2003 Honda Insight
2003 Honda Insight. Click image to enlarge

By Tony Whitney

With the price of gas hovering on the wrong side of the 80-cent/litre mark in many areas, vehicle buyers are likely to be taking more than a cursory glance at those informative mileage stickers attached to the windshield of every new vehicle on your dealer’s lot. The “EnerGuide” labels, which are issued by Office of Energy Efficiency, Natural Resources Canada, may be one of the most beneficial services for motorists to emerge from Ottawa in recent years. They give would-be buyers a litres/100 km city/highway fuel consumption figure plus a dollar amount of estimated average annual fuel costs for that particular vehicle. The labels are a great help
to thrifty buyers who want to know exactly what their new set of wheels will cost to operate.

Each year, the EnerGuide people issue a list of Canada’s most fuel-efficient vehicles in various classes. To simplify this feature, I’ll provide a litres/100 km figure (city first, then highway) plus a miles per gallon rating for the metric Luddites among us. This year there were a few repeat winners, but interestingly, there are a number of vehicles making the list for the first time – indicating that there’s some competition emerging among automakers when it comes to building fuel-efficient vehicles.

Top two-seater again – and Canada’s most fuel-efficient vehicle – is the little Honda Insight with figures of 3.9/3.2 (72/88 mpg) posted. Three subcompacts were named by EnerGuide – VW’s New Beetle TDI diesel with 5.6/4.4 (50/64 mpg); the new Mini Cooper with 8.3/5.9 (34/48 mpg) and the Toyota Celica with 8.3/6.0 (34/47 mpg). All three prove that you don’t have to sacrifice high style to drive an economical car.

2003 Toyota Prius
2003 Toyota Prius

Volkswagen New Beetle TDi
Volkswagen New Beetle TDi

2003 Pontiac Vibe
2003 Pontiac Vibe

2003 Mazda Tribute
2003 Mazda Tribute

2003 Pontiac Montana
2003 Pontiac Montana
Click images to enlarge

In the compact segment it was the remarkable Toyota Prius that took top honours with 4.5/4.7 and 63/60 mpg. This car is reliable too – a Vancouver-based Prius taxi was recently taken off the road with over 332,000 km on the clock and no major repairs. It was only taken out of service because Toyota in Japan wanted to strip it down and check everything out (the driver was given a new Prius at no charge). Perhaps even Toyota was amazed at this vehicle’s astonishing durability, but some credit must go to driver, Andrew Grant.

A duo of station wagons shared top honours – the Volkswagen Jetta TDI (those diesels again!) with 5.6/4.3 and 50/66 mpg and the Ford Focus, posting 8.6/6.0 and 33/47 mpg. With a couple of new diesel-powered vehicles joining the ranks soon (the Jeep Liberty and Mercedes-Benz E-Class), I’d expect vehicles with this type of powerplant to make quite a showing in the years ahead in this fascinating contest.

Two mid-sized cars were named as winners – the Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Matrix, which are essentially the same vehicle. Both posted figures of 7.7/6.0 and 37/47 mpg. Best full-size car was Chevrolet’s popular Impala – another vehicle that has found favour as a taxi as well as a police pursuit vehicle. The Impala recorded 11.0/6.7 and 26/42 mpg – not bad for a car with a powerful 3.4-litre six under its hood.

In the pickup truck stakes it was the Ford Ranger and Mazda B2300 that took the spoils with 9.8/7.6 (29/37 mpg). Again, these two rigs are much the same and are built on the same assembly line. Both sell very well and the Mazda has been top import nameplate truck for many years now.

Proving that not all SUVs are “gas guzzlers” the basically similar Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute topped their “special purpose” category with 10.3/7.8 and 27/36 mpg. Why is it that critics of SUVs always use products like the Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition as a reference point? Vehicles like the Escape and Tribute deliver car-like fuel economy – as do many other mid-size and compact SUVs. These practical rigs come in all shapes and sizes these days and many blur the boundaries between SUVs, station wagons and minivans.

Two minvans were named by EnerGuide – the GM trio of Chevrolet Venture, Pontiac Montana and Oldsmobile Silhouette with 12.1/8.0 (23/35 mpg) and the Dodge Caravan, rating 12.0/8.2 (24/34 mpg). The Caravan is the best selling vehicle in Canada in any category.

It should be pointed out that these fuel consumption figures are obtained using lab equipment and “rolling roads,” rather than actual driving experience. The ministry could hardly tackle such a huge task any other way and obtain a fair benchmark. Even if the same stretch of road was used to test all the vehicles, weather conditions and other factors would work against getting consistent results. The bottom line here is that you may not match these figures with the vehicle you buy, but the ratings do provide a reliable guide to fuel economy under scientifically controlled conditions.

The EnerGuide folks provide all kinds of useful fuel economy material for new car, van, SUV and truck buyers – not to mention those browsing the used vehicle market. This material is free and the basic 2003 Fuel Consumption Guide is often obtainable at new car dealers. For more data, contact the EnerGuide people at 1-800-387-2000 or use their website – www.oee.nrcan.gc.ca/vehicles .

Connect with Autos.ca