Mid-Sized Cars May Offer the Same Fuel Economy as Small Cars

Hyundai and Kia will be paying a $100 million fine this season, according to the Chicago Tribune, after being accused of inflating their fuel economy ratings. In truth, they are getting off lightly considering the amount of damage they’ve caused. By damage, I am referring to the 4.75 million tons of excess greenhouse gases that have been spewed into the air beyond what the EPA expected. I am also referring to the six gallons of fuel savings that some Hyundai/Kia owners will not be receiving, and also the millions of dollars they will have to spend on gas, that they wouldn’t have had to if their vehicle was delivering the economy it was stated to.

A $400 million dollar class-action suit is in process to help return some of that lost money. Unfortunately, due to the complex nature of the forms that will need to be filled out to receive any compensation, not all consumers will receive any form of retribution. There are over a dozen vehicles involved in this action, including the 2012- 2013 Hyundai Accent, 2012 – 2013 Azera, 2011 – 2013 Elantra, 2012 – 2013 Genesis, 2013 Santa Fe Sport, 2011 – 2012 Sonata Hybrid, 2012 – 2013 Tucson and the 2012 – 2013 Veloster. For Kia the vehicles include the 2011 – 2012 Optima Hybrid, 2012 – 2013 Rio, 2012 – 2013 Sorento, 2012 – 2013 Soul, and the 2012 – 2013 Sportage.

The Big Lie

However, this problem is not all on Hyundai and Kia, as a lot of small economy cars may not be delivering the kind of economy you’ve been told to expect. The data company, Emissions Analytics, have looked at dozens of vehicles, and have found that most small cars (with small engines) do not produce the kind of fuel economy their manufacturers claim. How much less? As much as 36 percent, according to their recent tests. And their most interesting finding is that the smaller the engine, the bigger the difference between the manufacturers claim and its actual economy rating.

Here are a few numbers for you to consider before your next small car purchase. Emissions Analytics found that a 1.0 to 2.0-liter powerplant delivers 46.7mpg on average, compared to its claimed 59.1. A 2.0 to 3.0-liter engine delivers 45 mpg on average, compared to its claimed 52.9. Let’s think about that for a minute. That means that there is almost no difference between a 1.0-liter engine, versus a 3.0-liter engine in terms of its overall fuel economy rating. But it isn’t entirely the fault of the small cars, but rather their overrated engines due to the way manufacturers test the fuel economy of them.

Real World Versus Fuel Economy

Consider a 2.0-liter small car may be able to deliver 60 mpg in a perfect world. This is assuming that such a car will never come across a wind storm, hill, highway, or less than perfectly inflated tires. Every time these cars are forced to reduce speed, they struggle more than other vehicles to return to speed. The result is a drastic decrease in fuel economy, and a false representation of its ‘economy’ rating. In reality, the types of vehicles that seem most capable of dealing with the real world, are vehicles with more displacement and more power.

Fuel Economy

Now that the EPA is aware that the fuel economy ratings being delivered may not be accurate, we suspect the Clean Air Act will be doing a lot more ‘clean up’ on manufacturers who are using ineffective fuel economy measuring tools. Both Hyundai and Kia have promised to spend $50 million to ensure their future measurements are more accurate, but there are a lot of other brands who could use an upgrade. So, the next time you’re shopping for a small economical vehicle, don’t forget to bring a calculator to the dealership. You may want to take a ‘real world’ test drive around town to get an idea of the vehicles actual fuel economy. A number is just a number unless a manufacturer can deliver proof.


The Potential Disappointment of Downsizing Your Vehicle
(Figures based on research by Emissions Analytics)

Worst 0.0-liter – 1.0-liter Engine Manufacturers MPG 60.3 Actual MPG 38.6
Good 1.0-liter – 2.0-liter Engine Manufacturers MPG 59.1 Actual MPG 46.7

Eric J. Leech

Eric J. Leech is a born and bred auto enthusiast who has been a gear-head ever since he crawled out of his crib and got his Kool-aide stained mitts on a 67 Camaro SS (red, black bucket seats, no air-conditioning). He's since become an automotive journalist for a variety of sources, including DUB Magazine, American Auto Press, Import Tuner, Turbo & High Performance, and has also worked as a content provider for the Discovery Channel's, Mean Green Machines.

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