EPA Announces Top-Ten Fuel Sipper Lists, 1984-Present

By Chris Haak

The US Environmental Protection Agency issued a news release yesterday that listed the top-ten fuel sippers from the period 1984 to 2010.  During the 27 model years in question, one common theme among the most-efficient vehicles is that they are either hybrids, or very small cars from the early 1990s.  The lesson:  if you want to save fuel, you either need significant technology or very light cars.  And very light, cheap cars (like the 1989 Chevy Sprint) fare very poorly in collisions.  The list of most fuel-efficient new cars according to EPA ratings from 1984-2010 are below (numbers are presented as city/highway/combined, and are adjusted to the 2008 and later methodology):

  1. 2000 Honda Insight 5MT CVT (49/61/53)
  2. 2010 Toyota Prius (51/48/50)
  3. 1986 Chevrolet Sprint ER 5MT (44/53/48)
  4. 1990-1994 Geo Metro XFI 5MT (43/52/47)
  5. 1986-87 Honda Civic Coupe HF 5MT (42/51/46)
  6. 1994-95 Honda Civic Hatchback VX 5MT (39/50/43)
  7. 2006-2010 Honda Civic Hybrid CVT (40/45/42)
  8. 2010 Honda Insight CVT (40/43/41)
  9. 2001-2003 Toyota Prius CVT (42/41/40)
  10. 1989 Chevrolet Sprint/Suzuki Swift 5MT (38/45/41)

The EPA also published a list of real-world fuel sippers, based on user-submitted data.  The only additions to the list were several Volkswagen diesels; based on a recent experience driving a Jetta TDI Cup with the DSG seems to bear this out; not even particularly trying to drive the car conservatively, I looked at the trip computer after a ten-mile trip over hilly terrain and was stunned to see 47 miles per gallon.  The real-world list (how about that dropoff from the old Insight to the second-place new Insight?) is below; numbers provided are the user-submitted number/EPA combined):

  1. 2004-2006 Honda Insight 5MT (70.4/52)
  2. 2010 Honda Insight CVT (49.7/41)
  3. 1990-1994 Geo Metro XFI 5MT (49.4/46)
  4. 2010 Toyota Prius CVT (48.6/50)
  5. 1999 Chevrolet Metro 3 Cylinder 5MT (48.4/37)
  6. 2002-2003 Volkswagen Jetta Wagon TDI 5MT (48.2/39)
  7. 2003-2005 Honda Civic Hybrid 5MT (47.8/41)
  8. 1994-95 Honda Civic Hatchback VX 5MT (47.6/43)
  9. 2000-2003 Volkswagen Golf TDI 5MT (47.0/38)
  10. 1998-2003 Volkswagen New Beetle TDI 5MT (46.2/38)

There seems to be a greater disparity between EPA combined numbers and observed numbers for hybrids and diesels than for the old, underpowered economy cars.  Does this mean that hybrids and diesels are far more sensitive to driving habits than the old Civic VX, or that hypermiling and fuel economy maximization really did not come into vogue until the past few years.  Perhaps an old Geo Metro could top 50 or 60 miles per gallon if driven with a feather foot.

These numbers also illustrate the hurdle that automakers face in trying to get the fleet average to reach 35.5 miles per gallon by 2014.  Granted, the 35.5 mile per gallon CAFE number is not the same as these (the EPA’s numbers are adjusted downward for more real-world reality), making CAFE achievement an easier bogey to hit than a real-world 35.5 mpg one would be), but looking at the tiny or specialized cars that are hitting numbers in the 30s and 40s makes one realize we still have a lot of work to do.

Author: Chris Haak

Chris is Autosavant's Managing Editor. He has a lifelong love of everything automotive, having grown up as the son of a car dealer. A married father of two sons, Chris is also in the process of indoctrinating them into the world of cars and trucks.

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  1. This illustrates where consumer demand (and government requirements) has been primarily focused over the past 25 years: safety, performance, and convenience. For the most part, those demands still outweigh fuel economy, even though the government is trying to defy and manipulate consumer demand with the increased CAFE standards.

  2. Editors FTW. 2010-1984=26, not 17.

  3. Thanks, and oops! Actually, you are wrong too. As we are not counting the years between 1984 and 2010, 1984 counts too, so it’s 27 years. Count it on your fingers if you don’t believe me.


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