I don’t know of any motorist who likes the thought of paying more for gas. Most of us try to get the best fuel economy we can and will line up for what seems like hours at any gas station offering discount prices.
When it comes to how much fuel we burn, it all boils down to two major factors: the type of vehicle we drive and how we drive it.
Engine size and efficiency, hybrid or diesel and the mass of the vehicle all affect how fuel efficient a vehicle will be.
But there is another option some motorists tend to overlook when it comes to making a difference in fuel use, the transmission type.
Just how much difference does a standard transmission make compared to an automatic?
I had the opportunity to test that for myself last week when I took my 2012 Elantra in for servicing at its 50,000 km mark. The dealer graciously lent me another Elantra, but this one was an automatic.
In a previous article titled “A Year With the Car of The Year,” I mentioned how I enjoyed the six-speed manual transmission my Elantra came equipped with. It was smooth, precise and easy to use.
I also noted how impressed I was with the car’s fuel economy. Would the automatic Elantra be able to match the standard for fuel mileage?
When I picked up the 2013 automatic Elantra, I immediately reset the fuel mileage readout so it would reflect the mileage of my driving style. Now I could compare the fuel mileage of a standard Elantra to that of an automatic.
The engines on the two Elantras are the same, the dealer says, and the tires are the same size and make. The only differences between the two cars are the transmissions, the mileage and the oil used in the engines. I have always used Mobil 1 synthetic oil in my vehicles and I know that using a synthetic can improve fuel economy by reducing internal friction.
I would be driving the same roads in the automatic Elantra as I have been in the standard. I would also be driving the same fuel efficient style in both vehicles.
Any significant difference in fuel economy between these two Elantras will be a result of the efficiency of the standard transmission compared to the automatic.
Since I bought my Elantra I have kept a detailed record of its fuel economy. I can average between 4.8 and 5.2 litres per 100 kilometres in the warmer months. That rises to between 5.5 and 5.8 in the cold winter months.
Armed with this information, I set out to drive around in the automatic just as I drive my standard Elantra. I noted that the engine rpm is the same at a given highway speed in either transmission, which indicates the final drive ratio (gearing) is very close if not identical on the two cars. This factor is important for fuel economy.
So what was the difference in fuel economy between the standard Elantra and the automatic?
The best I could attain was 6.4 to 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres in the automatic. As mentioned before I could get 4.8 to 5.2 with the standard. I was using about 1.6 litres more for every 100 kilometres I drove. Most of my driving is at highway speeds with a mix of urban driving, with a roughly 70-30 ratio.
To put that into real world numbers, at today’s fuel prices (about $1.25 per litre), if you were to refuel at about the 400 kms point or just below half a tank, you would be paying an extra $8.00 at each fill-up, or $416 more per year (assuming a weekly fill-up) with an automatic.
With the approximate added price cost of about $1,250 to have an automatic compared to the same car with standard, you can see that this option is one you’ll pay for over the duration of your ownership. If you kept the automatic Elantra for only five years, the total cost would be about $3300 more compared to owning a standard version.
From my testing, it looks like you could expect to use about 30 per cent more fuel if you equipped your vehicle with an automatic transmission compared to a standard transmission.
This could be quite a bit higher if your driving is mostly city driving.
The question for some is: Is it worth paying the extra money to drive an automatic worth to avoid the added “work” of having to shift gears?
Not for me.
I enjoy driving standard and I also enjoy knowing I’m giving fewer of my hard-earned dollars to the multinational oil companies.
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