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Where's the fuel economy?

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Michel Deslauriers
It’s funny that every time a car gets a new or improved engine, the manufacturer claims that it offers lower fuel economy. But in virtually every case, engine output goes up.

Wow. That’s the best of both worlds.

And yet, you’d assume that today’s cars would be as fuel-efficient as ever, since we must reduce our carbon footprint and save the planet. So what’s more important? Horsepower or fuel economy?

Using the numbers compiled by Natural Resources Canada, let’s compare 2010 compact sedans with those sold in 1995. Since this vehicle category is the most popular in our country, and since small cars should normally offer good fuel economy, that’s the one I chose here.

Today’s Hyundai Elantra produces 22% more power than the 1995 model, yet its fuel economy has improved by 25%. That’s not bad, although in all honesty, the Hyundai was among the worst of its category in fuel consumption back then.

The 2010 Chevrolet Cobalt offers 29% more horses than a 1995 Cavalier, but consumes 17% less fuel. The new Volkswagen Golf TDI has 56% more guts than a 1995 model, while fuel economy is 11% better. As for the Toyota Corolla, it offers 32% more power, and 10% better fuel economy.

Now, this is where it gets disappointing. Today’s Ford Focus is 59% more powerful than the 1995 Escort, yet its fuel economy is 2% lower. The Mazda Protegé of fifteen years ago had 61% less muscle than the current Mazda3, but fuel consumption has risen by 4%.

Want more? The 2010 Honda Civic delivers 52% more power than the most-efficient 1995 model, but fuel economy has worsened by 10%. The Subaru Impreza is 55% more powerful, but also uses 10% more gas.

But that’s not all. The Dodge Neon was 32% less powerful in 1995 than the current Caliber, but it used 11% less unleaded. The worst is the Nissan Sentra, which produces 22% more power but consumes 12% more fuel than fifteen years ago.

Hey, where’s the progress? Obviously a more powerful car is always better, but at the expense of fuel economy? That doesn’t make sense to me, at least not for small cars.

Now why did manufacturers put so much effort in making their cars more powerful, instead of making them more fuel-efficient? Customer demand, that’s why! They build what the customer is asking for, and we are asking for more power. So the next time a friend or family member shops for a small car, tell them that fuel economy is more important than horsepower! We can make a difference!

L/100 km
L/100 km
Volkswagen Golf TDI901406.35.6
Honda Civic921405.76.3
Toyota Corolla1001327.26.5
Chevrolet Cavalier/Cobalt1201557.96.6
Hyundai Elantra1131388.86.6
Ford Escort/Focus881406.76.9
Mazda Protegé/Mazda3921486.66.9
Nissan Sentra1151406.57.3
Dodge Neon/Caliber1201586.87.6
Subaru Impreza1101708.18.9

Michel Deslauriers
Michel Deslauriers
Automotive expert