Consumer Reports Finds Small Turbo Gas Engines Over-Rated

Besides electrification, among highly publicized technological solutions to improved fuel economy are smaller displacement, turbocharged engines, but these may not be all they’re cracked up to be, says Consumer Reports.

Small, battery and electric-motor-free solutions tend to be less costly to produce, and have been hyped a good bit in certain quarters, but the consumer watchdog publication today announced its tests have found such offerings by Ford, GM, Kia, and Hyundai are not living up to claims in the real world.

“While these engines may look better on paper with impressive EPA numbers, in reality they are often slower and less fuel efficient than larger four and six-cylinder engines,” said Jake Fisher, director of automotive testing for Consumer Reports.

Top on CR’s list of over-rated vehicles is the 2013 Ford Fusion with EcoBoost. The EcoBoost line of engines has been well spoken of in other circles, but CR notes nothing to write home about regarding the turbocharged 1.6-liter four sold as a $795 option over the 2.5 liter four-cylinder-equipped version.

Consumer Reports found the EcoBoost variant, while costing more, and boasted of by marketers, returned slower 0-60 mph times compared to competitive family sedans and delivered just 25 mpg, “placing it among the worst of the crop of recently-redesigned family sedans,” said CR.

Another American car, the Cruze by Chevrolet, is in a similar boat, but not quite as bad, said the consumer publication. Compared to a 1.8-liter version, the 1.4-liter turbo variant felt a tad bit faster to 60 mph, but did not return any better fuel economy than the 1.8.

Why would a smaller engine not return better fuel economy? Simple, it’s because the turbo is doing what it is supposed to do – it crams more air-fuel mixture into the engine.

The increased ability to burn more fuel makes more power, but may not net out to any improved mpg to speak of, proving yet again, there is no such thing as a free lunch, or so it would seem in some cases.

Likewise, this was found to be the situation with four-cylinder engines in other vehicles including the Hyundai Sonata Turbo, Kia Sportage Turbo, and Ford Escape 2.0T. These all returned less fuel mileage than naturally aspirated (non-turbo) six cylinder versions.

But lest you think CR is saying the smaller-is-better concept is utter malarky, Consumer Reports did see improved results in small turbo engines when equipped in two German makers’ cars.

One is BMW’s new 2.0-liter turbocharged four, which got 28 mpg in the new 328i Sedan. The engine also gave improved mileage in the 2012 X3 SUV by one mpg, and power and acceleration were reported as “essentially identical.”

Another reported is Volkswagen’s 2.0-liter turbo which returned impressive mileage as well, though CR hasn’t tested any model variations with other engines that are directly comparable.

Further Qualification

We’ll note that in addition to Consumer Reports’ findings, in general, advertised EPA-rated fuel economy must always be understood to be a qualified number. In fact mileage varies entirely depending on how the driver operates the vehicle.

Just because a vehicle lets you drive it fast – as many of you already know but we’ll mention it anyway, as it bears repeating – one cannot expect advertised mileage under such conditions.

The EPA tests do not allow for breaking the law by speeding, constant jackrabbit starts, and other herky jerky driving behaviors that use up more fuel and create more emissions.

Furthermore, in many regions of the U.S. where it often seems like everyone has to get somewhere now, and where the pace is quick and pushing the limits of law enforcement tolerance and safety, advertised mileage will not often be achieved.

It can be stress inducing too, because if you want to drive sedately, and maximize economy, you risk having someone ride your tail, effectively pushing you, or becoming annoyed because you are not “going with the flow.”

At least this is the case in many parts of the country. It is a push-pull dichotomy of dueling opposite desires. Some drivers want to hurry up and get there, while others wish to take it easier on their vehicles, save fuel, money and spare the environment as much as possible.

And onward we go.

Consumer Reports