Why have modern cars suddenly become so fat?
You’ve heard the story about teaching a pig to sing? It wastes your time and annoys the pig. So said Mark Twain, at any rate.
But how do you deal with cars that are pigs?
Which is all new cars.
Even hybrid cars.
The 2018 Kia Niro plug-in hybrid I just finished reviewing (here) averaged just over 42 MPG… right there with a 1984 Chrysler K-car. Which didn’t need an electric motor and batteries to achieve 40-plus MPG.
The K-car also cost about half what the Niro costs, in inflation-adjusted dollars — but that’s another rant.
The 2019 Subaru Ascent I test drove the week prior averaged a truly dismal 22.4 MPG — despite being powered by the very latest in fuel-saving high-tech: a 2.4 liter direct-injected/turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the works bolted to a fuel-saving continuously variable (CVT) automatic and geared for maximum MPGs.
All that… and 22.4 MPG.
My ancient (1976) Pontiac Trans-Am, a muscle car with an engine more than three times as large (7.5 liter V8) as the Soobie’s and which doesn’t have a computer, direct injection, or a turbocharger but does have a big four-barrel carburetor and burnout-enhancing 3:90 gears is only slightly less thirsty.
It is capable of averaging in the high teens.
The question arises — in view of all the “efficient” and “fuel saving” technologies new cars boast: Why are they so fuel-inefficient?
It is because they are grotesque fatties.
The average 2018 model car is on the order of 500-800 pounds heavier than its 1990 equivalent.
Here are some for-instances:
- 1990 Ford Escort, curb weight 2,242 lbs. vs. 2018 Ford Focus (the current Escort equivalent) which weighs 2,974 lbs. — a gain of 732 lbs.
- 1990 Toyota Camry, curb weight 2,811 lbs. vs. 2018 Camry, 3,340 lbs. — a gain of 529 lbs.
- 1990 Dodge Caravan, curb weight 2,910 lbs. vs. 2018 Caravan, 4,510 lbs. — a gain of 1,600 lbs.!
- The 2018 Kia Niro hybrid I test drove — ostensibly an “economy” car and a “compact” by modern car standards — weighs almost 3,400 pounds. Which is just a couple of hundred pounds less than my 1976 Trans-Am — which has a heavy steel frame and a massively heavy cast-iron V8 engine.
And the Subaru Ascent weighs several hundred pounds more than my 42-year-old muscle car, despite the Pontiac’s huge cast-iron V8, cast iron rear axle and a bolt-on steel subframe just like a truck’s.
So why is the Trans-Am so relatively svelte?
It is because the Trans-Am’s designers didn’t have to cope with the numerous weight-adding saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety fatwas which have made new cars so obese.
Which is why they are such piggies — all the “efficient” technology notwithstanding.
Of course, it could be worse.
Without the “efficient” technology — which is also elaborate and expensive technology — modern cars like the ’19 Ascent would use even more gas than they already do. They would probably get worse mileage than my old muscle car.
Which by the way is itself several hundred pounds heavier than the 1970 Trans-Am, which is basically the same car except for the front and rear clips. The ’76’s clips had to be revised to accommodate federally fatwa’d “5 MPH bumpers” — the first of what became a juggernaut of saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety fatwas, which porked out new cars to their current porky proportions.
The 5 MPH bumpers added an astonishing 500 pounds to the curb weight of my Trans-Am, which swelled from just over 3,200 lbs. in 1970 (200 pounds less than the current Niro hybrid) to just over 3,700 pounds six years later.
Even so, the TA is still a relative flyweight. Its modern equivalent — the current Dodge Challenger weighs 500 lbs. more and is 1,100 pounds heavier than a 1970 Challenger.
Zippers bust, buckles break… cue the Weird Al video parody of Michael Jackson’s hit, Bad.
The designers of my TA didn’t have to worry about roof crush, side-impact, or offset barrier crash testing.
It has zero air bags.
This was true well into the ’80s — when cars actually began to get better gas mileage as engines became more efficient at the same time that cars got lighter.
Some of you may remember another for-instance: the 1983-1991 Honda CRX. It was an economical economy car.
The 1985 model achieved an EPA-rated 40 MPG in city driving — better than 90 percent of all new cars on the highway — and 48 MPG on the highway, which is better mileage than 95 percent of all new cars on the highway.
The CRX did not have direct injection or a turbo or anything particularly fancy. But it weighed just 1,819 lbs. A current (2018) Fiat 500 — which is a smaller car, in terms of its length and wheelbase, at least — is a much heavier car: It weighs almost 2,400 lbs. — atrociously heavy for a car its size.
Which is why the Fiat doesn’t come close to achieving the mileage posted by the now officially antique CRX.
The Fiat touts a downright pathetic-in-comparison 28 city, 33 highway. Because it’s a four-wheeled fatso.
All new cars are.
Even with advantages of “fuel-saving” technologies such as direct injection, cylinder deactivation, auto-stop/start and transmissions with multiple overdrive gears to reduce engine operating speed in relation to road speed, today’s cars suck — because they are fat.
And they are fat because of Uncle.
Because of the federal saaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaafety fatwas — issued by the same feds who issue the fuel efficiency fatwas.
Who have no moral grounds for issuing either type of fatwa.
If they lacked the power to issue (and enforce) such fatwas, we’d have lighter and more economical cars that would almost certainly be quicker and cheaper, too.
It might be worth looking into.
Greg Gjerdingen/Creative Commons