Rental Car Review:  Gas Mileage Comparison

Rental Car Review: Gas Mileage Comparison

Every few weeks, I do a road trip to my corporate office, a ~1000-mile round trip down the Interstate-81 in Virginia and Tennessee.   I’ve rented cars and driven my own, and as such, get plenty of time to sit & think about what I’m driving, and also see what sort of gas mileage I’m able to get in each.   

For each car below, I’ve listed the powertrain I drove, what the manufacturer says I should be getting on the highway (EPA Highway Estimate) and what I actually got.   The table is sorted by the best full gas tank I got in each, with cars that got better than their manufacturer estimates in green, and the ones that got lower than the manufacturer estimates in red.

Vehicle Powertrain EPA Mileage MPG – Best Tank Notes
2013 Nissan Altima S 2.5L 182hp DOHC 4-cyl / CVT / FWD 27mpg city / 38mpg highway

42.5 mpg

On the first tank, I left the cruise control at 75mph and got only 33.5mpg – well under the EPA estimate.  Chalk this up to the CVT which aggressively engine-braked every time I crested a hill (to keep exactly at the set speed) thus scrubbing off needed momentum.  Managing speed myself, I was able to get an indicated 41 / actual 42.5mpg on the next full tank.
2014 Volkswagen Jetta SE 1.8L 170hp DOHC 4-cyl Turbo/ 6-speed auto / FWD 25mpg city / 36mpg highway

37.5 mpg

Impressed with the new EA888 1.8L Turbo in the Jetta SE. Got better-than-expected gas mileage, and yet the car drove with more than adequate power (the 184 lb-ft of torque helped), and at no time felt short on grunt.
2014 Cadillac ATS 2.5 2.5L 202hp DOHC 4-cyl / 6-speed auto / RWD 22mpg city / 33mpg highway

33.3 mpg

The base 2.5l 4-cylinder has absolutely no place in this car whatsoever. Lame econobox-sounding exhaust note, tepid acceleration, and a low-buck feeling, it just isn’t up to the rest of the car, which is superb.
2014 Buick LaCrosse 3.6L 304hp DOHC V6 / 6-speed auto / FWD 18mpg city / 28mpg highway

33.1 mpg

Effortlessly beat the EPA highway estimate by a full 5 mpg.  No tricks employed to do it either – just left it in cruise for the most part.   2nd-best tank which was done with considerable driving aggressiveness was still over the EPA estimate at 31mpg.   Add that to the fact that it was an awesomely comfortable tourer, and this is my current favorite vehicle I’ve taken on this trip.
2012 Kia Optima EX 2.4L 192hp DOHC 4-cyl / 6-speed auto / FWD 24mpg city / 35mpg highway 32.5 mpg I never really /tried/ to get decent mileage in this car, even taking it on the Tail of the Dragon on my way home.  But she still returned decent gas mileage and was a comfortable cruiser as well.    My full (er) review of the Kia Optima is here.
2014 Cadillac ATS 2.0T 2.0L 272hp DOHC 4-cyl Turbo / 6-speed auto / RWD 21mpg city / 31mpg highway

32.2 mpg

Easily the best-handling car I’ve driven, and with a proper exhaust note, this car could be truly perfect.   Only issue I had long-distance was a problem that cropped up with the ATS’s variable-effort power steering which made the power-assist turn off entirely after about 30m of Interstate driving.  Other than that, the car was golden, and had no problem surpassing the EPA highway estimated MPGs.
2012 Mercedes-Benz C250 1.8L 201hp DOHC 4-cyl Turbo / 7-speed auto / RWD 21mpg city / 31mpg highway

31.5 mpg

As much as I disliked the rubber-band power delivery of the little turbo 4-cylinder, I got an indicated 33mpg / 31.5 actual on my trips, and was able to do the full 505-mile trip from DC – Knoxville on one tank.  My review of the Mercedes C250 is here.
2012 Honda Odyssey EX 3.5L 248hp SOHC V6 / 5-speed auto / FWD 17mpg city / 27mpg highway 28.5 mpg The Odyssey routinely got well above the 27mpg mfr’s estimate, and would get its best gas mileage with the cruise control on – as the computer could then hold the engine in its “Eco” V-4 and V-3 cylinder-deactivation modes for as long as possible.
2011 Hyundai Genesis 2.0T 2.0L 210hp DOHC 4-cyl Turbo / 5-speed auto / RWD 20mpg city / 30mpg highway 27.6 mpg I never saw higher than an indicated 28.1mpg on the entire trip, despite really trying to work it for gas mileage.  Hampered by the 5-speed auto which was geared way too short – was turning 3250rpm @ 70mph.   The buzzy, unsporty soundtrack didn’t help things.
2014 Chevrolet Equinox LT AWD 2.4L 184hp DOHC 4-cyl Turbo / 6-speed auto / AWD 20mpg city / 29mpg highway 27.4 mpg On level ground, I likely would have been able to match the EPA highway figure, but the 184hp 4-cylinder just didn’t have enough grunt to get over the undulating hills on the I-81 without continual gear hunting & downshifts.

2012 Chevrolet Malibu LT

2.4L 169hp DOHC 4-cyl / 5-speed auto / FWD

22mpg city / 33mpg highway

27.5 mpg

My trips in this car were in a driving rainstorm, so it’s not entirely strange that I got below the EPA estimate.
2013 Dodge Challenger SE 3.6L 305HP DOHC V6 / 5-speed auto / RWD 18mpg city / 27mpg highway 27.1 mpg Was able to get a full tank averaging just over the EPA highway estimate, despite the fact that the car has the weight and aerodynamic profile of a cow barn.   Tall gearing made it a quiet cruiser, though I found it impossible to get a comfortable driving position.    Full review written here.
2013 Subaru Impreza WRX 2.5L 265hp DOHC Turbo H4 / 5-speed manual / AWD 17mpg city / 25mpg highway 26.4 mpg With the cruise on, my best tank was 24.5mpg – but that’s expected owing to the hilly terrain.  Driving oneself, it was easy to get well above the manufacturer’s 25mpg highway estimate.
2013 Ford Fusion SE 2.0T 2.0L 240hp DOHC Turbo 4-cyl / 6-speed auto / FWD 23mpg city / 33mpg highway 26.2 mpg Even driving gingerly on a tank that was 99% interstate cruising, I could not get my fuel economy over 27mpg indicated / 26.2mpg actual.  Way below the 33mpg EPA estimate Ford says I should get.
2012 Chrysler 300C 5.7L 363hp OHV V8 / 5-speed auto / RWD 16mpg city / 25mpg highway 24.2 mpg Averaged a little below the EPA estimate, but still not terrible for a big car with a 5.7L Hemi V8.
2014 Chrysler Town & Country 3.6L 283hp DOHC V6 / 6-speed auto / FWD 17mpg city / 25mpg highway 23.87 mpg Though I got an indicated 26.1mpg over a full tank of 100% highway driving, the actual mileage was below the EPA highway estimate at only 23.87 mpg. As noted in the review I wrote of the 2012 Chrysler Town & Country that I rented two years ago, the mileage it gets trails the Honda Odyssey by a fair bit.
2012 Mazda CX-9 3.7L 273hp DOHC V6 / 6-speed auto / FWD 17mpg city / 24mpg highway 23.5 mpg Driving with the cruise on, it was fairly easy to average over 24mpg indicated, though the best actual tank was 23.5 mpg.
2014 Ford Explorer Limited 3.7L 290hp DOHC V6 / 6-speed auto / FWD

17mpg city / 24mpg highway

21.4 mpg Cruise control on or off, I could only get close to the indicated 24mpg highway figure that Ford said I should get if driving 55-60mph on flat ground.   At 70mph, the gas mileage drops off precipitously, with every tank on the 1000-mile trip averaging ~21mpg.


  • Jon Robinson says:

    This is great man!

  • […] Rental Car Review: Gas Mileage Comparison […]

  • […] Rental Car Review: Gas Mileage Comparison […]

  • Vikram Krishnan says:

    Where did you rent the Subaru wrx from?

  • Tim says:

    Great data to have! Thanks for posting it.

    It sounds like you were looking at the mpg from a trip computer during trips. Are the mileage numbers shown from the computer, or did you calculate it based on distance traveled and fuel purchased? Either way has some issues for single tank mpg measurements, but the trip computers are somewhat notorious for being inaccurate. You mentioned indicated vs. actual in some cases, so I assume “actual” means it was calculated from the purchased fuel but I wanted to check.

    • Tad Reeves says:

      Hey Tim – thanks for the comment. Definitely all of the MPGs quoted here are calculated manually, from full tank to full tank. Trip computers, as you say, can be wildly inaccurate. 1-2 mpg off is usual, but I’ve seen as much as a 4 mpg differential between the computer and real life. And whilst they’re usually rather optimistic, on a few occasions I’ve beaten what the computer said.

      And I know that without a Motor Trend “RealMPG” style testing setup, that it’s all subject to quite a bit of variation (quality of gas, wind speed, temperature, etc). So, in the end, it’s just food for thought. I did tend to discard (if I could) trips that were taken in the rain – as that was the biggest factor that killed mpgs — driving in the rain generally lost me about 2-5mpg. Temperature didn’t seem to change things much for my WRX and my Odyssey (the only owned cars in the list, rest were rentals) but wind did.

      Biggest factor, though, was if there was traffic and I was forced to drive below 70mph – as most every car here was dramatically more efficient at 55mph than at 75.

      • Tim says:

        Thanks for the detailed response!

      • Chris BC says:

        That’s because drag increases proportional to the square of velocity, as opposed to a linear increase:

        Nice writeup. I’ve just read a few other horror stories on Ford Fusion fuel economy. I almost bought one just yesterday because I liked the styling and the feature set, but after reading up on the horrible fuel economy I went with a new Accord.

        • Tad Reeves says:

          There’s no doubt – the Fusion is a real looker, and I think wears Ford’s new design language much better than the Fiesta, Mustang or Taurus. And I also really wouldn’t have a problem with the gas mileage if they’d just market it as a “Turbo” with performance-car mileage, as opposed to trying to play up an economical benefit it simply doesn’t have.

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