Don’t Buy Based on MPG Alone

June 23, 2008
How quickly times change. Only a matters of months ago, it seems, we were bombarded by ads touting products by the numbers: horsepower, for example, 0-60 times, or cubic feet of cargo space. Well, actually, we're hearing a lot more numbers now; what with $4-a-gallon gas, manufacturers are suddenly touting miles per gallon. But according to the folks at Consumer Reports magazine, that's no more effective a way to buy a new, fuel-efficient vehicle than basing your decision on its top speed.

In its latest issue, the CR folks have come up with an interesting way of figuring out your savings, but you want to have a calculator at hand. They took the sticker price of each vehicle and divided it by the rated mpg. Using that metric, the Honda Fit Sport ranked first, with a fuel-efficiency price of $464 mpg. The standard Fit came in a close second, at $476 per mpg. The oft-touted Toyota Prius, the world's best-selling hybrid-electric vehicle, was rated third, in the study, at $540. Perhaps surprisingly, only three hybrids made the Top Ten list: two versions of the Prius, along with the Honda Civic Hybrid.

"Just because a vehicle is fuel-efficient doesn't necessarily mean it's cheaper to live with. If you want a car with great gas mileage and must make every dollar count, look for a vehicle with a low price per mpg."

As we've also pointed out at TCC over the years, CR stresses that fuel economy is only one of the figures you should factor into your purchase equation. Look at things like depreciation, insurance premiums, repair and maintenance costs, and other factors. Be especially careful, we need to stress, if you're thinking about trading in a big gas-guzzler for something small and fuel-efficient. It might seem like a logical move, these days, but not if you haven't paid off that loan yet. You could wind up being "upside down," owing on your old car, as well as the new one. And those added costs could more than offset any savings on fuel.

Here's the CR Top Ten list:

1. Honda Fit Sport (manual): $464
2. Honda Fit (base): $476
3. Toyota Prius (base): $540
4. Mazda3 I (manual): $576
5. Toyota Prius Touring: $591
6. Nissan Versa 1.8 SL: $596
7. Honda Civic Hybrid: $605
8. Honda Civic EX (manual): $607
9. Hyundai Elantra GLS: $650
10. Scion tC (base): $658

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