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High mileage: it isn’t just for hybrids any more

Early birds at the Drive $mart Wisconsin meeting compare the new Prius V hybrid minivan with Ford's hybrid SE model.
Early birds at the Drive $mart Wisconsin meeting compare the new Prius V hybrid minivan with Ford's hybrid SE model.
Charlie's Digital


Hybrids aren’t the only cars offering previously unheard of mileage among 2013 cars, Wayne Gerdes told the October 13 meeting of Drive $mart Wisconsin, formerly the Milwaukee Hybrid Group. The 2013 VW Passat TDI and Jetta, the Hyundai Elantra, and Nissan Altima, are among the conventionally powered mid-sized cars offering close to, or well over, 50 miles per gallon.

Founder of, Gerdes has test driven cars professionally for most major brands, in dense urban traffic and 48-state endurance drives. In a fall review of “the state of the state of everything” automotive, for the country’s largest hybrid owner’s group, he also highlighted that he has gotten 40 miles per gallon driving the 2013 Dodge Ram truck, “the biggest fuel-sucking pig on earth.” Admitting, “OK, that’s me,” he estimated everyday drivers could still expect 25-30 mpg, a rate only economy cars could reach five years ago.

The inventor of the term “hypermiling” reported that using his best professional techniques, he had driven the new VW Passat 1675 miles on a single tank of gas, averaging 90.8 miles per gallon. He estimated that in normal driving, a Passat owner could expect 48.2 mpg at 70 miles per hour, and 69.2 mpg at 45. Since he was test driving with a stick-shift, these numbers would drop about 15 mpg with automatic transmission.

Basic techniques for getting maximum gas mileage out of either a hybrid or conventional engine are taught after every Drive $mart Wisconsin bi-monthly meeting. Hybrid group founder Bradlee Fons estimated that the savings in gas costs are equivalent to what a driver would keep if the price dropped by 20 to 40 cents a gallon.

The Nissan Altima, with a $21,500 price-to-start, well under the cost of hybrids, can get 64.6 miles per gallon, and Gerdes reported getting 114.3 out of it driving in Tennessee. The Hyundai Elantra, at $18,395, hit 72 mpg, and and with extreme hypermiling, 128 as an outside limit.

Prius is continuing to have an impact, with over one million cars being sold this year, a first-time record. The new 2013 Prius Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) has a range of 11 miles in all-electric mode before the gasoline system kicks in; Gerdes reports getting 20-25 miles of all-electric operation. Over-all it can deliver 62 miles of travel for each gallon of gas used.

Even railway engines are being improved Gerdes reported, to the point that new models can haul 480 tons of freight a full mile on one gallon of diesel fuel. This will be a big factor in reduing carbon dioxide and other pollutants he believes. With drought this summer in 63 percent of the land area of the lower 48 states, and the hottest summer since 1936, the self-described “9-11 guy” who doesn’t want to rely on any imported oil, also considers global warming to be a well established concern.

Hamburgers, he noted, remain a problem: the char-broiled cooking process pumps out as much pollutants for each hamburger cooked as a semi-trailed truck expels in 143 miles of driving. This has only partially been reduced by Burger King installing catalytic converters over their cooking areas.


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