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Rental Car Review: Gas Mileage Comparison

Every few weeks, I do a road trip to my corporate office, a ~1000-mile round trip down the Interstate-81 in Virginia and Tennessee.   I’ve rented cars and driven my own, and as such, get plenty of time to sit & think about what I’m driving, and also see what sort of gas mileage I’m able to get in each.   

For each car below, I’ve listed the powertrain I drove, what the manufacturer says I should be getting on the highway (EPA Highway Estimate) and what I actually got.   The table is sorted by the best full gas tank I got in each, with cars that got better than their manufacturer estimates in green, and the ones that got lower than the manufacturer estimates in red.

Vehicle Powertrain EPA Mileage MPG – Best Tank Notes
2013 Nissan Altima S 2.5L 182hp DOHC 4-cyl / CVT / FWD 27mpg city / 38mpg highway

42.5 mpg

On the first tank, I left the cruise control at 75mph and got only 33.5mpg – well under the EPA estimate.  Chalk this up to the CVT which aggressively engine-braked every time I crested a hill (to keep exactly at the set speed) thus scrubbing off needed momentum.  Managing speed myself, I was able to get an indicated 41 / actual 42.5mpg on the next full tank.
2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE 1.8L 170hp DOHC 4-cyl Turbo/ 6-speed auto / FWD 25mpg city / 36mpg highway

37.5 mpg

Impressed with the new EA888 1.8L Turbo in the Jetta SE. Got better-than-expected gas mileage, and yet the car drove with more than adequate power (the 184 lb-ft of torque helped), and at no time felt short on grunt.
2014 Cadillac ATS 2.5 2.5L 202hp DOHC 4-cyl / 6-speed auto / RWD 22mpg city / 33mpg highway

33.3 mpg

The base 2.5l 4-cylinder has absolutely no place in this car whatsoever. Lame econobox-sounding exhaust note, tepid acceleration, and a low-buck feeling, it just isn’t up to the rest of the car, which is superb.
2014 Buick LaCrosse 3.6L 304hp DOHC V6 / 6-speed auto / FWD 18mpg city / 28mpg highway

33.1 mpg

Effortlessly beat the EPA highway estimate by a full 5 mpg.  No tricks employed to do it either – just left it in cruise for the most part.   2nd-best tank which was done with considerable driving aggressiveness was still over the EPA estimate at 31mpg.   Add that to the fact that it was an awesomely comfortable tourer, and this is my current favorite vehicle I’ve taken on this trip.
2012 Kia Optima EX 2.4L 192hp DOHC 4-cyl / 6-speed auto / FWD 24mpg city / 35mpg highway 32.5 mpg I never really /tried/ to get decent mileage in this car, even taking it on the Tail of the Dragon on my way home.  But she still returned decent gas mileage and was a comfortable cruiser as well.    My full (er) review of the Kia Optima is here.
2014 Cadillac ATS 2.0T 2.0L 272hp DOHC 4-cyl Turbo / 6-speed auto / RWD 21mpg city / 31mpg highway

32.2 mpg

Easily the best-handling car I’ve driven, and with a proper exhaust note, this car could be truly perfect.   Only issue I had long-distance was a problem that cropped up with the ATS’s variable-effort power steering which made the power-assist turn off entirely after about 30m of Interstate driving.  Other than that, the car was golden, and had no problem surpassing the EPA highway estimated MPGs.
2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 1.8L 201hp DOHC 4-cyl Turbo / 7-speed auto / RWD 21mpg city / 31mpg highway

31.5 mpg

As much as I disliked the rubber-band power delivery of the little turbo 4-cylinder, I got an indicated 33mpg / 31.5 actual on my trips, and was able to do the full 505-mile trip from DC – Knoxville on one tank.  My review of the Mercedes C250 is here.
2012 Honda Odyssey EX 3.5L 248hp SOHC V6 / 5-speed auto / FWD 17mpg city / 27mpg highway 28.5 mpg The Odyssey routinely got well above the 27mpg mfr’s estimate, and would get its best gas mileage with the cruise control on – as the computer could then hold the engine in its “Eco” V-4 and V-3 cylinder-deactivation modes for as long as possible.
2011 Hyundai Genesis 2.0T 2.0L 210hp DOHC 4-cyl Turbo / 5-speed auto / RWD 20mpg city / 30mpg highway 27.6 mpg I never saw higher than an indicated 28.1mpg on the entire trip, despite really trying to work it for gas mileage.  Hampered by the 5-speed auto which was geared way too short – was turning 3250rpm @ 70mph.   The buzzy, unsporty soundtrack didn’t help things.
2014 Chevrolet Equinox LT AWD 2.4L 184hp DOHC 4-cyl Turbo / 6-speed auto / AWD 20mpg city / 29mpg highway 27.4 mpg On level ground, I likely would have been able to match the EPA highway figure, but the 184hp 4-cylinder just didn’t have enough grunt to get over the undulating hills on the I-81 without continual gear hunting & downshifts.

2012 Chevrolet Malibu LT

2.4L 169hp DOHC 4-cyl / 5-speed auto / FWD

22mpg city / 33mpg highway

27.5 mpg

My trips in this car were in a driving rainstorm, so it’s not entirely strange that I got below the EPA estimate.
2013 Dodge Challenger SE 3.6L 305HP DOHC V6 / 5-speed auto / RWD 18mpg city / 27mpg highway 27.1 mpg Was able to get a full tank averaging just over the EPA highway estimate, despite the fact that the car has the weight and aerodynamic profile of a cow barn.   Tall gearing made it a quiet cruiser, though I found it impossible to get a comfortable driving position.    Full review written here.
2013 Subaru Impreza WRX 2.5L 265hp DOHC Turbo H4 / 5-speed manual / AWD 17mpg city / 25mpg highway 26.4 mpg With the cruise on, my best tank was 24.5mpg – but that’s expected owing to the hilly terrain.  Driving oneself, it was easy to get well above the manufacturer’s 25mpg highway estimate.
2013 Ford Fusion SE 2.0T 2.0L 240hp DOHC Turbo 4-cyl / 6-speed auto / FWD 23mpg city / 33mpg highway 26.2 mpg Even driving gingerly on a tank that was 99% interstate cruising, I could not get my fuel economy over 27mpg indicated / 26.2mpg actual.  Way below the 33mpg EPA estimate Ford says I should get.
2012 Chrysler 300C 5.7L 363hp OHV V8 / 5-speed auto / RWD 16mpg city / 25mpg highway 24.2 mpg Averaged a little below the EPA estimate, but still not terrible for a big car with a 5.7L Hemi V8.
2014 Chrysler Town & Country 3.6L 283hp DOHC V6 / 6-speed auto / FWD 17mpg city / 25mpg highway 23.87 mpg Though I got an indicated 26.1mpg over a full tank of 100% highway driving, the actual mileage was below the EPA highway estimate at only 23.87 mpg. As noted in the review I wrote of the 2012 Chrysler Town & Country that I rented two years ago, the mileage it gets trails the Honda Odyssey by a fair bit.
2012 Mazda CX-9 3.7L 273hp DOHC V6 / 6-speed auto / FWD 17mpg city / 24mpg highway 23.5 mpg Driving with the cruise on, it was fairly easy to average over 24mpg indicated, though the best actual tank was 23.5 mpg.
2014 Ford Explorer Limited 3.7L 290hp DOHC V6 / 6-speed auto / FWD

17mpg city / 24mpg highway

21.4 mpg Cruise control on or off, I could only get close to the indicated 24mpg highway figure that Ford said I should get if driving 55-60mph on flat ground.   At 70mph, the gas mileage drops off precipitously, with every tank on the 1000-mile trip averaging ~21mpg.

5 comments on “Rental Car Review: Gas Mileage Comparison

  1. Jon Robinson
    March 5, 2014

    This is great man!

  2. Pingback: Our Rental Chrysler Town & Country – Family Review | Engineering a New World

  3. Pingback: 2013 Dodge Challenger SE Review | Engineering a New World

  4. Vikram Krishnan
    June 10, 2014

    Where did you rent the Subaru wrx from?

    • turbotad
      June 10, 2014

      Out of all these on the list, the Odyssey and the WRX were my own vehicles. The rest were rented.

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