Consumer Reports Says EPA Fuel Economy Labels Are Pretty Accurate, Right Before the EPA Changes Them

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
consumer reports says epa fuel economy labels are pretty accurate right before the

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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  • on Nov 15, 2016

    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.

    • NickS NickS on Nov 15, 2016

      That's why having public transportation options is so important. Nothing kills the joy of driving faster than having to commute in gridlock.

  • Fendertweed Fendertweed on Nov 15, 2016

    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.

  • Funky D I despise Google for a whole host of reasons. So why on earth would I willing spend a large amount of $ on a car that will force Google spyware on me.The only connectivity to the world I will put up with is through my phone, which at least gives me the option of turning it off or disconnecting it from the car should I choose to.No CarPlay, no sale.
  • William I think it's important to understand the factors that made GM as big as it once was and would like to be today. Let's roll back to 1965, or even before that. GM was the biggest of the Big Three. It's main competition was Ford and Chrysler, as well as it's own 5 brands competing with themselves. The import competition was all but non existent. Volkswagen was the most popular imported cars at the time. So GM had its successful 5 brands, and very little competition compared to today's market. GM was big, huge in fact. It was diversified into many other lines of business, from trains to information data processing (EDS). Again GM was huge. But being huge didn't make it better. There are many examples of GM not building the best cars they could, it's no surprise that they were building cars to maximize their profits, not to be the best built cars on the road, the closest brand to achieve that status was Cadillac. Anyone who owned a Cadillac knew it could have been a much higher level of quality than it was. It had a higher level of engineering and design features compared to it's competition. But as my Godfather used to say "how good is good?" Being as good as your competitors, isn't being as good as you could be. So, today GM does not hold 50% of the automotive market as it once did, and because of a multitude of reasons it never will again. No matter how much it improves it's quality, market value and dealer network, based on competition alone it can't have a 50% market share again. It has only 3 of its original 5 brands, and there are too many strong competitors taking pieces of the market share. So that says it's playing in a different game, therfore there's a whole new normal to use as a baseline than before. GM has to continue downsizing to fit into today's market. It can still be big, but in a different game and scale. The new normal will never be the same scale it once was as compared to the now "worlds" automotive industry. Just like how the US railroad industry had to reinvent its self to meet the changing transportation industry, and IBM has had to reinvent its self to play in the ever changing Information Technology industry it finds it's self in. IBM was once the industry leader, now it has to scale it's self down to remain in the industry it created. GM is in the same place that the railroads, IBM and other big companies like AT&T and Standard Oil have found themselves in. It seems like being the industry leader is always followed by having to reinvent it's self to just remain viable. It's part of the business cycle. GM, it's time you accept your fate, not dead, but not huge either.
  • Tassos The Euro spec Taurus is the US spec Ford FUSION.Very few buyers care to see it here. FOrd has stopped making the Fusion long agoWake us when you have some interesting news to report.
  • Marvin Im a current owner of a 2012 Golf R 2 Door with 5 grand on the odometer . Fun car to drive ! It's my summer cruiser. 2006 GLI with 33,000 . The R can be money pit if service by the dealership. For both cars I deal with Foreign car specialist , non union shop but they know their stuff !!! From what I gather the newer R's 22,23' too many electronic controls on the screen, plus the 12 is the last of the of the trouble free ones and fun to drive no on screen electronics Maze !
  • VoGhost It's very odd to me to see so many commenters reflexively attack an American company like this. Maybe they will be able to find a job with BYD or Vinfast.