With gas prices soaring sky high and the economy still teetering at the brink of recession, many Americans are turning to subcompact cars in hopes of saving money on fuel. They usually figure that the smaller a car, the more fuel economy it possesses. Therefore, these car owners are buying tinier and tinier vehicles. Unfortunately now they’re discovering that when compared to gas guzzlers like pickup trucks or SUVs, a subcompact car is a bargain. But ultimately they don’t save you much more money than you would with a bigger, roomier compact car.
Compare the Chevrolet Sonic, a subcompact car, to its slightly larger compact cousin, the Chevrolet Cruze Eco. The Sonic comes in at thirty-three miles per gallon, which, overall, is just about the same as the Cruze Eco. Comparing the itsy bitsy Hyundai Accent to the bigger Hyundai Elantra yields similar results, even when looking at city driving versus highway driving. And, yes, the tiny Ford Fiesta really does get more mileage than the bigger Ford Focus, but with thirty percent more horsepower and more than forty percent more storage space, the Focus only loses the race by two miles per gallon.
Hybrids face the same issue. Though many Americans are investing in hybrid SUVs, the more fuel conscious among them may still believe that a subcompact hybrid will beat the tar out of all bigger vehicles, not just SUVs. But the small Prius versus the slightly larger Prius continues to get almost exactly the same gas mileage.
Car manufacturers cite aerodynamics as the culprit. No matter how small a car can potentially be designed, it still must comfortably allow its drivers to fit inside. Even if you cut out trunk room and maneuverability under the hood, the height of the car won’t change. And that boxy shape doesn’t offer its navigators the biggest, most fuel efficient push as they drive. A car with more mass for it manufacturers to work with allows them to design it in order to accommodate shapes that lend themselves to easier driving as they push through the air. According to insiders, the best, most aerodynamic shape for a car is either a teardrop or wing, which means that shorter, boxier cards will never be able to compete.
On the other hand, the less mass and girth a vehicle possesses, the lighter they are. Also, since there’s less metal and glass, the vehicle doesn’t require the same weighty parts to absorb a crash should an accident occur. And in a city with less wind resistance, a subcompact may save a mile or so per gallon, though they still can’t compare with the costlier fuel economy for highway driving.
However, those people invested in subcompacts find that these cars come in handy when driving in the city, especially where parking spots are few and far between. They are also usually far less expensive than other alternatives, sometimes saving their owners thousands of dollars. And if you live in a city and rarely make it onto the highway, you are undoubtedly unconcerned with comparing city versus highway driving. Just don’t volunteer to be the carpool driver at work.