Tested: Speed vs fuel economy

Consumer Reports News: September 09, 2009 09:48 AM

We all seem to be in a rush these days. Life’s time demands seem to only increase, with the delicate balance of work, family, and recreation pressuring us to maximize every minute. As a result, there is real temptation to edge beyond the speed limit to shave seconds off each mile. But while driving fast may get you there sooner, there are some real downsides, such as diminished safety for yourself and fellow motorists; risk of a speeding ticket; and decreased fuel economy.

To quantify the impact a heavy right foot can have on your wallet, Consumer Reports recently conducted a seven-vehicle test comparing the fuel economy of each at speeds of 55, 65, and 75 mph. The results show the faster you drive, the more fuel you burn—no surprise there. But the most significant change in fuel economy comes from the most fuel-efficient vehicles we tested.

The Honda Insight hybrid showed the largest drop in fuel economy—over 15 mpg going from 55 to 75 mph. The Toyota Camry returned 40.3 mpg at 55 mph, but that reduces to almost 35 mpg when the speed moves up to 65 mph and drops to almost 30 mpg when speeds reach 75 mph. That’s a drop of about 5 mpg for every 10 miles over 55. Vehicles with lower fuel efficiency had the smallest drop. The V8-powered Mercury Mountaineer has a fuel economy of 23.8 mpg at 55 mph and that drops to 21.2 mpg at 65 and 17.8 at 75 mph. See the chart below for more details on all the vehicles tested.

Make & model
55 mph
65 mph
75 mph
Acura TSX
2.4-liter 4-cyl.
39.9 mpg
35.5 mpg
30.7 mpg
Honda Insight
1.3-liter 4-cyl.
Lexus RX350
3.5-liter V6


Mercury Mountaineer 4.6-liter V8
Toyota Camry
2.5-liter 4-cyl.
Toyota RAV4
2.5 liter 4-cyl.
Toyota Yaris
1.5-liter 4-cyl.

In this economy, saving money is important. But it’s not that simple. As the adage goes, time is money and it can sometimes be worth spending more to get somewhere faster. Another consideration is traffic. There is debate as to whether driving slightly over the speed limit is more dangerous than going slower. Some say it is the difference in speed of vehicles that contributes to accidents—not speeding—and that it’s best to move with the flow traffic.

What do you think? Are speeders or slow drivers the cause of accidents? Would you be willing to drive slower to save a few bucks and reduce national fuel consumption? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

See our guide to fuel economy for more on saving gas and alternative fuels.

Liza Barth  

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