When I’m driving around town, either for work or just for the heck of it, I find that my car gets about 19 to 20 miles per gallon. The car is up to date on maintenance, its tires are usually filled up properly and I drive conservatively. Still … it goes through a gallon of dino-juice after about 20 miles. It’s not bad, as the car is nine years old, and I don’t complain about it.
There have been a few instances — usually after leaving a late-night municipal meeting in which every commissioner/board member had to thank everyone from his mother to his tailor in closing comments — where I have had the opportunity to do some hypermiling around town. Hypermiling is paying close attention to driving habits to maximize fuel economy. It’s fun, in a stupid kind of I’ll-get-there-when-I-get-there way. Late at night, when there is no traffic on the road and all the light signals are synched to green, my car tends to get better gas mileage (Who knew?). Also, my car gets better gas mileage on the highway, sometimes eclipsing 30 mpg when cruising in sixth gear. (Another revelation! My car is more efficient when it’s not transferring speed into heat.)
I’d say that my car racks up about 1 percent of its annual miles by hypermiling and spends about 5 percent of its annual miles on the highway. That means the remainder of the miles are hard, hot, sometimes-aggravating dirty city miles.
So if someone were to ask me how fuel-efficient my car is, would I say that I get 30 mpg? You know … because under ideal conditions, that one time, my car got 30 mpg?
Car commercials have been bothering me lately. When manufacturers slip in their cars’ fuel economy ratings, it’s usually the EPA highway fuel economy figure that’s the most prominent. The last commercial I saw was for a Chrysler 300. In an artsy kind of way (with a graphic in a cloud), it boasted that the car returns 31 miles for every gallon of gas it ingests. This is for the 3.6-liter V6, and there was no audio that said the car returns 19 mpg in city driving. Of course, the EPA city and combined figures were also shown, but you needed a pair of binoculars to read them.
So if all of the driving gods are smiling down on you — no traffic, level road, no stoplights — and you’re driving the speed limit in eighth gear on the highway, you’ll get 31 mpg.
The funny thing is, the 19-mpg city rating sounds pretty good to me; it’s a large car with a 292-horsepower V6 that scoots to 60 in 6.6 seconds, according to Car and Driver. And it runs on regular gas. Why not tout that?
I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person who would rather see manufacturers list their cars’ city fuel economy ratings. In fact, according to the Federal Highway Administration, 79 percent of Americans live in what they call “urban” areas.
I can’t remember the last time I was on a highway that wasn’t I-76. And the last time I was driving on that “highway,” I was lucky enough to be able to get out of my car in the middle of the road and stretch. (There was a huge backup at the Conshy Curve, and, as a result, everyone was netting a solid 0 mpg.)
Right now, there are only a handful of cars powered solely by a conventional gas engine that will net me — and probably you — 30 mpg, according to the EPA. And I wouldn’t really want to drive any of them. Even some of the thriftiest compacts can’t crack 30 mpg in the city — and that includes the Cruze ECO, Honda Fit and Hyundai Accent. So when you hear that a 2-ton Chrysler is getting 31 mpg …
It just seems disingenuous to tout a car’s highest EPA fuel economy rating — usually the highway figure — in a commercial. As consumers, when we hear something like “30 mpg,” whether it’s a highway mileage figure or not, we tend to think “30 mpg … all the time.”
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