By on November 14, 2016


Barring those pesky instances where automakers were forced to hand cash to buyers as a make-nice gesture, the Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy labels found on window stickers are actually pretty accurate.

That’s the verdict from Consumer Reports’ just-released study on the real-world mileage of 2009-2016 model year vehicles, but it comes with an asterisk. Don’t break out the champagne just yet, EPA.

For its report, CR staged a repeat of its 2005 study of 2000-2006 model year vehicles. That study found a large difference between EPA gas mileage and real-world results (3.3 miles per gallon, on average), prompting the EPA to shake up its testing methodology. Amazingly, it turns out that vehicles often run the air conditioner, accelerate more briskly, and experience winter — things not accounted for in the pre-2008 methodology.

This time around, the EPA has earned a passing grade. CR found that on 397 vehicles, the difference between the regulator’s estimate and the results of its own testing amounted to just a 0.8 mpg difference.

Warning to the EPA: hold off on the celebrations. Of those vehicles tested, the difference in fuel economy ratings varied depending on engine type. According to CR, regular gasoline-powered vehicles fell below the EPA rating by an average of 0.7 mpg, while diesel models topped the rating by the same amount.

The biggest difference was seen on hybrid vehicles. For those models, the average gap between the label and real life rang in at 3.3 mpg — a 9.1 percent difference. When all said and done, 57 percent of vehicles tested by CR saw fuel economy lower than the EPA. Still, the publication noted that over 80 percent of the real-world fuel economy results were within 1 mpg of the EPA label.

The study comes just as the EPA rolls out its new fuel economy testing methodology for 2017 model year vehicles. Because the new tests reflect recent advances in fuel-saving technology, including hybrid technology, the EPA claims some vehicles that are mechanically unchanged since last year could see a lower fuel economy rating. Others, especially naturally aspirated trucks, aren’t likely to see any change.

[Image: Faris/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)]

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23 Comments on “Consumer Reports Says EPA Fuel Economy Labels are Pretty Accurate, Right Before the EPA Changes Them...”

  • avatar

    I would have to say the EPA estimates for my 2012 Impala are accurate. The label says 19 city, 30 highway.

    Several months after I bought the car, I was home over the holidays and just drove the car around town, no highway. When I filled the tank, my mileage was 19 mpg.

    When we took my car on vacation trips, I averaged 31-33 mpg with A/C.

    My commute average ranges between 26-30.5 mpg, depending on weather and more “city” driving. 7 miles “city” driving to and from the highway, 38 miles highway each way, for a total of around 90 miles r/t.

    I’m happy with that even though my old 2004 Impala with the 3.4L did slightly better, but my current ride is twice the car in many ways, at least to me.

    EDIT: My highway commute is opposite the main flow of traffic, and I go around the city, not through it. That affords me a long but steady, easy cruise. I’ll be glad when I don’t have to do it anymore.

  • avatar
    George B

    Driving 65 mph on Route 2 in Connecticut, air conditioning off, is not even close to real-world highway driving.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    Where’s the huge gap people keep claiming on turbocharged gasoline cars/pickups?

  • avatar

    The bottom line is, “Your mileage will vary.”

    The EPAsets the ballpark numbers and bans auto makers from using anything else in advertising. It’s a comparative reference for car buyers, and as long as it’s consistent for all makers, it does the limited job it was intended to do. That’s the ENTIRE reason for EPA mileage numbers, because there’s no way to nail down consistent numbers with different driver habits, topography, road type, and weather.

    That’s why “your mileage will vary.”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I have achieved EPA numbers on some cars some of the time, and most people understand it to be merely a guideline.

    But the current test protocol is a bit ridiculous, at least for highway driving, which averages 48 mph:

    With many highway speed limits now at 65-75 mph, the EPA is a bit out of touch with reality. For their part, consumers have little to complain about when their car doesn’t hit its EPA numbers while driving at 80 mph in the desert heat (, I’m looking at you).

  • avatar

    Wait, the B&B assured me turbos get less than half the EPA MPG in the real world! It’s not like the B&B to be wrong about anything… I’m distraught.

    • 0 avatar

      It’ll be okay. We’re not always right about everything. :)

    • 0 avatar

      Did I miss the part about how they broke out the new small displacement turbocharged cars, or how gasoline cars met their averages, or how SDT cars are now a big enough percentage of those sold that naturally aspirated cars couldn’t have offset their average enough to only miss the ratings by .7 mpg?

    • 0 avatar

      I mean, there’s enough people here that seem to think 300hp is merely adequate, so it’s safe to assume they never drive off boost.

  • avatar

    I have never had any trouble meeting or exceeding the EPA estimates on any vehicle I’ve had. Drive (most of the time) with some common sense and meeting the EPA figures isn’t difficult.

  • avatar

    Maybe they’re both wrong???????

  • avatar

    There’s a slight chance that Trump will appoint Sarah Palin as head of the DOE, just to get rid of the whole department altogether. The EPA may well come next. Some say that will be good for American car buyers, but it makes American cars unsalable on export markets as they will not meet certain emission standards. How ironic, noticing that the EPA has made the government billions of dollars by fining Volkswagen.

    Btw, TTAC should look into the policy changes that seem unavoidable: Trump will get rid of the tax incentives for EVs. Elio Motors may well have to forget about getting the ATVM loan it desperately needs to stay in business.

  • avatar

    EPA has been thoroughly discredited. It’s a waste of money. Typical government bureaucracy out of control. Good chance the new administration/congress will at least defund it. Or better yet disband it.

  • avatar

    The EPA ratings today are pretty good for comparing between cars. I’d say they have been (good for comparison) since their first “adjustment” downward in the early/mid 1980s.

    Before that, the EPA ratings were usually unattainable—and didn’t always make sense.

    Here are some typical ones: 1976 Dodge Dart, 225-6/M3: 19/26. However, the 76 Aspen, same powertrain, got 18/27. OK. But, the Aspen wagon, same powertrain, got 18/30. Wow! 30 mpg for a heavier car. As a kid, I wondered how that could be. Of course, virtually no one bought US compacts with manual trans, but that is how they were advertised.

    76/77 Mustang/Pinto, 140-4/4M: 24/34. A 1980 Ford Fairmont, same powertrain, got 23/38. 38 mpg, wow! Ours never came close.

    But, when I finally was of car-buying age, my 86 VW GTI, 1.8/5m was 26/31, and I averaged 26-28 in suburban driving and 33-35 on trips. Similarly, my dad’s 85 V6 LTD (Fairmont), 231-V6/3A was 19/22 and that was spot-on.

  • avatar

    EPA testing in no way reflects real-world driving. Gallons per hour would be a very useful measure for a lot of the populace.

    I had an office in the Adelaide suburb of Dallas for many years. A regularly heard joke there was variations on I-630 traffic, the gist of which goes like this:

    A guy leaves his driveway at 7AM headed to his 8AM job. At 8AM he calls the office: “I’m stuck in traffic on I-630. Traffic is backed up for MILES. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” At 9AM he calls the office: “I’m stuck in traffic on I-630. Traffic is backed up for MILES. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” At 10AM he calls the office: “”I’m stuck in traffic on I-630. Traffic is backed up for MILES. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” This same call is repeated every hour until 1PM when he calls to say he’s just going to head back home and try again tomorrow. He finally finds a way to turn around and head back. At 5PM he calls his wife: “I’m stuck in traffic on I-630. Traffic is backed up for MILES. I’ll be there as soon as I can.” The message is repeated every hour…

    There’s some truth in the joke. Often urban traffic is just a lot of idling interspersed with a couple of seconds of hot throttle and brake lockup to change lanes.

    I’d like to know what the economy numbers are for situations like that.

  • avatar

    EPA estimates for our ’09 Subaru Outback and ’14 Impreza are just about right, less than a 5% variance for city, highway, and average MPGs. They were also right about on the mark for my ’01 Audi A6 Avant over 110,000 miles of driving.

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