What’s the most powerful number in automotive marketing? No, not zero, as in “zero down, zero percent interest”… the answer we’re looking for is 40, as in “40 MPG hwy.” With the compact segment heating up, 40 MPG on the highway is very nearly a price of entry… if your base model doesn’t achieve the magic number, you’d better have a special edition that does. But even as “40 MPG” becomes more and more important as an industry benchmark, it inevitably raises a perennial question: do EPA numbers mean anything in the real world? Hyping the highest possible number rather than a “combined” figure is a classic marketing move, but one that risks exposing the EPA highway number as a meaningless metric. And if nobody actually gets the rated efficiency, it’s only a matter of time before the market begins to demand more accurate reporting.
Reporting from the launch of the latest 40 MPG contender, the Mazda3, the DetN’s John McCormick notes
At the Mazda3 launch in Los Angeles, the company conducted informal but revealing real-world mileage observations on its own cars and five leading rivals.
As driven by the media over a mixed bag of city, highway and even mountain driving conditions, the following overall mpg results were obtained: Civic, 34.5; Mazda3, 33.7; Focus, 32.1; Corolla, 30.7; Elantra, 29.9; and Cruze, 29.8. While hardly scientific, these numbers do underscore the fact the 40 mpg figure is an illusion.
Is the only way to get 40 MPG highway in a diesel or hybrid? Or have any of you, TTAC’s Best and Brightest, recorded 40 MPG in one of the new generation of gas-powered compacts or subcompacts? How gingerly do you have to drive to match EPA highway numbers? Are some cars closer than others? Is it time to pressure marketers to switch to a combined MPG number, or will that be just as misrepresentative?