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If we could just get the kind of mileage we got in 1984

by ken winston caine

Are you getting the kind of gas mileage many people were getting in 1984?

I’ll bet you aren’t.

The sporty 1984 Honda Civic CRX coupe was rated at 51 mpg city and 67 mpg highway in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tests.

It was a gas-burner. (A stingy gas-burner.) And it was peppy and comfortable and fun to drive.

This was more than two decades ago. Long, long before hybrids.

That same year the Pontiac Fiero 4 cylinder, 2.5 liter, stickshift got 27 mpg city, 47 mpg highway in EPA tests… The Chevy Camaro got 40 mpg on the highway. The Nissan Sentra got a whopping 50 mpg city and 66 mpg highway…

Those were official figures, but they didn’t tell the whole truth. They didn’t reflect real-world driving in a variety of conditions. Actual mileage was less and, as USA Today reported:

“In 1984, responding to consumer complaints that its numbers didn’t match on-the-road experience, EPA cut 22% from its highway fuel-economy number and trimmed the city estimate 10%, starting with 1985 models.”

Even when you make those adjustments –and even knock an additional 10% off for good measure– 1984 mileage was super impressive. And people who owned ’84 Civics and carefully tracked their tank-to-tank mileage (tracking that many of us did back then, dutifully recording the figures in little glovebox notebooks at each fill-up) regularly reported getting close to (but not-quite) an all-around 50 mpg. And so did owners of the sluggishly underpowered, noisy-engine-rattling, black-smoke-belching Volkswagen Rabbit diesels.

Automakers produced fossil fuel burning cars that got this kind of mileage then because the public demanded it.

*(The EPA has changed its formula for calculating fuel efficiency for the 2008 model year for the first time since 1984 to make it more real-world based, and has revised its earlier estimates since 1985 to reflect the new formula. See note at bottom of article.)

Some more examples?

The Honda Accord sedan, then quickly on its way to becoming America’s favorite car, was rated at 32 mpg city, 45 mpg highway. And it was stylish and comfortably seated four adults and drove beautifully.

The 1984 Mercedes Benz 190 diesel got 31 mpg city/51 mpg highway in EPA tests.

The 1984 Pontiac 1000 manual shift was rated at 43 mpg city, 60 mpg highway.

If Japan and Detroit knew how to squeeze anywhere close to this much energy from a drop of gas in 1984 — and they DID, although Detroit did it by using Japanese engines and sometimes chassis bearing American nameplates — why, oh why, oh why aren’t we demanding at least this mileage — or even much, much better — today?


A quick-source
for EPA mileage figures:

*NOTE: The EPA site,, has revised EPA mileage estimates for all 1985 through 2007 models to make them coincide with the new, more real-world-driving-based 2008 formula. I wish it had gone back to 1984 –since that’s the year I chose to explore. But it didn’t. But to get some idea of what the government thinks real-world mileage of the sporty 1985 Honda Civic CRX HF was, here are the revised figures: city 40, highway 48. The original estimates were city 52, highway 57. (The “HF” in the Honda model, incidentally, stood for “high fuel economy.”)

Here’s how the EPA has revised its mpg tests for 2008

For more on current fuel standards, see Consumer Reports’ take.


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  • million-selling self-help author, success coach, therapist, book coach, ken winston caine helps you come true by facilitating rapid breakthroughs in your life, business, income, health, relationships and energy levels
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    ken winston caine is a former managing editor for Rodale, the world's premiere holistic lifestyles publisher, promoting organic living and making the world a better place for more than 60 years.


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