It’s taken as gospel that pre-modern cars, especially those made in America, and particularly those with big V8s, were “gas hogs.”
But were they, really?
And are new cars as fuel-efficient as advertised?
The answer may surprise you.
Modern cars have, in general, smaller engines. These are tasked with moving cars that are, in general, heavier than the cars of the past. So they often have to work harder – especially if they’re tasked with moving the car quickly. This has consequences.
I’ll give you a study in Now vs. Then and you draw your own conclusions.
First, the Now – a modern sporty car with a very small (1.6 liter) engine: The 2016 Hyundai Veloster R-Spec.
I picked this car because it’s almost a direct comparison in two critical ways – the power it makes and the performance it delivers – vs. the car I will use to represent Then.
The great pumpkin, my 1976 Pontiac Trans-Am.
You may think it’s an odd juxtaposition. A rear-drive muscle car with a V8 vs. a front-wheel-drive sporty car with a very small four. But, despite the huge difference in the size of their engines – 1.6 liters as opposed to 7.4 liters – both engines produce nearly the same horsepower (201 and 200, respectively) and both cars do the 0-60 run in about the same seven seconds.
So, they’re different in layout – but similar in terms of what you get.
And the same goes for gas mileage.
According to the government, the Hyundai is capable of 25 MPG in city driving and 33 MPG on the highway, or 29 MPG on average. It may well be capable of that. But it actually delivered 20.7 MPG during my week-long test drive.
Which is still good for a sporty car.
But it’s not all that much better than what my 40-year-old old muscle car can manage. Especially when you take into account that the Trans-Am’s engine is literally five times the size and doesn’t have the electro-tech advantages of such things as direct injection and variable valve timing – both of which the Hyundai (like most modern cars) does have.
And the Pontiac – when new – did not have an overdrive top gear to cut engine RPMs at cruising speed. It came with a four-speed. The Hyundai has a six speed.
Yet the ancient Indian still averages about 16 MPG (the same-year Firebird Formula with the smaller 350 cubic inch V8 and a two-barrel carburetor and a three-speed automatic averaged 21).
So, about 5 MPG’s difference in real-world driving after 40 years of technological “improvements.”