Too much time on my hands (historical MPG)


Okay, I had too much time on my hands, so I decided to look at the MPG for the smallest, lightest car for each of three manufacturers (Honda (Japanese), Ford (USA), and VW (European) for three years: 2007, 1997, 1987. I choose 2007 as the most recent year because it was the last year for the “official” (old) MPG calculations. In each case, I choose the manual transmission car with the best mileage for that mfr. I eliminated diesels from consideration. I list the size engine, and the passenger/cargo cubic feet following the overall “official” MPG


2007 Fit 35MPG 1.5L 90/21 cu. ft.

1997 Civic 40 MPG 1.6L 90/12 cu. ft.

1987 Civic 40 MPG 1.3L 84/12 cu. ft


2007 Focus 31 MPG 2.0L 94/15 cu. ft

1997 Aspire 37 MPG 1.3L 82/17 cu. ft

1987 Escort 35 MPG 1.9L 85/16 cu.ft


2007 New Beetle 26 MPG 2.5 L 85/12 cu. ft

1997 Golf/GTI 26 MPG 2.0 L 88/17 cu. ft

1987 Golf 29 MPG 1.8 L 87/18 cu. ft

As you can see (and has been discussed in other posts), fuel economy has not gone up, even though technology has proceeded apace. So, here’s the question: If we gave up everthing that has become “essential” since 1987, what kind of MPG would we get now? “Essential” means A/C, keyless entry, ABS, air bags, stronger bodies to withstand side impacts, and extra horsepower. Somehow, our forebears (and many of us) lived without these things and managed to survive. As fuel prices go up, will some of these things go by the wayside?



Find out what the horsepower and torque are for the cars listed. I’ll bet that they both went up as time progressed. That would be like having a larger engine in th older cars.

No, you look it up. You said you had too much time to spare! :wink:


Actually, a lot of our forebears didn’t survive, they DIED due to the lack of some of those safety innovations like ABS, airbags, and stronger frames. Cars are safer now than they ever have been.

The major reason for the lack of improvement in MPG is the overall growth in car size and the increase in engine power. The manufacturers are giving us what many of us “want.”


Some of the high mileage cars used to weigh 2,000 pounds. An 83 corolla SR-5 was a great driving car that could get squirrely in the rain. It had a cassette player and TW as optional equipment. I would get 41 MPG on short highway trips, 55 miles out and the same back. The rest of the driving on a tankful was local, rural.


Agree that, because of sfety and other regulations, cars have become heavier. They are also more powerful because of bigger standard engines. When Chevrolet adapted the Chevette from a model they were building in South America, the project manager was told to “keep the weight under 2000lbs”. He did and made a lot of compromises.

That type of car is still sold overseas, with very small engines. If the companies put that type of car on the market here today, it would not sell, partly beacause few people know how to shift gears well enough to get some performance out of these small engines. In the 80s, the standard engine for a Ford Escort in Europe was 1.1 liter, with a 4 speed stick shift. You could not get automatic or A/C on this model!

So times have changed; to get what used to be an econobox you have to buy a Smart Car, which will beat all the mileages yoy listed!!


Well said, rockford.

Because the public apparently wants larger, more powerful cars, manufacturers have provided exactly that. If you compare the weight of modern cars with that of cars from 20 years ago, you will see that the newer cars are, in most cases, far heavier.

And, of course, the safety technologies that help to save lives does add to the weight of cars also. So, the decrease in gas mileage is really understandable, IMHO. And, if not for the newer technologies, the mileage of new cars would be far lower. Everything is a trade-off.

It remains to be seen whether the American public will buy into the concept of vehicles like the Smart Car. Will people be willing to give up the ride quality and the acceleration power that they seem to want? I’m sure that some segments of the population will downsize their vehicle choices willingly, but I doubt that most of the public will agree to REAL economy cars unless there is nothing else available on the market.


Agreed. When I was shopping for a new 1995 compact, I noticed most had standard engines in the 95-115 hp range. The Dodge Neon was the subcompact “muscle car” offering 136 hp. Nowadays you need typically 160 hp from a 4-cyl engine and up to sell the same compact car. Your figures are comparing different powertrains, apples and oranges.


When gas hits $4.00 a gallon I am thinking people may be inclined to buy at least one fuel mileage car for commuting to and from work, But still have a large family car for weekends, and toting around kids.

Also the higher the ratio of small cars to large, the safer the small car becomes.


The way the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) calculates fuel mileage is…(what’s the word I’m looking for?)…uh, strange! The cars are ran on a dynamometer, and the results are put into a stew pot, and the mileage calculated! That calculation is the “official EPA” guesstimated fuel mileage.

There must be some perfectly good reasons the EPA doesn’t run the cars on a real test course. I’m trying to think of one.


I’ll take a stab at this:

It’s my opinion that we have gotten what we asked for from the manufacturers and the government.

To give an example that applies to me. I have a 2007 Dodge 2500 with 5.9L Cummins Diesel pickup. On the highway at 75 mph I get around 18 mpg. At 60 mph, I get around 22 mpg.

My first experience with one of these trucks was an early 90’s model. It has the same engine, smaller turbo, 0 emissions garbage, and it got 27 mpg.

I tested a 1997 model before buying a Ford and drove the dog shooey out of it. Un broken in, which generally makes 5 to 8 mpg difference on a diesel, the 97 model got 24 mpg.

Is the 2007 truck heavier than the early 90’s model or the 97 model? No at least not significantly. It’s not weight. The earlier models had mechanical injectors on them as opposed to my new one’s electrical injectors. I suspect the newer one has a heavier alternator, but that wouldn’t make that much difference.

Power wise, the early 90’s model either had a real small turbo charger or none at all, it still had adequate power. The 97 model was pretty close to the one I have now. The turbos on a diesel should be fuel savers not fuel burners at least to a degree. I don’t believe the answer is so much in power as it is in other areas.

I believe the primary problem we have today is too much garbage being bolted onto motors in the name of “Emissions”. The fact is, at least with a diesel truck, the better it breathes in and out, the more economical it’s going to be on fuel. The engine itself is mechanically nothing more than an air pump. Constrict the air coming in or going out and you reduce efficiency, especially the air going out.

The fact is, the process of burning fuel (gas or diesel) is a chemical reaction not a mechanical process. If you burn X amount of fuel, you create Y amount of by products or pollution. That equation will not change. If you take an engine and hang an EGR system on it, catalytic converter, noise dampener, tighter muffler, etc you reduce it’s efficiency by slowing the flow of air out of it causing the engine to burn more fuel and hence create more pollution. If we’d had spent half as much effort making the Cummins engine get 35 mpg instead of worrying about what the exhaust smells like we’d be burning far less fuel today.

Another thing that has happened with both gasoline and diesel, particularly diesel, is reformulating the fuels. When we had the old diesel fuel with the normal amount of sulfur in it my F250 Ford got 19 mpg. When they reformulated to Low Sulfur diesel, my mpg went down to 17 mpg. When they again went to Ultra Low Sulfur diesel, the same truck retracted down to around 16 mpg. I bought the Dodge during the transition from Low to Ultra Low sulfur diesel and noticed significant differences in both mpg and power fueling at stations that hadn’t yet converted v’s stations that had. Gasoline contains increasing quantities of ethanol mix and ethanol doesn’t have the same amount of power in it as gasoline. A vehicle running on ethanol will get less milage than one running on gasoline.

For whatever reason, Dodge used to offer a 3.55:1 axle ratio with their Cummins engines but they have since ceased to do that. The highest gear ratio offered now is a 3.73:1. From my understanding, the government forced that decision on the manufacturer in the name of some sort of emmissions test. As I pointed out there’s 4 mpg difference in my truck between 60 mph and 75 mph. There’s also about 800 rpm’s between the 2 speeds. If I had a higher gear on the final drive and could hold 75 mph at under 2000 rpm’s, I believe my truck would get 22 mpg at 75 mph. The RPM range is the difference in the mileage more so than the weight or engine power.

In the gasoline engines, I believe that the increasing complexity of motors has caused a significant lack of willingness to do maintenance that would save fuel. For instance, my wife’s Expedition has 8 coils on it. One for each spark plug. It has no distributor cap and the air filter is more expensive than it need be. Where a tune up that used to include new plugs that would increase mileage cost around $200 in the past, today a tune up on that engine would cost over $500. Increasing maintenance cost like that decreases people’s willingness to pay for it and they tend to drive them well past the point at which simply changing plugs or air filters would increase mileage and also reduce pollution.

The long and short is, I think a lot of what our Government, the tree huggers, and Ralph Nader’s of the world have demanded we do is working against us. Why would the vehicle manufacturers fight this? Look on the sticker of a new 2008 Dodge 2500 Cummins, there’s a $5800 charge listed on it for environmental equipment. The companies are making money off this stuff, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they are backing it along with the government that gets around 50 cents a gallon in tax off of fuel. There’s no incentive to save fuel from the powers that be to put a stop to this problem in fact the incentive is reversed.

We get easily duped by people that are behind various issues. I used to have a college professor that had a saying, “They want to save the world by they don’t know how it works.”



There must be some perfectly good reasons the EPA doesn’t run the cars on a real test course.
The secret to accurate fuel consumption measurements is controlling independent variables. The best way to do that is to run the test under computer control on a dynamometer in a laboratory. Even if you use a closed test track, you still are plagued by unpredictable winds, which affect drag, and the human test driver’s inability to exactly follow the driving cycle.

Since the exhaust emission tests are performed in a laboratory, they are very accurate and repeatable. The EPA uses the results to calculate fuel consumption. Since they know how much exhaust came out, they can work the chemical equations backwards to determine how much fuel went in.

The problem with the EPA’s fuel consumption predictions is that they are based on an unrealistic driving cycle. Real wold consumption is worse than predicted because people drive harder and faster than the EPA expected. For 2008 and the future, the EPA has tried to correct this by a more sophisticated analysis of the exhaust emission data. I suspect their correction amounts to giving more weight to the parts of the test with the strongest acceleration and highest speeds.

The ideal solution would be to update the exhaust emission tests to reflect real world driving patterns. However, the test procedure is part of the federal law governing emissions. In order to change it, Congress would have to pass an amendment to the emissions law. That’s a can of worms nobody wants to open.


I can never figure out why it is so easy to to point only to the power and quirks of one set of large, powerful organizations (government) and completely ignore the role of another set of large powerful organizations (auto and associated corporations). I also can’t figure out why anyone would assume that the likes of Ralph Nader and the infamous “tree huggers” are somehow more powerful than the auto industry whose lobbyists are ultimately responsible for writing an awful lot of the actual legislation. This weird notion that big business is somehow the “victim” of government interference is strange at best.

I will grant that emissions stuff has likely had some effects that run contrary to fuel economy. But let’s not pretend that anyone has been working really hard on that. My 1991 and 1997 Ford Escorts have very similar motors, HP, torque, chassis, weight, emissions controls etc. The '91 gets about 37 mpg/hwy. The '97 gets 34 with the wind at its back. So what accounts for that drop? Don’t even get me started on “hybrids,” the mpgs of which should be considered embarrassing by all of the companies that put them out.

We might say (as some above have suggested) that the lack of effort on the part of auto manufacturers can be chalked up to “giving the people what they want” but that is only partly true. Apply the same logic to politics: if this is democracy - i.e. we all get to vote, then shouldn’t we see the options offered up by those other two large, powerful organizations (our largest political parties) as just giving us what we want? Most wouldn’t accept that, but the logic is the same. Let’s not pretend that our choices are wide open and that we, the unorganized consumers, can somehow control in some meaningful way what very large corporations do. We could control more, but many of us take market choices for granted and never think to ask for what is not “on the shelf” or critique the choices. We do it for politics, why not for markets?

No, rather than pointing to “government” in the way of progress I would study up a bit on “power elite” pictures, and take a cold hard look at the long standing and very tight links between the major players in huge industries (auto, auto parts, steel, oil) and government as well. Many are already skeptical that the “government” is run from the ground up (democracy), its about time we got more used to applying the same logic to markets.

We get easily duped by people that are behind various issues. I used to have a college professor that had a saying, “They want to save the world by they don’t know how it works.”



Not all voting is done at the ballot box. When we buy a huge gas sucking pig instead of a small economical car, we essentially cast a vote for huge gas sucking pigs. If we are willing to pay more money for huge gas sucking pigs than we are willing to pay for small economical cars, we essentially are voting for huge gas sucking pigs.
If car makers could get rich by making 50 mpg cars, they would be everywhere.


You need to take a good look at government before you start pointing fingers at private industry as being the culprit.

Exactly which one of the government’s seemingly endless programs has been a success?

Has it been public schools? Hell no and not by a long shot. We are dumping money into public schools like there’s no end in sight and they can say what they want to say, time and time again people are proving that private schools are providing a better education at less total cost per student. And no, I’ve never set foot in a private school.

Has Medicare, Medicaid, SSI, Social Security, the Court system, or illegal immigration control been a success? What about Amtrack? Our interstate highways that are falling apart in places because construction isn’t based on need but rather political fanagling to bring money into this or that congressman’s district.

The fact is, the government’s only proposed solution to any problem is to pour more money into it. Sometimes that’s not always the answer. In fact, 90% of the time that’s not the answer.

Yes, we’ve voted with our wallets in what we purchase. We are the ones that bought SUV’s and Trucks, but the point here is comparing like vehicles over the years and what is or isn’t causing them to get less mileage than they did 5, 10, 15 or 20 years ago.

The government has 0 incentive to decrease fuel consumption. Why? They are making 50 cents a gallon in tax off of every gallon we buy. If they could figure out how to get us to use vehicles that got half the mileage they do today, they would, it’s in their best interest. The only goal of politicians is to fleece the American public of their hard earned money. They’ve proven that over the years and more so than ever in recent years. Why? They can’t resist these programs that dump money on things like it’s going out of style. Wanna bet the people behind the government programs to produce ethanol haven’t contributed significantly to the pockets of the same politicians who’ve signed over billions of dollars in incentives to produce ethanol? Ethanol is nothing more than Moonshine. Have you ever known of a gallon of moonshine to sell for less than a gallon of gasoline? No. The only thing they’ve managed to create is inflation and supply problems for grains. Seeing as how it takes as much fuel to produce a gallon of ethanol as they make, they sure haven’t gotten anywhere near to becoming energy independent like they claimed it would make us.

The fact is, the majority of the emmissions garbage on these vehicles today retards engine performance and causes the engines to use more fuel, run less efficiently, and be more complicated to maintain and keep in tune. However, it does make people like you feel like you’ve done something for the environment when in fact, you’ve not solved any environmental problem because we are burning more fuel than ever thus creating more pollutants.

These new gadgets require more metal to be minned, processed, hauled and worked. That all requires massive amounts of energy. The new gadgets add to cost yet what are they saving? Vehicles that in general get 30 to 40% less fuel milage than they would otherwise be capable of because of it require we drill more oil, transport more oil, refine more oil, truck more gasoline and diesel to station. What if instead of decreasing the fuel milage 30% we increased it 15%? Would that not translate into less energy used by a long shot?

Look at who would benefit and who would loose from that scenario? The government would loose billions in tax on fuel sales, oil companies would loose, yet consumers and the economy would gain.

To insinuate that the power that be is in the US Auto manufacturers is crazy at best. What’s Ford and GM’s financial position relative to foreign competitors such as Toyota? Oh, I forgot, there’s the UAW. Well, there was before their jobs were shipped to China and Mexico. No, the big 3, really now the bit 2, have very little political power these days.



Where is your data for old/new diesels? My 82 diesel benz gets about 25 mpg in the real world, the new (equivalent size/weight) cars get closer to 35 mpg. Aside from the fact that I don’t like the new ones very much, they have managed to improve mileage and performance at the same time for a similar cost (actually a little cheaper in adjusted dollars).

The econo-boxes you’ve listed are going to see the larger impact from mandated safety stuff because it will be a larger percentage of the total weight. Also, the public is less willing to buy a 90 HP economy car today. Increased fuel cost will drive the market to lower power, lower weight, higher mileage cars in that class. More expensive cars will be affected less because their customers are less sensitive to fuel cost.


I did not say that one should ignore the role of government and only point at corporations. What I said is that both government and businesses are huge organizations that concentrate power. They are entirely dependent on one another, and if you want to ask about how things work then you can’t only look at one and not the other.

On the question of the political power of auto manufacturers, I think it is crazy at best to see them as NOT being powerful. But power is exercised in many ways - not just in getting the state to do what you want it to do.


My diesel experience is owning and driving diesel pickups. I’ve done it every day for years.

I have a friend that a few years ago had a diesel powered Ford Tempo or Taurus, I don’t remember which, they used to look alike. At any rate, the car had a Mitsubiti 3 cylinder in it similar to the ones they put in compact tractors. That car got around 50 mpg at the time. It didn’t have enough power to hardly pull itself around, but it got good mileage.

I know the Navistar 7.3L diesel that used to be in Ford’s pickups went through 4 versions over the years. Non-Turbo mechanical injectors/Turbo Mechanical/Turbo HUII/Turbo Intercooled HUII. The later ones got around 17 to 18 mpg while the mechanical engines got better than 25 mpg.

A mechanical diesel will use much less fuel at idle than will an electronic injected diesel. You’d be surprised at how much difference that makes over a tank of fuel. Mechanical injected diesels are much simpler, and for whatever reason tend to use less fuel. It’s the same with farm tractors, machinery, or anything else running on diesel.



The fact is, the majority of the emmissions garbage on these vehicles today retards engine performance and causes the engines to use more fuel, run less efficiently, and be more complicated to maintain and keep in tune.

Cars today are Far more efficient…Better gas mileage…much less pollution…Far safer…then they were 30-40 years ago. There is NO WAY IN H*LL that would have happened if we left it up to the Auto Industry to decide. If you think it’s at all possible then go back to la-la land. I can name you car after car from the 70’s and show you a bigger…heavier…better performance vehicle…and safer car today…EASILY…

The new gadgets add to cost yet what are they saving? Vehicles that in general get 30 to 40% less fuel milage than they would otherwise be capable of because of it require we drill more oil, transport more oil, refine more oil, truck more gasoline and diesel to station.

You haven’t a clue…Here’s a few examples…Toyota Camry…EPA 25/30…Sold in South America with 0 EMISSIONS…gets 28/31. Honda Accord…25/32 in the US…36/34 in South America. For a 30% increase it would have to be getting 33/40…Computer controlled emissions makes cars far more efficient then they were. I’ll grant you that if you took a car from the 70’s and added all the pollution stuff there might be a 30% decrease in performance and gas mileage. But cars today are DESIGNED with the pollution control devices in place.

I’ll take a little decrease in performance and gas mileage to breath clean air any day.

Oh, I forgot, there’s the UAW. Well, there was before their jobs were shipped to China and Mexico. No, the big 3, really now the bit 2, have very little political power these days.

WHAT…says who…They have ENORMOUS power. They are still very very hugh companies with over 100 thousand employees. There are less then 100 companies world wide that big.


Not all voting is done at the ballot box. When we buy a huge gas sucking pig instead of a small economical car, we essentially cast a vote for huge gas sucking pigs.

Right - that’s what I said. There’s a vote at the ballot box and vote with the wallet. What I was trying to say is that everyone seems to trust that having a wallet vote means that companies are just trying to do the best for the public that they can. But if that logic is true, then we should all trust the same for the actual ballot box and “the government.”

Either both of these are true or neither one is. So if one wants to blame something, don’t reserve all of it for government.


I prefer mechanical diesels because they are simpler, but a modern electronic diesel will use less fuel under all conditions (including idle), far the same amount of power.

I don’t know anything about domestic trucks.