Fuel Economy Winners & Losers

Gas at $4 a gallon? You need to know which cars have the best -- and worst -- fuel economy ratings

If you ever stopped and calculated how much money you spend in a year on various things, the figure would probably sound somewhat shocking, if not wildly extravagant. $2,000 on take-out? $20,000 on mortgage payments? $650 on dry cleaning? Such numbers are enough to make most people commune with their inner accountant and figure out a way to cut back.

These amounts are amortized over the course of 12 months, so the bite is much less dramatic than it might at first appear. Still, it does start one thinking. Are there better uses for my money? Probably. Do I really need to spend $500 a year on pricey single malt scotch or opera tickets? Probably not. But these are simple pleasures and, moreover, life's too short to drink cheap booze.

But if you don't want to spend less on scotch, there's another liquid you could definitely spend less on: gasoline. With the price of oil soaring above $70 and talk of gas hitting $4 at the pump, all of a sudden the idea of driving a car with poor fuel economy seems to make as much sense as using $100 bills to clean your windshield.


To bring that fact even closer to home, it's possible to calculate approximately how much money you can expect to spend per year on gas. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Dept. have a Web site, www.fueleconomy.gov, that gives average annual fuel costs for every vehicle sold in the U.S. (They assume average annual travel of 15,000 miles, with 55% under city driving conditions and 45% under highway conditions.)

Whether you're shopping for a new car or are just curious about how much your current car is costing you, it's a good idea to take a look at this site. It might even change your mind about which car or model you buy. For example, the new Dodge Charger sedan with a six-cylinder, 2.7-liter engine and four-speed automatic transmission has an anticipated fuel cost of $1,739 per year. The more expensive and more powerful eight-cylinder version with a 6.10-liter, five-speed automatic transmission will cost $2,803, nearly $1,000 more annually.

As a rule, cars with smaller engines cost less to fill up -- that's especially true for smaller cars. So what will you go for -- power or economy? If you opt for the former, don't come crying to us when your next trip to the gas station ends up in triple digits.


How can you find a car with better fuel economy? Hybrids and diesels are clearly one option. In fact, according to the EPA, the car with the best fuel economy is the Honda (HMC) Insight, the manual version of which gets approximately 60 miles in the city and 66 miles on the highway. Other winners include the Toyota (TM) Prius and the Ford (F) Escape Hybrid SUV.

But the good ones aren't all hybrids. Among large sedans, the Hyundai Sonata stands out, with 24 in the city and 34 on the highway, and the Honda Odyssey minivan wins its class with 20 city and 28 highway. In general, cars with manual transmissions get better fuel economy than those with automatic because they have a clutch instead of a torque converter, which allows for more efficient driving.

It's important to make a distinction between fuel efficiency and fuel economy. The auto industry tends to prefer using the former term, although the latter is more accurate. "How efficient are you at driving a brick down the road?" asks David Friedland of the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C. "Fuel economy is the number of miles driven divided by the number of gallons of fuel consumed. Efficiency is about how much energy is converted to make something go. Since a brick can't move on its own and you can make it move, that may be efficient, but the amount of fuel consumed may not be economical."

It's not too difficult to imagine that if the most economical cars to drive are small, somewhat under-powered, and equipped with environmentally-friendly technology, then those cars with the worst fuel economy are going to be insanely fast or very large. A quick scan down the "naughty" list on the EPA's site reads like a car lover's fantasy.


Topping out the list is the Bugatti Veyron, the long-delayed $1.2 million supercar from Volkswagen that has an expected annual fuel cost of $4,485, or $7.48 for every 25 miles. (Compare that with the Honda Insight, which costs only $1.10 for the same distance.) Other offenders include a number of Bentleys, the Mercedes-Benz E55 AMG wagon, and the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish.

Not all the worst gas guzzlers are for millionaires only. The Dodge Ram 1500 8.3 liter engine has a MSRP of around $50,000 but also has an annual fuel cost of $3,207. It is likely that people who are well-heeled enough to blow money on a Bugatti, Bentley, or any other super luxury car probably aren't going to sweat paying a few bucks more for gas, but even the very rich don't like spending more then they have to.

To see which 2006 model year cars rank the best and the worst by vehicle class, click here.
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