Fuel-Efficient Vehicles; Green and Mean

Paddlers shopping for a new vehicle in these times of rising fuel prices may be interested in a report issued by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, rating the best and worst vehicles for the environment:


The best vehicles:


Honda Civic GX tops list with “green score” of 57

The worst vehicles:


Volkswagen Touareg ranks worst with “green score” of 14

That one deserves to get blacklisted because it’s too hard to pronounce.

But you could ante up 65k and get the v10 diesel:


I can’t wait until the Toyota Supra is reintroduced with a hybrid v10! Coming soon.

Seriously, there are quite a few good alternatives to hybrids out there, from smaller diesels like the rabbit/jetta diesel to the scion xD to the Honda fit. We finally got to test a fit sport and it was a blast.

Many of the hybrid cars strike me as an overly-complex solution to a rather simple problem: doing more with less.

The Honda Accord Hybrid, for example, costs upwards of $30,000, boasts a gee-whiz Advanced Technology Partial Zero-Emission Vehicle (AT-PZEV) engine, yet gets only 28/35 mpg.

By contrast, my Toyota Matrix with conventional gasoline engine cost only about $15,000 and is rated at 26/33 mpg. With two kayaks and passengers, and all our gear for a multi-day camping trip, I routinely cruise at 70 mph and get 30 mpg.

Much of the problem lies in our addiction to power. One automotive expert recently observed that, per cubic inch of displacement, today’s average vehicle has no better fuel-efficiency than Henry Ford’s original Model T; an entire century of design efforts have gone only to more horsepower. Hence, the abovementioned Accord Hybrid has a 253-hp, 3.0-liter engine (for a stinkin’ four-passenger sedan!), while the Matrix gets by on only 126 hp and 1.8 liters, garnering nearly the same mileage for HALF the price and half the complexity.

There are many conventional gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles that offer similar efficiencies for lower prices, and many are great boat-haulers.

And there is no greater oxymoron than a ‘hybrid SUV’. It may as well be called a ‘fuel-efficient gas-guzzler’ …

I’ve been renting a 2007 Toyota Corolla, 30mpg around town and 65mph on the freeway with air conditioner on. I’m impressed. For every fraction of a second greater acceleration mpg goes down accordingly because the excess hp. is needed for acceleration.

But there’s no market driven need for high mpg cars with $3/gal gas.

good post del
and why more power? Because cars have become so heavier and more accessory demands.

I miss my 82 rabbit diesel.

how the hell…
did a tourag (or however you spell it) beat a lincoln navigator?

it’s sad that my '85 vw jetta (average mpg of low 30s), yes, that’s 1985!!!, gets more mpg than many of the cars today.

we’ll never break our addiction to oil when our urban planning REQUIRES the use of automobiles to travel long distances to do anything. think about it, in just about all of our cities, zoning and urban sprawl pushes commercial and industrial enterprises away from residential areas. that’s not necessarily bad, but to get to work or buy groceries, people either (god forbid) walk(!) or bike(!!), or something has to take them there. and we all know how great the public transportation systems is, with the exception of nyc.

so we’re stuck. we need to drive because things are so far apart. the only way to solve that is by having residental, commercial and some industrial zones close together so people can walk or ride bikes to. and that requires us to re-make our cities and towns, which i don’t see it happening, ever.

We’re kindred brothers, seakak1, and not just in paddling.

‘My other car’ is an '83 VW diesel Vanagon Westfalia Camper. If you think your diesel Bunny was efficient but slow, try plugging the same 48-hp engine into a 5500-lb camper van!

Nonetheless, we’ve roadtripped over the Rockies a couple of times, and a lot of other places, and averaged 25+ mpg along the way. Not too bad for a vehicle that offers everything AND the kitchen sink!


I heard somewhere recently that, per capita, Manhattan is the most energy-efficient city (in the country or world, I don’t recall).

Very densely populated, few cars, centralized utilities, and other factors mean a smaller carbon footprint and leaner overall efficiency. A far cry from your average sprawling suburb.

And (required paddling content) I’d wager the typical multi-story New York apartment building produces a mere fraction of the phosphorous, nitrogen, and other waterway-killing pollutants spilled by the average bedroom community …

Toyotas…gotta love 'em
I’ve got a Toyota Echo that gets like 41 mpg on the highway. They stopped making that, and the closest replacement is now the Yaris. I am hoping to get myself a new Yaris before the end of the year. I like the MPG the Prius gets, but as was mentioned above, it is like $30,000 while I get a Yaris, which still gets like 40 MPG and only costs $14,000.

Still happy with my VW Jetta TDI and 50mpg from the 1.9L turbo diesel engine. Windows down, no cruise control and a sea kayak drop it to the low/mid 40’s but that’s still not too bad! I don’t need 300hp.

When I bought this car in '03 it seemed like so many cars were mid-20’s in town and low 30’s on the road. Didn’t matter who made it, how much it cost or how big it was. No thanks…

small vs. big
the problem with small cars in this country is sharing the road with the big monstrosities. i think there’ll always be a rather large segment of the population that are afraid to drive the little, fuel efficent cars when, sitting in the driver’s seat, looking at a hummer or navigator head on, your head comes to the level of, what, the license plate?, on those big cars? your entire car is but a crumple zone to the big boys.

sure, there are tractor-trailers on the road much, much bigger, but seeing your little one next to the big ones at the parking lot highlights the difference more clearly.

in europe and asia, where hummers, navagators, etc., aren’t as prevalent and accepted, small cars rule.

that’s just my opinion.

The Yaris was pretty high on my list when I bought my Matrix in December. The price was right, MPG was great, and I personally feel the two-door hatchback configuration is the most brilliantly adaptable automotive design. Ever.

A handful of issues persuaded me toward the Matrix, some of great interest to paddlers:

  1. Neither Yakima or Thule offer a roof rack for the Yaris Liftback. They may eventually, but what to do in the meantime?
  2. I was hard pressed to find sturdy tiedown points, especially in the front of the Yaris. I seem to recall things looked better in the rear, and one could probably use Top Ties under the front hood somewhere:

  3. The Yaris was at that time nearly unavailable with 5-speed manual transmission. Perhaps supply is better now.
  4. Compared to other cars, the Yaris seems a bit necessarily, um, lightly-constructed, in order to achieve its impressive MPG figures. Not nearly as chintzy as my 55-mpg 1990 Geo Metro, of course, so it’s all relative : )

    Aside from the all-important paddling issues, I still like the Yaris, and I smile every time one whizzes past me, especially if it’s in that slick Blazing Blue Pearl!

Big not always bad
Some of us require a big truck for our jobs which involve hauling, towing etc. It’s very easy to be judgemental and fall into that simplistic big is bad BS. If you are a family of 6 for example and live in Wyoming and like skiing etc…guess what, you need a big capable vehicle.

If you drive remote roads in BC and Alaska hauling tons of gear etc., guess what, your tiny car won’t cut it!

My 7k lb. diesel truck has logger over 400k through brutal winter storms, desert heat, etc. It gets 20 mpg and runs on waste vegetable oil that I collect and filter from local restaurants.

The only diesel I use is to heat the veg system, so depending on driving schedule I can get upwards of 100mpg on the diesel. It is in effect a diesel/ veg. hybrid.

Clearly, buying more vehicle than one needs is silly and wasteful, but there are many who legitimately require a big vehicle.

I get so much crap from granola’s over my truck, and it’s fun to watch their faces when they realize it’s a veg oil rig.

Wanna help the environment…fix your oil leaks!

I do love power…but
At work we got a 500HP Ford Shelby GT500 yesterday and it is SO MUCH FUN to drive. That being said it is a totally irresponsible car to own. Everything is more expensive: gas, insurance, the car, speeding tickets.

Our Vibe averages low thirties. We loose a couple MPG with one or two canoes on top. My wife and I did a trip from Detroit to Asheville NC a few years back in our Chevy Caviler with a canoe and averaged 35mpg for the trip. The Vibe gives us more room, at the price of a few MPG.

The other thing I like to bring up is People MPG. A big vehicle with 4 people at 15 mpg gets the same PMPG then a hybrid getting 60mpg carrying only 1 person. Most big vehicles I see on the road only have on person in them though. Don’t get me started about people who use big trucks as commuter cars.


So, if you need
a truck much of the time, but not every day, is it wiser to buy a second small car?? Or just stick with the one vehicle that does all? What are the energy costs involved in producing your second “efficient” car?

Rails and Yaris
Both Yakima and Thule sell track kits for cars without roof rails - I saw circa 2000 Honda hatch with aftermarket tracks + rack system.

I don’t think he was putting you down
I think he was explaining the reluctance of some people to make the leap to smaller cars.

Visit any other nation and you can’t help but notice how much smaller their cars tend to be. Get off the beaten track in places like Oz and you see plenty of people getting around in small 4x4’s. And I challenge anyone in a fullsize truck or SUV to try and stay with me on a wooded northern MI trail in the 1st gen pathfinder I used to own.

Sure, some people need large vehicles, either for work or for carrying large families. That’s what those vehicles were designed for. And we’re lucky to be able to drive basically whatever will fit in a standard traffic lane here. But I have to laugh when I see all these fullsize SUVs and trucks with no apparent offroad miles, one driver, and no passengers caught in the gridlock in metro detroit.

I sold that pathfinder a few years back for a car that suited my needs, with better mpg and I’m so glad I did (gas is $3.20/gal today).

buy used. No manufacturing expense and you’re recycling.

Very cool site! I’m going to revisit that lake superior circumnavigation story, I’ve always wanted to make that drive…

Good point!
I was always happy with the way my 1980 Subaru carted me and my stuff around, and it had only 50 horsepower. It did the job, and got 30 to 33 mile per gallon in the process. Not bad for a four-wheel-drive vehicle. I never felt like I “needed” more power.