How far have we come in terms of fuel efficiency? Based on my 10-year old car, not very far.
Ten years ago I bought a 1998 Saturn SL2. I drive it about 4,500 miles per year (I travel another 1,400 miles per year by bicycle). The Saturn has proven to be a perfectly reliable car. If parts continue to be available, I won’t reach 100,000 miles on my Saturn for another ten years. That would be perfectly fine by me.
Out of curiosity, today I reviewed the fuel efficiency of brand new cars, including many cars that tout their fuel efficiency, such as the tiny new Honda “Fit.” I was amazed that there hasn’t been more progress in ten years. Obviously, fuel efficiency has not been a priority for most people and most manufacturers.
My Saturn gives me about 30 mpg in the city, and about 40 mpg on the highway. These stats resemble the mileage numbers reported by others (and see here). Compare these numbers with most of today’s leaders regarding fuel economy. My old Saturn beats the Yaris, the Mini-Cooper, the Scion, the Corolla and the Fit. Other than the new hybrids, not many cars outdo the stats of the small cars from ten years ago. You can see from the above site, for example, that the Ford Focus gets only 24 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway, and these aren’t real world numbers, like the above numbers for my Saturn.
More incredible, many cars from 1998 were more fuel efficient than my Saturn. For example, I got the following numbers from MPG-o-Matic:
1998 Chevrolet Metro 4 cylinder 1.3 liter R (M5) Manual 39 43
1998 Chevrolet Metro 3 cylinder 1.0 liter R (M5) Manual 44 49
1998 Dodge Neon 4 cylinder 2.0 liter R (M5) Manual 29 41
1998 Honda Civic HX 4 cylinder 1.6 liter R (M5) Manual 36 44
1998 Mitsubishi Mirage 4 cylinder 1.5 liter R (M5) Manual 33 40
1998 Plymouth Neon 4 cylinder 2.0 liter R (M5) Manual 29 41
1998 Suzuki Swift 4 cylinder 1.3 liter R (M5) Manual 39 43
1998 Volkswagen Jetta 4 cylinder 1.9 liter D (M5) Manual 40 49
1998 Volkswagen Beetle 4 cylinder 1.9 liter D (M5) Manual 41 48
Therefore, one way to achieve progress in fuel efficiency, would apparently be to tear up the blueprints of many vehicles currently being advertised as “high mileage” and to go back in time ten years.