Mileage Challenge 7.1: Efficient, Small and Fun

Mileage1
Expensive electric-powered cars are getting all the attention lately, but there are still plenty of small, efficient cars with small price tags being introduced on the market. For our latest mileage challenge we decided to take out three cars with three approaches to efficiency:  the redesigned diesel 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI, the new 2011 Honda CR-Z hybrid and the just plain gas-powered 2010 Mini Cooper.
 
We compared the cars in our latest three-car faceoff, but because of these differing powertrains it seemed natural to put them through our Mileage Challenge, as well. We’ve put diesel and hybrid vehicles on a mileage drive before but never two that were direct competitors with a fuel-efficient gasoline car in the mix to boot.

An overview of our test route and the contestants are below.

Mileage2

Our last mileage drive had us taking four entry-level cars northwest of our Chicago offices on a rainy spring day. This time around, we took an urban route to Chicago’s south suburbs, hopped on the interstate toward LaSalle, Ill., headed north past the Wisconsin border and cut back southeast to Chicago. Nine hours behind the wheel, with an even mix of city and highway speeds and temperatures in the 80s and 90s, put some 330 miles on the odometer.
 
As with all mileage challenges, we filled the tires to their recommended pressure before the drive, kept windows and sunroofs closed, avoided cruise control and filled up at the same station. We also avoided each car’s Sport mode, which optimizes drivetrain settings for maximum performance. In the past we’ve filled up the cars at the end of the day until the gas pumps click off. Gasoline shutoffs aren’t always consistent, so this time we filled the cars until we could see the gas near the top of the filler neck. (A gas pump clicks off for the sake of safety, not necessarily accuracy, so don’t do this with your own car. Professional writers, closed course.)
 
The Golf TDI and CR-Z were rated an identical 34 mpg in combined EPA ratings; the Cooper fell just 2 mpg behind. At day’s end, however, one contender blew the other two away. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s results, and weigh in below with your predictions.

Details on the cars:
 
2011 Honda CR-Z

  • Base MSRP: $19,200
  • As tested: $23,310
  • Specs: 1.5-liter four-cylinder with 10-kW electric motor and six-speed manual transmission
  • EPA gas mileage: 31/37 mpg city/highway, 34 mpg combined

2010 Mini Cooper

  • Base MSRP: $18,800
  • As tested: $25,000
  • Specs: 1.6-liter four-cylinder with six-speed manual transmission
  • EPA gas mileage: 29/37 mpg, 32 mpg combined

2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI

  • Base MSRP: $22,155
  • As tested: $27,490
  • Specs: Turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder diesel with six-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission
  • EPA gas mileage: 30/42 mpg, 34 mpg combined

Comments 

Ken L.

My prediction: The 2010 Volkswagen Golf TDI won this contest. By the way, why are there 2 base MSRP for the Honda?

Tony

"...there are still plenty of small, efficient cars with small price tags being introduced on the market."

$23,310
$25,000
$27,490

Not exactly small price tag for any of these three.

May be Honda Fit or Mazda2 would fall into the "small price" category.

Doug G

Mini Cooper blows em away, no turbo tempting you to to suck fuel and no hybrid system to cater driving style around.

Tony,
those smaller vehicles don't actually get better mileage than these three.

Pricing fixed. Thanks.

Rockaby

Yeah it's definitely the TDI. People always talk about getting way beyond the EPA mileage in their VW TDIs from what I've seen.

Tony

Dave,

Historically it is been like this:
cheaper car mostly meant better fuel economy. And it made sense - not so rich person would buy a cheap car which was fuel efficient and had small tires to boot, so to maintain it would be cheap.
These days, you say, we're buying efficient $30G car to save on gas?
Another day I saw some tears. A woman ripped her tire on Highlander Hybrid. I replaced it with a spare. She cried. I asked her, why? She said, she paid close to $1000 to replace 4 tires 2 days prior. I asked her, why did she buy Highlander Hybrid? She said it was efficient. So, here we go. My point as consumer, why do I need 35mpg car with $900 set of tires?
Or why do I need to pay $25 for a small car, if I can get one for 10g less and fuel economy, which is may be slightly worth. For the money of these clunkers (because none of them either, good or proven) I can get 50 mpg Prius - a super reliable, comfortable and advanced machine.

Tony,
Except you can easily get the CR-Z and Mini Cooper for $20K. A Fiesta easily can get to $20K. I think these also add more premium interiors and a sportier driving experience.

As for tire replacements...have you gotten new tires lately? I got 4 Yokohamas for my VW Passat Wagon last fall, all season 17s, $800. Granted I could've gotten something slightly cheaper but these weren't top of the line either.

Style

Tony,

Stop trying to figure out why people don't buy a car based on your logic. Car buying is 99% emotional/1% logical.

Amuro Ray

Style, do u really have to open ur mouth and make urself look stupid to all?

If your statement is true, then I guess those huge incentives from most auto manufacturers are just...well, fairy tales...

Or the "research" features on most car buying websites...well, are there just to scam people or spread virii when you click onto them?

Not that many people are as stupid and illogical as you think.

Style

If I'm stupid then what color of car do you own?

Don't want to get into an argument but the number one buying consideration is always price. And our site wouldn't have been around as long as it has if people didn't research a car before they buy.

Style

There is always an emotional reason for why someone buys what they choose to buy. The price only tells you what you can and can't afford. Why would someone buy Car X for $20,000 over Car Y for $20,000?

Why did you buy your new Outback? At the end of the day price was but one factor. You didn't have to buy it but you chose to buy it. You could have saved that money or used it to buy something else when you had a perfectly good car already. Logic said you didn't have to buy it but emotion took over and you chose to buy it.

Style,
I can tell you without fail there was not one bit of emotion when buying our Outback. It's practical beyond belief.

However, I'm not discounting an emotional reason many people buy. I'm just saying we've done a lot of research on this and it is a very small part of the decision making process. It may be the deciding factor to help people choose between A or B of very good choices but those cars have to satisfy many other needs first.

Style

Really? What do you mean by practical? Help me understand how your old car wasn't practical and that buying a new car resolved this lack of practicality? No emotion? Not tired of trying to cram baby seats, luggage, pets in a car that was just too small? Not tired of riding with the steering wheel in your gut or your knees up in the dashboard because you can't put the driver's seat back far enough? Unless you are a robot, there was some emotion involved in your purchase. Emotion is more than just oooohh that's a pretty color or oooohh I like how that car looks.

Dtrain

You can always tell the uneducated people like Style who don't know what the hell they're talking about.

Style

If you're going to insult me at least say something original.

TDI OWNER

I could easily do the 330 miles with 5.5 to 6 gallons of diesel fuel.
Let see what they managed to do.

shawn

I actually think Style get points in this arguement. If emotion is not a factor can someone please explain why there ever was an SUV craze? They are horrible with fuel effeciency, big an clumsy vehicles supposidly built for off roading etc but... where do you find them? At the suburban soccer field, or in the city with 24" chrome wheels and a boomin system. All with 4x4 off road capability and a 9000lbs towing engineered in... Total emotion caused the largest truck/SUV boom in automotive history. If logic such a big decision Ford would never make a Platinum F150. One Very Cool Truck!

shawn

LOL! And why are the Mustang 5.0 commercials and Camaro vs Mustang videos and test drives rife with burnouts? B'Cause logically every car owner NEEDS to peel a few years of life off of their $2000 per set tires at every stop light? No... It's just a cool thing to do, and it feels cooler to own the car that can do it! Emotion over Logic...

Tony

Emotional buys regularly end up in repossession.

shawn

LOL! Yeah right! The auto industry as a whole wouldn't exist if that were the case. 50 years of Mustang ownership says otherwise.
NASCAR.... Need I say more? And I hate NASCAR... But i understand.

Style,
We're so far of the topic of this post it isn't funny. I think you just define the word "emotion" differently. All those reasons you list I list as practical, not emotional. More room and comfort to me is practical, not emotional.

The sports car argument would be valid though. There isn't much need for them. I think today's car shopper is swinging much more to the cautious and practical though and sales of Mustangs etc are down a bit. Now, a practical car with style is still a good idea. Like the Kia Soul.

Amuro Ray

Come on, Dave T. Post the result already!!!

My bet is on the CR-Z. No disrepect for the TDI, but the mileage is so impressive already that I don't think it's gonna blow significantly during ur test...

Style

It is very funny because you are the editor and by continuing to respond, you get further off topic.

I'm moving on.

Northwesterner

My $14.5K Yaris Sedan (purchased new in '09) regularly gets 40+ mpg on the highway and 32 around town. It has a real usable trunk, seats 4 comfortably, and a decent ride. It's not a stripped down version either as it has A/C, cd player, and power everything.It may not have the emotional and sporting appeal of your tester cars, but when you're buying primarily for economy, that's further down the list.

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