This week, MINIUSA released the official EPA mileage estimates for the 2007 models as reported on MotoringFile. The 2007 Cooper has an EPA mileage estimate of 32 city/40 highway and the 2007 Cooper S has an estimate of 29 city/36 highway. Both of these numbers are improvements over the previous generation, but what I would like to know is, "What happened to high mileage per gallon compacts?"
Just twenty years ago, 30 city/40 highway was not a great feat of efficiency for a 4 cylinder compact. The website MPGbuddy has records of many automobiles mileage per gallon ratings back to 1984. The Honda Civic of that year was reported with ratings of 42 city/55 highway; the Volkswagen Rabbit was rated 35 city/44 highway; the Dodge Omni was rated 34 city/49 highway. Japanese, European, and American automotive manufacturers were able to produce compact cars with gas mileage that would make today's post-Katrina consumers rushing to trade-in their SUVs.
The comparable vehicles offered today by the three manufacturers are: Honda Civic with 30 city/38 highway; Dodge Caliber with 28 city/32 highway; and the Volkswagen Rabbit with 22 city/30 highway. We may also include the Honda Fit with ratings of 33 city/38 highway. So what has happened in 20 years that would cause such a drastic loss of fuel efficiency? Today's engines are marvels of engineering with technologies including Variable Valve Timing to provide optimum fuel provisions during driving conditions to improve economy, but they still do not match the economy of compact cars just twenty years ago.
Upon further investigation, I found that in the mid-eighties, several auto-manufacturers released vehicles designed to get the best fuel-efficiency as reported in this New York Times article. These cars weren't comfortable, well-options, or fast, but were able to get you to your destination in the most miserly fashion. The rise of hybrid vehicles in the past five years is the auto-manufacturers attempt to provide the fuel-efficiency of these small cars of twenty years ago, but still maintain the comfort that consumers have grown to expect. I would like to see MINIUSA bring the MINI One D to the states to show the auto-manufacturers that hybrids aren't the only solution for optimum fuel efficiency.