After I read Jazz Shaw’s series of posts on the Obama administration’s plan to raise the CAFE average to 56 mpg by 2025 (part 1, part 2), I was reminded of a story Car and Driver did back in the day on life at 40 mpg. Let’s take a trip into the future with the vehicles from today that at least come close to 56 mpg.
Before I get to the meat of the matter, however, there’s a couple of explanatory notes that need to be made. First, there is a significant diference between CAFE mileage and the mileage one sees on the sticker of the car. Last year, Popular Mechanics estimated that 35 CAFE mpg, a bit higher than the 34.1 CAFE mpg that is mandated for 2016, translated to between 26 and 27 mpg on the EPA combined sticker. That would suggest that 56 CAFE mpg would translate to about 42-43 mpg on the EPA combined sticker. That’s a good thing because nothing on the lot today gets 56 combined EPA mpg.
Between 2011 and early 2012 models, the Department of Energy says there are exactly three gasoline/diesel models, plus 3 electric-only models that will be ignored as Obama famously said “…electricity rates will necessarily skyrocket.” and (possibly, depending on the mix of electric- and gas-powered driving) one plug-in hybrid model, that meet the 42 combined EPA mpg standard. Even after knocking down the standard to 40 combined EPA mpg, we have added one more model (plus the 2011 version of a 2012 model that is rated at above 42 combined EPA mpg). Therefore, I’ll “cheat” some more and consider cars that are rated at a minimum of 35 combined EPA mpg (plus the 2011 Volkswagen and Audi diesels that get a 34 combined EPA mph rating based on the fact that the one 2012 VW diesel model in the database, which is larger than any model in the 2011 VW non-SUV TDI lineup, barely cleared the 35 combined EPA mpg mark).
There are three things that you won’t find in this lineup – SUVs, pick-up trucks, and minivans. The highest-mileage SUV is the Ford Escape Hybrid (and its rebadged siblings), which gets 32 combined EPA mpg in front-wheel-drive and 29 combined EPA mpg in all-wheel-drive models. The highest-mileage minivans are the 6-passenger “micro-van” Mazda 5 (24 combined EPA mpg with no cargo capacity if more than 4 passengers are in the vehicle), the 5-passenger cargo-minivan-based Ford Transit Connect Wagon (23 combined EPA mpg) and the “traditional” 7-passenger minivan Honda Odyssey (22 combined EPA mpg with the optional 6-speed automatic transmission). The highest-mileage pickups are the compact 2WD Ford Ranger (24 combined EPA mpg with the manual and 4-cylinder), the lighter-duty-than-its-full-size-suggests Chevrolet Silverado/GMC Sierra 1500 Hybrid (21 combined EPA mpg in both 2WD and 4WD configurations), and the compact/mid-sized 4WD Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon (20 combined EPA mpg in either manual or automatic 4-cylinder versions).
None of the 16 models (plus siblings) that meet the mileage mark appear to be rated for towing, so the biggest water craft that they can transport is a canoe tied to the top (which really kills the aerodynamics and thus mileage). None of them can carry more than 5 people, so large families are out of luck. The highest-capacity version offers but 67 cubic feet of cargo capacity, so if you want to move that couch from one place to another, call up U-Haul.
I don’t have the budget that the car magazines do, so I’m going off their driving impressions. Now, let’s see what’s left to ply the roads in the ObamiNation:
Jr’s first car – Smartfortwo pure coupe (36 combined EPA mpg)
I’ll ignore the fact that this cheap little two-seater requires premium fuel to get its 36 combined EPA mpg. It is, by at least $6,000, the cheapest car of the contenders. Of course, the fact that it is literally half a car might have something to do with that.
Parents will like the fact that there isn’t a back seat and that Jr. can’t get the 70-horsepower car going fast enough to get into serious trouble. The problem is that it is entirely unsuitable for domesticated life with just the two seats and the tiny trunk.
The family sedan – Toyota Prius (50 combined EPA mpg)
Like the gang at the original version of “Top Gear”, I hate this car with a passion. Testers who care about performance have, until the latest version with the handling option, uniformly ripped the sterile driving environment. Other contenders, like the Ford Fusion hybrid and the Hyundai Sonata hybrid, offer more passenger room, especially in the back seat. However, the Fusion and the Sonata give up a lot of trunk space to accomodate the battery pack, while the Prius’ purpose-built hatchback trunk has 21.5 cubic feet of space. That allows for easier re-creations of “National Lampoon’s Vacation”.
The commuter car – Honda Civic hybrid (2012 version, 44 combined EPA mpg)
The first rule of commuting is to have a balance between city and highway mileage. One can’t get more balanced than the 44 EPA mpg city and 44 EPA mpg highway the 2012 model is rated. The second rule is that it be big enough to actually handle a carpool, which rules out the Smart. The third is that it be bland, and recent Civics are, outside the Si, bland. It’s also not the family hauler, so you won’t have to get the “My other car is also a Prius” bumper sticker (assuming, of course, you can afford 2 cars in the ObamiNation).
For just the briefest of moments, I had considered the Chevrolet Volt. However, once the electricity runs out, the EPA estimates that it would get a mere 35 mpg in the city and 40 mpg on the highway. Besides, there’s this little matter of necessarily-skyrocketing electric rates.
The “Mid-Life Crisis” car – Volkswagen Golf TDI (34 combined EPA mpg)
This is an exceedingly-hard category to fill as neither of the two contenders that actually get 35 combined EPA mpg are worthy of being called sports cars. The Smartfortwo cabriolet has the same wimpy drivetrain as the coupe. The CVT-equipped Honda CR-Z couldn’t break 9 seconds in the 0-60 mph test, and only Motor Trend found a way to get the manual version (which gets only 34 combined EPA mpg) to do that. Worse, while the manual version felt somewhat like a car that was comfortable being tossed about, the CVT didn’t exactly like it. Fortunately, the just-shy-of-35 combined EPA mpg (34) Golf TDI picked up the slack. Both Car and Driver and Motor Trend noted the TDI acted a lot like the sporty GTI in the twisties, and nothing that qualifies for the ObamiNation roads gets to 60 mph faster.
For those of you about to complain about whether the VW TDIs belong in this group, I can only offer an ancedotal bit of evidence that suggests the EPA is a bit conservative in their estimation. My father owns a 2009 Jetta TDI, and in the 6 months he doesn’t have to use the winter blends of diesel, he’s able to average better than 35 mpg in mostly short-distance suburban driving and bump it up to over 40 mpg on the highway. Of course, once the temperature drops and the service stations have to throw additives into the fuel to keep it from gelling, the mileage drops like a rock.
The light-duty cargo hauler – Volkswagen Jetta SportWagen TDI (manual only, 34 EPA combined mpg)
Again, I had to cheat on the 35 combined EPA mpg by one to get something with hauling capacity, and I had to toss the automatic because its 33 combined EPA mpg is too low. If the upcoming Toyota Prius V wagon’s stats were verifiable instead of being estimates obtained by Edmund’s (44 EPA mpg city/40 EPA mpg highway/34 cubic feet behind the back seat/67 cubic feet behind the front seat), it would have won the category by default.
Instead, we’re left with another of Volkswagen’s oil-burners, at least for those who can handle a clutch. Its 32.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind the back seat easily beats the next-best Prius’ under-22 cubic feet behind the seat and comes close to the 39.6 cubic feet Edmund’s measured behind the Prius’ front seat. Fold the Jetta’s seats down and that expands to 66.9 cubic feet.
The personal luxury car – Lincoln MKZ Hybrid (39 combined EPA mpg)
How did Ford take a rebadged version of its small family hauler, hybridize it, and beat two Lexus hybrids? The trifecta of “mainstream” car magazines unanimously say that it feels more like the standard MKZ than the Lexus hybrids feel like “real” Lexuses. It doesn’t hurt that the base Fusion Hybrid is a very competent car (more on that in a bit).
The limousine/taxi – Volkswagen Passat TDI (35 combined EPA mpg)
It’s all about the rear seat, and nothing in the group comes close to the 39.1 inches of rear-seat legroom in the Passat. Add in a group-leading 57.0 inches of shoulder room and a not-exceeded 37.8 inches of headroom, and a sedan-leading 15.9 cubic feet of trunk space, and the few people who can afford to be driven around might for just a second forget the Crown Vic, the Town Car and the DTS that currently serve these roles.
The cop car – Ford Fusion Hybrid 39 combined EPA mpg)
This one is pretty much by default – only the Fusion (and its corporate siblings) and the Chevrolet Volt are from the Big Three, and the Governmen..er, General Motors entry is rather lacking in both size and performance. That isn’t to say it’s a bad default from the performance side – the Fusion is able to hit 60 mph in about 8.5 seconds, hang onto the skidpad to the tune of around 0.8 g, and, unlike Car and Driver’s choice back in the day of the Honda CRX HF for this role, transport prisoners. Of course, the 11.8-cubic-foot trunk is barely half the 21 cubic feet found in the Ford Police Interceptor (and also smaller than that in the Dodge Charger or Chevrolet Impala), so some of the gear the average officer hauls around “just in case” won’t be there.