2011 Chevrolet Cruze EcoEnlarge Photo
For 2012, Chevy also offers the Cruze model--which meets mid-size standards--and its Cruze Eco version recorded an impressive 30 mpg overall. That's almost a 43-percent improvement over that 1992 Lumina.
There's also the pricier and more advanced Volt range-extended electric car. After covering more than 12,000 miles since January 2011, our family Volt is getting 112 mpg!
Ford Taurus v Fusion
Back in 1992, Ford‘s standard bearer in the mid-size family sedan category was the Taurus, tested with a 21 mpg average that hadn't changed by 2002.
In 2007 the family sedan from Ford became the Fusion, which the EPA rated at 23 mpg overall.
Now, in 2012, the newest Fusion gets another small improvement at 24 mpg. Ford introduced the Fusion Hybrid in 2010, which delivered an overall 39 mpg average--or more than a 60-percent improvement in gas mileage.
2012 Ford Fusion HybridEnlarge Photo
The all-new 2013 Ford Fusion--shown at January's Detroit Auto Show--will likely deliver far better mileage, as it dispenses altogether with a V-6 option and instead offers three four-cylinder engines: 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter EcoBoost direct-injected and turbocharged options, along with a standard base-level 2.5-liter four.
The new model will include not only a Fusion Hybrid, but Ford's first-ever plug-in hybrid sedan, the 2013 Fusion Energi--using the same technology that will also appear in the five-seat hatchback C-Max Fusion and C-Max Energi.
Ford has said the 2013 Fusion Energi will beat the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid in its overall MPGe fuel-efficiency equivalent rating.
Among German mid-size family sedans, the Volkswagen Passat has followed the same path. In 1992, it produced 22 mpg overall--and that number stayed constant 10 years later, in 2002. Five years later, in 2007, it had improved slightly to 24 mpg, and for 2012, the base Passat delivers 26 mpg overall.
For 2012, there's also the diesel-engined Passat TDI, which is EPA-rated at 35 mpg overall. And owners of the smaller Jetta TDI say their real-world mileage is higher than the EPA ratings, so the Passat TDI may be even better than its 35-mpg rating.
The best improvement in general fuel mileage by a now major player comes from Hyundai. In 1992 the standard bearer for the Hyundai mid-size segment was its Sonata, at 20 mpg overall--actually one of the worst ratings in that competitive category.
2012 Hyundai SonataEnlarge Photo
By 2002, the Sonata was EPA certified at 23 mpg overall and in 2007 incremented again to 25 mpg.
The newest Sonata for 2012 produces 28 mpg overall, a 40 percent improvement compared to that 1992 version.
In addition for 2012 Hyundai offers a hybrid version of its Sonata, which the EPA rates at 37 mpg overall--or an 85-percent improvement over the fuel use for the Sonata 20 years ago.
Gas gets better, alternatives more so
Clearly, the message in this overview is that with conventional gas engines, incremental improvements of 20 percent are possible over a 20-year span, and we will see further advances in the future from smaller engines that use less fuel to develop the same power.
For really large gains, alternative technology seems to be necessary. Diesel as a fuel option has given VW a huge forward step in reducing fuel use, but the major increment appears to be from hybrid applications.
Hybrid powered vehicles should regularly produce 40-plus mpg in the near future, and plug-in hybrids and full electrics have the promise to reduce our weekly fuel bills and free us from dependence on the international oil market.