Cars.com Mileage Challenge 3.1

Mileage1

Gas prices are dropping — precious good news in otherwise dismal economic times — but automakers clearly think we’re still in for a long-haul increase. To wit: The MPG war remains afoot, and the higher the gas mileage numbers you can put up, the better. General Motors markets XFE trims, for Extra Fuel Economy, of certain cars and trucks that have been tweaked to get better mileage. Ford has the makings of a similar lineup in its SFE, or Superior Fuel Economy, badging. Even Hyundai and Kia tout drivetrain revisions that yield incremental upticks in several of their ’09 models.

The ratings are sometimes impressive, especially among commuter cars, so for this fall’s mileage challenge we put four of them to the test. GM’s Chevy Cobalt and Pontiac G5 twins now get an estimated 25/37 mpg city/highway in high-efficiency XFE trim, which only comes with a manual transmission. The redesigned Toyota Corolla gets a close 27/35 mpg city/highway rating with an automatic; that’s a slight increase over the prior-gen automatic. A number of other contenders post impressive highway figures, too.

Balk all you want about how your kid brother’s ’87 Tercel got 35 mpg going uphill, but we’ll remind you that today’s commuters can reach 60 mph in less than 10 seconds – with side curtain airbags and habitable backseats to boot.

Mileage2

We picked some high-volume examples for the test, our third. Honda loaned a nicely equipped Civic EX-L, while Toyota sent a Corolla XLE. Both were 2009s with automatics, the transmission of choice for most Civic and Corolla buyers, according to each automaker’s spokesman. GM sales spokesman John McDonald declined to provide breakouts for the XFE versions of the Cobalt and G5, both of which are sold only with stick shifts. Our own listings don’t show a large number of them — of the thousands of Cobalts available nationally in Cars.com’s new-vehicle dealer inventories, less than 50 are XFEs — but McDonald said the trim is relatively new, so GM is still ramping up its availability.

The General had a Pontiac G5 XFE on hand, and we were a bit curious about its sky-high highway figure, so we took it along. We asked Ford for an automatic ’09 Focus — again, the volume seller there — but the best it could do was a stick-shift ’08. Bah.

Our drive began at one gas pump in downtown Chicago and ended at another in Aurora, Ill. We drove southwest toward central Illinois, logging some 300 miles of mostly interstate commuting at speeds averaging 55 mph. Like before, we split the drive into four legs, rotating drivers at each stop to account for variances in driving style. We set a maximum speed limit of 80 mph, kept windows and sunroofs shut, filled the tires to their recommended pressures beforehand and went without A/C or cruise control. We also banned any high-mileage tactics — like drafting for long periods behind semis — and drove as we normally would.

Last time we had a videographer rotating from car to car for camera shots, introducing a weight variable depending on the leg. Not this time — the camera guys commandeered a Mercedes SL from our weekly press fleet (note to self: resign editorial, join multimedia), so the only weight added was a greasy restaurant lunch.

Did these cars hold up to their highway EPA figures? Stay tuned to find out, and weigh in with your predictions below.

Details on the cars:

  • 2008 Ford Focus SES sedan: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, five-speed manual; 24/35 mpg city/highway (28 mpg combined)
  • 2009 Honda Civic EX-L sedan: 1.8-liter four-cylinder, five-speed auto; 25/36 mpg city/highway (29 mpg combined)
  • 2009 Pontiac G5 XFE coupe: 2.2-liter four-cylinder, five-speed manual; 25/37 mpg city/highway (30 mpg combined)
  • 2009 Toyota Corolla XLE sedan: 1.8-liter four-cylinder, four-speed auto; 27/35 mpg city/highway (30 mpg combined)

Comments 

L.S.

You're saying older models shouldn't enter the discussion but consider this:

+ '92 Civic EX vs. '09 Civic EX-L
- 125HP vs. 140HP
- 26/34MPG vs. 25/36MPG
- Legroom, headroom and cargo are about the same with only less than 2 inches more back legroom for the '09 model
- Couldn't find acceleration figures but I guess they're pretty much the same too since the '09 is more than 400lbs heavier
- 3stars vs. 4-5stars crash ratings
- 1 vs. 6 airbags
- both have ABS, AC, electric windows, mirrors, sunroof, etc.

- Price? $1,500 vs. $20,000.
How much gas can you buy for $18,500? Enough to last you almost 200,000 miles.

Think about it :)

GR

L.S., try to find a '92 Civic EX that isn't worn out and in need of an engine and transmission rebuild among various other needed mechanical expenses. Said vehicle probably won't provide properly functioning ABS and A/C, and a tired engine doesn't produce optimal fuel efficiency.

That '92 Civic EX isn't going to run trouble free for another 200,000 miles. Add in all the extra expenses to keep it running and it's not looking like such a great idea for saving money. :)

L.S. --
With due respect, I'm not sure where your numbers come from. The '92 1.6L EX got 23/31 mpg with an automatic and 25/33 with a stick. It's important to compare the EPA's revised calculations (which they estimate mathematically for pre-'08 cars), for an apples-to-apples comparison. Horsepower isn't the only determinant for speed; transmissions, curb weight and aerodynamics factor in as well. Case in point: In 1992, a 125-hp five-speed-manual Civic Si reached 60 mph in 9.2 seconds, according to a Car and Driver test. In 2007, C/D tested a manual 140-hp Civic at 7.7 seconds.

These are major differences, and the same goes for safety: Our preferred agency, the IIHS, did not test the Civic before the '96 generation. You are correct that NHTSA gives the '92-'95 generation a three-star crash rating for the driver -- not a great score, I might add -- but the agency did not perform side-impact tests. With vastly different side-impact standards, I doubt the car would have fared very well. Today's six-airbag Civic, by most yardsticks, does well in side-impact tests. The EX also comes standard with ABS, traction control and an electronic stability system. The '92 Civic you compare has only ABS.

Kelsey

J

Geez, only topped at 30 for all those vehicles? You guys sure have lead feet.

J, those are the EPA's combined city/highway ratings. We'll let you know the numbers we got in tomorrow's post.

Kelsey

Bowrider

GM should seriously consider doing something different with the G5 or simply eliminating it. Although, I could be wrong, insomuch as the affordability factor could steer a potential buyer in its direction.

Tony

Boys,
forget everything you've said about 92 vs 07 Civic....
92 like a smoke bomb compare to 07 - the clean burning machine

Troy S.

My 98 Civic HX with CVT Tranny consistantly gets 40 MPG. My work commute of mixed 30% city and 70% highway is 13 miles one way. The car has 155,000 miles and no leaks, smoke or other mechanical shortcomings. I properly maintain it and have no indication as why it won't go another 150,000.

Why can't the new technology cars do the same? Why must they weigh more, have higher HP and un-needed accessories?

Bloke

Most of the time the reason they weigh more is for safety requirements, or if not for requirements in order to look better in crash tests. The higher horsepower and "un-needed" accessories are because that is what a majority of the public wants; more of everything. Honda stopped selling the HX because of lack of demand. But I, like many others, would love to see an extra efficiency model like that again.

L.S.

@GR:
I actually own a '92 Civic in tip-top condition :)
I don't drive it anymore except for once a month around the block. Don't want to sell it either as I feel it's a lot more valuable than its Blue Book value shows. In any case, it's a "made in Japan" Honda so I doubt you'll run into many maintenance issues with it.

@Kelsey:
You're right. I forgot about the revision in EPA calculations. But I can tell you from first hand experience that the mathematical conversions must be a bit off as I'm averaging about 30mpg in city driving.
Regarding acceleration, according to your figures there's just 1.5 seconds between the two and I'm sure that doesn't translate to a big difference in everyday traffic situations.
As for traction control and electronic stability, let's be serious here: why on earth would a <150HP car need them anyway?
In my opinion, crash ratings are the only vastly improved area.

@Tony:
I couldn't care less about how clean my car runs as long as it passes emission regulations.

Bottom line for me is this: in the last more than 16 years everything that was done to make engines more economical was negated by all the extra "stuff" (to use a nice word) and size they've added onto the cars. That way they can just sell a more expensive package.

All I'm saying is that if you're that interested in saving money that you base your car-buying decision on a couple of MPGs, there may be better options available out there.

L.S.

@GR:
I actually own a '92 Civic in tip-top condition :)
I don't drive it anymore except for once a month around the block. Don't want to sell it either as I feel it's a lot more valuable than its Blue Book value shows. In any case, it's a "made in Japan" Honda so I doubt you'll run into many maintenance issues with it.

@Kelsey:
You're right. I forgot about the revision in EPA calculations. But I can tell you from first hand experience that the mathematical conversions must be a bit off as I'm averaging about 30mpg in city driving.
Regarding acceleration, according to your figures there's just 1.5 seconds between the two and I'm sure that doesn't translate to a big difference in everyday traffic situations.
As for traction control and electronic stability, let's be serious here: why on earth would a <150HP car need them anyway?
In my opinion, crash ratings are the only vastly improved area.

@Tony:
I couldn't care less about how clean my car runs as long as it passes emission regulations.

Bottom line for me is this: in the last more than 16 years everything that was done to make engines more economical was negated by all the extra "stuff" (to use a nice word) and size they've added onto the cars. That way they can just sell a more expensive package.

All I'm saying is that if you're that interested in saving money that you base your car-buying decision on a couple of MPGs, there may be better options available out there.

Amuro Ray

I disagreed with you, L.S. I do see your point though. However, if you are looking for a gas saving NON-HYBRID, econobox & 30+ mpg combined vehicle, there aren't that many choices, and they are all from Asia:
(1) Aveo/G3 (Korea)
(2) Versa (Japan/Mexico)
(3) Fit (Japan)
(4) Yaris (japan, I think).

The lowest $ is the Versa. Under $10K MSRP. Strip down model too.

Look, thgs changed. Safety standard is mandatory pretty much nowadays. If you don't at least get a 4 stars rating - forget it! Horsepower too! 100+ is a must, not only because of our demand for power, but also because of the weight of vehicle.

IF YOU PUT THE STANDARDS OF A 92 CIVIC OR 96 CIVIC IN TODAY'S MARKET, NOT ONLY WON'T IT PASS SOME OF THE REGULATIONS...PEOPLE JUST WON'T BUY IT! Look @ the Aveo. That's a good picture of how people nowadays value safety on small vehicles too. (Guess what the folks @ cars.com will say if that vehicle doesn't come with all the safety features as std, but rather, take out those thgs, and removing some of the metals (so may be a 3 or 4 stars crash test rating).

You have to move on, L.S. Yesterday's a goner!

Amuro Ray

1 more thg...u wanna know why I want traction control/stability on a 150 hp vehicle? On my "younger" days I was driving my parent's 1st generation Nissan Quest on a snow covered street. Vehicle has 153 hp to be exact. ABS too. Guess what? On a not-too-curvy turn, the rear wheel suddenly lost traction, and the van did 540 degree turn (so 1.5 turn and front became back), banged the rear wheel on the curve ($800 sthg to fix at that time), all of these while I was driving 25-30 mph on a (I think) 35 mph street.

TCS/VSC would have saved me that $800+.

J

L.S.
Guess what? My 07 Civic gets that kind of mileage even in Winter when I don't even bother to warm it up. And gets north of 36 whole summer long.
But keep this in mind, my 07 can kick your 92 every light. Plus, I got six airbags standard. Those safety features comes at a cost of weight.

Tony

"I couldn't care less about how clean my car runs as long as it passes emission regulations."

What DO you care about, LS? Yourself, the most?
At least, you can start 07 Civic inside the garage without being afraid of poisoning yourself because all it gives is CO2. While your 92 is real stinker compare to it.

Also, most states ( which do have emission test) have emission tests designed so that older vehicles will pass. But they would never pass same test as new cars. BTW, new cars don't even need a test. They have required OBD2 system, which tells when car has emission problems.

dolorean23

"However, if you are looking for a gas saving NON-HYBRID, econobox & 30+ mpg combined vehicle, there aren't that many choices, and they are all from Asia:"

I seriously disagree with this statement. My 2008 Saturn Astra XR 5 spd consistantly gets 30 mpg combined mileage, city and highway. The Focus I rented netted nearly the same at 29 mpg (can only rent an automatic). Either of these are so much better than the Korean and Japanese in interior quality, styling ques, and overall vehicle feel. However, the Astra is simply a rebadged Opel though still a GM and the Focus is probably made in Mexico, but either I would prefer over a Killed-In-Action.

Today, more than ever before, life must be characterized by a sense of Universal responsibility, not only nation to nation and human to human, but also human to other forms of life.

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