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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