Where the Honda Accord, and other hybrids, come up short in MPG fuel economy

Consumer Reports and EPA test results sometimes differ significantly

Last updated: June 02, 2014 03:30 PM

As impressive as the fuel economy proved to be with the Honda Accord Hybrid, we weren’t surprised that our tested overall mpg figure was significantly lower than the official EPA rating. We’ve consistently seen high mpg hybrids falling short of EPA testing—in our results and in “real life” driving. Reviewing the data for the true hybrids currently in our ratings, among the 19 cars, only three show a bigger discrepancy than the Accord Hybrid: the hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion, Lincoln MKZ, and Volkswagen Jetta.

Understandably, different test results will yield different results, but there remains a consistent schism here. Faced with gasoline prices hovering near $4 a gallon, consumers are naturally placing a priority on fuel economy in choosing their next car. Often, the final car choice is tipped in a direction by the mpg indicated on the window sticker. And as our tests have shown, owners may not be experiencing the same fuel economy promised on the sticker and in advertising.

With the Honda Accord Hybrid, potential customers see the EPA citing 47 mpg overall, broken down to 50 mpg city and 45 mpg highway. A reasonable car shopper would then assume that no matter what their personal mix of driving may be, it would be safe to assume mileage would be 45 mpg or higher. We recorded an excellent 40 mpg overall in our tests—impressive for a midsized sedan, putting the Accord Hybrid in an exclusive, efficient club. But it isn’t the 47 mpg that the government touts. Even owners on the official fueleconomy.gov website are reporting 42.4 mpg on average.

As the chart illustrates, there are always some differences in the test results. Among this group, there is just a single case where our results were greater than the government’s: the Honda CR-Z.

  CR MPG EPA MPG Difference EPA vs. CR Overall
MAKE & MODEL Overall City/Highway Combined City/Highway
Lincoln MKZ Hybrid 34 29/38 45 45/45 11
Ford Fusion SE Hybrid 39 35/41 47 47/47 8
Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid 37 29/45 45 42/48 8
Honda Accord Hybrid 40 32/47 47 50/45 7
Toyota Prius C Two 43 37/48 50 53/46 7
Ford C-MAX Hybrid SE 37 35/38 43 45/40 6
Infiniti Q70 Hybrid 25 17/33 31 29/34 6
Toyota Prius Four 44 32/55 50 51/48 6
Honda Civic Hybrid 40 28/50 45 44/47 5
Hyundai Sonata Hybrid 33 24/40 38 36/40 5
Honda Insight EX 38 29/45 42 41/44 4
Lexus ES 300h 36 28/44 40 40/39 4
Toyota Avalon Hybrid Limited 36 29/43 40 40/39 4
Lexus RX 450h 26 22/31 29 30/28 3
Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid 28 21/35 31 29/33 3
Lexus CT 200h 40 31/47 42 43/40 2
Toyota Camry Hybrid XLE 38 32/43 40 40/38 2
Toyota Prius V Three 41 33/47 42 44/40 1
Honda CR-Z EX 35 26/45 34 31/38 -1

Our results from the Ford C-Max Hybrid fuel economy test that showed 37 mpg overall, a dramatic 10 mpg less than the 47/47/47 mpg EPA rating. Ultimately, Ford drove its hatchback through a fuel economy labeling loophole, and it has since revised the car and the rating. (Read: “Why Do Ford's New Hybrids Ace the EPA Fuel Economy Tests?”)

The reason for the discrepancy boils down to the ways the Consumer Reports and EPA highway test methodologies differ. In the Consumer Reports highway test, we record the average fuel usage in two directions at a steady 65 mph on a specific section of highway. In contrast, the majority of the EPA highway cycle simulates a vehicle traveling mostly at speeds below 55 mph. Although the EPA tests reach 80 mph at times, the highway tests include a fair amount of gentle acceleration and coasting. Speeds average only about 48 mph. Of course, it is possible to design cars to the test. (Learn more about how Consumer Reports tests cars.)
But in the time since the report last fall on Ford, the EPA has not made significant changes to how it tests and shares information on hybrids. We discussed the matter with the agency last year and still await changes that will better match real-world performance with the official numbers automakers are required to use for labeling and marketing.
Until then, be skeptical of EPA estimates and automakers’ claims that appear too good to be true. And, as always, check our ratings and the experience of owners before buying.
Jeff Bartlett

Editor's Note:

Since this story was originally published, Ford revised the fuel economy ratings on its hybrids, moving them closer to results in our tests.

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