Cars.com $26,000 Midsize Sedan Showdown: Mileage Results

Altimagas

We took six of the top-selling, most fuel-efficient cars in the U.S. and pitted them against each other. How’d they do in our mileage drive?

While Nissan's redesigned 2013 Altima may have the highest EPA-estimated mileage rating among family sedans, its trip computer had the largest discrepancy with our calculations at the pump. After a 185-mile loop, the Altima's trip computer read 4.38 mpg above our calculations — far higher than the variances we observed for the 2013 Ford Fusion, 2013 Honda Accord, 2013 Hyundai Sonata, 2013 Kia Optima and 2012 Toyota Camry. The Altima won the day's trip-computer mileage with an observed 35.9 mpg, but its calculated pump mileage — 31.52 mpg — landed it a third-place finish behind the Camry and Accord.

Cars.com/USA Today/MotorWeek $26,000 Midsize Sedan Showdown

We took six contenders on a daylong mileage loop in mixed city/highway conditions. Per our usual mileage-challenge procedures, we began and ended at the same gas pump, swapped drivers over roughly equal chunks of seat time, kept windows and sunroofs closed and avoided cruise control. With cool temperatures and low humidity, we kept air conditioning off this time.

At day's end, our calculated pump mileage amounted to less than 1 mpg difference from what the trip computers read for five of the six cars, but the Altima's was off by 4.38 mpg. Why the discrepancy?

Altima1

"Fuel economy meters are provided for the convenience of our customers, but are subject to a number of variables that necessarily limit their precision," Nissan told us in a statement. "After being told of the reported variance between observed fuel economy and the meter during the Cars.com test, we brought the subject vehicle to our technical center and ran fuel economy testing with it and several competitor vehicles. While we were not present for the Cars.com test, and therefore cannot comment on it, our own testing did not duplicate the large variance reported by Cars.com, and instead demonstrated that the meter was working as designed and within our internal engineering specifications. The vehicle meter performance was also found to be within the same range of tolerance as competitor vehicles tested in the same manner."

None of our six cars were way off-label; it’s crucial to note that all of them came very close to their EPA combined mileage ratings.

We've explored some of the inherent inaccuracies  in fuel-pump calculations before, as well as the potential for trip computers to skew one way or another, which data from at least one government study suggest. For this mileage drive, we averaged our two figures for the final mileage: our observed mileage and the mpg readouts. The Altima won the day while the Accord came in second. Although the Camry, Sonata, Optima and Fusion have the same combined city/highway EPA rating of 28 mpg, the Camry performed 2.7 mpg (9.5%) better than the last-place Fusion. The Optima and Sonata, which are platform siblings, fell between those two with nearly identical mileage.

Although the Altima's trip computer varied the most from our pump calculations, the Accord's was spot-on. We calculated 31.85 mpg, while the car's computer rang up 31.9 mpg.

Here are the results:

Midsize_shootout_scores2

Related
Cars.com $26,000 Midsize Sedan Showdown
Cars.com Reviews 2012 Camry, Camry Hybrid
Cars.com Reviews 2013 Accord

Comments 

sheth

for you to get anywhere near the EPA combined mileage for these cars you had to be driving mostly on the highway or extremely conservatively. In other tests these cars have averaged anywhere from the high teens to low 20s in observed mileage and my experience suggests that if you do any real city/suburban driving you can forget about the useless EPA city number. There is no way you are getting upper 20s on a 3300lb car with a 2.4 or 2.5L engine in urban driving. The EPA "mixed" number is a completely made up figure that assumes people drive 55% "city" and 45% highway even though I have no idea how they came up with that mix.

Joe

For whatever it's worth, my recent experiences with Ford Fusion show that the mileage is achievable. My 2010 Fusion with a 2.5L and 6-speed manual, averaged 31 MPG over the couple years I owned it. (I never reset the mileage computer to get a very long average). My 2013 Fusion, with 1.6L Ecoboost and 6-speed manual is averaging 30.5 with only 800 miles on the clock. I do urban and suburban driving, frequently at 75MPH in my commute, short bouts of stop-and-go, and a couple tests of full-throttle accleration per day. When cruizing, I maintain a very light foot however. All in all, I've been pleased.

Lance

My wife's commute(52 miles r/t) and normal everday driving is very close to 50/50 and she gets 28mpg on almost every tank as measured manually. The car is rated EPA combined at 28 and it is a midsized car with a 2.3liter engine. You don't have to drive like a grandma(as her speeding tickets attest) to achieve it either. I routinely get the EPA numbers on my vehicles. If you drive a car like you stole it one might get the impression that these numbers aren't achievable.

sheth

no lance, you will not get EPA city mileage on ANY of these cars if you drive completely in an urban or suburban environment. You may be able to meet EPA mixed if you do a substantial amount of highway driving, but for those who don't (like me) you can forget about EPA combined figures. My last four vehicles have been 15%-20% under EPA city numbers, even with the revision back in 2008. I don't drive like I stole anything, I have no reason to want to waste gas. C&D's observed numbers (as well as CR's numbers) are realistic if you drive like someone who keeps up with other drivers in America. Anyone who has ever seen CR's observed MPGS knows their city measurements are always lower than EPA figures.

Skankzilla

"...and my experience suggests..."

Hilarious, like you're a professional! So tell me why Lance is lying?

I routinely get or exceed EPA numbers on my vehicles as well, and I've owned a lot more than Sheth.

My current car, with over 430hp even exceeds EPA ratings.

My cars must be magical!

slinky

My yaris sedan was rated at 29/36 and on a hwy only trip i got 44 mpg. In city only it got 32 mpg. With 4 people the hwy was around 40 mpg.

Lance

sheth, maybe you should learn how to drive. Besides, who was talking about city mpg. You seem to be hung up on a cars city mpg. I was strictly talking about combined mpg. On my current CUV I am averaging 23.5 mpg over the last 5 tankfuls of about 50/50 driving. That is 1.5mpg above the EPA combined. I don't ever drive strictly urban so I really don't keep track of it. Urban driving can be so different from day to day that I don't even try to keep track of it. It's the average per tank that most people care about. If you want to spend all your time screaming that cars can't get the city EPA number than knock yourself out.

Parrots

I don't calculate from pump figures, but most cars I've driven (with the 2011 Kia Sportage being an exception) reach their EPA figures.

sheth

skank:

You offered no specifics- saying "I exceed EPA mileage in all my cars" means nothing. People who hypermile also beat EPA numbers. I never said its impossible to beat EPA numbers, I said in city driving you will not achieve EPA city numbers- ever. The mileage I see recorded by magazines like C&D and MT is representative of what Ive seen in the real world. The mags often excuse their mileage by claiming they were driving aggressively, but the reality is they are really driving like normal people. The EPA test isnt even based on mileage- its based on formulas that extrapolate mileage based on tailpipe emissions. It is still flawed and that is why you are seeing problems with consumers and publications complaining about being unable achieve the sticker mileage.

sheth

lance:

I dont care about combined mileage- its a contrived figure based on a mix that the EPA pulled out of thin air. I dont know people that drive 55% city and 45% highway and even out of the people I know that drive on the highway little of that driving is in ideal conditions that would lead to getting EPA hwy fuel economy. If part of the EPA sticker is wrong the whole thing is skewed. Ive found the city number to be inflated (big time) and I know others who track mileage and have the same observation.

Most people that live in urban areas do the MAJORITY of their driving in urban/suburban environments so those figures matter to many people. I dont know many people who spend lots of time cruising at 65 on wide open highways. It sounds good, but its not representative of conditions in this part of the country. I do drive "strictly urban" and the EPA city number is not accurate at all. As I said- Consumer Reports' testing backs this up.

Lance

sheth,
Your problem is that you only see the world through your little window. There are many types of "city" driving from downtown LA and NY to Des Moines to suburban Chicago. The EPA uses a mix of different conditions and speeds. Will it be replicated by any one driver. Heck, no and that's why they give ranges. If you look at the ranges and not the large print you will realize that. But you're too busy whining about how you never can acheive the "city number" when it is the lower part of the range you should be looking at based on your scenario.

Oh, and if you think that Car & Driver and Motor Trend drive their test cars like a normal commuter, than that pretty much explains your results now doesn't it. 0-60 times, 1/4 mile times, slaloms, panic braking, etc is not the best for MPG.

I guess those of us that do get the EPA estimates with our vehicles are just amazing drivers because I wouldn't even be able to tell how to hypermile if I had to. I'm on the freeways around Chicago about 50 percent of the time and in urban and suburban the rest of the time and almost always get at or better than then the EPA combined estimates. If you're in rush hour, stand still traffic a lot of course your MPG will suck. Hellooooh. That type of traffic is just a portion of the EPA city estimate.

I have hand calculated three tanks of gas. Every one of them showed the car's calculation to be 2 mpg LESS than what I hand calculated. I get 31 city and 36 highway. The fuel economy is one of my few positive comments about the new Altima.

sheth

Lance:

The EPA city numbers are not representative of what you will get in dense urban/suburban traffic ANYWHERE in the US. It's not about my specific area at all. The majority of Americans are concentrated in major metro areas and most of these large areas have quite a bit of traffic. An EPA city cycle that is based on "city" driving conditions in North Dakota or Idaho or Nebraska "urban" driving is useless. The EPA nor the automakers have any incentive to correct the testing process because doing so will downgrade EPA city numbers significantly. There isn't one EPA employee who could get 25mpg in my car in the city and having a standard that cant be achieved by consumers driving under normal conditions is pointless.

Lance, if possible use common sense. When the magazines conduct comparison tests they drive the test cars for HUNDREDS of miles. While track testing will hurt mileage, its not going to drag down mileage averages over 200-300miles. In a recent family sedan comparison all of the cars got under 20mpg which is WAY off their EPA combined figures. Even if you account for 20 miles driven during the gathering of test numbers (very generous) that wouldnt explain such a poor average over the course of hundreds of miles. If you accelerate, keep up with traffic, drive in stop and go traffic, use the AC a lot, get stuck in construction related traffic, etc. you will fail to get to EPA numbers. The EPA test was changed in 2008 but it still doesn't reflect real world driving conditions for most people.

Saying you get EPA combined estimates without knowing any details about HOW you drive is useless information. People who live in rural areas and drive the speed limit also likely hit EPA combined numbers. The point is that's not representative of the driving style of the traffic conditions of the average American. If you are truly driving in and around chicago there is no WAY you are getting the EPA city figure on your vehicle. The EPA's assumptions are too optimistic and not automakers seem to be being creative on top of that.

Lance

sheth
You really should know more about the EPA's test. They do conduct a portion of the city test with heavy traffic patterns, stop lights, idling, etc to simulate the more severe urban city driving. However, they also conduct a portion which is lighter urban and then even more tests that are very light urban or you could say suburban. That is all part of the city test. Just because you may live and drive in a very congested urban city only and never venture out anywhere else is not representative of the nation as a whole. Do you think the EPA should devise their testing criteria to match your specific driving? Are you getting arrogant again?

That is why the city and hwy estimated MPG also includes a range. For example, the city range may be 14-22mpg. The average city number may be 18. Now you look at the 18 and say, "I can't get that number, it's impossible in the city, waaaahhh". If you are driving in a very congested urban area all the time you should probably be looking at getting the low end or 14mpg. Someone driving in city driving in Des Moines, Cincinnati or Reno may get the higher city mpgs. They are still cities just not huge urban areas.

And contrary to your limited viewpoints, this is a big country composed of many sizes of cities, towns, etc that the EPA has to take into consideration, not just the New Yorks, Chicagos, Houstons and LAs.

I think you don't have a clue what real world driving conditions are for the vast majority of the population. You know what you drive and assume most people have the same situation. Sorry, but you don't represent the country.

As far as the car mags, sometimes they drive hundreds of miles but most of the time they don't. Even when they do they use several different drivers and each one is trying to see "what the car can do" in the curves, straitaways, passing situations, etc. They are not taking family trips or just casually driving to work.

Steve

I can see how manufacturers have to give wide margins for their MPG estimates. In our own family, I drive 95% highway on straight, flat rural roads and usually drive about 60mph. My wife drives 60/40 highway and is always driving inconsistently slow and fast (hard to follow her). My mother-in-law drives 100% city driving about 50 miles per week with numerous starts and stops. My kids commute 10 minutes to college in city streets and drive with a heavy foot alot elsewhere. Just in our family alone, there are alot of differences, so I can't imagine the country as a whole. The mpg display in our Impala is easily off 2mpg. I only check with pad and paper/ full gas tank when I check those things for accuracy.

DeBinder Dundett

I do not believe that mileage or miles per gallon is really a consideration for most American buyers.

True, when it comes to buying a USED car, the amount of miles on the odometer may affect a buyers willingness to shell out money for that vehicle.

But in the larger picture, people will most often buy what they can afford in the size of vehicle they actually need.

When all my kids were still living at home, a Suburban was the vehicle of our choice, without regard to how many mpg it got.

If fuel economy is such a big deal for some people, maybe they should not buy a car.

I believe that MOST Americans do not care about the price of gas. They keep buying it in quantity no matter what it costs.

But of the vehicles tested for this article, I would recommend 1) a Camry (because it holds its value) and 2) a Sonata because it is a great value for the money. We have both in our extended family.

Driving style has the greatest influence on fuel economy so people with a lead foot will always get worse mileage than those who drive less aggressively.

sheth

lance:

You are WRONG, the test is done in a lab on a dyno. There is NO REAL WORLD driving in the EPA's test and the agency on tests about 15% of the cars on the market. The automakers do the testing in their own labs and then get the results certified by the EPA. They do not take cars on the road at all.

Im aware of the range on the sticker- that range is not features on the sticker nor is advertised. Only the actual number achieved in the lab test is advertised so don't tell me about the range. The lower end of the range is probably the real number. The EPA test conditions are made up and the automakers are good at doing well on the test. The ford hybrids are under fire for coming up way short of EPA figures in the real world. As I said, CR's "city" numbers are NEVER equal to what the EPA sticker says. Are you accusing them of being lead foots?

Lance

sheth
No, I am not WRONG. I'm sorry if you just can't understand plain english. I never stated the cars were taken out on the road. I simple said the tests are set up to replicate different driving environments. Really. Have you never heard of a simualtion? How could you ever find the identical drivers, conditions, weather, etc, etc etc, to compare one vehicle to another with complete accuracy. The EPA test was done to at least provide a fairly accurate estimate for the average consumer to compare cars. If left strictly up to manufactures the numbers would be totally unbelievable. The ranges are published as the EPA knows that are vast differences in what "city" driving is and how individual drivers may drive in all those different city scenarios.

The range is printed on the EPA window stickers. I told you about the range as it seemed by your comments that you had never heard of it as you seemed fixated on achieving a number that the EPA clearly doesn't suggest you will get if your driving is completely stop and go, heavy urban traffic. Since you say you do know about the the range, I don't understand your continued sobbing about your poor MPG.

If your only research is done by watching commercials than you deserve what you get and should stop complaining.

The lower end of the range is obviously the right number for you. But to say it is probably the right number for everyone is, again, using your personal situation as the model. Sorry, but you don't represent all drivers in all sizes of cities.

carguy

I live in the suburbs and work in the city, and I always meet or exceed the EPA city MPG, I've kept track of over 100,000 miles to prove it. Sheth (what kind of name is that anyway - I hope it's not your real name) since you said that it can NEVER happen, and I've proven it can, one could say your entire rants are invalid because you leave no room for exceptions. Sheth has been proven incorrect, he cannot back up his claims, and he probably beats his kids.

WTF

Straight from fueleconomy.gov:

City: Represents urban driving, in which a vehicle is started with the engine cold and driven in stop-and-go rush hour traffic.

Lance

@wtf
If you read the actual criteria they use for the extent of the test it is clear they try to encompass a broad range of "city" type driving. They have timed stops at lights, lighter traffic blvd with lights driving, heavy idling in congestion etc.

My only contention is that there are many, many different types of urban or city commutes. To make blanket statements that something is impossible should be accompanied with some sort of actual proof. When you have just as many people say they can meet the city numbers as say they can't, then that kind of makes the case for a range even more plausible IMO.

WTF

I don't know. As typical the whole argument thing gets lost in the pissing contest that ensues.

Dan

My mileage tracker has 4 years worth of data in it. In that time I've averaged 24mph on roads with speed limits between 35mph and 60mph, so clear to say that almost all my driving has been in stop and go traffic. And I tailgate like a motherf*****.

My mileage? Almost the EPA HIGHWAY rating for my car. And that's how every car I've ever driven has been. Seriously, I can't figure out how all of you get such atrocious mileage. Do you all just drive with your parking brakes on or something?

It is all down to driving style. Yes stop and start traffic does give some indication of the conditions but within that there is plenty of room for maneuver. If you're keeping your revs up closing distance as soon as it becomes available in traffic then you're going to be chewing through more fuel that the old lady next to you who's basically rolling on momentum alone.

Same can be said for highway driving. If you come tearing down the slip road straight into the fast lane you're going to be burning money. Conversely, if you sit in the slow lane you're sorted.

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