High-end sports cars are part of automakers' struggles with U.S. fuel economy standards, but they don't have to be.
In June, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a Midterm Evaluation of its goal to raise fuel to a combined 54.5 miles per gallon (roughly 38 miles per gallon on window stickers) by 2025. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute found that cars and light trucks purchased in 2015 got an average of 25.3 miles to the gallon. That's actually down from 25.4 mpg the year before, and it's made the EPA a little anxious about whether or not automakers can hit that 2025 mileage mark.
The auto industry was doing fairly well at reducing mileage for a while. That 25.3 mpg is far better than the 19 miles per gallon that the Department of Transportation measured for the same pool of vehicles in 1995. It's also closing in on double the average mileage of the light-duty vehicles on U.S. roads in 1980. However, when the EPA set its mileage goal in 2012, gas prices were close to $4 a gallon. According to AAA, they're down to an average of $2.22 per gallon and have dropped by nearly 20 cents per gallon within the last year.
As a result, U.S. drivers stopped cars -- with sales of cars of every size down 7.7% since this time in 2015, according to MotorIntelligence -- and started buying SUVs, crossovers and vans. Minivan sales are up 26.7% within the last year, but even small and large van sales are up nearly 20% as Ford and General Motors switch to more European styles and fleets modernize.
SUV and crossover sales are up 8% year over year, and the EPA notes that their outsized portion of overall vehicle sales isn't helping mileage in the least. The organization says the auto industry is absolutely capable of hitting that 2025 goal -- even without introducing more hybrids and SUVs into the mix -- but that the market shift might make it tougher to do so. That's unfortunate for U.S. automakers, who've invested heavily in SUVs and crossovers while German, Japanese and Korean competitors have achieved a broader mix. That U.S. SUV/crossover imbalance has some analysts believing that automaker pressure will lead to fuel efficiency standards being relaxed, but the EPA is holding firm.
It notes that automated cars will help cut into mileage numbers, and that younger Americans are driving and buying cars in fewer numbers than the generations before. the share of new cars being bought by Americans between 18 and 34 is down 30% in the last five years, according to auto pricing site Edmunds.com. A Pew Research Center study notes that people under 35 bought 12% fewer cars than they did in 2010. The Department of Transportation notes that just 28% of 16-year-olds had driver's licenses in 2010, with just 45% of 17-year-olds claiming the same. That's plummeted from 50% and 66% respectively in 1978. While the number of 16-year-olds with driver's licenses peaked at 1.72 million in 2009, it dropped to 1.08 million by 2014.
Besides, if even sports cars are getting reasonable mileage these days, there's no reason not to expect the rest of automakers' portfolios to catch up. Of the 313 vehicles identified as sports cars by the Environmental Protection Agency between the 2015 and 2016 model years, roughly 70 manage more than 25 miles per gallon combined.That number is dragged down by the supercharged, 8-cylinder Chevrolet Camaro (14 miles per gallon), the Ferrari FF (13 mpg) and the Bugatti Veyron (10 mpg). But as cars like the base Dodge Challenger, Chevrolet Camaro and Ford Mustang flirt with 30 miles per gallon on the highway, there are glimmers of hope.
With help from the EPA's FuelEconomy.gov site, we compiled a list of the most fuel-efficient high-end high-performance cars on the market. We set the minimum price at $50,000 just to get a better sense of the mileage in the luxury performance market. We'll note that the EPA didn't include Tesla's Model S and its P85D performance model in its list -- despite 762 horsepower and 253 miles of electric range -- so take it up with them:
Starting price: $56,000
Miles per gallon: 28 mpg
True, even Porsche has succumbed to SUV demand, with the Cayenne accounting for the majority of its U.S. sales, but this is the Porsche you'll want when the kids and their SUV worth of stuff are gone.
The iconic body, the 2-liter engine and the 300 horsepower are all just dreamy for a car this size. Meanwhile, the fact that you can get it to 170 mph and still get that mileage with standard driving is nothing shy of incredible. The in-car Wi-Fi, the phone module, the Apple Play apps, the online navigation and little nesting/charging tray for your smartphone are all nice additions, but the Boxster is a draw of its own.
Starting price: $53,900
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 29 mpg
This was the car that brought Alfa-Romeo's back to a U.S. market that it had abandoned for the last 20 years, and boy, is it efficient.
Fiat created a carbon fiber body light enough to allow a 237-horsepower 4-cylinder engine to push the 4C from 0 to 60 in 4.1 seconds and top out at 160 miles per hour. The 7-Inch touchscreen display and Bluetooth are about it for perks, but it has supercar power with the efficiency of a coupe. It's rare to get an Italian beauty with this much muscle at this price, but that's what the Alfa's going for -- exotic, but attainable.
Starting price: $847,975
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 67 mpge
How does a plug-in hybrid manage 887 horsepower, 0 to 60 in 2.5 seconds, a top speed of 214 mph?
Well, the electric motors put out 286 horsepower on their own and, combined with a 601-horsepower, 4.6-liter V8, push the carbon-fiber frame through electric power alone, various hybrid modes or its red-button "hot lap" mode. That supercar price, however, goes toward a leather-and-brushed-aluminum interior, rain-sensing windshield wiper, heated side mirrors, backup camera, Porsche Communication Management (with 3D navigation display, 7-inch touch screen, central high-resolution 8-inch TFT display, two USB ports, SD card, WiFi and Bluetooth, satellite radio, HD radio and a Burmester 11-speaker surround sound system.
Just be sure to keep it charged: fuel efficiency drops to a scant 22 mpg combined when the 918 runs solely on gas.
Starting price: $136,500
EPA combined city and highway mileage: 76 mpge
The scissor doors make this car look a whole lot more inefficient than it is.
The 357-horsepower, twin turbo engine on its front axle has only three cylinders and gets a whole lot of help from an electric motor on the rear axle. A combination of aluminum and carbon fiber lighten the frame enough to give the i8 a combined range of 330 miles and keep its gas-only fuel consumption down to a manageable 28 mpg combined. An 8.8-inch touchscreen display handles the navigation, telematics, concierge service, HD radio and satellite radio through voice commands, while a full-color heads-up display keeps all pertinent information at eye level. With with memory that restores your seat, climate, mirror, audio and light settings, the i8 feels like a supercar -- but the mileage is as sensible as a midsize sedan.
Starting price: $57,500
Miles per gallon equivalent: 80 combined
This is the last model year for the ELR, but what a way to go out.
It was 25% performance more powerful that previous models, $10,000 less than its predecessors and had a 39-mile all-electric range that was greater than the original 37. This boosted its 0-60 time to 6.4 seconds but also made the steering and suspension upgrades, sport wheels, Brembo brake calipers, and sport steering wheel worthwhile.
It's just too bad it was such an easy car to hate in the beginning, thanks to one of the jerkiest ad campaigns in recent history. Fewer than 3,000 people bought the ELR between its release in 2013 and this year. By comparison, Tesla's Model S sold about 20 times than many vehicles just last year alone while giving buyers a fully electric luxury vehicle for slightly more than what Cadillac charges for its plug-in hybrid.
With the heated leather seats, Bose audio system, wood trim, 20-inch rims, collision warning, lane departure warning and front and rear parking assistance, it still has some great perks. It's just a shame that this high-performance hybrid didn't go the extra mile for buyers.