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Home > Magazine > Motors > "Sleeper Cars" with Good Gas Mileage...

"Sleeper Cars" with Good Gas Mileage...
April 08, 2009

The keys are: manual trans and/or a famously efficient engine of whatever size.

Didja know that the 3800 engine in the GM line is a V6 that gets 26mpg? (Some claim better.) And it comes in some pretty big cars, like the LeSabre. These are cars that you can get used, in mint condition, with low miles, for $4K. Spacious, powerful, reliable, well-made...that get 26mpg and can even tow. Not bad!

Compare that to an awful lot of foreign compacts with their high-horsepower V6's. They're quite a bit smaller, cost a TON more, and don't get any better mileage.

Heck, even quite a few subcompacts don't do much better than that.

And style, of course, is in the eye. They say the LeSabre and its ilk are Grannymobiles. Well, let em! To me, they're shiny, solid cars. What's not car about em? The Granny label means they're HALF as expensive on the resale market. Ha! Who's the joke on?

Let's move on to the mid-90's Saturn line-up. I like a car-line with names like SC, SL, and SW. That's it! The whole line-up. Couple, Luxury(?), and Wagon.

Didja know that a '96 Saturn Wagon gets 34mpg?

I see in the reviews that people complain that they pass slow on uphills at the top speeds. Ha...SO WHAT? Sounds like my kind of car. 120hp...sounds about right. Probably fine for 80mph if you're in a hurry. Who needs more? Who can benefit from a LOT LESS than the ubiquitous 200+ hp in "compact" cars these days? ME!

Heck, how many subcompacts get better than 34mpg? Hardly any! Yet here's a real WAGON that does this well!

I know there are also probably some sleepers in the subcompact area but I'm a semi-rural dude with kids so a bigger rig is in my study profile. Feel free to chime in with your own tips in whatever area.

Anyway, check out:

Here are some actual stats to chew on:

Honda Accord Wagon, '95, 4cyl, manual: 27mpg highway.
Saturn Wagon: 34mpg
Honda Civic: 36mpg

Buick LeSabre '95, Park Avenue (all other GM in that class): 26mpg
Kia Sephia '00 4cyl subcompact: 26mpg
Toyota Camry/Avalon '00: 26mpg

Dodge Caravan '95: 24mpg
Mercury Villager: 21mpg
Toyota Previa: 20mpg

I notice that the biggest way to get a quick extra 3-4mpg in any model of car is with a manual trans. Where it's offered, you know they're thinkin'. Sure, some terrain appreciates it and so does some sportiness, but autos are pretty darn good nowadays, so it seems like manual might reflect more of a simple, sippy, 'n'robust mindset. For instance, around here in the flat, square-grid exurbs where we live it would only be annoying in practice. But I could live with it if gas goes back up to $4/gal. Also, they become second nature anyway.

I'm partial to USA cars, too. Why not keep the nation intact? I know quite a few folks who are, say, older, who have good jobs, who aren't into making any style statement in particular, yet they buy foreign for reasons like "I like how the dealer puts down floor mats when they work on the car." C'mon! Why not employ America instead? It's serious stuff. Always has been, of course. Heck, it seems like most cars have been "Honda-fied" these days anyway. What's not to like?Well, I'll do what I can. ...Which maybe isn't much when one is on the 10-yr-old car market. BUT! There's also repair to consider. I incline to the local, owner-operated type in my biz dealings. In the world of skilled trades, my demographic is Shadetree. My guys can't just own their own biz, their YARD has to be their biz. I can't help support much more overhead. Somewhat along these lines, I note that a Dodge Caravan windshield costs $50 at the salvage yard that my shadetree guy goes to. A Honda Odyssey minivan windshield is $450. See? What do basic brake parts cost on a common USA car compared to a foreign car? They're 75% LESS! Lastly, my guys KNOW and work on USA cars. So I buy what they can fix.

Of course, there's a lot to be said for not needing to be fixed in the first place. But I'm in the demographic where a vehicle needs all the basics replaced. It's just maintenance. I haven't had a car do what you'd call BREAK DOWN in years. So I mostly need to consider parts cost and the happiness of my mechanic.

But what company makes generators and snowblowers that always start with a pull? I am impressed. I sometimes hanker for a motorcycle. Do I have time for moto tinkering? I don't know a good moto mechanic (yet!). Why not get a moto that just doesn't need it? A brand comes to mind!

Now minivans are known for bad gas mileage, but there are a few models sneaking into the common ranks at 24mpg. Seems like a sensible step up from the rest of the 17-20mpg herd.

Of course, MPG isn't my only value. It's just that most cars are already fine in every way. They're cars!

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