By on February 16, 2010

TTAC GM Bashing Alert! The following article has been read and reviewed by the TTAC-GM Assault Protective Services Committee and has been found to contain material that may put GM in a negative light. Reader discretion is advised.

Unless the elves are asleep at Google, the odds are good that there will be an ad for the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox immediately to the right of this article. And it will proudly trumpet its 32 mpg EPA highway rating, like every other Equinox ad. From GM’s first gleeful announcement, it was hard to swallow from the that a tall, almost 4,000 lb CUV could actually get 32 mpg on the highway, or 26 mpg combined. It appears others are having the same blockage of the pharynx. Now that there’s a number of reviews out, they all show the same pattern: the Equinox EPA numbers are highly deceptive. But would the EPA ever come down on Government Motors?

We conducted a survey of independent tests that actually measured fuel economy by comparing miles driven versus actual  fuel tanked. That alone is important, because the Equinox’ own mileage computer seems to be fairly consistently optimistic by about a couple of mpg. Of course, in this day and age, none too many of the car reviews (including TTAC’s) that are available have actual observed mileage. The majority just regurgitate the remarkable EPA economy that the Equinox is presumably blessed with.

Before we get to that, let’s do the suspect Equinox EPA numbers: FWD  22/32/26 (combined); AWD 20/29/23. Now there’s already a tip-off in just looking at these. The FWD version “premium” (improvement over AWD) is 3 mpg in both the highway and combined numbers. Comparing those to every other comparable CUV that offers both AWD and FWD versions, one finds that the rest of the gang (RAV4, CRV, Outlander, Rogue, Escape) average a 1.4 mpg FWD premium on the highway test, and a 1.0 premium on the combined numbers. The discrepancy with the city numbers is similar: the Equinox has a 2 mpg FWD premium; the rest average a 0.6 mpg FWD premium.

On to the real world: Car and Driver observed 18 mpg with a FWD equinox, and called it “thirsty”.

Edmunds’ test resulted in an 18.8 mpg overall, and made this observation: “Yet our testing didn’t come close to achieving these (EPA) numbers, even though we’re usually within 1 mpg of the EPA combined number.” (emphasis added).

Consumer’s Reports has a carefully calibrated mileage regime that results in very usable comparisons. The Equinox got 21 mpg; that compares to 23 mpg for the RAV4 (24 EPA combined); 22 mpg for the Outlander (22 EPA combined), and pretty much the same for the rest of the competition.

AutoWeek recorded 23.0 mpg as the average of several drivers.

Did anyone actually get close? The GreenCarReports tried to attain the 32 mpg highway numbers by gentle driving with the Eco button firmly engaged. The result: 25.8 mpg, and a comment of  “not spectacular”.

A limited degree of variation from EPA numbers is reasonable and understandable, although the revised formula tend to mirror real world experience quite well. But a consistent pattern has emerged with the Equinox and its GMC Terrain stablemate. And its not just against their direct competitors either. Consider the case of its corporate relative, the Chevy Malibu. Equipped with an almost identical I4/6 speed automatic combination, weighing five hundred pound less and with a dramatically lower total aerodynamic drag, the Malibu’s EPA ratings are an almost perfect dead ringer with the Equinox: 22/33/26.

But in the case of the Malibu, those numbers jive with both the competition (Camry: 22/32/26) as well as CR, which recorded a 25 mpg consumption. Hmm.

To assuage the TTAC GM Assault Protective Services Committee’s paranoia, Ford seems to have a similar case of EPA inflation infection. The Fusion Hybrid has been Ford’s poster boy ever since its arrival, trumpeting its 39 mpg combined rating. A survey of tests of it and the very similar 34 mpg rated Camry hybrid shows the same results, literally; as in 34 mpg. The consensus of a number of tests fails to show any measurable difference between the two, except their EPA ratings, of course. CR also tested both at 34 mpg.

Conspiracy theories are not exactly our preferred fall-back explanation, but it really is rather curious that these two particular cars (Equinox, Fusion Hybrid) are both being heavily advertised (despite the Fusion hybrid’s limited availability) as symbols of American auto manufacturer’s ability to deliver class-leading fuel efficient vehicles. And they carry that EPA stamp of approval. Yet neither of them delivers; in fact the Equinox actually underperforms its peers.

Keep in mind that the EPA tests are not actually performed by the EPA, but by the manufacturers themselves, with a small percentage of cars potentially retested by the EPA. Have they retested the Equinox or the Fusion Hybrid? And if they fell short, would we actually ever hear about it?

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90 Comments on “Why The Chevy Equinox EPA Mileage Numbers Don’t Add Up...”

  • avatar

    Perhaps this is the beginning of FuelGate?

    • 0 avatar

      When we purchased our Chevy Uplander it was advertised as 1000km per tank (600 miles). Best we have ever done is 800km (480 miles) an that was really taking it easy, all hwy. We do over 700 miles per week, and I was really excited about the new equinox/terrain as it was attractive, efficient and available in awd with the 4cyl engine. I was immediately scepticle when I drove by a dealership and saw 1100km per tank (660 miles) in big vinyl letters on the side of an equinox. From the numbers I have seen so far, real world economy seems to be in line with my v6 Uplander. Too bad…

    • 0 avatar

      This compared to my 93 vw passat diesel that gets the same 6.6l per 100km that it did when new. 1000km per tank. Over 200k miles, original engine and tranny.

      How far we havn’t come in 17 years.

  • avatar

    More real world data points can be found here.

  • avatar

    OMG you mean EPA numbers don’t actually mean anything?! What a surprise! Or not…

    EPA tests have almost nothing to do with daily driving. If driven right most vehicles can get more MPG than the EPA tests.

    However driven like “normal” people who don’t realize the gas pedal and MPG have anything to do with each other you won’t get near EPA ratings.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Your comment is somewhat self-contradicting.
      The revised EPA numbers generally come quite close to what “normal” drivers achieve. If by “driven right” you mean “for maximum economy” than, yes, its possible to beat the EPA numbers. But it’s always possible to do worse, but that’s not usually the “norm”.
      Anyway, my article isn’t about actual drivers; I purposely omitted them, because they often use incorrect methods or the inflated car computer read-out, as noted in the article. I visited Equinox forums with plenty of bitching about actual mileage, but chose not to use for that reason.

    • 0 avatar

      I have to say in my experience even the “revised” EPA numbers are far from accurate.

      What is your article about then if not about drivers not getting EPA rated mileage? That seems to be the main idea here, that GM somehow fudged the numbers and now people aren’t getting the claimed mileage.

  • avatar

    A simple explanation is that GM has optimized the electronic drivetrain controls to the EPA mileage test. That is, they carefully scrutinize the lab test criteria, then reverse engineer the vehicle to fit. You want real world results, you say? Hah!

    • 0 avatar

      Government comes in and sets new rules. The free market learns to adjust itself around the rules. Looks like GM is winning the game compared to its competitors.

      Same thing happened with the housing market but we’ll save that conversation for a different time.

    • 0 avatar

      This also seems most likely to me. And the more a test is gamed, the more a driving style that differs from the test will change the results. The gaming also can impact driveability.

  • avatar

    Plus or minus 2 mpg is noise. The marketers have to promote something heavily and in these austere times, MPG is a natural fit. During boom-times it would have been the rich Corinthian leather or the digital ashtray.

    Most I know treat mileage numbers with a massive grain of salt anyway.

    • 0 avatar

      Noise? Really? From

      “There’s a sneaky illusion in mpg numbers. Consider: If your pickup rated at 10 mpg gets only 9, you shrug and say it’s off only 1 mpg. But if you drive a hybrid labeled 50 mpg and it drops the same 10 percent to 45, you complain of lousy mileage.

      The illusion tricks you once again when you think of mpg instead of the fuel you actually burn. Hybrids are chosen by people who think saving gas is right up there on the list of American virtues with motherhood and voting. But when the hybrid gets 45 mpg instead of the expected 50, a 100-mile trip consumes less than a quarter of a gallon more than expected. Compare that with the pickup that gets 9 mpg instead of 10; its 100-mile trip burns 1.1 extra gallons.

      The loss of 10 percent on the pickup’s mileage actually burns five times the extra gas used by the 10-percent shortfall in the hybrid. ”

      Try the above math with 22 mpg vehicle and a 50 mpg vehicle.

  • avatar

    I understand an automaker’s need to advertise high EPA numbers, but you would think that the Honda Civic Hybrid class action lawsuit would provide some deterrent to inflated claims.

    Reality is probably that the cars were designed to deliver for the EPA test cycle first and the real world second. One of my cars is a Ford Flex FWD and I have been very pleased with its fuel economy, right on the money as far as EPA estimates go, sometimes even better.

    Bottom line, your mileage may vary. Consumers should know this by now. There is a wealth of information on every car out there available at your fingertips, if someone is being sold on a window sticker or a television ad, it is difficult to feel sorry for them.

    If it is as bad as you claim, GM and Ford will get theirs by way of fewer repeat customers or a Honda style class action.

  • avatar

    Very interesting that no one has come close to the EPA ratings in actual testing. I thought when I read the TTAC Equinox review that was phenomenal MPG, especially the highway. The Fusion because it’s a hybrid isn’t as easy to know from a relative standpoint what the MPG should be versus the EPA numbers and competitive models. One thing is for sure, both GM and Ford are getting phenominal advertising MPG from the EPA ratings.

  • avatar

    Before we get to that, let’s do the suspect EPA numbers: FWD 22/32/26 (combined); AWD 20/29/23. Now there’s already a tip off in just looking at them. The FWD version “premium” (improvement over AWD) is 3 mpg in both the highway and combined numbers. Comparing those to every other comparable CUV that offers both AWD and FWD versions, one finds that the rest of the gang (RAV4, CRV, Outlander, Rogue, Escape) average a 1.4 mpg FWD premium on the highway test, and a 1.0 premium on the combined numbers. The discrepancy with the city numbers is similar: the Equinox has a 2 mpg FWD premium; the rest average a 0.6 mpg FWD pTo assuage the TTAC GM Assault Protective Services Committee’s paranoia, Ford seems to have a similar case of EPA inflation infection. The Fusion Hybrid has been Ford’s poster boy ever since its arrival, trumpeting its 39 mpg combined rating. A survey of tests of it and the very similar 34 mpg rated Camry hybrid shows the same results, literally; as in 34 mpg. The consensus of a number of tests fails to show any measurable difference between the two, except their EPA ratings, of course. CR also tested both at 34 mpg.Premium.

    What the manufacturers didn’t mention was that they were towing these vehicles around town all day.

    Go to the Fusion Hybrid forum and one of the first mods(if you can call it that) is inflating their tire pressure to 40-42psi. Guess they didn’t learn their lesson with the Exploders.

    • 0 avatar

      Wasn’t the explorer tire case because tires were under-inflated? I thought ford had the tires under inflated to “smooth” out the ride as so many people buying explorers weren’t buying them to use as SUV’s but as daily drivers/commuters and thus didn’t like the harsh truck suspension.

      While over inflation will decrease traction (and hence increase gas mileage) I don’t see it as too big of a risk for a blowout (unless you go in the 60+ psi range).

    • 0 avatar

      Decreased traction isn’t a problem? Playing with pressure other than what the manufacturer has stated is an inherent risk.

      Environmental conditions can introduce a 13% to 15% variability in pressure due to temperature (0 °C to 40 °C), and additional changes can result due to altitude. Most car owner manuals do not state rated pressure as a function of temperature or altitude and leave it to the user to make appropriate measurements.Since tires are rated for specific loads at certain pressure, it is important to keep the pressure of the tire at the optimal amount. Tires are rated for their optimal pressure when cold, meaning before the tire has been driven on for the day and allowed to heat up, which ultimately changes the internal pressure of the tire due to the expansion of gases.

      Most if not all Hybrids are equipped with low rolling resistance tires anyways!
      Not to mention any $$ saved from this mod would defintely go back to the new set of tires you were scheduled to purchase at 80,000km now at 40,000km.

    • 0 avatar

      A little known…or well hidden fact, is the Explorer’s tire pressure was lowered in an ill advised attempt by engineers to lower ride height and make the vehicle more stable. Ford did an amazing job of spinning the blame on Firestone which was only partly responsible.,8599,128198,00.html

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      That’s an excellent summary article, Dis, and that’s how I see the Exploder/Firestone fiasco as well. I can tell you from 10-12 years of first hand driving experience, on 5-6 versions, that the Ranger was an inherently unstable platform, even before you loaded Explorer sheet metal and interior on top of it. The tire issue was arguably a catalyst for catastrophe, but nothing more than that.

    • 0 avatar
      Greg Locock

      You might like to read the full Govinjee report. Decatur only started providing tires for full production, that is all the engineering development and sign-off was done on Joliette tires. Apparently the Joliette tires were OK at 26 psi.

  • avatar

    I doubt they cared enough to change the banner on the fly, but the Equinox ad on the right doesn’t say “32 mpg”, only the much vaguer statement “The Most Fuel-Efficient Crossover on the Highway.” Ye GODS there’s a lot of variable definitions in that slogan!

    If the EPA numbers are so inaccurate, they shouldn’t be tossed around as concrete evidence of a car’s greatness. Numerous publications that have nothing to do with each other weren’t able to get the EPA numbers, and even greenies trying their best couldn’t get them, so it’s absurd to use arbitrary numbers as marketing ammunition. The worst offender in this is Chevy, comparing EPA numbers of Hondas and Toyotas to their cars. In every case, their car bests the competition by 1-3 mpg, which is more than the margin of error, which is HUGE. That’s a lot of money being spent on claims that aren’t backed up…not in the autojournalism world, not in the real world.

  • avatar

    HAHA! Therre it is! The Equinox ad, just as suspected. “The most Fuel Efficient CUV on the Highway”, It says.

    There is also another one between the headline and the article.

    There will probably be three ads on every page i pull up for three weeks.

    Google is run by the Ferengi Empire.

  • avatar

    The click through ad that I see says

    “32 MPG HIGHWAY”
    Better than CR-V, RAV-4
    and even Escape Hybrid”

  • avatar

    This is not really surprising. Some companies have historically been very good at gaming the EPA cycle (GM is probably the best). Some (Mazda) are piss-poor at it. Most are somewhere in-between.

    There’s a few things happening here:
    * Everyone always publishes the EPA highway number, despite most driving being done in traffic that’s a little nearer EPA city or EPA combined.
    * MPG is a terrible measure from a psychological standpoint, especially for more fuel-efficient vehicles. L/100km makes it easier to compare.
    * The EPA cycle is a known quantity, and thusly it’s easier to tweak for it. You can take advantage of this: if you want EPA mileage, find out what that cycle entails and drive exactly like that.

    Add all this together and you end up with what amounts to government-sponsored consumer deception.

    If you want a real kick, have a look at the Euro CO2 and fuel economy tests. If you thought EPA was unrealistic, you’ll love how incredibly divorced from reality the Euro measures are, even adjusted for imperial gallons.

    The Equinox is a fine little trucklet; possibly one of the best. The problem is that people expect miracles and in a technological and cost arena as mature as automobilia, miracles just don’t happen.

    It’s also worth pointing out that, if you want the same useful space as the Equinox (or RAV, CRV, Rogue and such) you could get Matrix, HHR or some other car that doesn’t carry a crossover’s structural penalty and high floor but maintains the high roof and hip point.

  • avatar

    I have noticed a similar discrepancy with the EPA rating for my 2009 Ford Focus SES 5-speed. Its highway rating is 35 MPG and I have yet to duplicate this number.

    Typically, I have no problem achieving or even BEATING the EPA highway numbers in both my vehicles and many rental cars. Careful use of cruise control and planning your accelerating and decelerating makes this entirely possible.

    With my focus, my realized highway mileage is much closer to 33 traveling at or near the speed limit. This is significantly less than the EPA rating and the 34-35 the trip computer records.

    Thats not shabby mileage, but its definitely not the 35 MPG advertised by Ford. If i can’t achieve this highway rating with careful driving, I can’t imagine the average driver achieving anything near that EPA rating.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s very interesting. I’ve rented a number of Focus automatics, including some SES models, and consistently get 38-40 in mixed driving (mostly highway) over a combined total of around 5 rentals and 3-4 thousand miles of driving. Also, the MPG trip on the Focus seems to be within about 1 mpg of the actual mpg as calculated by me at fill-ups.

      I use cruise control often, but have a fairly heavy foot in town.

  • avatar

    “Given how much is at stake, why wouldn’t every manufacturer “game” the EPA test?”

    I think they are all certainly trying, it’s just that Ford and GM have actually found a way to get it done. I think it’s by far the most likely explanation as to why the Equinox and Fusion hybrid have such large discrepancies between their (unusually) high EPA ratings and what reviewers have actually gotten. No conspiracy needed.

    • 0 avatar

      Or perhaps other manufacturers realize that customer satisfaction past the point of sale is worth losing some sales to those who game the EPA system? One buyer who checks his mileage (independant of the trip computer) will complain loudly to friends and message boards for every nine buyers who silently think that they’re getting good mileage. Which is how reputations, good and bad, are made.

    • 0 avatar

      I suspect that Fiatsler, GM and Ford in that order have more to gain in avoided CAFE fines by “gaming” the EPA test that the others. IIRC at one point the automatic ‘Vette skipped a gear to “juke the stats” for the EPA.

      Honda easily sails over the CAFE hurdle while Toyota sells enough Prii to balance out their portfolio of Canyoneros.

    • 0 avatar

      ClutchCarGo “Or perhaps other manufacturers realize that customer satisfaction past the point of sale is worth losing some sales to those who game the EPA system?”

      Therein lies the “rub”, as Shakespeare would say. Vehicle manufacturer’s are torn between meeting a gov’t mandated test and designing vehicles for real world fuel economy…which aren’t the same thing. As the CAFE requirement gets tougher, they have no choice but to optimize for the test, vs. real world fuel economy.

  • avatar

    I agree with the Firefox/Adblock combination. I had to go in and allow ads for TTAC and then reload the page to see the Equinox ads.

    As for the inflated MPG numbers, does anyone expect any car company to tell the truth? And this isn’t just any car company we’re talking about, it’s GM and the $hitquinox. Now if they put a turbodiesel in it and claimed crazy numbers, then I might be more inclined to believe them.

    • 0 avatar

      Paul, forgive me if this isn’t the right place, but since you brought it up I have to run Ad Block Plus and block the Facebook links on TTAC just to get the pages to fully load. If I turn it off, it routinely takes thirty seconds for a page to load while the bottom right corner of my browser informs me it’s waiting for api.facebook…

      About the EPA numbers, isn’t the configuration of the test biased in favor of all hybrids? The Prius and Insight have had significantly better EPA numbers than real-world results for several years. This isn’t a Ford thing, it’s a test that doesn’t accurately measure all hybrids.

  • avatar

    Very interesting article. I purchased a 2010 4Cyl FWD Equinox in August this year. I’ve got about 8000 miles on it and my average is 24.11mpg measured at the pump. See tanks here:

    I drive with a light touch, and rarely drive much over the speed limit. I drive with the ECO setting on, except when the roads are snowy/icy.

    Sure I would love to see closer to 26mpg average, I’m happy with 24, I think bigger sedans still get about 24. I could see when driven spiritedly you could see mileage as low as 18mpg, it’s a heavy CUV, can’t fight physics!

    I absolutely think GM optimizes the drivetrains for the EPA tests. Sometimes they go a little too far. For example many Nox owners (myself included) have complained about aggressive deceleration when coasting. The cause was an aggressive deceleration fuel cut off (DFCO) setting. GM had to release an updated ECU program to address it, I’m sure it brought the mileage down a bit as well. I don’t believe vehicles are retested for EPA after updates like this. Just a game, how far can we dial up the mileage until the customer screams!

    However if you can get past GM gaming the EPA numbers the Nox is a great vehicle. Buyers seem to think so as well, dealers can’t keep them on the lot, and GM added production to meet demand.

    • 0 avatar

      Interesting to me, too. My 2007 Acadia got worse mileage after the software patches for transmission shift points, which addressed a lot of complaints with too aggressive upshifts. Before the update the transmission seemed to always be in at least one gear to high. It works a lot better after the update, but at the expense of MPG.

      Makes you wonder if they released it like that to obtain the higher EPA ratings.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    I’m sure they all cheat on this, and as my experience is with Ford, I can confirm that they cheated significantly on my Fusion, and perhaps slightly on my previous F-150.

    My Tacoma gets better than EPA mileage, but Toyota isn’t immune to the certified cheating, as they got nabbed pumping up Hp numbers a while back, as I recall.

    How do you expect the OEM’s to get under those EPA fuel economy targets the Feds recently enacted? Legitimately? Hah!

  • avatar

    Come on… these cars go through a lot of tests in real world driving before they are released to market. The engineers have plenty of fuel consumption data under varying conditions. If we asked the engineers what the expected mileage would be, they could give us good numbers.

    It’s the marketing people, and the advertising company.

    It must be pretty easy to get an add approved by GM middle-management.

    Someone should still be held accountable, marketing and even the ad agency, because people are going to buy these cars based on that 32 mpg and they’re not gonna get it.

    Same thing has happned with the Prius and many other cars.

    Man.. I know there is a lot of lawyer hate out there but they are the only group probably that might be interested because they would get paid by going after gas money savings promised but not rec’d..

    PS- I’ve beaten EPA mileage (based on new standard) on some cars, gotten less on others, and some have been dead on.

    My Suzuki SX4 has been dead on for about 15K.
    My 2000 Ford Ranger 4cyl reg cab lwb 5speed could regularly beat the EPA# by at least 5 mpg! My 2005 Tacoma couldn’t quite get the EPA#s but would come close if I hypermiled.

  • avatar
    Detroit Todd

    TTAC GM Bashing Alert!

    Thanks for the heads up.

    But would the EPA ever come down on Government Motors?

    If they do something wrong, sure. Just like they are investigating Toyota, even though Toyota lines U.S. politicians’ pockets with the best of ’em (via direct contributions and lobbying).

    This article is actually a conspiracy theory, squared. First, that GM is falsely inflating EPA mpg numbers. Secondly, that the EPA knows about it, but is covering it up because of the government investment in GM.

    The first part may or may not be true. But to hint at it with no proof is poor form. The allegation in the second part is patently absurd. To think that one part of our government could actually pull off a cross-agency coverup is just plain nuts.

    • 0 avatar

      It isn’t a cover up as much as plain gov’t incompetence and laziness. The EPA has known there is a problem with their test for decades but refuses to fix it. The manufacturers are required to play by the EPA’s rules.

    • 0 avatar

      Every time I read “Government Motors” it sets off my BS detector. GM gamed the test, it’s no more complicated than that.

      The EPA did recently redesign the formulas and tests used for the numbers, and they are generally more in line with the real world. Perhaps GM is ahead of others in figuring out how to game the revised test.

  • avatar
    crash sled

    “TTAC GM Bashing Alert! The following article has been read and reviewed by the TTAC-GM Assault Protective Services Committee and has been found to contain material that may put GM in a negative light. Reader discretion is advised.”


    This site is so confusing. You take off after OEM’s for forming wasteful committees, then YOU go off and form a committee. Neener-neener.

  • avatar

    I’m curious if the really bad numbers from Edmunds and C/D are because they tested a very late pre-production model.

    Both have pulled things like that before, and considering that C/D got 21MPG out of an AWD Terrain with the lame 3.0L and 18MPG out of the old Equinox Sport with the good 3.6L, I would bet that there was something not completely right with their 2.4L test vehicles.

    Also, it is worth bringing up that the FWD 2.4L Equinox has a 3.23 final drive while the AWD 2.4L Equinox has a 3.53 final drive.

    That’s a decent difference and I believe that is the reason for the “big” discrepancy in FWD/AWD EPA numbers on the 4-cylinder. Competitors like the Outlander, Escape, and CRV have the same final drive whether AWD or FWD. The RAV4 has a difference, but it’s small.

    As a comparison, the 3.0L Equinox has a 2.77 final drive on both the AWD and FWD, and both versions get the same EPA combined rating.

    • 0 avatar

      Excellent point.

      I’d also give zero credence to MPG figures in media reviews. They vary a lot, and are often far below the EPA numbers.

      CR’s testing regimen is much more structured, and should yield comparable results. I don’t know how they keep the rates of acceleration consistent from vehicle to vehicle when driving their loop, but assume they have some way of doing this.

      Also note that there will be some variation from vehicle to vehicle, and they test only one vehicle. Do they control for gas, not using winter gas in some tests and summer gas in others? I don’t know.

      Above all, it is still one particular driving mix that isn’t necessarily similar to the EPA’s.

  • avatar

    My 2008 GTI barely touches 30 MPG on the highway, and that’s a 3300 lbs small (but heavy) hatchback. In real world driving I get low to mid 20’s, and teens if I’ve got my foot into it.

    This is with a modern, direct-injected, turbo-charged 2.0L engine.

    Am I supposed to believe in two years, engine technology has progressed to the point where a 4000 lbs CUV can get 32 MPG on the highway?

    No f’n way, the f’n liars should be ashamed of themselves.


  • avatar

    I might be mistaken, but I vaguely recall reading an article about the transmission being re-programmed, due to drive-ability complaints. So, it could be a “dirty little secret” that those EPA numbers were achieved before the re-programming of the transmission.

  • avatar

    On December 14, 2009 TTAC writes:
    “Ads for the Equinox have tended to focus on the four’s EPA fuel economy ratings of 22/32. In the real world, the Equinox can top 30 in straight highway driving, but mid-twenties tends to be typical with mixed driving.”

    On February 16, 2010 TTAC writes:
    From GM’s first gleeful announcement, it was hard to swallow from the that a tall, almost 4,000 lb CUV could actually get 32 mpg on the highway, or 26 mpg combined. It appears others are having the same blockage of the pharynx. Now that there’s a number of reviews out, they all show the same pattern: the Equinox EPA numbers are highly deceptive.

    Did anyone actually get close?

    Yeah you did back in December 14th.

    • 0 avatar

      Wait a minute… That is in fact what Michael reported.

    • 0 avatar

      What a difference two months make.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit Todd

      Indeed, TZ.

      Would it be cynical for one to ask why this change of tune at TTAC? And what has happened in those intervening two months?


    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      There’s little doubt in my mind that tester Karesh wrote that based on the Equinox’ instant mpg read-out numbers. This article makes it clear that those numbers are also consistently inflated, according to a number of folks who have taken the time to compare them to real-world (mileage driven and fuel used) consumption.
      The reality is that few testers have the time and ability to do an actual fuel consumption test. That is why I put particular emphasis on CR’s  numbers, because they run their cars through a consistent driving regime to generate their mileage numbers.
      I have no problem throwing our review into the category of those that didn’t generate actual numbers. Typically, referring to the revised EPA numbers is normally good enough. In the case of the Equinox, it’s not. That’s the gist of my article, and if it takes this examination of many reviews to bring out the truth, that’s more than all the other sites have done, that didn’t take actual consumption figures.
      The issue is the Equinox has an unusual high discrepancy from the EPA number; its the competition doesn’t.

    • 0 avatar

      But Paul,
      Most of the car reviews I read (or see, on the rare occasion catch one on TV) the EPA numbers are quoted followed by, to paraphrase MotorWeek “we observed ## MPG during our mixed loop.” or something to that effect. Are you saying that Michael did not do the math himself for his review?

    • 0 avatar

      Interestingly enough, when I first saw the advertised MPG numbers for the Equinox, my Engineering mind was shocked. With my driving habits I would never get anywhere near it, and surely they must have had averaged Betty White and Mother Teresa’s mileage behind the wheel for those numbers!

      I will agree that the finding of this article to be credible but was tipped by several replies of the mileage findings during the TTAC review two months prior. Since I’m a paste and cut type, I just brought the obvious to the forefront.

      As far as CR’s numbers … I have a real hard time with anything that comes out of that publication ever since when I was looking for a HEPA Room Air Filtration Unit, and found that they never included the best one in the world on any of their reviews. And it wasn’t an industrial unit with outrageous price either.

    • 0 avatar

      The owners I talked to reported getting just over 30 when cruising on the highway, but this was instantaneous based on the trip computer. Note that even then they could not get to 32.

      People who drive with some concern for fuel economy tend to report 24-25 in mixed driving. I did not check into whether they’re basing this on hand calculations or the trip computer, though.

  • avatar

    Interesting that no one has yet commented on the fact that we now have a government emphasizing the need for alternative energy sources, funding nuclear, etc. yet the key government agency responsible for providing accurate information to consumers largest and most air polluting purchase cannot be trusted.

    If anyone from the Obama administration is reading this, how about a shakeup at the EPA. This is ridiculous.

  • avatar

    Given how much is at stake, why wouldn’t every manufacturer “game” the EPA test?

    Because there’s significant drivability and cost issues in doing so:
    * Low rolling resistance tires are noisy and gripless
    * Higher final drive and overdrive gears make a car seam sluggish
    * Transmissions that are quick to upshift and slow to downshift make a car sluggish
    * Throttle programming that saves fuel tends to lug or starve the engine
    * In the most extreme cases, you get things like the Corvette and Camaro’s 1-4 skip-shift

    In EPA highway, these are not huge issues. In normal driving, people with either complain, or stomp harder on the gas to compensate.

    • 0 avatar

      * In the most extreme cases, you get things like the Corvette and Camaro’s 1-4 skip-shift.

      What management malfunction decided against applying a gas-guzzler tax but allowed an automotive abortion like the skip-shift?

  • avatar

    New GM…Old GM, same old devious advertising ploys, same old MO of deceiving customers with questionable claims, now underwritten with your tax dollars. Guess they’ll never learn that screwing the customer has bad market share implications….

  • avatar

    Science is vindicated again, and so a 4000-lb SUV can’t really get 32 mpg highway? Well, I suspect it really can if driven per the EPA test guidelines.

    My 05 xB 5-spd gets the EPA 31/34 in hilly western PA. It gets about 10-15% less in the winter, and sometimes better than EPA in the heat of summer with A/C on.

    Highway mileage on any car is very sensitive to speed: 65-80 mph will definitely not yield EPA highway numbers, yet most people fail to realize how much harder the engine works to accomplish those speeds.

    I’d suggest people take their complaints to the EPA who sets the guidelines (see “230 mpg Volt”), rather than GM.

    Here is an excellent article on the subject:

    Guess what? The test vehicles don’t even run on gasoline, and all accessories are turned off!

    • 0 avatar

      Hmmmm. While the article is mostly correct, I didn’t think automakers run full chassis dyno’s…with cars on rolls, anymore, for their emissions tests. I thought they ran engine dynos with simulated loads. At most, they run chassis dyno’s that include the powertrain, directly hooked up to the dyno…no wheel rolls.

      The issue isn’t so much the disparity between the test and real world fuel economy. The issue is powertrains are tuned for meeting the best economy and emissions for the test rather than the real world. This REDUCES their real world performance.

  • avatar

    I suspected the Equinox numbers as crap from the beginning because I’ve had a physics class. Physics say those numbers are bullshit.

    FWIW, 32,000 miles of Excel data prove that my GTI gets the EPA highway number (31mpg). I hoon on it a little bit, but mostly just drive the speed limit and avoid jackrabbit starts and late braking.

  • avatar

    Anyone who has ever owned a SUV should know that the EPA highway numbers are BS at real world highway speeds of 65+ mph due to poor aerodynamics. When I first saw a picture of the Eqinox and the claimed 32mpg I laughed.

  • avatar

    I know a lady that is wanting to purchase a new Equinox soon, I’ll have to ask her to check her mpg’s. Now, as for myself and my car, I will say this…I have an ’06 HHR with the 2.4l engine, and whenever I have checked the mileage, both my figures and the computer’s have very closely matched, so I tend to have faith in the trip computer in that car. And, for what it’s worth, the only time I can maintain my mileage in the 30’s is when I’m cruising along at sedate speeds on rural two lanes and the such. I never see more than 29 tops on the highway, and I live in Michigan, so no mountains, and I drive conservatively. But there was that time that I drove the car from east Tennessee to Pennsylvania on one tank of fuel, that was nice. :)

    • 0 avatar

      @supremebro, I have had a similar experience with my 09 G6 with the 2.4 and six speed autobox where the trip computers now are much better at predicting mileage than they were before. Our old Pontiac’s (’01 & ’04’s) trip computers were pretty optomistic with the mileage averages. I mostly do mine with pencil and paper, mostly because of those overly optomistic old computer and to keep my mind from turning into oatmeal. I can say, the newer cars are better.

      If I could stay below 75 or so (nearly impossible on lower Michigan interstates) I would get better mileage, but as it is, I routinely see mileage in the high 20’s (27-29). Our old Malibu Maxx had the 3.5 V6 and the 4 speed auto, it got nearly the same mileage as the G6 does. Maybe I should have hung on to that car? The G6’s city mileage is better than the Maxx’s by 3-4 MPG (20-23), which is a lot.

      My experience with a PT Cruiser is probably what you’re experiencing. The HHR and the PT are not particularly aerodynamic, the PT I rented last summer got 22 MPG on the interstates, not at all what I expected for a new car. Yes, the motor was a little green, but the fuel mileage was like a pickup truck’s mileage, not a small vans. In town the PT was 18-20 MPG or so, I didn’t think that was too awful considering my right foot and the fact that I was running the A/C full blast constantly. Just a thought.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve heard quite a few people say that the PT isn’t really set up for economy. I think a lot of the problems with the HHR come from the fact that one, it only has a four-speed auto, and two, for such a small car, it’s a real porker! Of course, the one advantage I find with that is that I never have gotten stuck in the snow, it just chugs right along!

      But back to the mileage figures, I discovered that whenever I get out on the open road that I can press and hold the reset button on the steering wheel for the computer for about two seconds, and it will reconfigure my mpg’s for the rest of that trip, and it hasn’t let me down yet.

  • avatar

    responding strictly to several comments having to do with tire inflation: to the best of my knowledge, the tire pressure recommendations lean towards keeping the ride smooth. I routinely run 5-8 lbs over recommended pressure in my Accord, for gas mileage, and to keep the sidewalls from flexing too much under hard cornering

    The explorer blowouts happened because the recommended pressure was so low–to keep the ride smooth–that tire flex heated the tires up enough to cause ruptures.

    • 0 avatar

      Tire pressure isn’t kept low just for ride. That is but one factor in determining ideal tire pressure. Running at too high a pressure will cause a reduced and non optimal tire contact patch…lowering the tire’s friction and traction and increasing center wear. There is an ideal tire pressure and going above and below that pressure has consequences.

      Having said that, increasing pressure will generally increase fuel economy by decreasing rolling resistance and increasing rolling diameter (which lowers the drive ratio and engine speed.)

  • avatar

    I just finished a week in an Equinox LTZ today. Kept the ECO button in “off” and in 50/50 city street and urban freeway driving got 25 MPG…which pretty well squares with your December 14 assessment.

  • avatar

    A co-worker bought a Honda Accord Coupe about 6 months ago – his mileage (4cyl auto) is well below the EPA numbers; needless to say, he’s quite pissed.

    I’m not surprised that the ‘Nox numbers are lower in the real world – one thing I have *not* been able to find is whether the EPA testing is done with pure, summer-grade gasoline; that would certainly account for some of the discrepancy…

    Here’s an eye-opener GM h8ters:

    Consumer Reports MPG for Equinox AWD 4-Cyl (3945lbs):

    Overall: 21
    14 city/30 hwy
    27 (150 mile loop)

    Honda CR-V AWD 4-Cyl (3520lbs):

    Overall: 21
    15 city/29 hwy
    25 (150 mile loop)

    That’s the posted info at the CR (subscription) website.

    Read ’em and weep?

    • 0 avatar

      What’s to weep about? The CRV gets better city mileage, and having driven both of these somewhat recently, the CRV actually feels pretty zippy. I know which one I’d want to spend the next five years commuting in.

    • 0 avatar

      Your reply merely reinforces my point – the Equinox is competitive enough that for many buyers, it will be mainly a metter of preference – the Equinox is quieter, rides better and has more interior and cargo space. The CR-V is more agile, and has a very good reliability record behind it.
      I would agree that in many cases, the CR-V’s “real world” mileage would be better (it’s 400 pounds lighter), but the ‘Nox does pretty well, too.

  • avatar

    This report should be as much about bashing the EPA’s flawed testing methodology as GM…or Ford for that matter. The car manufacturers are under strict requirements to meet a CAFE number that is based on a dated and flawed test.

    I worked for a major vehicle manufacturer and am familiar with how the EPA requires MPG to be measured. It is an offshoot of the emissions test…because that was an available established test when the CAFE standard became law. Another argument for using the emissions test, is it keeps manufacturers from gaming a car to meet emissions in one test and fuel economy in another, such that real world emissions would be much worse.

    Having said that, the methodology is horribly broken. The engineers openly talk about optimizing for “real world” fuel economy vs. optimizing for fuel economy during the emissions test. I can tell you that the manufacturers have complained many times to the EPA about this disparity and the only response so far by the EPA is to require slight load/circuit changes during the test and issue a compensation number, to cause the CAFE numbers to better reflect real world fuel economy. They have left the basic test in place which is actually hurting real world fuel economy. Yes, you read that right. THE EPA IS CAUSING FUEL ECONOMY TO BE WORSE BY REQUIRING AN OUTDATED TESTING METHODOLOGY. The manufacturers have no choice but to optimize fuel economy for the test because there are HUGE financial penalties for not meeting the standard…not to mention this is the data that is given to customers which they use to help decide their vehicle purchases.

    I suggest TTAC send a reporter to talk to some emissions engineers to get the whole story.

    A whole ‘nother interesting story would be investigating “real world” corporate fuel economy vs. CAFE. The real world numbers are considerably worse due to the testing methodology and the credit system for technologies like E85.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      With engines and transmissions so heavily controlled by computer these days, there’s no reason the manufacturers couldn’t build vehicles with two sets of fuel and shift maps: “government” from the factory to satisfy the EPA, and “real world” for what actually works. Make it selectable in the nav screen, mpg readout, or something.

    • 0 avatar

      Boy, wouldn’t that be nice…but that would definitely violate the law.

  • avatar

    This is a very interesting discussion… Please keep it going gentlemen. Lots of informed viewpoints here.

    I’m off to click on a few TTAC ads – I want to be one of the cool kids who helps keep the lights on at TTAC

  • avatar

    A follow up to my other post.

    Here is WIKI about the fuel economy and CAFE tests.

    I’d like to also mention that while auto manufacturer’s would like the gov’t to improve the testing methodology, they have a lot invested in the current methodology, and there is a little bit of “better the devil you know” going on. It will cost the manufacturer’s time and equipment to change to a better standard…all this during a time of rapidly changing requirements.

  • avatar

    I realize it’s anecdotal evidence, but I have been surprised by the advertised numbers on the 2010 Equinox since they’ve been touting them. Having driven a 2008 Equinox LT AWD for the past year and a bit, a rider and I (switching drivers) averaged a very consistent 21.5 mpg reported by the trip computer on a drive that was probably 2/3 highway, 1/3 back roads (no congestion, but hills and turns). When we’d reset the computer at the beginning of the highway portion, we’d see numbers up to 24 – 24.5, but no higher.

    So after seeing the commercials, I was really wondering what they’d done to the vehicle in the update to get it from the mileage I got to the reported mileage. And I can’t say that I’d be surprised if it was quite the exaggeration.

  • avatar

    The msn auto article is very telling, since it depicts the TRUE nature of how the EPA-derived numbers are achieved.

    I am sure that if I had a clean room, using indolene clear fuel, with all the accessories turned off with cooling fans keeping the engine compartment cool while my car runs like a hamster on rollers, I would be able to attain a 50MPG result on my late ’03 Civic LX 4Dr Auto driving 40MPH for 100 miles and count the carbon molecules in the exhaust like the scientists do.

    Of course, people who drive in the real world would call me an idiot for claiming such numbers since it wouldn’t be based on “real-world” conditions, but I could point out, undeniable fact that the car DID do 50MPG on my tests.

    I’d also probably not have any friends since they’d all think I’m crazy…

    Just my .02 cents on this…

  • avatar
    Kyle Schellenberg

    Maybe we can ask Howie to take a quick jaunt out on the highway and let us know how it went for him.

  • avatar

    I think that most of the numbers legitimicy is not. I think most of the numbers come from horse play (GM type competion methods)in which:
    1. Equinox and Malibu are in the same weight class according to EPA,
    (Remember the EPA wt. classes are in the 500 lb. bracket denominations at this wt. level). Hence the mileage numbers are almost the same (22/33 vs. 22/32)
    2. Equinox has a number of ‘special enhancements’like lock up in gear at engine speeds as low as 1200 RPM’s, quick upshifts at low RPM, engine fuel cutoffs,etc. These enhancements only help if driven in a low throttle, low RPM, low acceration mode. In regular driving, non of these features show up; in epa test drive mode,they still do. That Is Most OF The Difference!

    • 0 avatar
      crash sled

      “2. Equinox has a number of ’special enhancements’like lock up in gear at engine speeds as low as 1200 RPM’s, quick upshifts at low RPM, engine fuel cutoffs,etc. These enhancements only help if driven in a low throttle, low RPM, low acceration mode. In regular driving, non of these features show up; in epa test drive mode,they still do. That Is Most OF The Difference!”

      This is the most simple and sensible post I’ve read in this discussion, mfh. It would tie in with my experience, that driving like you got eggshells on the pedal is the only way to approach EPA numbers. Still, I do that as a matter of course, and I can spot out those who are cheating even on that methodology (cough cough Ford cough).

      Tell me, are they really locking up in intermediate gears? I remember when they were talking about doing that in high gear, but further down, too?

  • avatar

    1 – EPA mileage figures have always been a joke. It’s not even entirely useful comparing one car to another (similar to treadwear ratings on tires…a good idea, but…)

    2 – The mileage readouts on car computers blow. I’ve had too many inaccurate ones to ever care.

    Gas mileage is best measured by carefully measuring driving distance and carefully determining the fuel used in your normal driving routine (or at least one you’d like to mimic). Since I don’t have special fuel systems and odometers like in the old Mobil mileage tests, I do the best I can – every time I fill up (the same fueling station hopefully – and stopping when the nozzle cuts off) I get the gallons used, check the trip odometer, do the math, and reset. I used to jot it down in my phone, but I know exactly what each car should be returning, so I don’t care to until I get another car.

    If you’re actually wondering how much fuel a new car will really use because it matters to you, particularly a domestic, they’re so #$%&! cheap to rent that you have no excuse not to rent one and test it the real way. You’ll know what kind of mileage YOU would get. Yes, some motors get slightly better mileage (and performance) when broken in, but it’s still far more accurate than looking at window stickers or even listening to your neighbor. My neighbor and I have nothing in common, other than our love for cars. He pokes around in his 3 Series…I’d want to hear that 6 cylinder sing.

    ANYONE who thought that little porker of an overweight SUV got 32 MPG during real world highway driving is…well…mistaken.

    I don’t drive far daily. I drive about 7000 miles a year total (work and pleasure), spread amongst 3 or 4 cars. I don’t care about getting good mileage. I care that if my car drops from 14MPG to 10MPG and all other variables are equal, something happened, and maybe something I dorked with…ummm, got dorked.

  • avatar

    Sounds too good to be true, but many yrs ago I read from one of the car mag that a full size AMC Jeep perhaps V8 or 6 4.0L was converted to run on railway so the railway staff can travel back & forth on the track.
    The jeep get mid teens MPG when driving on the road and when run on track is 45 MPG! So the high EPA cycle is possible, but one has to be well disciplined to yield that kind of mileage. Sometimes is not possible as u need to get to the next green light, or pedal to metal when u enter the autobahn. Unless u want sit in the acceleration lane till sun down when the 4 o”clock rush was over.

  • avatar


    I get the fact that GM might be misleading on the fuel economy that its CUV is getting… by combining both in some miscalculation.

    Are we still talking about a 4000lb CUV, that is a stick or without? (Assuming GM even builds these with sticks.) I am not currently completely similar with these dirtboxes.. only indepth knowing that they are AN ABSOLUTE copy to the defunct Vue.

    SO the Vue offers a 4cycl 6spd trans. Is it offered with a standard belt / chain unit or a with a CVT? Does the engine contain technology like dual intake and exhaust, variable valve timing and or with the direct injection.

    I need more info on the drive train details.

    I’d also like TTAC to do a piece on the benefits of direct injection technology.

  • avatar

    umm being an owner of an equinox and averaging 100 a day in this vehicle with mostly in town driving i can say that i do average 22 in city with 10% ethanol and 24 with straight gas. Additionally averaging 85+ mph for 6+ hours with this thing fully loaded with people and cargo including a tent that went from the back window to the front window still averaged a good 28-29 mpg on 10% ethanol. So I would say that for its size and the power this four banger offers it is unbeatable and correct!!

  • avatar

    I bought my ’11 equinox AWD 4 cyl pre-owned about 3 months ago. I average consistently 23-24 mpg with about a 50/50 split highway and city. Proof of that is my average mph is always about 30mph. My personal best was an average tank full but with a 150 mile all highway trip and i set the cruise at 65. That tank i averaged 26.4. When driving on the highway at 60 if i reset the mpg computer it always sits about 28mpg at 60-65mph. I’m completely satisfied with the mileage i get. I cant wait to see what i get this summer on vacation into the mountains. I bet i hit the 28-29 no problem.

    Heres the catch.

    If you drive this vehicle fast mileage suffers dramatically. Mpg at 60mph is close to 30, at 75 mph its close to 20.

    Moral of the story is Speed costs money, how fast do you want to go.

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