As each summer goes by, the fallout from global warming appears to be getting more severe. Forest fires are a yearly event in California and Australia, but even the likes of Canada and Central Europe are increasingly affected.
During lockdown, one of the most prominent discoveries was how much cleaner the air was. And, perpetually staying indoors is not a long-term solution. It was apparent that fuel combustion, which accounts for around a quarter of total CO2 emissions, was a big factor in this.
EVs: From Fad to Law
Electric cars are a hot talking point for politicians when promising to lower future emissions. Whilst they still have their limitations, they emit zero emissions when driving, and a zero or non-zero amount when charging.
Because of the West’s obsession with private ownership of cars, governments around the world are proposing future laws that will mean every new car that is produced will have to be electric. In the UK, this date is 2030, meaning there are just six more years for EV infrastructure to be more widespread.
Second-hand internal combustion engine (ICE) cars will still be traded around after this date, but given the reliance on leases and company car fleets, the transition will seem fast given that new cars enter our roads very quickly.
In the past, car companies have not been totally transparent about fuel efficiency. Miles per gallon figures, for example, are often derived from idealistic testing conditions as opposed to urban scenarios. Regulators are trying to clamp down on this, but there can still be a mismatch in expectations.
EVs suffer from the same problem, unfortunately, only there are two issues to contend with instead of one. Firstly, does the car drive as far as it claims per kWh? This is a way to see how far it can go given a certain amount of energy. Secondly, how far does the car drive on a single charge?
The second concern is less about efficiency and more about convenience and economy in a broader scope (fewer interruptions as a taxi driver, for example), but it’s still important, and it can still impact emissions. For example, charging from home may be totally clean energy from your solar set-up, and this may be all you need if the range is good. But with poor range, you will be using more charging points, and you know less about where this energy came from. For example, coal burning,
How to Compare Cars
Beyond aesthetics and size, which are heavily down to personal taste, we need a method of comparing EVs to see which one is the most economical and environmentally friendly. A cool widget for Australians that covers fuel efficiency statistics gives us a good idea of how to compare efficiency for EVs, hybrids, and ICE cars.
This is to use liters per 100km (fuel consumption), and specifically for urban driving. Of course, the lower the number, the more environmentally friendly it is. Equally, it’s possible to calculate the cost of running the car each year by using a fixed amount of km driven. The Hyundai Ioniq 2019 reached below $491, for example, but suffered from poor range (373 km).
Ranking the Most Fuel Efficient Cars
Below is a comparison of the best cars for fuel consumption.
The Most Efficient EV
All EVs have a fuel consumption of 0, of course, but that doesn’t mean they all cost the same amount to run. The Hyundai 2019 Ioniq EV variant has the lowest projected cost per year at $491, making it one of the cheapest cars to maintain and drive. Its range, however, is lower than its competitors at 373 km. But, the cherry on top here is its price tag, which is almost half that of the other Hyundai models and Tesla Model 3.
Tesla’s Model 3 and the newer 2021 Hyundai are two very efficient cars, both with a projected fuel cost of around $550. Similarly, both have a range in the 500s (km), and both cost $60,000.
The Most Efficient ICE/Hybrid
As it stands, the BMW 2019 i3 currently has the lowest fuel consumption (FC), at 0.6 liters per 100km (combined) and 5.7L/100km FC for urban areas. The electric range of this hybrid is 290 km, which is very respectable, meaning an annual fuel cost of $693.
The Kia 2021 Niro and Hyundai Ioniq (hybrid variant) are two similarly efficient hybrids with similar figures. Both range from between $640 to $710 projected annual fuel cost, with modest electric ranges of around 60 km and an FC L/100km of 1.3 and 1.1 respectively.
How to Improve Fuel Efficiency in Cars
It’s not just the car you decide on getting that impacts its efficiency, but also your maintenance and weight. Below are 5 ways to improve efficiency at no or little additional cost.
Pump up your tires
Underinflated tires are a cause of having higher resistance with the road. You can be sure that when they measure the efficiency of a car during testing, it is with optimal air inside the tires.
Driving at the correct speed
There is an optimal speed for driving efficiently, which falls between driving too fast and too slow. This will slightly differ from car to car, but if you have a dashboard that projects your energy or fuel usage, then this can be a good indicator. For manual cars, using the right gear is important as to not rev the car too much. Cruise control can also help to prevent accelerating.
Lose some weight
You can’t do much about your car being heavy, but you may be able to lose some weight from the boot. For ICE and hybrids, you may be able to lose some fuel, too, meaning don’t fill up the tank to the very top as this can be excess weight.
Where possible, avoid having your car idle. This is less important for EVs, but they can still consume electricity through powering the lights, dashboard, and so on.
Aerodynamics is crucially important to the efficiency of a car, and so additional drag is a sure-fire way to increase the amount of energy required to deliver the same speed. The biggest culprit of this is having bicycles and surfboards on the roof.