Fuel-efficient tech that went mainstream in 2012
Popular models with premium mpg
It won't be as tough to find a fun-to-drive fuel-efficient car as automakers introduce a variety of ways to increase fuel economy. In 2012, these fuel-efficient offerings weren't reserved for luxury or exotic models -- for example, you can turbocharge your 2013 Chevy Sonic.
Even the hulking 2013 Ram 1500 pickup marketed its redesign around a 20 percent more fuel-efficient V6 engine. The truck gets 19 mpg for combined city/highway because of the new 3.6-liter V6, which also gets 42 percent more horsepower and 13 percent more torque than the previous 3.7-liter V6 powertrain.
Here are the fuel-efficient technologies that became mainstream in 2012 and popular models that use them.
The number of cylinders and displacement can be misleading these days -- a 2.0-liter or smaller engine can be surprisingly powerful. Technology such as turbocharging, direct fuel injection and variable valve timing can make these smaller engines surprisingly powerful and fuel efficient at the same time. The redesigned 2013 Honda Accord's base engine is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with direct fuel injection, which spokesman Chris Naughton explains leads to better fuel efficiency when the fuel is squirted at high pressure directly into the cylinder.
It's no longer for just the vroom-vroom-vroom set. Turbochargers are well known to increase power, but their ability to save fuel is less well known. A turbocharged engine can be more powerful and efficient than a traditional one because the turbine forces more intake air and fuel into the combustion chamber. Some say automakers will ultimately use turbocharging and direct injection on most of their gas-powered cars.
“In simplest terms, turbocharging saves fuel by allowing you to use a smaller engine,” says Rick Balsley, Chevrolet's engineering group manager of charging. “In cars like the Chevy Malibu and Sonic, turbocharging gives you extra power when you need it and the benefit of driving a smaller engine when you don't.”
This, Balsley says, can “bring the 'fun to drive' back to cars.”
This technology turns off the engine when the car is idling to save gas. It's on a sampling of a wide variety of vehicles ranging from the Ram to the high-end (and highly enjoyable) 2013 BMW 640i Gran Coupe. The 2013 Ram 1500 HFE is the first pickup truck with stop-start technology; it's about $5,600 more than the base Ram pickup. This new system improves fuel economy by up to 3.3 percent, which ups the Ram's city driving number by about 1 mpg.
Cylinder shut-off technology deactivates four cylinders of an eight- or six-cylinder engine during light acceleration or cruising situations on the highway when full power is not needed. The transition is seamless and can save up to 20 percent on fuel. GM's new set of pickups, the 2014 Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, both offer this technology.
The V6 Accords also have what's known as “variable cylinder management,” which shuts down cylinders while the car is cruising on the highway. At that point, the car is being powered by three cylinders -- and saving fuel.
-- Jayne O'Donnell
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