Cars post record fuel economy improvement

EPA study shows mpg figures are on the rise

Published: October 09, 2014 05:15 PM

After gaining notoriety for their exceptional fuel-swilling habits, cars and trucks sold in America have gained an average of 5 mpg in just five short years, reaching record levels, according to the latest study published by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Vehicles sold in the United States in 2013 got an average of 24.1 mpg in combined EPA city and highway fuel economy estimates. That is 4 mpg better than in 2008, and 0.5 mpg better than in 2012, across all car types.

While a half-mile per gallon represents a smaller gain than in recent years, it comes in the face of increasing sales of pickups and other light trucks, which grew from 36 percent last year to 37 percent this year. Light truck fuel economy—which includes pickups, vans, and some SUVs—increased from 19.3 mpg in 2012, to 19.8 mpg in 2013. The fuel economy of cars of all types improved to 27.6 mpg, from 27.0 mpg. Both are record results. (See our list of best and worst in fuel economy.)

Visit our guide to fuel economy for gas-saving tips and recommendations on fuel-efficient cars, SUVs, and trucks.

The bigger news for consumers is that all types of cars are improving, which gives shoppers a much wider choice of fuel-efficient cars. The number of SUVs that get more than 25 mpg in EPA estimates and the number of cars that get greater than 30 mpg have more than tripled since 2009. And 26 cars now have EPA estimates greater than 40 mpg for combined city and highway driving, compared with just three in 2009.

While there are more hybrids, diesels, and electric cars, most of the credit goes to improvements in ordinary gas-powered cars and the proliferation of advanced technologies such as continuously variable transmissions, transmissions with six or more gears, direct fuel injection, variable valve timing, and others.

More than 25 percent of all cars sold in 2013 already met fuel economy standards for 2017 and nearly 10 percent already meet the increasingly stringent standards for 2020.

While EPA fuel economy estimates  don’t always match what some drivers get on the road (your mileage may vary!), they are very useful for comparison shopping and showing overall trends. These trends are also reflected in our road testing, where we are seeing the steady increase in fuel economy.

Here are some of the most improved vehicles we’ve seen in our own testing.

Make & model  2004 mpg 2014 mpg
Honda Accord 4-cyl. 24 30
Nissan Altima 4-cyl. 22 31
Mazda6 4-cyl.     23 32
Toyota Camry 4-cyl. 24 27
Toyota Avalon 21 24
Chevrolet Impala 20 22
Chrysler 300 V6 19 22
Honda Civic 29 30
Toyota Corolla 29 32
Nissan Sentra 26 29
Ford Explorer 16 18
Toyota Highlander 19 20
Ford Escape (V6/4-cyl. turbo) 17 22
Honda CR-V 21 23

Consumer Reports and its policy and advocacy arm, Consumers Union, have long supported increasingly stringent fuel economy standards, and we’re please to see that industry has risen to the challenge.  “Thanks to improving fuel economy standards, no matter what kind of vehicle consumers are looking for, they're likely to see real improvement in fuel economy over their trade-in,” said Consumers Union's policy counsel, Shannon Baker-Branstetter. “Consumers are heartened that even as gas prices fluctuate, the long-term trend is for consumers’ fuel bills to go down."  

Eric Evarts

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