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(National) June 24, 2004 - On every new vehicle manufacturers list how many miles you can expect to get on a gallon of gas. Carmakers get to make those claims based on a government test at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Vehicles are run on this treadmill-like device called a dynamometer. The tester watches a computer screen to determine how much to accelerate and when to brake, so every vehicle is tested exactly the same way.
But, according to David Champion, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports, a dynamometer test does not very accurately reflect the mileage you'll get on the road, "What the manufacturers do is they optimize their cars and their test results to really get the best figures that they can on EPA. Now, that isn't always what you're going to get in really life."
In the Consumer Reports test for fuel efficiency on the road the test course is marked with speed posts and stop signs to simulate stop-and-go city driving, and a meter reads the actual amount of fuel consumed by the engine.
Testers found vehicles often get worse gas mileage than the figures listed on the manufacturer's sticker, especially for city driving. The sticker a 2004 Chevrolet Malibu, for example, claimed it got 24 miles per gallon. Champion says, "We only achieved 16 on our city cycle. That's a third less fuel economy."
The Dodge Stratus lists it hits 22 miles per gallon, but in Consumer Reports' tests the Stratus got just 14. And, the Nissan Armada, which the manufacturer's sticker says should get 13 miles per gallon for city driving, got a mere nine in Consumer Reports' test. That means drivers would get about 100 miles less on a tank of gas around town.
Champion says, "When we do our tests, it's on the road, and it gives us a much more realistic evaluation of the fuel economy of each vehicle. And, what we've seen from our readers it's pretty much what they get too." The government is currently reevaluating how it measures fuel efficiency.
Among Consumer Reports' vehicle test criteria are measurements of fuel economy. Those numbers come from measurements using a precision flow meter and are rounded to the nearest mile per gallon. CR's overall mileage is calculated from equal portions of city and expressway driving and on a 150-mile trip.
The chart that follows features the 10 most fuel-efficient cars that Consumer Reports has tested:
CR Overall mpg
Honda Insight (manual)
Volkswagen Golf GLS TDI (manual)
Toyota Echo (manual)
Honda Civic Hybrid
Volkswagen Jetta GLS TDI
Honda Civic EX
Toyota Corolla LE
No matter what mileage your car is supposed to get, Consumer Reports says there are a number of ways you can improve its fuel efficiency. Just keeping your car tuned and your tires properly inflated can make a big difference in the number of miles you get per gallon.