Family Car Shootout: Real-World Mileage

The Ford Fusion takes the title as the most fuel-efficient midsize sedan in our $25,000 Family Sedan Shootout. In a close second is the Hyundai Sonata, which essentially tied the Fusion. The Nissan Altima places third, while the Toyota Camry and all-wheel-drive Suzuki Kizashi rank midpack. The Chevrolet Malibu, Mazda6 and Honda Accord bring up the rear.

It's not the way-back rear, mind you. The Accord's 28 mpg falls about 10 percent short of the first-place Fusion's 31.3 mpg. If you drove 15,000 annual miles with these results, the difference works out just shy of $170, with a gas price of $3 a gallon.

The Mileage Wars

Automakers are touting their cars' fuel-economy numbers pretty hard these days, especially the highway figure. No doubt you've heard that Chevy makes a 33 mpg Malibu or that Ford makes a 34 mpg Fusion. Hyundai, meanwhile, is busy getting the word out on the Sonata's 35 mpg. If you take a closer look, those numbers rarely translate to real-world mileage, but they do signal an uptick in overall fuel efficiency. Our mileage test was a 149-mile, four-part test loop across greater Los Angeles with the eight contenders, observing the trip-computer mpg readouts and the amount of gas each car used by the end.

While only one car matched its EPA-estimated highway figure, all eight returned respectable numbers. Our Fusion wasn't even the much-touted 23/34 mpg city/highway base model, but it still takes top efficiency honors.

Our route took us from Pasadena to west of Los Angeles, mostly over state and interstate highways. We conducted the loop with four cars in the morning and the remaining four in the afternoon. The Camry and Accord lacked gas mileage readouts. We also ran into some technical difficulties during our morning loop with the Altima, so we've estimated the trip computer results for the first leg.

Still, the Altima swallowed more than six gallons of gas at the end of the drive, rendering a thirsty 23.7 mpg. That's a whopping 22 percent worse than its trip computer reported. What gives? We began and ended at the same gas station and pump, but too many other variables could have thrown it off.

Trip computer gas-mileage readouts aren't always paragons of accuracy; the results of one government study suggest they might become more inaccurate as the car ages. But when you're judging from just one fill-up, experts have told us they're generally more accurate than pump calculations. So we'll stick with the Altima's 30.2 mpg trip computer readout as well as the trip computer results from all the others, except the Camry and Accord.

2010 Chevrolet Malibu 2.4L 1LT22/3328.228.6
2010 Ford Fusion 2.5L SEL22/3131.332.1
2010 Honda Accord 2.4L EX21/31n/a28
2011 Hyundai Sonata 2.4L GLS22/3531.227.8
2010 Mazda6 2.5L i Touring Plus21/3028.428.3
2010 Nissan Altima 2.5L S23/3230.223.7
2010 Suzuki Kizashi 2.4L SE AWD22/2929.227.6
2010 Toyota Camry 2.5L LE22/32n/a29.9

n/a: No Trip Computer

Methodology & Notes

Per our usual mileage evaluations, we filled the tires on each car to their recommended cold pressure, avoided cruise control and kept moonroofs and windows closed. Three cars had automatic climate control, which we set at 68 degrees and hit "Auto." (That typically means the air-conditioning compressor runs full time.) In the cars with manual air conditioning, we turned it on and adjusted the temperature as needed. Beyond that, we drove as we normally would, breaking each loop into four roughly equal legs and rotating cars between editors to correct for any differences in driving style.

The morning loop encountered more traffic than the afternoon one, resulting in a bit lower average speed (41 mph versus 46 mph); the afternoon loop had nominally more tailwind.

© 5/3/10