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28 July 2017

EPA Fuel Economy Variance Best Performers: Real-World Fuel Economy Winners

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Smart car shoppers rely on the EPA’s fuel economy tests to predict what a new car will cost them in fuel—but how reliable are those numbers plastered on every new car’s window sticker? Motor Trend and Emissions Analytics developed the Real MPG test to find real-world fuel economy, and we found that many cars actually outperformed their EPA estimates. Here are the best overachievers.

(Note: Some vehicles tests are 2016 models; they have not changed significantly for 2017.)


  • Engine/Transmission: 4.0-liter twin-turbo V-8/seven-speed dual-clutch automatic
  • EPA combined rating: 18 mpg
  • Real MPG combined rating: 20.5 mpg

If you were expecting a list full of micro-engined econo-weenies, you can banish that thought right now. We think you’ll find a few surprises on this list, starting with our 10th-place finisher, the Mercedes-AMG GT S. A 503-hp twin-turbo V-8? Check. 2015 Motor Trend Best Driver’s Car title? Check. EPA-busting Real MPG? Check. The GT S beat its EPA estimate by a healthy 13.9 percent, which just goes to show that power and efficiency really can go hand in hand.


  • Engine/transmission: 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder/seven-speed twin-clutch automatic
  • EPA combined rating: 24 mpg
  • Real MPG combined rating: 27.7 mpg

Porsche recently swapped the Boxster’s engine from a flat-six to a turbocharged four-cylinder in an effort to improve fuel economy, and it seems the gambit worked: We tested the 350-hp S version, and its Real MPG figure was a healthy 15.5 percent better than the EPA estimate. Keep in mind that the Boxster requires premium fuel, but if you’re buying a Porsche, we’re sure you’re financially prepared to feed it the good stuff. Consider the Boxster’s performance in the Real MPG test to be a testament to Porsche’s top-shelf engineering.


  • Engine/transmission: 1.8-liter four-cylinder/six-speed manual
  • EPA combined rating: 28 mpg
  • Real MPG combined rating: 32.4 mpg

Honda made its name with fuel-efficient cars, and that tradition continues today. The HR-V’s EPA estimate is pretty good, but in our Real MPG test, the little CUV smashed right through it and delivered a figure 15.7 percent better. Now, you’ll notice we hit that number with the manual-transmission front-driver—but how many buyers will opt for that combo? Worry not: We also tested an all-wheel-drive HR-V with the CVT automatic transmission, and it outperformed its EPA combined figure by 3 percent.


  • Engine/transmission: 2.0-liter four-cylinder/CVT
  • EPA combined rating: 30 mph
  • Real MPG combined rating: 35.0 mpg

The Impreza might not be quick—actually, it’s pretty damn slow—but man, is it efficient. The EPA’s 30-mpg estimate is impressive, but our Real MPG result of 35.0 mpg, a 16.8 percent improvement, is really impressive. All the more so when you consider that the Impreza comes standard with all-wheel drive, which should, theoretically, have a negative effect on gas mileage. Apparently, no one told that to the Impreza.


  • Engine/transmission: 1.4-liter turbocharged four-cylinder/six-speed manual
  • EPA combined rating: 30 mpg
  • Real MPG combined rating: 35.1 mpg

This one had us checking and rechecking the math. It wasn’t just that the hot-rod Abarth version of the 124 Spyder outperformed its EPA fuel economy estimate by a healthy 17 percent, but it was also the Real MPG number in question: a stunningly parsimonious 35.1 mpg. This result proves the wisdom of small-displacement turbocharged engines. The mechanically related Mazda MX-5 Miata, which uses a 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated four instead of the Abarth’s 1.4-liter turbo and, like the Abarth 124 Spider, requires premium fuel, had a Real MPG score of 30.1 mpg—still impressive, but only 0.1 mpg (0.33 percent) higher than its EPA estimate.


  • Engine/transmission: 2.8-liter four-cylinder turbodiesel/six-speed automatic
  • EPA combined rating: 23 mpg
  • Real MPG combined rating: 27.6 mpg

We’ve known for a while that diesel vehicles often outperform their EPA fuel economy numbers, so it’s no surprise to see the diesel-powered Colorado on this list. Even with four-wheel drive and the Z71 off-road pack, the Colorado’s Real MPG figure beat its EPA estimate by a healthy 20 percent. And make no mistake, this is a victory for diesel. We put the gas-powered Colorados to the Real MPG test, and although the 3.6-liter V-6 came in just 2 percent under its EPA figure, the 2.5-liter four-cylinder underperformed by 12 percent.


  • Engine/transmission: 6.2-liter supercharged V-8/eight-speed automatic
  • EPA combined rating: 16 mpg
  • Real MPG combined rating: 19.8 mpg

From Motor Trend’s Through the Looking Glass department comes the mighty Dodge Charger Hellcat: Not only is it one of the most powerful sedans you can buy, but it’s also hella efficient, with a Real MPG result that exceeded its EPA figure by 23.8 percent. (And, hey—a 20-mpg muscle car!) We achieved that figure using the red key, which enables all 707 horsepower to be unleashed. What happened when we switched to the black key that engages “eco” mode and limits the engine to 505 hp? The Charger Hellcat’s still exceeded its EPA estimate—and by a still impressive 21.3 percent.


  • Engine/transmission: 4.0-liter turbocharged V-8/seven-speed automatic
  • EPA combined rating: 13 mpg
  • Real MPG combined rating: 16.2 mpg

Yet another entry from the who-woulda-thunkit category is everyone’s favorite military-off-roader-turned-posh-rap-star ride, the Mercedes G-Wagen. The EPA expects it to guzzle premium gas at the gluttonous rate of 13 mpg, but our Real MPG testing showed a slightly less greedy fuel consumption of 16.2 mpg, an improvement of 24.6 percent. Who says the 1 Percenters aren’t doing their bit to save the planet?


  • Engine/transmission: 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder/six-speed manual
  • EPA combined rating: 25 mpg
  • Real MPG combined rating: 31.6 mpg

We weren’t surprised to see that a Hyundai Elantra beat its EPA figure by 26.4 percent, but we figured it would be the 1.4T Eco model. Nope—the overachiever in this crowd is the 1.6-liter Elantra Sport model, a scrappy little sedan that’s proven to be good fun on a curvy road. If you’re wondering how the rest of the Elantra powertrain lineup does in the real world, you’ll be happy to know that Motor Trend has put all of them through the Real MPG test. The Elantra Eco scored 35.1 mpg, and the 2.0-liter Limited hit 32.2 mpg, both nearly spot on with their EPA estimates.


1st Place (tie): 2016 Subaru BRZ/2017 Toyota 86

  • Engine/transmission: 2.0-liter four-cylinder/six-speed manual
  • EPA combined rating: 24 mpg
  • Real MPG combined rating: 31.0 mpg (Subaru)/31.3 mpg (Toyota)

Bet you were expecting the first place winner to be something like the Toyota Prius, right? Wrong! It’s a sports car—two sports cars, actually. The mechanically similar Subaru BRZ and Toyota 86 are both rated at 24 mpg by the EPA, and they both returned 31 mpg (31.3 in the case of the Toyota) in our Real MPG test, smashing their EPA estimates by a healthy 29.1 and 30.4 percent, respectively. And now you know how to justify your purchase of one (or both!) of the Toyobaru twins to your significant other: Just point out the Real MPG figure and say, “See, honey? They’re not sports cars, they’re economy cars!” (Best not to mention the fact that they both run on premium gas.)

 

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