The New Age Economy Car

By Tony Costa

When people complain about the high price of gas they inevitably bring their choice of transportation into the conversation. Over the past ten or fifteen years the SUV became the preferred choice of transport to the American public. These all purpose urban assault vehicles have served as the mainstay of American transportation. They and many of the cars that tickle the American fancy excel in storage and seating space and are extremely versatile. The problem with a hungry vehicle is that we may be faced with five dollar a gallon gas prices in the near future.  

Like it or not we have allowed ourselves to be held hostage by foreign oil supplies and domestic oil corporations.  Some of you may remember the 1973 oil crisis. For those of you that don't and for those of you with selective memory loss let me recount. When the last oil crisis hit we were faced with the harsh reality of waiting in line for hours for a a ration of five gallons of gas. The price of gas went from thirty cents a gallon to one dollar over night. That's a sixty percent increase in less than a month. To put this in proper perspective if this happened today the price of a gallon of gasoline would jump from the current three dollars and fifty cents per gallon to over six dollars.  That's about where the big oil companies want the price to be. 

The oil dictators in the Middle East are currently falling faster than rain in a Florida thunder storm.  In order to ensure a stable supply of cheap oil the US government has backed these jokers for the last thirty years.  Let's hope that the rebels who seize power and the oil supply don't hold too much of a grudge. That is the wishful thinking that our policy makers are planning on. 

When people ask me what my economy car preference is I give them an answer that they normally would not expect. My choice for the perfect economy cruiser is a late model Corvette. A well tuned C5, C6 or C7 is capable of getting almost 30 mpg on the highway. I chuckled the other day when a local news team was doing an investigative report on the latest small cars that can get over 30 mpg. The list included a very short list of foreign and American economy cars that are basically one step up from a golf cart. If the news team had included the Corvette on the list they would have been laughed off the air.


Most people don't have a clue as to how efficient this modern day muscle car really is. The popular notion is that a small four cylinder engine placed in a small car is the magic formula for high gas mileage. Those expectations are unrealistic when equipping an underpowered four banger in a vehicle that has the aerodynamics of a brick.

Case in point. We were recently forced to take a long drive in a Japanese economy rental car. Three of us had to take a trip across Florida's Alligator Alley while covering an event in Miami. The car rental people at Hertz told us that because it was tourist season in South Florida there were only a few cars available. The car that we were assigned to was a four cylinder Corolla. As economy cars go it was not that bad. There was plenty of luggage space and the seating was adequate, the FM radio even worked. The agent at the Hertz desk told us that he would let us take one of their yellow Corvette roadsters for the same price as the rice burner. During the family tourist season they can't give these things away. The problem was that there were three of us. We should have made our sales rep take a bus.

The little rice burner was actually fun to drive around town, zipping in and out of traffic was a breeze. The problems associated with an underpowered vehicle became all too apparent when we dove onto the Alley.
The "Alley" for those of you not familiar with South Florida, is a notorious stretch of highway that connects the West and East coasts of Southern Florida. This road is America's answer to the Autobahn. The posted speed limit is 70mph. in reality average speeds are not all that average. Most people drive the Alley at a leisurely pace of about 85 mph. At this speed the State Troopers won't really take too much notice. There are only four to six FHP cars assigned to the one hundred plus miles of this road at any one time so people tend to get a little carried away when it comes to obeying the speed limit.

As I said our rice burner was perfect at speeds under 50 mph. The "Alley" with its 90mph plus flow of traffic presented us with a very different opinion. At 85mph the little motor was screaming for dear life. The end result of this outing was an average highway gas mileage figure of around 22 to 23 mpg. If we had obeyed the 70mph speed limit the little wonder might have squeezed out a few more miles per gallon.

The high gas mileage figures that are advertised for these economy cars are at what the manufacturers call highway speeds. Manufacturer highway speed is 55 mph. When was the last time you saw anyone driving 55mph. 55 may be the average speed on congested urban roads like the Long Island Expressway in NY. 55 is not the norm however for other parts of the country.

The moral to this story is that smaller and underpowered is not always better. We took the same trip in an 03 C5 and averaged 29 mpg. The car we drove had an automatic and the standard 2:73 rear end. At 85 mph the tach was barely moving past 1900rpm. Yes folks the best economy car in the world is made in Bowling Green not Tokyo. The Corvette can attribute its miserly thirst for fuel to its overall sleek shape and a big efficient V8 that does not have to strain once it gets rolling. The Vettes low coefficient of surface to air friction, high torque and top end gearing makes it the perfect highway economy car. Talk about having your cake and eating it. So the next time you get into a conversation about economy cars tell it like it is, even if you get laughed at.


Tony Costa - Editor







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