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Honda Hybrid Tops EPA List on Fuel Economy; SUVs at Bottom

October 02, 1999|H. JOSEF HEBERT | ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — Powered by both gasoline and electricity, a two-seat Japanese import is next year's top fuel miser, the Environmental Protection Agency said Friday as it released its latest fuel economy statistics.

The Honda Insight, which arrives at showrooms in December, was certified as getting 61 miles per gallon in city driving and 70 mpg on the highway, the best among more than 800 vehicles of the 2000 model year.

Among the biggest gas guzzlers were the popular large sport-utility vehicles, many of which reported about 12 mpg in city driving and at best about 16 mpg on the highway.

Land Rover's Range Rover got the worst mileage (12 mpg city, 15 mpg highway) among the SUVs. Another two-seater, the sporty Ferrari 500 Maranello, was the biggest guzzler of all, getting 8 mpg in city driving and 13 on the open road.

Twenty cars, including the Ferrari, were subject to the federal gas guzzler tax.

Mileage varied widely among categories of cars, from small two-seaters to large sedans, pickups, minivans and sport-utility vehicles.

Volkswagen had the only diesel-engine cars--versions of the subcompact New Beetle and the compact Jetta and Golf--and the three cars reported the best fuel economy (42 mpg city, 49 mpg highway) in their classes.

As it was a year ago, General Motors' Chevrolet Metro (39 mpg city, 46 mpg highway and a twin of the Suzuki Swift) was the most frugal fuel sipper among gasoline-powered cars.

The Mazda 626 was the fuel economy winner among mid-size cars (26 mpg city, 32 mpg highway) and the Toyota Avalon among large cars (21 mpg city, 29 mpg highway). DaimlerChrysler's Dodge Caravan and its sister Plymouth Voyager were the most miserly among the popular minivans (20 mpg city, 26 mpg highway).

In recent years, with gasoline prices lower, the EPA's fuel economy rankings haven't gained as much attention as in years past. Customers began drifting away from smaller gas misers to larger, performance cars and particularly to the less fuel-efficient SUVs with truck-like chassis.

Today about half of the vehicles sold are SUVs and pickup trucks.

BMW models had the worst fuel economy in the compact, mid-size, large sedan and small station wagon classes. Volkswagen's Eurovan had the worst mileage among the minivans, with 15 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway.

Honda has touted its Insight, the first gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle available in America, as "breakthrough engineering," with high mileage and low-enough pollution to meet California's toughest emission standards outside of an all-electric car.

Other manufacturers are planning to unveil similar hybrids in coming years.

But some auto industry analysts have questioned how many people will buy the new Honda offering, which is expected to cost close to $20,000.

The Insight primarily runs on gasoline, but its electric motor, which draws power from an on-board battery, kicks in to boost engine performance.

It acts as a generator when the car slows down, recharging the battery.

EPA Administrator Carol Browner said though motorists need not necessarily buy the most fuel-efficient--and, generally, smallest--cars, they should keep fuel economy in mind when looking within classes of vehicles.

"Choosing the most fuel-efficient vehicle within a class can save drivers at least $1,500 in fuel costs and avoid more than 15 tons of greenhouse gas pollution over the life of the vehicle," Browner said.

Indeed, even among SUVs, consumers can find models that offer relatively good fuel efficiency. The Chevrolet Tracker and Suzuki Vitara scored the best among two-wheel-drive SUVs (25 mpg city, 28 mpg highway) and four-wheel-drive models (25 mpg city, 27 mpg highway).

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How Far a Gallon Goes

The gangbuster economy and low oil prices have made it easier for Americans to indulge in gas guzzlers, but consumers who choose the more fuel-efficient among the SUVs or mid-size cars can pocket savings as well as help the environment, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. A look at the model year 2000 cars rated the best and worst in terms of fuel economy:

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The Best: Honda Insight, a new two-seater with an electric motor, left other cars in the dust on the EPA's fuel-efficiency list. The Insight should hit dealer floors in December.

City driving: 61 miles per gallon

Highway driving: 70 miles per gallon

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The Worst: Although the Ferrari 500 Maranello was least efficient of all, the least fuel-efficient vehicle that non-millionaires might drive was the Land Rover Range Rover, above.

City driving: 12 miles per gallon

Highway driving: 15 miles per gallon

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Source: EPA

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