Fuel Economy Tests: Chevy Spark, Nissan Versa, Mazda 3, Kia Soul, and Toyota Camry Hybrid
Fuel economy is an important selling point today, so we obtained five models of cars to test the real world gas mileage figures. Then we compared those to the official EPA listings.
First up was the Chevy Spark. With a base price of about $13K, and my loaded version of $16K, anyone can afford it. The only engine is a tiny 1.2 liter putting out 84 horsepower. That's not much more than many motorcycles! With a 4-speed automatic, mileage is rated at 27/34 mpg. This one had the base 5-speed manual rated at 34/38. Acceleration was enough for city commuting. On the highway, the little motor hums at a high 4,000 rpm, certainly using lots of fuel in the process.
After a week, my real mileage was 33 in mixed driving, but did max out at 36 during a 60 mph expressway trip. Not a great car, but this little Korean rig offers a good value.
The Soul has been redesigned for 2014, but look far away, and it's hard to tell.
But the engines carry over. Base motor is a 130 horse 1.6 liter rated at 24/31 mpg. A 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic is offered. This car had the optional 164 horse, 2.0 liter with claimed 23/31. It comes with the automatic only. As can be seen, the mileage of both engines is the same, so why not order the bigger one?
This Kia had about 600 miles put on it, and it got 24 in heavy city commuting and 27 on a long highway trip. The driving characteristics are excellent, and this is a comfortable vehicle for long rides. The price runs about $16K to $25K. A good vehicle if you can adjust to the goofy looking box shape.
MAZDA 3 SEDAN
For the same price as the Soul, the Mazda 3 is worth a look. Available in a hatchback, this one was the sedan. It's not only more practical, but $1,300 cheaper.
Base engine is a 2.0 liter putting out 148 horses, a 5-speed manual, and rated at 25/33 mpg. But why bother when there is another 2.0 at 155 horse with higher 30/41 EPA mileage rating? This is what the test car had. For power freaks, a big 2.5 184 horse borrowed from the Mazda 6 sedan is offered, but the mileage drops to 25/37.
The Mazda 3 is one of the near perfect cars ever tested, so lots of mileage was put on. All driving was city-based, and overall average was 34.6 mpg. With 6-speed automatic, acceleration was brisk. You can't go wrong with this car.
At $12,800 sticker this is one of the cheaper cars available. No power windows or locks at this fee, but can be ordered. The only engine is a 109 horse unit. Only choice is in the gearbox picked. Base is a 5-speed manual.
Optional is either a 4-speed automatic or CVT as shown here. EPA mileage is 31/40. The best obtained here was 34 mpg at freeway cruising in which this car was not a happy camper due to excess road/wind noise. The other transmissions get less mileage by the way.
This car was loaded up with options that reached the $20K line. Sorry, but at this price, a larger-base Nissan Sentra is a better deal. The Versa is better suited as a city commuter. Stripped of options, more near the $13K price tag.
TOYOTA CAMRY HYBRID
Okay, at a base $27K and ending $35K sticker, this might not be economical to buy. But the EPA mileage was printed at 40/38 mpg, so worth a look, yes?
The standard 4-cylinder engine puts out 178 horsepower, and the hybrid system jumps this to 200. Doesn't sound like much, but that additional electric motor provides gobs of torque to the gas engine, and takeoff from the stop light is quick at 0-60 in 7.4 seconds--compared to the bigger V-6 at 6.5 seconds. Under 30 mph, there is little difference noted.
Fuel mileage was 33 in mixed commuting, and 36 at highway cruising. Not bad for a huge car. Compare that to the standard, less powerful gas 4-cylinder that gets 24/30. For those needing a huge car with strong power and great gas mileage, this is it.