By on December 23, 2008

Hyundai just released some pricing info and specs on the surprisingly decent looking Elantra “Touring,” which is essentially just a 5-door hatch version of the professionally mediocre Elantra sedan. What really sticks is the EPA fuel economy, rated at 23 city and either 30 or 31 highway with the manual or automatic, respectively. We’re still talking about a four-cylinder “compact” car here, and despite the weight of size and safety equipment, I am surprised. Hyundai’s own Sonata — with another 40 horses vs. the Elantra — has virtually the same EPA ratings. Sure, we like to trot out the Corvette as an example of a high mileage powerful car, but there are at least a dozen other examples of cars with way more power (and metal) than the Elantra touring and better fuel economy. My 2004 Honda Accord V6, which was a rather portly cruiser, returned 31 mpg on the highway. And yet, the Elantra isn’t unique. Saturn’s Astra, with a 1.8 liter engine, only musters 24/32. The Mazda3 is in the same league. Some of the more efficient cars in this segment can deliver 35 miles per gallon highway – cars like the Corolla, Focus, Civic, and Cobalt XFE. But solely from a fuel economy standpoint, I have a hard time justifying even these better ones, when their bigger counterparts like the Camry, Fusion, Accord, and Malibu offer reasonably close numbers, especially on the highway. It leaves me wondering why, when the Fusion gets 32 mpg highway from its four cylinder, we don’t have a Ford compact car with a gasoline engine that gets 38 mpg highway. But them’s the breaks.

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49 Comments on “The Hyundai Elantra Touring and the Compact Mileage Problem...”

  • avatar

    Don’t forget, the compact car’s extra mpg has already limited returns compared to the efficient Camry/Sonata/Fusions.

    And they’re slow as hell.

  • avatar

    All it would take is a tall overdrive gear to boost their highway mileage. Their Cd and frontal areas can’t be THAT bad (aside from the fit) to where gearing for efficiency instead of 0-60 would get it done.

  • avatar

    is this a segue to a Fiesta review?

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz


    If it is, I wasn’t invited.

  • avatar

    I’m guessing that gearing is to blame.

  • avatar

    I own a 2005 Elantra GT hatchback. I love the car…loaded with all options and was $14K, comes with a decent 5speed 4 cylinder, leather, nice tunes, tilt moonroof, traction control, ABS, etc. It gets 33mpg on highway and 28 in city even when my wife drives it.

    It is a coast monster too if you like to hypermile. I don’t understand why the new car would have so much lower mileage. Even transplanting the same motor into the new car shouldn’t make it that bad. Let’s say the new one packs on 400lbs…if I load 2 other people in my car it still gets better mileage. I wonder what gives? Like others stated, maybe it is tranny gearing.

  • avatar

    The regular Elantra is considered a midsize car by the EPA, with 98 ft3 of interior space; it gets 27 mpg combined with stick or 28 with automatic. The Fusion is also considered a midsize car by the EPA, with 101 ft3 of interior space; it gets 23 mpg combined with stick or automatic.

    The Elantra Touring gets 26 mpg combined with stick or automatic, and is considered a small station wagon by the EPA. Its interior volume is 101 ft3, and its luggage space is 28 ft3.

    The Fusion has the same interior space as the Elantra Touring, but only 16 ft3 of luggage space, so it is actually a smaller car than the Elantra Touring. It’s not so much that the Elantra Touring gets bad mileage for a compact car as it is that the Elantra Touring is not a compact car.

    By the way, the Sonata is actually considered a large car by the EPA, with 105 ft3 of interior space, it gets 25 mpg combined with stick or automatic – better than the midsize Fusion.

  • avatar

    Blobinski :
    December 23rd, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    I don’t get why the new car would have so much lower mileage.

    Keep in mind the way the government computes mileage changed for the 2007 model year, making all vehicles get lower stated MPGs than before even if nothing changed.

    That is, the sticker on your car reads 27/34, but under the new rules it would have gotten 23/31 (basically the same as the 2009 model).

    Source: for a 2005 Hyundai Elantra with a manual

  • avatar

    Part of the problem is that in the real world some vehicles produce close to, or above, EPA estimated and some fall short. Consistently.

    Go through the the road tests of the compacts listed. Though they have similar estimated mpg some routinely spank others by 8-10 mpg.
    Some test out nearly identicle to their mid-size stablemates.

    Another part of the problem is (as Joshvar hints) that highway mpg has little to do with weight/size. Since acceleration events are rarer the fuel usage is dominated Cd, frontal area and gearing. If the top gear is high enough the typically smaller engine will cycle less displacement per mile and that will help (my Miata is geared short and doesn’t gain much on the hwy vs. back roads, to many rpm=higher displacement per mile.
    Overall mpg maybe quite a bit better than a midsize do to gains in the city with little difference on the hwy.

    Some compacts (notably the Civic, Corolla and 2 liter Maz3) do deliver great mpg in the real world. Others, notably the Cobalt (big engine is a culprit here I suspect, displacement per mile) are right in the mid-size range.

    You really have to look at the individual performance of vehicles tested, under similar conditions, out in the arena of air drag (rather than on the Gov’s treadmill) to get a decent comparison.

    I like CR’s data here. They have a consistent test method that covers city/hwy/combined mpg. Each model is taken through the cycle by multiple drivers to mitigate individual style differences.
    It may not replicate your mileage (that’s impossible for any test) but I think it give the most realist comparisons I’ve seen.


  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    That car looks very much, actually near-identical, to the European-market Hyundai i30, which is available as five-door hatchback or as station wagon. Oddly, viewed from the rear, it has resemblances with the BMW 1-series hatchback, again only sold in Europe.

  • avatar

    I have to agree with the other posters, the gearing sux.

    I own a 2008 KIA Rio for the beater-commuter. When I’m going seventy, the thing is buzzing ~3400 RPM in fifth gear. I imagine the car blows up at 120MPH from too many RPM’s.

    I really wish the Rio had a sixth gear. My “fun” car these days is a Mitsubishi VR-4 with a six-speed Getrag, and that thing gets ~75% the mileage of the Rio in sixth gear at seventy, despite having more than twice the displacement, forced induction, and probably weighing at least 400lbs more than the Rio.

  • avatar

    Although I have no article to prove it, is suspect it has more to do with wind resistance at highway speeds.

    The technology has gotten pretty good to only provide as much fuel+gas+cylinders needed to operate at highway speeds. If those things remain constant between cars, next big difference would be the rest of the power train and wind resistance.

    Might explain why the sleek vette does so well (even dragging four cylinders) while less aerodynamic others do just as well (but no dragging cylinders)?

    Once again, no proof, just a hunch.

  • avatar

    There’s only so much better mileage you can get using similar engines and all the same amenities. The compacts like the Fit and Versa have air conditioning, side-curtain airbags, four cylinder engines, and ~2700 lb weight. Midsize cars like the Accord and Fusion have… air conditioning, side-curtain airbags, four-cylinder engines, and ~3400 lb weight.

    So, realistically, the biggest difference between a midsize and compact is the weight, around 700 lb. Same thing with compact trucks.

    To get great fuel economy, you have to subtract all the amenities, get a substantially smaller motor, and subtract a lot of other weight. For example, Ford Ranger V6 gets the same mileage as the F-150 V8. Ranger doesn’t get substantially better mileage unless you get it with a four-cylinder engine.

    And of course there’s the fact that more expensive cars get better technology for better mileage…

  • avatar

    grifonik-vette is a good example, on the highway it has low drag, small frontal area, long gears (relatively low displacement per mile).
    Around town mpg is down.


  • avatar

    grifonik-vette is a good example, on the highway it has low drag, small frontal area, long gears (relatively low displacement per mile).
    Around town mpg is down.

    Vette is a good example. The VR-4 I’ve got has a good profile in the wind, but all those ports and cheese-graters so it can manipulate air for brakes and induction throws lotsa drag on that car. Longer I own that thing, the more I think of that car as a poor (very poor) man’s Bugatti Veyron:

    All this high-tech in it and the last half of the tech is to overcome the weight and heat problems introduced by the first half of the tech.

  • avatar

    I know someone with a 03 Elantra owned since new. Since Day one the thing never got much more than 20 -21 miles to the gallon. E10 has only made matters worse.

  • avatar

    Hyundai is consistently bad at getting good mileage. So is Mazda. I’ve owned a couple – and it’s not just my foot; the Toyotas I’ve owned got great mileage at high rpm.

  • avatar

    when the Fusion gets 32 mpg highway from its four cylinder

    Is that for the 2010 model? Because the 2006-2009 Fusion gets 29 mpg highway from the 4 cylinder w/ manual (based on the current EPA testing method).

  • avatar

    That VR-4 probably weighs just short of 4k lbs. I had to push my girlfriend’s for a block once and threw up at the end (I could probably push my Miata through the quarter mile and trap a few MPH in the process :P). It truly was a marvel at the time…but an absolute bitch to work on.

    Anyway, it seems like the small engine tech that yielded such high efficiency in the 80s and 90s ended up making it to the large displacement engines of today, from the pushrod V8s to the DOHC 3.5L+ V6 engines. Beyond that, a lot of the larger-engined cars offer cylinder deactivation schemes which the 4 cylinder engines can’t feasibly (but can physically, for a while at least :P) do. As most of you guys have covered, RPMs at highway speed are very high on the small cars kills them, but what is the purpose of it? Top gear passing? Emissions? Remind you that you’re driving? 30% grade climbing? Encourage you to upsize to a Camcordima?

  • avatar
    Rev Junkie

    Well, if you’re going after good mileage in a daily driver, just get a used car. Driving economically (read “in top gear with very little throttle most of the time”), my car, a ’99 Civic EX Coupe, gets 38-42mpg. It does great in the city, but suffers on the highway because you have to really build speed to get up the hills so you can stay in 5th. Sometimes, I wish it had a sixth gear so you can cruise at around 2000 revs at about 80mph on level ground. I just wish someone would make a diesel engine that could rev up to 7000 and actually sound good doing it.

  • avatar

    Never driven this vehicle, or its siblings, but the wife’s Fit could certainly use either a taller 5 or a 6 gear for highway cruising. Getting up to 80 and the poor little (though still willing) engine is buzzing something fierce. 4K rpm neighborhood. Of course, with a fillup in that car running $12 or so, I’ll wind it up to get home.

  • avatar

    I was about to offer some comments on the freeway mileage of my Phaetons, or my 911, or my Boxster S, or my S5, but then I realized that

    a) nobody cares

    b) and that includes me.

  • avatar

    Justin – Pet peeve of mine, I hate when people compare their own real world mileage numbers with EPA estimates. Your V6 Accord was rated at 27mpg highway, and if you’re going to compare it to the EPA numbers for the Hyundai, that’s what you should use. If you can do 15% better than the EPA in one car, you might as well assume that you can do that much better in any car. Or not. <– see what I did there, I can be RF.

    But to address the topic at hand, what kind of tires are on the touring, how wide, and how does that mileage compare to the regular Elantra, with (presumably) crappier skinnier tires that get better mileage?

  • avatar

    For Hyundai, the Sonata is the best reason not to get a Elantra. The same can’t be said for Honda and Toyota, as the difference in mpg is greater.

    I hear JB on his complaint. Why can’t these small cars get better mileage? Well, as mentioned, they’re not small anymore. Okay, so then why can’t more companies make good REAL small cars, like the size of the original fit? For every excuse that I hear, I believe truly that many companies just don’t want to (or didn’t want to, before gas went up and the economy went in the shitter).

    As for the real-world mileage, JB, you’re comparing your driving to the EPA rating. The problem with the old vs new rating is that the new ratings have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most people don’t know how to drive a car properly, for gas mileage and otherwise. I assume you do. Now I feel as if the EPA confirms that driving like a idiot will result in the correct fuel consumption.

  • avatar

    The probem here is that when it comes to modern cars, the only thing smaller about a “small” car is the space inside for people to sit in. It still suffers from federally-regulated obesity while also being beat over the head with a newspaper by the government for not being economical enough.

  • avatar

    A pet peeve of mine is that people generally only consider the highway mileage, which results in discussions that favour long, low, big-engined interstate queens that do 1800rpm at 100km/h. Rarely is city mileage ever considered, yet it’s in urban environments where the mileage of cars like the Impala crater, and cars like the Fit shine.

    I gets really tiresome listening to “Well, my Grand Prix/Impala/Camry/Accord gets 30mpg highway and the Fit/Yaris/Versa/Prius only gets 35/40.”. That’s great, but what does your highway monster get in one of my “bad” days (all urban, all stop and go, lots of stuck in traffic).

    Why criticize cars like the Fit or Elantra for that they’re not great at, and ignore what they do best? For that matter, why is city mileage almost always ignored?

  • avatar

    Another pet peeve: people don’t understand that MPG is not a linear scale. The difference in fuel usage between 10 and 11mpg versus 20/21, 30/31 or 40/41 is huge:
    10->11 is about one gallon per 100 miles saved
    20->21 is 0.25 gallons saved over the same distance
    30->31 is 0.1 gallons
    40->41 is 0.06

    People see a 1 mpg improvement (ten to eleven) and fail to realize that it’s a huge deal. This is also the reason we have so many damn gas guzzlers; people don’t see that, at the low end, mileage gains are huge.

  • avatar

    Final peeve: people who trumpet the Geo Metro as the ultimate expression of automobilia. Yes, it got decent mileage. It was also a slow, tinny little car that would crush like a tin can. Oh, and the emissions were terrible by modern standards

    You may as well quote a motorcycle as a valid choice, what with it having only slightly worse crash safety and cargo capacity.

    Today’s compacts are actually decent, safe cars that get good mileage and have very low emissions. Yes, they weigh more than the Metro, but I’d still take a Fit over a Metro (or Civic Wagovan, or Tercel wagon) any day, despite the negligible fuel economy changes.

  • avatar

    Hello!! Speaking of RPM/Mileage…
    I just replaced the 5th speed gearset in my ’93 Ford Probe GT(mechanical twin to the Mazda MX-6, 2.5L DOHC Twincam V6) with the 5th speed gearset from the 2.0 four cylinder version.
    For comparison purposes, at 60 mph with the stock .795 overdrive ratio the engine was at 3100 rpm. Now with the 4-cylinder .717 ratio, the engine runs at 2600 rpm.
    I note a totally silent running car at highway speeds in 5th, decel on the highway isnt as severe, and gas mileage is up to 32, a marked improvement over the 27 I got with the stock 5th gear ratio. And I have zero problems maintaining highway speed uphills, etc.
    At 80 mph the engine no longer pushes 4K rpm. I huess Mazda just wanted to 6-cyl to feel peppier in 5th on the highway.
    All in all a great improvement for less than an hour’s work.

  • avatar

    My guess aerodynamics is the culprit. I drive 1.8L Vibe GT and mileage is not that great, worse then larger Accord (or Camry). Actually slightly heavier car then Corolla delivers much worse mileage, yet it is mechanically identical car. Few pounds of heft does not cut it, so its got to be aerodynamics.

  • avatar

    It’s probably the gearing. The other manual “gas hogs you mention (Astra and Mazda3) are geared low, for sport not economy. If a car gets over 30 mph per 1,000 rpm in top gear, it’s gonna get decent mileage. These days, small car automatics are higher geared than their equivalent manual versions, and consequently get better mpg than the sticks. I wonder how many buyers fall into that trap, getting the manual for better mpg, only to end up getting shitty real-world mileage. Weird. Ironic, even.

  • avatar

    The reason to skip on the Hyundai is not the mileage. It’s the fact that the Mazda3 is better in every way.

  • avatar

    Terry: I have a 95 PGT, among a few other cars, and yes, at 80 MPH I am just below 4000 RPM. How difficult a job was the gear swap? would you be willing to provide some more info on this, either here or offline? (hope I am not breaking the rules)


  • avatar

    # golden2husky :
    December 23rd, 2008 at 9:07 pm

    Terry: I have a 95 PGT, among a few other cars, and yes, at 80 MPH I am just below 4000 RPM. How difficult a job was the gear swap? would you be willing to provide some more info on this, either here or offline? (hope I am not breaking the rules)

    Husky, for a tech it’s an EASY gear swap, all done with trans in car. IF it’s OK with Mr Farago, I have no problem having you contact me for the technicals , torque specs, procedure, etc. OR….post your e-mail address, I’ll reply.
    No need to bore everybody here with the details.

  • avatar

    Hey one obvious problem with the vehicle. It’s a tinny junky Hyundai! What do you expect? Personal experience- recently drove a 2005 Cobalt sedan and realized 38 mpg highway with auto trans. No BS.

  • avatar

    As for the real-world mileage, JB, you’re comparing your driving to the EPA rating. The problem with the old vs new rating is that the new ratings have become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most people don’t know how to drive a car properly, for gas mileage and otherwise. I assume you do. Now I feel as if the EPA confirms that driving like a idiot will result in the correct fuel consumption.

    This here’s the biggest problem. EPA tests show you can get the economy this low on a small engined compact… by accelerating up to 80 mph and running at various speeds. Most small engined cars don’t bother with an ultra-long 6th gear because #1: they don’t have enough power to maintain cruising in 6th, #2: they’re economy cars, 6th gear costs money, #3: Having a tall overdrive would make people feel the cars are “underpowered” and #4: high speeds = terrible fuel economy, anyway.

    I find the new EPA ratings even worse than before… because it leads people to think that Honda Civic is more economical than a Honda Fit… when from real-world experience and a ton of empirical data… nothing could be further from the truth.


    RE: Fifth gear swap: there’s a commercial kit from NSN for it… but typically, find any MX6 or Mazda 626 2.0 five speed box at the junkyard and you can do the swap. Been meaning to do it, myself… I used to have one of those engines… did 60 mph at around 2.5k rpms, whereas my current car (with the “sportier” box) does way over 3000.

    Gear-swapping, where a taller gear is available, is a great way to increase economy. Some of the Metro “hypermilers” use this trick, too.

  • avatar

    That gearset goes back to the ’88 626/MX-6 2.2L. Parts are less than $20 at most salvage yards, and you can remove the set in 5 minutes with the donor trans out of the car.
    Installation takes a bit longer as you have mounts and side pan sealing to deal with.
    An even taller set is available in the Ford Festiva 5-speed.
    As for hypermileing..that ain’t me. While better mpg is always appreciated as long as it has no ill effects on driveability, I really just wanted a qiueter cruising car at highway speeds.

  • avatar

    Husky, for a tech it’s an EASY gear swap, all done with trans in car. IF it’s OK with Mr Farago, I have no problem having you contact me for the technicals , torque specs, procedure, etc. OR….post your e-mail address, I’ll reply.
    No need to bore everybody here with the details.…

    Thanks for the quick reply. Contact at [email protected]

    Thanks again.

  • avatar

    To those who think the Elantra is a tinny hunk o’ junk, they placed higher than the Civic in this years’ CR reviews. I went from a BMW to a Hyundai after reviewing the offerings from Honda, Toyota and Mazda and paying way too much to maintain my BMW when commuting. I will say that the Mazda3 was my next choice, but it was more expensive and they were unwilling to deal at all. My Elantra hatchback is a nice little commuter scoot.

    I would argue that if you compare the Chevy Cavalier/Cobalt genesis from the late 1980s to now versus the same time frame for the Hyundai Elantra, Hyundai wins for their progress and advancement by far over the current Cobalt.

  • avatar

    Why don’t small cars get that much better mileage than the midsize cars? It’s easy, small cars don’t really cost that much less to build than midsize cars, yet sell for thousands less. How do manufacturers make up that cost difference? By using lower tech parts: 4 speed automatics, less efficient injection systems, cheaper tires etc..If small cars had all the high tech features of the midsize cars, they’d cost almost the same..

  • avatar

    The way you truly make up the cost difference is have the small car built in a LCC (Low Cost Country) and the midsize built in the USA. I think Chevy has this scenario right now with the Aveo.

    I’d bet that the people building the Elantra in Korea cost Hyundai far less than the folks building the Nitro or Cobalt, thus giving Hyundai the edge with profit margins and cutting deals. You also see that the higher profit margins enable Hyundai to develop new models like the Genesis, Genesis coupe, and the new Elantra hatchback. Although I am not sure if anyone is making a profit right now.

  • avatar

    Why car makers are so afraid about super-tall overdrive gears is beyond me. We need more wide-ratio 6 speeds! Everywhere!!!

  • avatar

    Just returned 23 mpusg, average speed 65 mph on a highway trip with my 4.6 V8/5 sp humming at about 2200 rpms. Probably could have done better but it’s 31 below celcius.

    So I buy one of those buzz boxes (as my boss likes to call them) and get another 7 mpg highway at the cost of my sanity.

    What would I save, dollar wise in a year, if gas is a dollar a liter? About a grand. I’ll work a week or two of OT for that, thanks. Some people around here are buying a second vehicle to “save on gas” and “get better mileage to work and back.” Pay insurance/payments/maint on another clunker to save money? Where am I going wrong thinking this is _crazy_?

    My next vehicle will be a mid 90’s chev pickup. Parts are easy to find at the local dump, gas will be 50 cents a liter, and it’s easy to convert into a bennett buggy.

  • avatar

    Agree completely with blobinski and psarhjinian’s views rather than the overly critical mindset that pervades this site. Look fellas, we live in a real world and all of us can’t be as critical of the options we have available to us as purchases. Are a majority of vehicles sold here flawed in some way?? I think we can all find fault with even those vehicles that are generally regarded as top shelf by the automotive press and the mavens residing here. The point that I’m making is that EVERY car ever made and sold has some downside. Its too big, too small, gets crappy mileage, has ugly tail lamps, the fender flares suck, the engine sucks, the tranny sucks, is too expensive, uses premium fuel, is cheaply made, has bad materials, etc. The debate over mileage also is flawed. Physics rules the world and to expect some marvelous new vehicle to have great fuel economy when it weighs two tons is just silly. Sure there are vehicles out there than can get what is considered good mileage. But a cost benefit analysis will usually reveal that compromises are made and thus the car can’t deliver the promised goods without some kind of penalty. It seems to me that you fellas ideally want a ‘Vette that gets 40 mpg in the city. Well, that just isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

    I’ve owned over 40 cars in my lifetime and have driven just about every car ever made and in my experience there are very few vehicles that are good at everything treasured and idealized in this forum. Some of you have beaten on the Hyundai Elantra and I cannot understand why. This is a terrific little vehicle, with lots of space and a decent engine with decent gas mileage and a drop dead price when equipped with the SE option. The Sonata is also a hell of a car, but I would rather spend $5K less on the Elantra. Have any of you driven the Genesis?? You talk about WOW, this car has it all at a great price to boot. I would buy this car over every car sold here were it not for the fact that I buy every year and would lose too much trading for another vehicle. Back to my cost benefit analysis, I am also looking for value. It is here that I will agree with most of you in regard to Hyundai. Their resale leaves much to be desired and the other gripe I have is their choice of interior color combinations and fabric. So, yes the Hyundai is not perfect, but when weighted against other foreign badges and the domestics, the Hyundai is a screaming value for the money.

    While not a piston head, I have driven on the drag strip, drove cross country in my 65 Goat convertible and have traversed and cursed the mountains of WV and the freeways of California. Every vehicle ever made exhibits flaws in some form or other and to nit pick this or that defeats the purpose of experiencing the experience. I’ve also worked in steel mills and fabricating plants as an inspector and what I learned is that anything on this planet that is manufactured by man and machine is subject to flaws. I learned an interesting concept that has always stuck with me over the years. I learned the meaning of the word “tolerance”. Everything produced here and abroad has tolerances and some do a much better job of falling within those tolerances than others. So allow me to conclude by asking you to reconsider that word here when you beat incessantly and unmercifully on just about anything that is reviewed here. Just a thought.

  • avatar

    The lower than we would expect MPG of these small cars might have something to do with body shape and not just the lack of higher gearing.

    A long time ago I read an article about sail boats. Longer sail boats were faster than shorter boats with identical beams. Maybe the Cd is not just the frontal area but the smoothness of air flowing over and behind the vehicle.

    And when the jet fighter makers were trying to break the sound barrier they discovered they had to narrow the body where the wings were attached. This discovery probably would have nothing to offer car makers but I think the auto designers need to think outside the box.

  • avatar

    Excuse me while I insert a little science into this discussion. Automotive “efficiency” is dominated by two things – slow speed acceleration and high speed steady state operation.

    At slow speeds and while accelerating you are bound by physics: F=MA (Force equals Mass times Acceleration). Mass is the weight of the car and if you want more acceleration or a higher mass then you need a lot more force (torque).

    At freeway speeds, aerodynamic drag becomes an issue. This is where “slippery” bodies can increase efficiency – but what’s truly slippery doesn’t have a lot in common with what looks good. You’ll still need to use energy to move the mass over a distance and lots more to overcome drag.

    Modern internal combustion engines are about 20% efficient. That’s better than it sounds; the theoretical maximum efficiency is only 37% and that’s unattainable by any real engine.

    These are a simplified description of what the automotive engineers have to work with. In the real world they have to compromise to come up with designs that can be built and sold in sufficient numbers.

    Now, if you take the time to look up the weight of various production vehicles you might discover that there’s not as much variance as you imagine. Big cars have lots of empty space inside, little cars not so much. But their mass doesn’t differ by as much as you’d think. Twice as big isn’t twice as heavy.

    And as far as aerodynamics goes, the optimum shape would be very close to the shape of a fish. Compare the profiles of your favorite vehicles to the shape of a fish and see what you think. If your car / truck / SUV was more fish shaped would you have bought it?

    Now if some company built a fish-shaped car that was low in mass and adequately spacious inside – equipping it with an average drivetrain would result in a car with very good gas mileage. But not as good as you’d like; real world physics says so.

    So if you want a car that gets over 50 miles per gallon, what you’re looking for is a tiny, cheap shitbox. Think Geo Metro or Suzuki Swift. If you want good passenger space and protection then you’ll pay for it at the pump.

    Personal experience: I’ve got a few cars around here. A ’05 Chrysler Pacifica which gets 25 MPG highway mileage, a ’02 Volkswagen Jetta which gets 24 MPG on the highway, and a ’86 Pontiac Fiero V6 which gets 27 MPG on the highway. All those years and different designs and – well, the difference in mileage isn’t exactly earthshaking.

    For extra credit, pin that Prius driver down and get him to tell you what his dash display says his mileage is while he’s buzzing down the highway. If he’s honest you’ll find that he’s not breaking the laws of physics either.

    Are improvements possible? Yes – but only small ones. There are real limits to the minimum weight of a car, the minimum aerodynamic drag it can have, and the maximum efficiency its engine can have. The automotive engineers have been working hard to get the most out of what they’ve got to work with for years.

    It’s going to take huge changes in what we consider to be an acceptable vehicle before we can make significant improvements in efficiency. Want a 100 MPG car? Sure – if you’d like a one passenger plastic egg that has a zero to 60 time measured in minutes. No free lunch…

  • avatar

    If we really wanted better gas mileage, we would petition Peugeot to purchase a recently disused car plant in the states and ask them to tool up the Peugeot 404 sedan and station wagon. Just as it was built from 1960 through 1975 (through 1980 in Argentina, through 1989 in Nigeria). Of course, we’d have to “make do” without power steering (it’s not that bad given the car’s weight, though); without power windows (crank it yerself!). They’d have to add a/c given the US climate.

    Plenty of room for 5 adults (7 in the stretched station wagon). 1.6 litre fuel injected slant four hemi engine – or – slightly larger diesel engine. Optional ZF automatic (OK they could add a couple of gears in that; maybe 5 or 6 instead of 3). Use a five speed stick instead of four speed as the original, as well (but leave it on the column!). Oh yeah, bring back the Pininfarina cabriolet and coupe’ as well! (Actually, all of the 404’s were designed by Pininfarina).

    The car weighed 2300 pounds and yet was considered a family sized car in virtually all the rest of the world except the USA, Canada and maybe Australia.

    OK back to reality. I just got a flier from the local Hyundai dealer. Lease a new Sonata for $199 a month ($1000 down, 1000 miles a month, 27 months) – or – lease a new Elantra for $198 a month (same terms). Now, given that the MPG difference is quite small, and given the fact that on my daily 17 mile commute, only 3 miles or so is in town (where the difference in MPG is more marked, giving the Elantra the advantage) – I’d take the Sonata.

    Plus the Sonata is built in Montgomery, Alabama (not assembled from kits but manufactured) and this obviously helps the US economy.

    Come next summer, all else being equal, we’ll lease another Sonata.

    BTW our ’07 Sonata (four cyl. four cog automatic) obtained 32.2 mpg overall on a 5000 mile trip to the Canadian Rockies, mostly at 70 mph; obviously much of it at 8000′ altitudes or more; some city driving; some WOT highway merging. Overall, VERY good real world MPG, I thought. 70% of the driving was with E10, 30% without; there was a 6% reduction in MPG while using E10. This is a significantly better “coping with E10” than my Prius which is now getting 37 mpg instead of the usual 44 mpg winter mileage, solely due to E10 being the only fuel I can now buy in my area.

    Given that fact, when (not if) gas prices start their inevitable march “upward”, I’m going to be brooming the Prius. My stomach can’t take watching a consistent 20% reduction in MPG due to 10% ethanol polluting the fuel.

    Given that “global warming” is so obviously a farce, and that we can scarcely get around northern Michigan for all the snow and cold and crappy roads not plowed/looked after well, I strongly suspect that I’ll be getting a Subaru to replace the Prius. However, we plan to rent whatever car we next plan to get to have a look at real world MPG (obviously on E10) before handing over the money.

    Obviously, the “powers that be” have decided that we’ll have E10 whether it wastes fuel (and obviously increases oil imports and food prices) or not. Damn fools.

    I want my country back.

  • avatar

    The Elantra Touring is 2-300 lbs “porkier” than the standard Elantra (dropping the city mileage by 1-2 MPG) and the mini-wagon shape probably raises drag coefficient (dropping highway mileage). The “sportier” (stiffer) suspension and sportier tires probably raise rolling reistance a bit also.
    All of this lowered efficiency, but they retain the good (but aging) 2.0 Beta four, which is not as efficient as the Honda/Toyota offerings, probably to hit the price point. The car is probably just a bit too big for the 138HP and 130-ish torque mustered up by the little mill.
    This would be an excellent little (big) car with a newer direct-injected four, and a taller highway gear, but the “downturn” may not see that happen for a while.

  • avatar

    The Elantra has another problem: it just got hit with a Marginal side impact and Adequate rear impact ratings from IIHS. Pretty piss poor.

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