By on May 12, 2014

pumping gas

As fuel economy figures from the Environmental Protection Agency have been put under the gun for being heavily inaccurate in a few cases, a third-party testing company is offering the public real-world mileage numbers for comparison.

Autoblog reports Emissions Analytics has partnered with Intellichoice and Motor Trend to present its findings — obtained through the company’s Real MPG methodology — to the public. EA’s testing involves piloting the subject vehicle through an 88-mile route through city, residential and highway areas, a task that takes approximately 140 minutes to complete. Each vehicle is equipped with 170 pounds of portable testing gear during the examination.

As of this writing, 100 2013 and 2014 vehicles have gone through EA’s Real MPG program, and while most fall in line with the EPA’s own results, a few vehicles — such as the Honda Fit and Accord LX — have produced variances of some 20 percent above or below the agency’s fuel economy ratings. In general, though, it appears the EPA is on the right path with its current methodology in relation to those found by EA.

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59 Comments on “Emissions Analytics Challenges EPA Over Fuel Economy Rating Methodology...”


  • avatar
    thegamper

    Every car I have ever owned has been pretty darn near close to EPA numbers or at least within the range. One thing that bothers me is that the highway cycle is at relatively low speeds. I think most states have highway interstate speeds around 70mph, so perhaps 70 mph at a minimum, more like 75 mph would be closer to real world.

  • avatar
    3800FAN

    They tested the 2014 Mazda6 and it came out far below the EPA numbers…but when Consumer Reports tested the 6 it came out right in line with the EPA numbers….

    • 0 avatar
      gtrslngr

      3800FAN – That is because in reality Consumer Report is a complete and utter farce along with their findings/reviews/reliability claims etc . Fact is .. like every other magazine etc in print CR is constantly being swayed by their own economic needs and greeds rather than the reporting of actual facts and information . Fact is … your subscription price doesn’t even cover CRs mailing costs … so three guesses where their income is derived from . Fact is .. CR in all areas is not worth the time to read … never mind the cost of the magazine . Fact is … CR is and has been extremely biased [ see above ] in all their ‘reporting’ for the last two decades . So when it comes to Consumer Report … at the very least take everything they say with a wheelbarrow of salt …. but better yet .. Just Say No … to purchasing/subscribing/reading .. or even glancing at the cover . Its pablum trash for those unwilling to do a bit of real research themselves

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        Gtsingr, I finally agree with you on something. :)

        CR surveys its paying members for publication. But they offer for you to add your email address which taints the survey results along with having to pay to submit to the survey. CR offers a ballot for your vote to their board, influencing decison makers of the company. There are so many ways that you can influence the results which is not disclosed but the media likes to report CR findings.

      • 0 avatar
        NotFast

        Axe to grind? You can’t throw the word “fact” into a comment and not provide the tech to support it. Unless you don’t care if people actually believe you…

        • 0 avatar
          thornmark

          Actually, nothing they said about CR is accurate. Auto testing and consumer surveys are totally different.

          CR testing is FAR FAR more extensive than the above group. No doubt more reliable too.
          http://usedcars.about.com/od/usedcarhistories/a/Behind-The-Scenes-At-Consumer-Reports-Auto-Testing-Facility.htm

      • 0 avatar
        jpolicke

        Right, and the Intellichoice website isn’t biased or compromised in any way with that giant Chevron banner ad on its masthead.

      • 0 avatar
        djoelt1

        I’ve never seen another source of instrumented, multidimensional competitive testing of consumer products besides consumer reports. Most of the time they have chosen decent criteria on which to measure performance and actually measure things using instruments so that performance can be compared. “Doing your own research” is simply not practical for the average person as they have no access to multiple products and no ability to create a scientific test. The one flaw with CR is lack of reliability data for things other than cars.

        Ref the topic of the article, there are three drivers in our house and two generally get below the EPA estimate while I get above consistently. But then I’ve always exceeded the EPA estimate with every car I’ve owned.

      • 0 avatar
        3800FAN

        If I see bias anywhere in consumer reports it’s with their love for German cars. They’re never afraid to give any vw (especially vw), audi, bmw, benz, etc their nice big RECOMMENDED check mark..then you look at the reliability record of these cars from their own survey they’re complete garbage. They also come out poorer in their own comparison tests but CR will remove their recommendation from a Japanese or American car over something dumb.

        I’ve also noticed they’re slow to report issues on Nissans. I saw altimas plagued with catalyst issues on carsurvey.org loooong before CR reported any issues. I used to go to carsurvey.org all the time before people started CONSTANTLY posting rental car reviews…

      • 0 avatar
        Blackcloud_9

        gtrslngr,
        Please change all of your “Fact is..” to “My opinion is…”. Because that is what you’re really doing, stating your opinion, in your usual condescending manner.

      • 0 avatar
        crm114

        More…ellipses…please…I need more…ellipses…

    • 0 avatar
      pbxtech

      My wife’s Mazda 6’s gas mileage was disappointing at first, but it has continued to rise. I think it must have loosened up. It’s over 31 MPG, up from barely 28 on the first couple of tanks. Come to thing of it it was pretty cold when we got it too.

      • 0 avatar
        thegamper

        I have a 2014 Mazda 6 with 6MT, your fuel economy pretty much mirrors my experience. Currently average 31mpg in mixed driving, up a bit from the winter months. One thing that is a bit of a downer is that the highway mileage is based on a mph that is much lower than my real world. I am going closer to 80mph on highway so mpgs never hit 37mpg EPA highway which I think is based on 60mph cycle.

        I suppose my only problem with the EPA numbers is that they are used almost exclusively as the go to for fuel economy that automakers game the system by optimizing engine performance to max EPA numbers when consumers would probably be better served by automakers optimizing cars for REAL driving.

        • 0 avatar
          niky

          Depends on what you consider “real” driving.

          The whole crux of the problem is: EPA has edged the highway test speed higher and higher to make comparisons to modern driving speeds possible, but there comes a point where it’s not “realistic”, anymore. With a 65 mph speed limit in most places, why would they need to cover 80 mph?

          CR isn’t the only one to test the 6 to high numbers, other magazines have gotten 35+ out of it, and I’ve gotten 40 or so. With the AC on. And around 36-37 at 65 mph.

          All we can tell from this test is that this is what these cars do on this test… and not what they’d do, necessarily on a route that perfectly replicates the EPA test. Note that they test with elevation (not on the EPA test) and this seems to affect heavy cars like the Accord and Mazda6 more than lighter cars like the Fit (naturally)… and they test with both max and no AC… which is kind of misleading, since maximum AC on different cars will suck completely different levels of power from the engines and will provide different levels of cooling. I’d prefer they choose a target temperature and measure to that on their AC cooling loop rather than simply setting it to maximum.

          Another issue with this test is that they’re committing the same sin as the manufacturers do, by assigning the same numbers to multiple variants instead of testing them individually. (hell, they post the same numbers for the Mirage CVT and manual… the EXACT same numbers… while the CVT is good, they are in NO WAY identical in terms of consumption!) Just tell us which exact variant it is, and let us make up our minds.

          • 0 avatar
            Xeranar

            Just a quick response to the argument of why the Highway speeds should be higher:

            Back in Pennsylvania the average highway speed was probably close to 70 in most places with an actual speed limit between 55/65. The Turnpike edged up towards 80 on average.

            In Arizona highway speeds are nominally 80 with speeds upwards of 100 in certain traffic flows.

            These can really amount to vastly different reactions as my car cruising above 75 starts to suffer MPG loss as it uses more fuel to stay at that speed. So on the east coast and in less flat plains the highway speeds are certainly lower but you get out into the midwest and southwest and those speeds creep into dizzying heights with ease. The EPA is trying to compensate for that all together.

        • 0 avatar
          redav

          Info on the EPA test cycles:

          http://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/fe_test_schedules.shtml

        • 0 avatar
          This Is Dawg

          How bizarre. I’ve had mine for a year now, and the first few months I didn’t reset the mpg average readout. After a few 3 hour road trips, mixed with daily trafficy-highway commute, my average was 34.2 mpg. Now that I reset it every time I fill the tank, I haven’t broken out of the 29-31 mpg range, regardless of highway vs city breakdown. I have definitely noticed that 85+ mph and altitude result in 28 mpg highway, though.

      • 0 avatar
        05lgt

        I find that when using the odometer (non-instrumented testing) fresh, bigger diameter tires always lower the (M)PG. Gallons I can believe, there’s a sticker on the pump that says it’s calibrated. The odometer is counting revolutions of something, and tire diameter seems to influence miles per mile.

    • 0 avatar
      Richard Chen

      We’ve purchased 3 cars new, and our overall tank-to-tank MPG matches CR’s fairly well. YMMV, of course.

  • avatar
    gtrslngr

    Inaccurate – Prejudiced [ against manufactures/cars/technology the government does not endorse/support ] – Biased [ when it comes to Government endorsed technology/cars/manufactures ] – Blind to the Smoke & Mirrors games the manufactures play [ such as Subaru in the past disabling the AWD in order to increase the mpg ] – Still using technology and strategies now decades out of date to come up with their findings – Choosing to use extremely controlled .. rather than real world testing conditions that almost never reflect the actual mileage a consumer will experience .

    Yeah … that pretty much sums up the current state of the EPA and their mpg claims

    Fact is … despite the last paragraphs statement here .. there are few if any cars .. past present or future that live up to the EPAs mpg claims in real world driving conditions . Fact is … the EPA is in dire need of a complete overhaul from top to bottom [ and in all areas ] if they are to remain relevant in the 2010s and beyond

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      nevermind.

    • 0 avatar
      ezeolla

      I disagree. In all of my cars, I see the combined mileage. My Wrangler (combined 15) gets about 16 in pure back road driving. My wife’s Liberty (combined 17) gets about 18-19 in her daily commute. When I had a Mazda3 (combined 25) I would usually get 25-27. And in any of those, if we do a highway trip and keep the speed at 65-70 (most of our highway speed limits are 55 with the turnpike being 65), we will easily beat the EPA rating. And this is in PA where nothing is flat

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      Why bother with an overhaul again? The EPA testing methods were recently changed to appease buyers by making the test more reflective of a variety of driving conditions, but it’s wholly not the point. The EPA figures are not a guarantee of what you will see on your individual drive cycle. Even this 88 mile test, while more extensive, will still not reflect a huge number of people’s driving conditions, so their mileage will still vary!

      If anything, let the EPA numbers stay what they are, a broad comparison tool. Let independent testers test the vehicles under the conditions they feel are most reflective of their subscribers habits so they can get a good idea of what how the vehicle will perform under their conditions. One set of test regulations won’t give the average consumer much benefit, but dozens of independent tests will.

      I realize anything but a top down regulatory approach won’t be satisfactory for many of you, but this is a case where it just won’t work. Consumers will always need to do some leg work in this area, independent testers can fill the void.

      • 0 avatar
        schmitt trigger

        Danio,
        Like always, you are able to distill complex issues in precise, eloquent phrases.
        Thanks.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @danio3834 – agreed. EPA numbers are just a tool for comparison. I find that the USA MPG numbers since they adjusted testing are much more realistic than Canadian methods. I can match the Canadian numbers for my F150 if I drive cautiously with a bit of hyper-miling thrown in.

        I can equal, best or bomb EPA results all based on how I drive.

        • 0 avatar
          danio3834

          It certainly doesn’t help that Canada’s gallon is about 20% bigger than the US’s version. Yet behind the grandiose figures of 32mpg hwy for the F150, there is little to no mention of that fact. When the majority of the fuel economy promotion is done in US mpg, it sure makes it seem like the cold air and polar bear blood in our fuel mix are real mileage makers.

          • 0 avatar
            Lou_BC

            danio3834 – my F150 is supposed to be 25mpg highway and 18 mpg city which is IIRC 21 US MPG and 15 US MPG. I can get that if I drive carefully but once it snows/turns cold I can easily cut that in 1/2.
            I’ve added some 10 ply General Grabbers to my truck and that has kissed goodbye any chance of coming close to tested MPG numbers.

    • 0 avatar
      kingofgix

      Fact is, you are blinded by your own unsubstantiated bias. Every car I have ever owned managed to equal or better its EPA ratings, and I have found the EPA numbers to amazingly accurate overall. It depends on how you drive and how carefully you measure mileage.

      The bottom line is, the test is pretty good, and no matter how many times you tweak it there will always be people that think it is wrong because it doesn’t match how THEY drive. So what….

      • 0 avatar
        heavy handle

        Same here, the last 4 cars I’ve owned pretty well matched the EPA numbers. They even beat the numbers after the latest revision. You can see the old and new numbers on the fueleconomy.gov site.

        I’m sure a lot of people don’t match the numbers, either because of how they drive, or where they drive, but is that really a problem? Last I checked, they only give licenses to adults, and any adult smart enough to get a license should be able to figure out why they use more fuel in gridlock, or while towing.

        Maybe they should knock points off your license if you can’t figure out MPG. That will solve the problem of people who blame the government for their poor gas mileage.

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    CR provides mpg based on their tests and EPA numbers included in reports. Good enough for a consistent mpg measurement basis between cars.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    Great, more independent testing under “real world” conditions is what is needed. The EPA guidelines are and have been only good as a comparison tool between stickers on vehicles, not as an indication of what an individual will get. Ballpark at best. Heck, even this 88 mile route won’t be the same as what a given buyer will subject their vehicle to, so the results are only confirming what we already know, *your mileage may vary*.

    • 0 avatar
      fredtal

      Agreed, Emissions Analytics test at an average of 25mph does not reflect my commute which I average about 47mph. So no test is going to be perfect for everyone.

    • 0 avatar
      redav

      Without diving into their report, I strongly doubt any test in the ‘real world’ can be sufficiently consistent to produce valid results.

  • avatar
    sparc

    EPA number are pretty solid overall. Always room for improvement though and checking against third parties can only help.

    We have it a lot better than other places in the world. I recall reading that European numbers are wildly inaccurate and you’ll often see people in europe use our EPA numbers for something realistic.

  • avatar
    TW5

    It appears Honda was understating the fuel-efficiency of the manual Fit to make the automatic Fit look more valuable? How many manufacturers have been playing this game, and what’s the impact on manual transmission take rates?

    I suppose CAFE will eliminate this practice (if it exists) in the future, and the new 9-speed transmissions and CVTs probably will outperform manuals.

    • 0 avatar
      niky

      I don’t think it makes sense to under-rate the Fit. It’s always been a conundrum. The Fit is well known as an economical car, yet EPA numbers have never reflected this.

      This only serves to highlight the difference between the EA and EPA testing loops, I think.

      Also, if they test cars at 1,000 to 5,000 miles, that does play a role in economy. You can eke an extra 1-2 mpg out of a car at 5,000 miles (that’s been broken in well) than at 1,000 miles. Then there’s the question of when the last oil change was…

      • 0 avatar
        TW5

        The Fit is just another ICE subcompact. The Real MPG performance for Honda Fit is an outlier, and it creates the appearance that Honda is either understating economy to protect the higher-margin products or that it is understating manual transmissions to create value for automatic transmissions and premium options.

        The Fit’s performance is a typical of every other vehicle in its class.

      • 0 avatar
        George B

        I also doubt that the manual transmission version of the Fit is underrated. More likely, the automatic is able to exploit some aspect of the test protocol that the manual doesn’t.

        The Fit is a fairly tall car for its size. It’s shape is great for fitting into small parking spaces, but isn’t optimum for highway speeds.

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      It’s not a level playing field between automatics and manuals in the EPA test.

      For EPA testing, manual transmission vehicles are required to follow ridiculous shift points that are only suitable for the terrible 4-speed manuals that existed on domestic vehicles in the 1970’s. For my ’04 Mazda3, that means they slowly accelerate to 3300 rpm in first, then barely use second before holding both third and fourth gears about 10 mph higher than necessary.

      Automatic transmissions can be programmed however the manufacturer wants.

      So it’s not hard to understand why my average mixed fuel economy over ten years of ownership has been better than the EPA highway rating. Any transmission that requires a cooler for street use is not going to beat a manual under the control of a competent driver.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    In general my cars have bettered their EPA numbers in most cases, my xB is rated at 28 on the highway and I normally average anywhere from 31 to 35 with a combined average somewhere between 23-28 (because I suck it up in inner-city driving). In general the updated EPA numbers were a response to the older model that no longer reflected the way Americans drove. There are some historical facts that suggest the old EPA model was favorable to the domestic manufacturers but that is an argument more on our capitalist society than anything directly about the government as a function of society.

    Every time I hear somebody has a new better test I have to question it because if Driver A is a feather on the gas, rolls to a stop at every red light and never hammers his engine they’ll get better fuel economy than Driver B who is a lead foot with no appreciation for what the red-line is and why they shouldn’t be trying to reach it at every street corner. The EPA’s current model still tends to favor Driver A over B but it is atleast more accurate to overall numbers. Skyactiv from Mazda with engine management may not be as effectively calculated because of the way the system shuts down at idle but that is one thing that can be dealt with in a special addendum test that accounts for their management tech.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    EPA testing is run on E0 summer blend.
    Most everybody in the real world is running on E10, and part of the time on winter blend.
    Between the ethanol and the increased butane (less btus/gal) in winter blend, the fuel alone can be a 10% hit.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      That point has always puzzled me. Why do they use ethanol-free fuel in the test, when the same agency mandates 10% ethanol and has been proposing 15% ethanol, reducing the heat value per gallon by around 3,000 BTU? Is it for comparison of cars outside of NAFTA, or just another automaker-negotiated quirk to give manufacturers some wiggle room in complying with CAFE?

  • avatar
    George B

    I would think that putting a large instrumentation pack on the back of a car would mess up its aerodynamics and therefore the highway fuel economy results. Inaccurate measurement of aerodynamic drag is my complaint with the EPA highway number too. Only a minority of highways have a speed limit of 65 mph or slower and real Americans drive faster than the posted speed limit.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speed_limits_in_the_United_States

    It would be a more useful comparison to know fuel economy at a steady 75 mph than the current EPA highway fuel economy number.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Don’t speed – then you can meet or exceed the EPA numbers for your car.

    “Keeping up with traffic” is not how it’s done.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      It’s how getting there with less time spent is done. MPG is not the beginning, middle or end of transportation efficiency.

      • 0 avatar
        TW5

        Do you think there is positive economic output associated with weaving lanes, while driving at 10mph over the speed limit?

        The most economically-efficient arrangement is basically walking and biking. Since scarcity benefits the landlords, we do little to combat real estate scarcity, and Americans move into the exurbs to find cheap real estate. It makes sense if you drive a dirt-cheap econobox, Prius, or plug-in vehicle of some kind.

        The situation is as SCE opined.

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        For the vast majority of trips, speeding doesn’t reduce travel time by any consequential amount, especially for higher speed limits.

        • 0 avatar
          Dan

          I drive about 12,000 highway miles per year. Driving like an old lady would mean another 40-45 hours sitting in the car every year.

          If that’s inconsequential to you then you’re welcome to it.

          • 0 avatar
            redav

            Holy facepalm Batman!

            “For the vast majority of trips.”
            Most trips are not thousands of miles on the hwy; they are on surface roads with traffic, stops, distractions, and other things that negate time savings from speeding. Your experience is not typical; you are an outlier. As such, your experience is not a good basis for general decisions.

            “Speeding doesn’t reduce travel time by any consequential amount, especially for higher speed limits.”
            Driving 75 in a 65 saves you 7 sec / mi.
            Driving 85 in a 75 saves you 5 sec / mi.
            Most people drive less than 20 mi to work. On such a trip, it’s hard to gain a couple minutes. If I doubled the speed limit on my daily commute, I’d gain less than 5 min back to my day, total. People can reclaim more time–more easily–through reducing other wastes than by speeding. For example, reducing miles driven is far more practical than speeding–living half as far from work is the same as driving 70 in every 35 zone & 140 in every 70 (again, assuming no traffic, stop lights, etc.).

            “If that’s inconsequential to you then you’re welcome to it.”
            I’m not the one driving 12k hwy mi / yr. I don’t waste that time (and money/depreciation) in my car in the first place. Don’t think there’s only one way to get your life back. I have mine, and yes, I am quite welcome to it.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      SCE, If the number used by consumers to compare fuel efficiency did a better job of accounting for highway speed aerodynamic drag, cars designed to do well on a higher speed highway mpg test would also do relatively well in real world use. Today we get stuck with stupid tall chunky big grill cars designed to do well on European pedestrian safety and EPA fuel economy tests, but those cars have to punch a big hole in the air while being driven fast on roads with no pedestrians.

      • 0 avatar
        Lou_BC

        @George B – a tear drop (blunt end forward) is supposed to be more aerodynamic than a wedge (sharp edge forward).

      • 0 avatar
        redav

        Does anyone think that today’s cars aren’t heavily optimized for aerodynamics? Just look at the coefficients of drag of modern cars compared to those from 10+ yrs ago.

        As far as shape goes, it’s the sloping roof line and tail-end profile that really drives aero performance, not the front end. The key is minimizing separation of air flow and the zone of low pressure turbulence behind the car which creates a pressure differential between the front & back.

        That being said, grille shutters seem to make a real improvement in drag, and coupled with their ability to help the engine warm up faster & lose less heat in winter, they should be standard on far more cars.

  • avatar
    pacificpom2

    We have the same where a government agency, (maybe with tonight’s budget soon to be culled)tests and generates fuel consumption figures. On the bottom of the sticker it reads, “for comparative purposes only.”
    So I can compare a Mazda 6 with a Toyota Camry and see what the comparative fuel consumption figures are. Whether I achieve that is another matter, but when I put my dollars down it’s because an impartial (I hope) agency says that x vehicle is more frugal than y vehicle, not industry based/financed/sourced figures. Keep the EPA figures. At least its the same test done the same way each time for each tested vehicle.

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