40 MPG Is New Norm for Small Cars

Is the line between gas-electric hybrids and small internal-combustion-only cars starting to blur?

On Monday, Ford announced that the 2011 Ford Fiesta equipped with the 6-speed automatic transmission will be rated at 40 miles per gallon on the highway. It’s not official yet, but the Chevrolet Cruze Eco is also expected to join the 40-mpg club later this year. Look Ma, No hybrid! And still delivering better than 40 miles per gallon on the highway.

Ford’s advertising tag line for the Fiesta brags: “The Fiesta gets 40 highway miles per gallon. That’s more than 21 hybrids.” Ford’s spinmeisters are correct that most hybrids, including expensive models from BMW, Lexus and Mercedes, as well as the mid-market Toyota Camry Hybrid, don’t reach 40 mpg on the highway. What Ford omits is that all five of Ford’s own hybrids don’t hit the 40-mpg mark on the highway.

Ford also don’t highlight the city numbers for the Fiesta—29 mpg for the automatic version. That’s a far cry from the Fusion Hybrid’s 41-mpg rating in the city or the Toyota Prius’s 51 miles to the gallon. Of course, the comparison between the Fiesta and Prius on mileage is not entirely fair. The Fiesta, starting about $14,000, costs half as much as the Prius. The more apropos comparison is other compacts. On the highway, the Fiesta is 5 miles a gallon better than Honda Fit and 4 miles a gallon better than Toyota Yaris.

An Emerging Trend

To get a better handle on the new trend of 40-mpg small gas-engine cars, we reached out to John German, who was Honda’s manager of Environmental and Energy Analyses for more than a decade and is now a senior fellow and program director for the International Council for Clean Transportation.

HybridCars.com: How are the Ford Fiesta and Chevy Cruze Eco able to break the 40-mpg mark without diesel engines or hybrid systems?

John German: Load reduction and improved engine efficiency. Another way is to reduce performance, although I doubt that has been done with these vehicles. It really isn’t all that hard. Note that Honda had the Civic VX in 1994 that was rated at 47-mpg city and 56-mpg highway under the old labeling adjustments. Even under the new, updated label adjustments, that vehicle would have been rated at 39-mpg city and 50-mpg highway. Of course, by today’s performance standards it was a real dog, but still.

Also note that they are advertising the highway MPG value. This is easier to increase than the city value, as aerodynamics play such a large role in highway fuel economy.

2011 Ford Fiesta

Do you expect 40-mpg gas-powered cars to become a trend?

Absolutely. Upcoming improvements to internal combustion engines, transmissions, aerodynamics, tire rolling resistance, and lightweight materials will enable large numbers of vehicles to surpass 40 mpg without hybrids or diesels. By 2016 all small cars like Fiesta, Fit, Yaris, etc., and most compact cars like Civic, Corolla, and Focus should be over 40-mpg on the highway. A few mid-size cars might make it as well.

What are the economics of making these types of cars, rather than hybrids and diesels?

The improvements will be done at moderate cost—less than a thousand dollars for a smaller car. Of course, hybrids also provide a huge boost in city fuel economy, which is more important for most customers. But the improvements coming to the gasoline engine at moderate cost will make it harder to justify the additional cost of a diesel engine.

Can the same strategies that enable 40-mpg gas cars be applied to hybrids, pushing them to 50 or even 60 MPG?

Absolutely. Hybrids provide a relatively constant percentage efficiency improvement over a baseline vehicle. So, any engine improvements and load reductions—aerodynamics, tire rolling resistance, vehicle weight—will have similar benefits on both standard gasoline and gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles.

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  • Lost Prius to wife

    Everyone is promoting “Over 40 MPG highway!” when they should be trying to produce over 40 MPG combined. Only 45 % of the “Joe Average” or “Jane Average” driving is highway driving according to EPA and DOE. Don’t get me wrong – I still think the increased mileage is great as far as it goes. But I still feel that the combined mileage needs to increase substantially.

  • usbseawolf2000

    This is pretty good considering Jetta TDI get 41 highway MPG.

  • Scott Z

    I agree “Lost Prius to Wife”. The ads should just list average MPG. Just more advertising flim flam in a way.

    Over all this is good news. It always bothered me that my 93 Civic Si averaged 36 to 41 MPG for 12 great years but then I go to shop for a new Civic and what do I see! 24 MPG! 28 MPG! Seems things have come full circle.

    The last paragraph is the one that makes me the happiest. As the improvements to small gas cars boost MPG that will only help hybrids more and eventually EVs.

  • Yegor

    40 MPG highway – it is just Super!!! And it is without Ford Direct Injection engine. Ford Direct Injection engine will help to improve this number by another 10-20% to 44-48 MPG. And yes it is a good news for Hybrids as well as these improvements will help boost Hybrids fuel economy by the same percent.

  • Van

    Standby for the new Toyota small hybrid, rumored to get 10% better mileage than the current Prius. It may blow the doors off the Ford and Chevy small cars. Time will tell – as well as price.

  • Van

    Standby for the new Toyota small hybrid, rumored to get 10% better mileage than the current Prius. It may blow the doors off the Ford and Chevy small cars. Time will tell – as well as price.

  • Luc

    The new Toyota small hybrid is the Auris Hybrid which gets about 2% better MPG but it’s also about same price and bit smaller than Prius. Given it’s size it will be for Europe only.

    Supposedly the new Sonata ’11 gets 35mpg highway which beats the Camry hybrid. But first of all we should look at combined and second I wonder if car makers are able now to detect and optimize for EPA test (just like they do now for ECE). Edmunds didn’t get nowhere near the 35mpg but that doesn’t mean it’s not fuel efficient relatively speaking.

  • DownUnder

    I think Van talks about the FT-CH which is expected to deliver higher MPG than Prius which is around 60 MPG.
    If Toyota can make FT-CH about 65-70 MPG, it’ll be great.

  • JamesDavis

    Why does today’s auto manufactures feel the need to make the small cars so ugly? They look like they belong in a Circus with clowns crawling out of them. Are they doing that to keep sales down? Remember the Dotson 280Z…small, good gas millage for its time, and attractive…a real double head turner. The small cars of today makes you want to barf when you look at them.

  • Anonymous

    ok – so they compare SMALL fiesta with BIG camry? They probably also compare the SMALL fiesta with the SUV/pickup hybrids?

    Please compare only comparable cars like prius against fiesta. Hmmm … picture looks complete different.

    It is sad that these days only highway milage gets advertised – but it just sounds better and that is all the car companies care about (all of them)

    That said – I think it is fantastic if they get 40mpg highway with the fiesta and they could find plenty of comparable cars that have less milage. But picking much bigger cars and say ‘look we are better’ is not very truethful and sheds a bad light on them (not trust worthy).

    The Fiesta is not as good as comparable sized Hybrids, but it is still great what they get with conventional technolgies. Maybe they should advertise that they close the hybrids without the additonal cost? That would be at least honest and probably convincing for many.

    Also many hybrids, especialy the american build ones, are not very good hybrids. They don’t add much improvment (since they favour ‘power’ driving). It is somewhat funny that they compare the ‘good’ conventional with the ‘bad’ execution of hybrids that they did themself (… I often thought the american car companies were only creating the bad hybrids as proof that hybrids stink)

  • Andy

    I just wish they would sell low performance cars here. I just want a car that seats 4 people, can hold steady at 60mph, and can climb hills at 40mph. It should have moderate noise reduction, but shouldn’t require a 3500lb frame.

    I don’t want to pay more for fast acceleration, or the ability to drive 100mph. Those features aren’t useful unless you like speeding tickets and accelerating fast just to hit your brakes at the next red light.

  • Michael E

    “It always bothered me that my 93 Civic Si averaged 36 to 41 MPG for 12 great years but then I go to shop for a new Civic and what do I see! 24 MPG! 28 MPG! Seems things have come full circle.”

    Because newer cars have become so damn heavy due to increased safety (admittedly good) and the demand for all sorts of creature comforts and gizmos by consumers. It’s interesting comparing the weight of a particular car these days, and the same model 20 years ago. The differences can be staggering. Advances with engine efficiency are negated to a good degree by this.

    Solution? Lets’s look at a weight limit. What if the Feds were to say that by 2020, any passenger vehicle being sold in the United States had to weigh less than 4,000 pounds? Similar rules could be introduced for trucks adn SUVs at a later time. Draconiam? Perhaps. Effective? Probably. Less weight plus egines which are now much more efficient equals better mileage and less fuel consumption for everyone.

    The car companies would moan about it, but they’d have 10 years to get their act together. More than enough time when you consider some companies are now capable or readying a car for production in as little as 18 months.

  • Michael E

    I would vehemently disagree with this when talking about highway driving. Driving an underpowered car in the highway is one of the most dangerous things you can do. I see it every day, someone putt putting along trying to merge into 70 mph traffic at 45 mph, causing everyone (big rigs included) to check-up and adjust. All it takes is one person not paying attention to cause a serious chain reaction.

    I definitlely want enough power to pick my way through traffic and pull myself out of any sort of situation that might arise. Fortunately my little GTI manages this just nicely.

  • Rom

    I think this is embarrassing.

    Ford announced it’s Mustang with 31MPG. It has a whopping 5 ltr 425 HP engine. That’s great for a muscle car.

    Now they show us a tiny Fiesta with 40MPG. It has a 1.6 ltr 118 HP engine. Why are they proud that they can’t get an engine that is less than half the size and about 1/4 the HP to get better than a 9 MPG over a muscle car?

    Bah. Enough with the baby steps.

  • Max Reid

    Their 6 speed tranny is a very modern 1 which they developed with GM.

    40 MPG for 14K price tag is very good. For someone who dont drive much or does more highway driving, this is a good car.

    Why pay 23K for a foreign hybrid when a local hyper-miler gives 40 MPG.

  • Charles

    The 31 (19 City) MPG Mustang is the 3.7L V6 not the 5L V8. The V8 only gets 17/26 MPG. The automatic Fiesta is class leading. So if Ford has a problem with small ICE cars getting only a bit better MPG compared to a muscle car, what does that say about all of the other manufactures?

    Max Reid:
    The six speed automatic transmission that both Ford and GM use is called the “6F’ and it is used in larger cars like the Edge. The PowerShift dual clutch six speed automatic is a different beast.

    I do look forward to the next steps, like a micro/stop-start hybrid or even a full hybrid.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I just hope we can get EVs and PHEVs on the road so we’re not doomed to drive midget cars in order to get 40+ or equivalent mpg. I’m 6’4″ tall and don’t want to be have to squeeze into a tiny car forever in order to go anywhere.
    It would also be nice if we can get a whole lot better than a paltry 40 mpg, including sustainable alternative energy sources.

  • melinuxfool

    If you drive correctly in the cities, you can get the highway mileage rating for your car, sometimes even a bit better. Usually, I do worse on the highway than in the cities, but still get better than the highway rating.

    Easy acceleration and deceleration, as well as timing the traffic lights correctly, will get you pretty good mileage.

  • Thomasr

    Yes the Ford Fiesta has some really trick technology! And great it gets good highway MPG.

    But this is still nothing compared to European Diesels or Hybrids. The technology is there for a 50 MPG car no problem.

    But it seems that making Billions on Oil is more important. Everything seems to be tainted!

    Where are the plug-in hybrids?

  • Kamal Chandrakumara

    Is this really correct. Now even a normal petrol combustion Japanese car does more than 40MPG. If this is 40MPKM I can Understand.


  • PJ

    I have a 1994 Geo Metro 1.0L 3cylinder LSI 5 speed manual. The car gets 45MPG. If I drive easy it gets 50MPG. Car goes up hills. I drive the Grapevine often. The XFI model got 58 MPG. If they could do it then, imagine what they could do now if they wanted to. My favorite car, all parts are cheap, car is very reliable.