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Hybrid Cars and Gas Mileage: Are You Getting What You Pay For?

Posted by: Bell Performance

As if people didn't need more reasons not to consider the extra expense of buying a hybrid vehicle, in December reports started filtering through the news outlets about how Ford's hybrid C-Max and Fusion models didn't actually get the high mileage promised by the advertised EPA ratings.

Ford Hybrids Not Hitting EPA Mileage Estimates

hybrid cars and gas mileageWhen consumers buy these hybrids, the stickers says they get an "EPA-estimated 47 mpg", which is a very attractive for consumers who get sticker shock each time they go to the pump. Buyers haven't yet shown a widespread willingness to pay that much extra for the better mileage, and make no mistake, it is extra. You could expect  to pay at least $25,000 for a basic C-Max hybrid model that gets the EPA-estimated 47 mpg. If you chose a basic Honda Civic that gets only 32 mpg, you'd pay less, only about $18,000.

So now the news comes out that you're not going to get 47 mpg.  This news was broken by Consumer Reports in December, who did months of real world testing and found thatb the C-Max was only getting 37 mpg, not 47 mpg.  They also tested the Ford Fusion and found it only achieving 39 mpg.

This discrepancy has gotten the attention of Congress, coupled with earlier news form Hyundai and Kia that they, too, were overinflating their estimated gas mileage figures. They've had to go back and re-rate their cars, all the while apologizing to the public.

Ford, with little choice, basically agreed with Consumer Reports' findings and gave a presentation where they acknowledged the difference and said it was due to the way their hybrids were designed.  Ford's product development chief Raj Nair said that hybrids were sensitive to "driving styles" and that the fact their hybrids are designed with more power than other hybrids means the drivers basically drive them too fast, which drops the mileage by as much as 17 mpg.  Nair even admitted that when he drives the Ford C-Max in the same way he drives his own Ford Mustang, he gets 12 mpg less.

Is the lower mileage worth it?

So is it really worth it to pay so much extra on the front end when you're not getting the mega-great mileage? As always, the choice is ultimately up to you to determine if it's worth it for your situation, but here's how the numbers line up. We can use the Honda Civic as the comparative vehicle. You pay about $7,500 extra up front, including tax, if you choose the C-Max hybrid over the Civic. For this extra money, you're supposed to be getting 47 mpg instead of 32 mpg (with the Civic). But let's say you're actually getting the Consumer Reports figure of 37 mpg.

The average person drives 250 miles a week, which means if you are indeed average, you'd be using 6.75 gallons of gas in a C-Max, and 7.81 gallons of gas in a Civic. If you live in an area where the gas is really expensive, $4.50 a gallon, that means you're saving $4.77 a week in gas. And that means you will eventually make up that extra $7,500 you paid upfront, in just over 30 years. Yikes.

But let's give Ford the benefit of the doubt, and let's assume you do actually get 47 mpg like they originally claimed. Surely that makes a difference, right? Plug in the same numbers again. 250 miles a week.....5.32 gallons of gas burned per week this time vs. 7.81 for the Civic....$4.50 per gallon.....now you're saving $11.21 a week and you're going to break even in just under thirteen years. If everything breaks just right (and your hybrid doesn't break).

Look, we're not saying being green is always a bad thing. Bell products have always been green.  But when the numbers come out like this, it really shines a light on the fact that sometimes things aren't quite what they seem, and you're not saving the boatloads of money they want you to think you are. Hybrid cars and gas mileage- What is your experience?

You may want to check out this related article:

Download the Guide to Maintaining your Older Vehicle

This post was published on February 12, 2013 and was updated on May 21, 2019.

Topics: Gas Mileage