What Is Good Gas Mileage?

2020 Hyundai Palisade

When someone asks if a car “gets good gas mileage,” one logical response is: Compared to what? What qualifies as “good” is a relative term. The fairest way to judge whether a vehicle gets good mileage is to see how it stacks up against similar vehicles; compare a compact sedan to other cars like it or a V-8 pickup truck to other pickups. Comparing vehicles of a similar size and weight and with similar engines isn’t likely to reveal huge differences because manufacturers target their key competitors in areas such as fuel economy. 

Related: What Are the Most Fuel-Efficient Cars?

In other words, a three-row SUV with a combined city/highway rating of 22 mpg clearly isn’t in the same league as a Toyota Prius hybrid with a combined estimate of 52 mpg, but that’s an unfair comparison. The SUV’s fuel economy might be competitive with other mid-size utility vehicles with the same number of seats, however. For example, V-6 all-wheel-drive versions of the following three-row SUVs have similar EPA combined fuel-economy ratings: Ford Explorer (20 mpg),  Hyundai Palisade (21 mpg), Honda Pilot (22 mpg) and Toyota Highlander (23 mpg). All of these models use regular gas, and the Explorer has a turbocharged engine.

There are many other vehicles that get better mileage than those SUVs, but they probably won’t seat seven or eight people and have spacious cargo areas. In general, smaller, lighter vehicles with smaller engines get better gas mileage than larger, heavier vehicles.

Engines, transmissions and gas-electric hybrid systems can change the numbers. Substitute a turbocharged 2.3-liter engine for the V-6 in the Explorer and the fuel economy estimate rises to 23 mpg. Make it a hybrid Explorer with a V-6 and it’s 25 mpg, though a four-cylinder hybrid Highlander easily tops that at 35 mpg.

The EPA’s estimates are the most comprehensive and consistent source of fuel-economy estimates (all vehicles are tested the same way), but they are only estimates. As the EPA warns, your gas mileage will vary based on the type of driving and weather conditions. 

Other factors that impact how much you spend at the pump are at play, too. For example, an engine that requires premium gas will cost more to operate. AAA says the national average for premium is about 60 cents higher than regular. On a vehicle that averages 25 mpg and is driven 15,000 miles per year, that adds up to a $360 annual “premium” over regular. What used to seem like “good gas mileage” might not be as good.

To do your own comparison, check out Cars.com’s Compare feature; it can display up to four vehicles side by side in fuel economy, price, horsepower and other areas.

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