree that careful driving is an excellent way to increase fuel economy, but using fudged information to prove a point doesn’t really change reality: It’s not just how you drive, it’s what you drive too. A person who drives well will get good economy in a normal car, but they will get even better economy in a hybrid.

  2. MR. G says:

    Oh, I forgot to mention one other thing: That Polo BlueMotion?

    This is an extremely common misconception, but the U.S. and Europe does *not* use the same testing methods. If the Polo BlueMotion were to be released in the U.S., its rated MPG would be a lot lower.

    Case in Point: In the UK, the Prius is rated at 65MPG while the Honda Insight Hybrid (40MPG in U.S.) is rated a stunning 83MPG.

  3. OgreMkV says:

    I agree with you. But (and this was the point of the article) many people don’t have the option of purchasing a purely economical vehicle or hybrid (due to price, need for certain features, or whatever).

    The point is that by careful driving, you can drastically improve the fuel economy of even a poorly rated vehicle (up to a point).

    I fully agree that a Prius will get better mileage than a full size SUV. But if you need an SUV and can’t afford another vehicle, then you can still do things to improve the fuel economy.

    I would also add that a tune up and checking the tires on older cars can have a big impact on economy. My wife’s SUV went from 19MPG (averaged over 3 weeks) to 24MPG almost overnight with four new tires and a complete tune up ($1200).

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