Over the last few years, high gas prices have breathed new life into small vehicle sales. Within the highly competitive compact segment, many automakers offer high-efficiency versions to imprint fuel economy leadership on their brands while aiding consumer quests to further stretch each gallon of gas. Examples include the Ford Focus SFE, Honda Civic HF, Chevy Cruze Eco, and Mazda 3 SkyActiv.
Automakers uniformly point to car buyers’ desire to save money at the pump when discussing these new packages. According to Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of Global Product Development at Ford, “Our customers tell us that fuel economy is the top reason for purchasing a Focus.” In response, Ford put together a Super Fuel Efficiency (SFE) package for the car. Selecting this trim boosts highway fuel economy to 40 mpg, for two more miles per gallon than the standard Focus previously reviewed. This earns the Focus SFE an eRating of 151, an increase of two points above the SE.
Ford squeezes out the extra miles through the use of aerodynamic wheel covers, a rear spoiler, low rolling resistance tires, four-wheel disc brakes (replacing the drum brakes on the rear axle), and active grille shutters. These components work together to reduce aerodynamic and rolling resistance, two foes of fuel efficiency that are especially powerful at highway speeds.
Honda long ago established its Civic brand as a fuel economy leader. The company’s lineup has included an extra-efficient model for many years, well before the first-generation Honda Insight launched the hybrid era in North America. The latest iteration of the company”s non-hybrid fuel-sipper in the Civic lineup is the Honda Civic HF. Earning an eRating of 150, the HF trim improves upon the Civic DX’s rating by three points and nearly matches the environmental performance of the Focus.
The Civic HF utilizes many of the same features as the Focus with low rolling resistance tires, a rear spoiler, and aerodynamic wheels. Unique to the Civic HF are additional covers placed on the vehicle’s underbody. This area is traditionally a weak spot for aerodynamic performance and the added covers help air slip past bulky structural and exhaust components. The Civic HF is also available as a Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) in some markets. This clean-burning version earns an exceptional eRating of 194.
The Chevy Cruze Eco closes in with an eRating of 145. Its design pushes mileage upwards through the use of a smaller, turbocharged 1.4 liter Ecotec engine, transmission optimized for efficiency, and a reduction in vehicle mass. To minimize drag, the Cruze Eco relies on low rolling resistance tires, underbody aerodynamic covers, and grille shutters. The Cruze Eco provides a substantial improvement over the Cruze LS, besting it by four mpg in both the city and the highway, and increasing the eRating by 12 points.
SkyActiv is Mazda’s brand of high-efficiency engineering used across the company’s lineup. The Mazda 3 SkyActiv receives an eRating of 130, eleven points greater than the standard Mazda 3. Mazda’s SkyActiv technologies cover everything from engines and transmissions to chassis and suspensions. SkyActiv-G, Mazda’s designation for its advanced gasoline engine technology, enhances engine efficiency through direct injection and a higher compression ratio. Mazda’s lightweight body technology, dubbed SkyActiv-Body, lowers vehicle mass through optimized material bonding techniques and an expanded use of high-strength steel. This vehicle is also available as a PZEV in select markets, where the eRating rises to 187 for this extra-clean version of the Mazda 3 with its fuel-efficient SkyActiv package.
With national average gasoline prices hovering around $3.60 per gallon for this summer’s driving season, consumers can squeeze even more mileage out of popular small cars by selecting these high-efficiency trims.
|Make and Model||$MSRP||Specs||City/Hwy/Comb |
|Ford Focus SFE||18,295||2.0 L 160 hp 4 cyl., 6-speed auto||28 / 40 / 33||151|
|Honda Civic HF||20,395||1.8 L 140 hp 4 cyl., 5-speed auto||29 / 41 / 33||150|
|Chevy Cruze Eco||21,215||1.4 L 138 hp 4 cyl., 6-speed auto||26 / 39 / 31||145|
|Mazda 3 SkyActiv||20,345||2.0 L 155 hp 4 cyl., 6-speed auto||28 / 40 / 33||130|