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Old 10-12-2009, 08:05 AM   #1
AVANTI R5
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Default Economy Car Catch 22



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One thing that’s interesting but unnoticed by most is that economy car performance (fuel efficiency wise) was stronger 15-20 years ago.

In the ’80s, for example, there were several models getting 40-plus MPG. I think there may be one (or possibly two) current models that do as well (non-hybrids). Most don’t come close. The typical new/2009 model year economy car gets in the low-mid 30s on the highway and mid-high 20s in city driving. Average real world economy (combined city/highway) for the typical ‘09 economy car is probably around 28-30 mpg. So, we’re “down” by roughly 5-10 mpg.

Why?
Two main reasons:
First, new/late model economy cars are considerably heavier than their equivalents of the past. For example, an ‘09 Honda Fit — one of the smallest new economy cars on the market — has a curb weight (without any people on board) of 2,489 pounds. Compare that to say a 1990 Geo Metro (remember that one?). It weighed 1,620 pounds, or almost 1,000 pounds less. That is an enormous difference.
And it’s why the Geo’s fuel economy stats — 38 city/41 highway — are so vastly superior to the current “state of the art” economy car (the Fit comes in at a so-so 27 highway, 33 highway).

The added weight means modern economy cars require larger, more powerful — and less fuel efficient — engines. While the Geo got by with a 1 liter, 3-cylinder engine rated at 49 hp, the ‘09 Fit is powered by substantially larger 1.5 liter four that produces literally more than twice as much horsepower (117).

It has to, of course. You can’t pull a 2,500 pound vehicle with 49 hp. That would be serious mechanical abuse — as well as torment for its owner.

But you can’t expect to get 40 mpg with 117 hp, either.
That’s the econo-car Catch 22 we’re dealing with today.
Part of the blame, if you want to assign it, is due to the government — which mandates an ever-growing roster of weight-adding crashworthiness and safety requirements (air bags, etc.) all of which have (to date) bloated up the curb weight of the typical econ-car from around 1,800-2,000 lbs. to 2,500 lbs. or more.

Improved safety/crashworthiness is a fine thing — but it’s not cost-free. You can have one thing (a safer car) but not the other (optimum/best-possible fuel efficiency). At least, not in the same car. Not without a compromise or cost somewhere along the way.

No free lunches — either at the soup line or in engineering.
Part of the blame is also due consumers — who now expect weight-adding/power-sapping creature comforts like AC, electric windows and sunroofs, etc. They also want a car that can reach 60 mph in under 11 seconds.

In the ’80s and before, economy cars were slow. I mean crippled old man slow. Something like an original Beetle needed as much as 30 seconds to achieve 60 mph and topped out — barely — at 80-ish mph. The Geo Metro cut that down some, but not by much. If memory serves, it needed 15-20 seconds to get to sixty. On the highway, it was dangerously underpowered. It was literally out of its element. Might be ok as an in-city commuter. But you almost had to buy something else if you needed to operate on roads where the traffic flow was above 60 mph.

That kind of performance is consumer unacceptable today. You’ll hear commentators accuse the automakers of suckling the public on the teat of inefficiency, but the plain truth is people — most people — would never buy a car like the ‘90 Geo Metro today. Even if it did get 40 mpg.

So, as much as people complain about gas mileage, the truth is they have unrealistic expectations — whether they’re aware of them or not. You could almost certainly engineer a small car that gets 45-50 mpg with today’s technology very easily. But it’s just as true that you’d never get it past federal safety requirements, meet consumer expectations about minimal levels of creature comforts and make it reasonably quick, too — at least, not without either drastically increasing its cost or its weight. Or sacrificing economy, to some extent at least.

Which ought to help you understand why today’s economy cars aren’t quite as economical as their forbears.
The upside is they’re a lot less miserable — and can actually be driven without taking your life in your hands every time you get behind the wheel.

Keeping up with traffic is nice, too. Even if it does cost a few MPGs.
http://www.motorists.org/blog/economy-car-catch-22/
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Old 10-12-2009, 10:05 AM   #2
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my 2nd car:
1984 SUBARU WAGON 4 cyl 1800CC M5 25 city 38 hwy 30 combined

(from http://www.mpgfacts.com/?year=1984&make=SUBARU )

That car was about the size of my 03 WRX wagon but had about 1/3 the hp. I drove it all over the place, often with a canoe on the roof. Obviously it was underpowered and unsafe by today's standards, but it didn't seem that way at the time. I don't remember ever having trouble with it on the highway.
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Old 10-12-2009, 10:13 AM   #3
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It's funny on how all those enviro news postings and whining about car manufacturers not giving good efficiency, no one ever blames the gov't in the weight added to a car.

Oh and my first car was an 87 buick with a 3.8 V6, and the second was an 88 Corsica with a 2.8V6. Oddly, they both got about 20 MPG, due to the awful 3-speed auto in the Corsica. That car needed a 5-speed stick.
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Old 10-12-2009, 10:45 AM   #4
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My first car was a Prelude that weighed a little north of 2000 lbs. and it was good for mid twenties on the highway. I think it had a 1 star crash test rating.

This article is stupid for blaming the government. The government mandates air bags, not heated/cooled power seats, 16 speaker sound systems, or thick layers of sound deadening. The last one really gets me. My dad's last 3 cars, an IS 250, 330xi, and A6 were all so quiet that you could never hear the engine. I want to hear the bi turbos in the A6. Save some weight.
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Old 10-12-2009, 11:07 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SLegacy99 View Post
This article is stupid for blaming the government. The government mandates air bags, not heated/cooled power seats, 16 speaker sound systems, or thick layers of sound deadening. The last one really gets me. My dad's last 3 cars, an IS 250, 330xi, and A6 were all so quiet that you could never hear the engine. I want to hear the bi turbos in the A6. Save some weight.
But...but....I need my car to be just like watching HDTV from my overstuffed LA-Z-Boy while my THX surround sound system booms the house and I sent the kids next door to make them be quiet!

I've been in quieter cars and it's a nice break from my loud, super stiff WRX. I can definitely appreciate both, but at this point, like my WRX better. Ask me again when I'm older with kids.
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Old 10-12-2009, 11:11 AM   #6
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Forward this to Obama.
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Old 10-12-2009, 11:17 AM   #7
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I'm tired of articles that just state the obvious. Or am I the one in left field and it's not so obvious to Joe Schmo?


On a lighter note...
I'm also getting tired of posters blaming "the car companies" and "the government" instead of ourselves.
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Old 10-12-2009, 11:23 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Mechie3 View Post
But...but....I need my car to be just like watching HDTV from my overstuffed LA-Z-Boy while my THX surround sound system booms the house and I sent the kids next door to make them be quiet!

I've been in quieter cars and it's a nice break from my loud, super stiff WRX. I can definitely appreciate both, but at this point, like my WRX better. Ask me again when I'm older with kids.
I know right. Course, you might want the engine noise to drown out the kids.

But, for example, people give the LS600h (20/22) crap because it doesnt offer much more mileage than the LS460 (16/23). Lexus filled it to the gills with reclining seats and drink coolers. And it appears to be a sales success for them. So yeah, RCT is right, we should blame ourselves. The companies are selling us stuff that we will buy. Which, I will not buy a Geo Metro. I'd be more inclined to buy a Yaris or if I really wanted the mileage, I'd spent the extra $$$ and get a Prius.


Quote:
Originally Posted by RallyColtTurbo View Post
I'm tired of articles that just state the obvious. Or am I the one in left field and it's not so obvious to Joe Schmo?


On a lighter note...
I'm also getting tired of posters blaming "the car companies" and "the government" instead of ourselves.
Amen.
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Old 10-12-2009, 12:21 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SLegacy99 View Post
I know right. Course, you might want the engine noise to drown out the kids.
Unless your only quiet time is the daily commute sans kiddies. A quiet interior is also a luxury and status symbol.

At my old job, a lot of the car crew/younger crowd thought my WRX was awesome. One person who drove an Audi and was about twice my age (mid 50's) thought that a loud car was the most barbarian thing ever. Somehow, I don't get how her late 90's A4 was better than mine or how the replacement new A4 1.8T wagon was still better than my car (on the whole) besides the status quo of the 4 rings.
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Old 10-12-2009, 01:36 PM   #10
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i like airbags and cars that don't crumple like a tin can.

(on the other hand i also like riding my scooter around, and it has none of those. but it also doesn't have 2.5+ tons of mass with which to crush me.)
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Old 10-12-2009, 09:44 PM   #11
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and that is why i will continue to buy old used cars.

anyone have a old 70s ford capri they wanna sell?
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Old 10-12-2009, 11:23 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AVANTI R5 View Post
But you can’t expect to get 40 mpg with 117 hp, either.
Well perhaps my calculator is broken, because....

My Fuel log says otherwise.
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Old 10-12-2009, 11:25 PM   #13
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My MINI gets 32 City and 40 Highway easily and it has electric everything, 1.6 4 cylinder engine, good stereo, sunroof and everything a modern car has.
It all depends on what you get.
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Old 10-13-2009, 06:35 AM   #14
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Diesel please
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Old 10-13-2009, 11:19 PM   #15
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I <3 my 3-cylinder '87 Justy.
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Old 10-14-2009, 10:39 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by greg donovan View Post
and that is why i will continue to buy old used cars.

anyone have a old 70s ford capri they wanna sell?
There will be one running at Lake Superior this weekend, but it's got a cage and the owner may not want to sell.

<-- Still looking for the right 89-93 Volvo 240
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Old 10-14-2009, 11:50 AM   #17
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Great article explaining what most non-car people don't know.

Nick
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Old 10-14-2009, 04:22 PM   #18
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Back in the early 80's my parents traded in their POS Ford 500 which had a pinched exhaust - and a short in the horn that resulted in over heating and the random horn going off at 2am in the morning.

They traded the 500 for a VW Dasher 5spd manual ie the stretched version of the VW Rabbit. Their good friends had a silver rabbit black fo leather interior etc nice car. My parents got the non turbo diesel Dasher 2door hatch back. It put out about 93hp was built like a tank and when you look up slow cars its picture is shown. Having said that - we drove that car all over the place on a down hill run you could hit 75mph but the next hill was always waiting for you. We took it backpacking in the back country - hauling 3 kids 1 parent and all the back pack gear in the back up and down logging roads etc. We had the car for 10years and we got between 40 -50mpg with it. It looked virtually new when we sold it to an older couple down the street. They had it for another 8 years before they scrapped it.

Milege and safety the dasher had both given the current options back in the 80's it was a tank compared to the Honda's.

Our good friends ended up in a head on accident 80's camero cresting a hill crossed over the double yellow and hit the 80's VWRabbit head on. The driver of the Rabbit suffered major injuries but survived all other passengers were fine. The camero was destroyed as well as the Rabbit - Carmero driver spent 3 months in the hospital.

Yes - I do think our sense of good milege sucks - given we did have solid cars that hit the 40+mpg mark years ago. Yes cars got heavier with all the GOV mandated stuff but the largest impact on MPG and safety has everything to do with the speeds and expected performance the consumer has demanded. The non turbo diesel Dasher is a total POS regarding performance for todays expectations. Even a very well built and quite peppy 2009 Turbo Diesel Jetta gets slammed for its 0-60mph efforts.

A case where people want everything without giving up anything. My everyday / road tripper car I could care less about its 0-60 performance as long as it has enough power to hang with traffic on hill climbs and posts good milege. My hobby car I'd love to have a little Lotus Elise its the closest thing to riding a sports bike - on 4 wheels - simple - raw - very quick and pure to the true sense no floor mats just the basics.
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Old 10-14-2009, 04:42 PM   #19
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My sense of good economy hasn't been eroded away. Years ago I had a 3-cyl Metro, and I swear the thing to as high as 50 mpg.

Now I have the GTI... 3000 lbs, 200 hp, and it still gets over 30 mpg. Sure, I've lost some efficiency, but I'm ok with that.
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Old 10-14-2009, 04:45 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RallyColtTurbo View Post
I'm tired of articles that just state the obvious. Or am I the one in left field and it's not so obvious to Joe Schmo?


On a lighter note...
I'm also getting tired of posters blaming "the car companies" and "the government" instead of ourselves.
It's because every US citizen is absolutely perfect and the government has its head stuck up his ass. How could us citizens be doing anything wrong?
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Old 10-14-2009, 10:08 PM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by SLegacy99 View Post
... or thick layers of sound deadening. The last one really gets me. My dad's last 3 cars, an IS 250, 330xi, and A6 were all so quiet that you could never hear the engine. I want to hear the bi turbos in the A6. Save some weight.
Check out a Lexus from the early 90's, and it will likely have *more* sound deadening material on it. These days they know the vibration of the car so well, the air paths for wind noise and structure pathsfrequencies for road/powertrain noise so well that they can get away with less sound deadening material.

And anyway, those are all Luxury cars. I was both amazed and frustrated about how little damping material there was on my '07 Mustang. There was a body mode where I ran the engine most, which I fixed with about two pounds of material. The writer wasn't complaining that Audis don't get 40 mpg, he was complaining about the cheapest Honda getting poor fuel economy.
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Old 10-15-2009, 02:34 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by SlideWRX View Post
The writer wasn't complaining that Audis don't get 40 mpg, he was complaining about the cheapest Honda getting poor fuel economy.
I really don't understand the Fit: we considered one as a fuel-efficient runabout, but then discovered that the Civic gets the same or better fuel consumption despite being larger and more powerful.
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Old 10-15-2009, 07:34 PM   #23
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Originally Posted by movieman View Post
I really don't understand the Fit: we considered one as a fuel-efficient runabout, but then discovered that the Civic gets the same or better fuel consumption despite being larger and more powerful.
Fit on left, Civic on right.



the Fit is cheaper. it gets equivalent if not slightly better mileage. it has more headroom, if slightly less legroom and shoulder room. it has much more cargo volume, and much, much more usable cargo volume especially with the all singing and dancing seats. what's not to like?
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Old 10-15-2009, 08:59 PM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by shikataganai View Post
Fit on left, Civic on right.



what's not to like?
The gear ratios in the manual... There is no way it should get worse gas mileage than the auto. The auto turns several hundred rpms slower on the highway and that rpm difference shows.
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Old 10-15-2009, 09:26 PM   #25
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my wrx gets 20 VERY FUN mpg
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