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Tell Us: Is 40 MPG Highway Irrelevant, Or Crucial To Save Gas?

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2012 Nissan Versa sedan launch, New York Auto Show, April 2011

2012 Nissan Versa sedan launch, New York Auto Show, April 2011

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If you've been paying any attention at all, you'll see new-car ads touting the magical "40 mpg highway" number in big print.

You'll see a whole lot of car ads, in fact, for vehicles that include the 2011 Ford Fiesta SFE, 2011 Chevrolet Cruze Eco (with six-speed manual), 2011 Hyundai Elantra (all versions)--and, soon, the 2012 Hyundai Accent that was just launched at the New York Auto Show.

Another 40-mpg entry will be the HF version of the 2012 Honda Civic, that model's highest-mileage non-hybrid gasoline vehicle. And none of them are hybrids either.

2011 Chevy Cruze Eco and 2011 Hyundai Elantra during road tests (video frame capture)

2011 Chevy Cruze Eco and 2011 Hyundai Elantra during road tests (video frame capture)

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Hyundai has been hammering its 40-mpg highway gas mileage ratings on multiple models--four of them by 2012, including the upcoming Veloster coupe--and challenging other carmakers to report sales of their "special models" that get the same rating.

One new entry from the New York show that doesn't get 40 mpg on the highway is the 2012 Nissan Versa sedan. The company projects EPA ratings of 30 mpg city, 37 mpg highway, for a combined rating of 33 mpg in the model with a continuously variable transmission (CVT).

The five-speed manual gearbox bumps those numbers down to 27 city, 36 highway, 30 mpg combined.

We asked David Reuter, Nissan North America's vice president of communications, about missing the magic 40-mpg mark and whether he felt it would put the 2012 Versa at a disadvantage.

2012 Honda Civic

2012 Honda Civic

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Not surprisingly, he said no.

Customers are more interested, he said, in the EPA combined rating than in highway mileage. "Maybe we could have gotten to that number," he said, "but we think buyers are better served by avoiding the compromises it would have required," including such alternatives as low-rolling-resistance tires, higher final gearing, and other tweaks.

The 2012 Versa's combined rating, it turns out, is exactly the same 33 mpg as the combined number for both the 2011 Elantra and the 2011 Cruze Eco manual.

So this is where we poll our faithful readers (that's you): Is Hyundai's 40-mpg focus a marketing gimmick, or could it sway your buying decision?

In the end, do you care about the highway mileage rating, especially if it's at a nice round number like 40 mpg, or is the combined rating more important?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.

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Comments (7)
  1. I think Nissan just thinks that the whole sub-compact is filled with penny pinchers but a lot of us want a quality car. Their numbers from from a CVT so how can they be upset with taller final drive ratios? To me that higher ratio is desired for smaller engines because it keeps revs low on highway cruises. I drive a lot on the highway so the highway number means a lot to me, but I also want a good city number that is why I focus more on the sub-compacts because their lighter curb weight usually results in better stop and go efficiency.
    My brother owns a current Versa and the majority will be bought with the 4-speed auto not the CVT. The car is not a pleasure to drive at all the steering is eerily numb it gets the job done but I don't think LRR tires or taller gears would have really hurt the Versa at all.
     
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  2. I don't have any problem with people marketing their highway MPG. A lot of compact cars achieve only 35 MPG highway, so getting to 40 MPG is a 14% improvement which is respectable, for the highway. The companies that produce these cars will hopefully be rewarded with sales.
    However, I don't see the city numbers improving that much in these vehicle and hybrids are clear the answer for city driving. With the Prius at 51 MPG city and the 2012 Honda Civic at 44 MPG, the typical 28 MPG city of these compact cars seems pathetic.
    If you drive in the city, ignore the highway numbers.
    Later
    John C. Briggs
     
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  3. Definitely agree with John in the city a pure ICE engine really isn't the best solution for that. For someone like me in Indiana where city driving is catching a few stop lights or stop signs between county roads not too many chances to really use the hybrid drive train. I really think people need to consider driving patterns anymore and look at the number that means the most to them.
    I am a big fan of the micro hybrid which gives you the advantages of electrification with a smaller battery and smaller electric motor and would definitely fit my lifestyle for sure. I would love to see more systems like eAssist on more and more cars in the future.
     
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  4. The eAssist looks exactly like the "Malibu Hybrid" I had in operation. The stop-start function worked great and was a very enjoyable feature to me. {GM cheaped out on those early mild hybrids and left the 4 speed auto instead of the 6 speed in the non-hybrid models, so fuel economy was not any better than the non-hybrid model.} All else being equal, the eAssist is a great addition to city {or simply stop and go} drivers.
     
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  5. It's fantastic for those who get to commute at highway speed, but it would seem the biggest fuel burden is in town. It might be a worthy experiment to test standard gas, SFE gas, and hybrid vehicles over the same mixed street/highway commute and compare actual fuel comsumption in a real-world setting.
     
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  6. All Manufactures to strive to increase the HWY mileage numbers. I do think that The Plugin hybrid is the future. I Drive a Volt and concider it more a sports car then an Eco Box. I communte 72 Mile each way to work and today went 41.7 miles on pure electric and 29.6 miles gas for 115 MPG, gas only average On gas along it got 48.3 MPG. Most charging station are free, as is the one at my office. At 350 a month it makes sense. Oh yea I have a 84 Ferrari in the Garage so I know what a sports car should feel like.. THe Volt Rocks wait for the price to drop and we will all be driving them.
     
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  7. The number that is being discussed here is the EPA number, which currently involves driving at 70mph and running the A/C. Obviously people can drive more carefully (@ 55mph, for example) and do much better than the EPA number. Of course, that is true for all cars, and the EPA number probably reflects the reality of how a majority of Americans drive, so the number is valuable. Since the electric motor of a hybrid is often not a factor on the highway, frankly I am more interested in the in-town performance. And generally the best vehicle for that is the Prius (although the Insight and the Civic hybrid do all right there too).
     
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