Mileage Challenge 3.4: Fuel Economy Value


The fuel economy results of our mileage drive are in, and by now you’ve already read which cars we tested, the mileage they achieved and our impressions of each compact car. It’s using those real-world results that we’ve calculated which of these frugal commuters offers the best fuel economy value, based on each car’s as-tested price compared to the mileage it returned.

The calculation was simple: To pinpoint a value based on fuel economy, we merely divided the MSRP by how many miles per gallon the car returned during our testing. Now, let us mention that you can always get a bare-bones, stripped version of car, improving its fuel economy value, but the following results are a reflection of the specific trim levels we tested, which mostly included niceties that made the drive easier.

The Toyota Corolla, at $485 per mpg, sits on top of the value chart, costing the least for the mileage it returned. Despite being the second-most expensive in the lineup, its 36.4 mpg observed fuel economy was good enough to best the less-expensive Pontiac G5 XFE and Ford Focus SES.

For comparison, the 2008 Toyota Prius we tested in a previous mileage challenge scores a $420 per mpg fuel economy value score, as it returned a 55.7 mpg average with a $23,375 as-tested price.

The least-expensive compact in our test was the Pontiac G5 XFE, which came in second in our value calculations at $513 per mpg, but it was also way off its 37 mpg highway estimate, averaging 33.1 mpg. The Ford Focus SES with a manual transmission also had potential to be a value leader with a 35 mpg rating and a low entry-level price, but it sits third because of its lackluster results, averaging 31 mpg. 

While the Honda Civic returned decent fuel economy — 34.6 mpg — we tested an expensive leather-equipped EX-L trim level ($20,755) that was hands-down the nicest of the bunch, but it also sent the Honda to the back of the pack with a $623 per mpg score. An EX – the same trim without leather — at $19,205 would bring the per mpg score to $578, still the highest of the group.

2009 Toyota Corolla XLE w/four-speed automatic

  • As-tested MSRP: $17,650
  • EPA rating: 27/35 mpg city/highway
  • Observed fuel economy: 36.4 mpg
  • Fuel economy value: $485 per mpg

2009 Pontiac G5 XFE w/five-speed manual

  • As-tested MSRP: $16,980
  • EPA rating: 25/37 mpg city/highway
  • Observed fuel economy: 33.1 mpg
  • Fuel economy value: $513 per mpg

2008 Ford Focus SES w/five-speed manual

  • As-tested MSRP: $16,925
  • EPA rating: 24/35 mpg city/highway
  • Observed fuel economy: 31.0 mpg
  • Fuel economy value: $546 per mpg

2009 Honda Civic EX-L w/ five-speed auto

  • As-tested MSRP: $21,555
  • EPA rating: 25/36 mpg city/highway
  • Observed fuel economy: 34.6 mpg
  • Fuel economy value: $623 per mpg



I am not sure if Dollars per Mi/G really means anything in this case.

It would really mean if all cars were apples, ie all were manual or auto, and option groups were close at least. Part of the reason why many Hondas, like Accord, come pricier is because Honda installs all the safety equipment on all trims and, I don't know now but few years ago Accord would come with stability control standard and Camry did not. People said Accord is pricier. But it wasn't the truth. Same with CR-V vs RAV4. CR-v had 5AT, Stability, traction, etc, standard. RAV4 didn't have any of that standard. Once you load Toyota to match the price scale shifts considerably.

So, I don't think that the Fuel economy value here is true measure until we know all the standard features and optional packages that these cars had.

We're not saying this is the end all be all value comparison, we're saying it is the comparison of the four exact vehicles we tested and that's why we detailed their trim levels and transmissions so exactly.


You are basing all this information off of one partial fill-up at the pump. I find it odd that the trip computer in the Focus would register over 33 mpg yet you calculated 31 using the amount used between fill-ups. Did it occur to anyone that the vehicles may not have been topped to the same exact level after the second fill-up? Seems to me you should use the trip computer data where available.

If you factor in the rebate on the 2008 Focus and use trip computer data, the Focus comes in only slightly higher than the Prius, yet lower than the Corolla at $435 on "fuel economy value" scale.


Yeah, this post is kinda meaningless. It might be more useful if you had some baselines (cheapest/most fuel efficient), and compare it to that.

it's just a compliment to our complete test. Since we have real mpg figures instead of EPA. When we do compare baseline models, everyone says, why don't you compare real-world trim levels with a/c etc.

3 of the models were within $1,000 of each other!


i dont get it everybody gets different results with our focus we get 40 highway and our grandmother gets 36 with her civic...i guess it depends on your driving habbits if your heavy on the peddal or not but thats the problem were not heavy on the pedal and neither is our grandmother i think millage ratings are full of crap sometimes cause we also get 33.8 with our forester (2009)


The point is that everyone has different driving preferences and when testing mileage returns, it's hard to make everything else constant and set one variable. It is nearly impossible especially when it comes to cars. I think from the "general" (not everyone) tone of previous comments, people are being rather precipitous and a little bit arrogant, gawking at how their cars yield better mileage than that of the tested vehicles on Also, everything is subjective so the notion of value is different for everyone as well. I thought it was an interesting report and that yes perhaps it could have been done better (which goes for everything else in life), but ordinary people don't have that kind of time to perform these tests and I think people should be more greatful that there are people doing this for us.

Thanks for the support! We are in the business of doing these reports though and don't mind the feedback at all.

We thought it more important to do all four in exactly the same type of conditions for as long as we could (this did take a full day of driving). Instead of separately over a longer time period when there would be even more variable thrown in.

But like you said we're just trying to offer as much as we can to our readers along with new car reviews, the blog posts, our advice section etc etc.


I do agree that it's good that organizations/businesses with the means tests these vehicles so we don't have to, but to me this last post was kinda spitting out numbers to spit out numbers. The numbers in the end don't really inform the reader/buyer about what car is a better value, esp since it's not controlled for features that don't affect mileage (i.e., leather.) And I know that's all laid out there. In the end, it's a subjective call, and it's ok just say A is better than B. But trying to put a number on it for comparison is misleading, or at best, not very helpful. Otherwise, you guys are doing great!


If you were to repeat the test, you'd get different results. The "winners" could do better or worse, as could the "losers".

There are just too many variables. Just the seat height can effect results with different drivers, as can basic comfort. There are many other variables.

To get an average for each car you'd probably have to repeat the test many, many times and average all results - same as is done in science.

Troy S.

Dave T.,

I appreciate you and Kicking Tires taking the time to do such a comparison and comprehensive battery of tests. I am in the market for a car and you have saved me alot of driving around.



A more accurate cost comparison would be how long it takes to total $25,000 in costs.


The Civic LX would fare the same if not better in terms of mileage (due to lighter weight). On the other hand, it lacks only the moonroof, leather seats, rear disc brakes and alloy wheels, but costing close to $4000 less.


Actually, I appreciate this. Sometimes I'll use this metric myself to get a quick thumbnail idea of cost point... and it is affirming to see that others do the same.

But I also agree that a more comprehensive calculator would be very good. one with variables for price per gallon & %highway/city driving... that could pull EPA MPG from the database to say how many miles we'd have to drive before the price difference starts to matter...


Why wasn't the Cobalt LT XFE included? I paid about $14,000 for a very nicely equipped coupe. I get 35-37 mpg routinely.That is under $400/mpg.The 4 door sedan (if you could ever find one) should get similar mpg for the same price.


There is no way the Corolla got 36 OBSERVED AVERAGE MPG when it's EPA is 27/35. You'd have to go downhill in neutral the whole time during your test! Averages are always between the 2 EPA estimates. Some math or data is very, very wrong here.

Also, bias must be eliminated when you do a statistical number crunching study like this. You must test using-the lowest trim model and base sticker price for each car, not some in-between model, or the highest trim model. You must have the same transmission on each model as well, no sticking in some manual among automatics. I am describing numerical bias, not opinion bias.

This is a well-intended but inaccurate study, with suspect outlier data on the Corolla, and bias inherent on the other cars.

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