What Ever Happened to the 50 MPG Honda?

Yesterday's Fuel-efficient Cars Weren't As Fuel Efficient As We Realize

1989 Honda CRX
1989 Honda CRX. Honda

Whatever happened to the high mileage Hondas of just a few years ago? The special engines that delivered around 38 cities and 52 highway. They were not hybrids and were very peppy. All of the sudden we’re supposed to get excited about a car that gets 40 MPG? I don’t think so.

Also, why are the Volkswagen TDIs (turbodiesels) getting 42 mpg highway now, when my 2002 TDI Beetle got 48 to 49 on the highway?

Well, the Hondas of the mid-to-late 80s weren't saddled with the weight of dual airbags, anti-intrusion door beams, etc. The highest-MPG Honda was the two-seat CRX HF. In 1989 it had a 62 HP engine, manual transmission only, needed 12 secs to go 0-60, and EPA estimates were 49 MPG city/52 MPG highway. (That's using the estimates of the time. Today, cars are rated under a new formula, and the CRX HF would have scored 37/47.)

The 4-door Civic sedan for that year had a more useable 92 hp and room for four; its EPA estimates were 31 city/34 highway (and using the modern test, 27/33).

Incidentally, a lot of people don't realize that Honda had multiple CRX models. Most remember the car as being both sporty and efficient; in truth it was either-or. The sporty version (shown in the photo above) was called the CRX Si. It had a lot more power than the fuel-sipping HF -- 108 hp from its 16-valve engine -- but was nowhere near as efficient: Its EPA fuel economy estimates were 28 MPG and 33 MPG highway.

Under the current EPA formula, it's rated at just 24 in town and 30 on the highway.

Now, compare that to the modern-day Civic sedan, which is bigger, has heavy bits like A/C, antilock brakes, side airbags, power windows, etc. as standard, and goes 0-60 in around 8 secs for the manual and 9.5 for the automatic.

More importantly, it won't crumble like a piece of tin foil if it gets hit by a two-ton pickup truck.Considering all that, 30 city/40 highway really is pretty darn good, don't you think?

As for the turbodiesel VWs: Sometime in the last couple of years, VW added catalytic converters, which are supposed to shave off a couple of MPG. I drove the 2004 Volkswagen Jetta TDI and a '05 Civic Hybrid back to back and averaged 46 MPG in both. If you ask me, diesel is the way to go. It has much more economy and performance potential than hybrids. Thanks for the email, Kenyon.-- Aaron Gold