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Road Trips and the Quest for 40



MSRP: $17,595 - $20,595
MPG Range: 40 - 40 mpg
Body Style: Sedan

I'm a big fan of the last-minute road trip. Road trips for concerts, baseball games -- even food. In college, my girlfriend and I once cut out of Spanish class moments before it began to drive three hours to the nearest Denny's for a free Grandslam breakfast. That might explain why I still can't hablo espanol. Needless to say, when my girlfriend proposed we take a road trip up to Portland, OR to visit some college buddies a couple days before the long Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I was game.
We packed up the Elantra with all our stuff, hopped on I-5 and headed 964 miles north to Portland. The large trunk easily swallowed up three medium-sized suitcases, a backpack, an air mattress, two pillows, and two blankets with room to spare. The backseat also took a cooler of Red Bull, two more pillows, another blanket, and the road trip-mandatory beef jerky with ease.

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Initial impressions were positive. The Elantra is relatively quiet, felt at ease on the highway, and never left me wanting for more power. The interior is well laid-out, has plenty of room, all the controls are simple and intuitive to use, and it packs tons of features like heated seats and a backup camera we'd expect in the midsize Sonata.
That's not to say there weren't a few minor things that proved annoying over four-days and 2044.6 miles, the Elantra's steering chief among them. With the steering wheel on-center at speed, turning effort seemed overly heavy, before rapidly giving away to being too light. Also a minor annoyance: the lack of lumbar adjustment. The heated seats partly canceled out the lack of lumbar support -- and provided welcome relief in the cold rain and snow we experienced -- but its absence remains an oversight.

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One other hangup was fuel economy. Though the EPA rates the Elantra at 29/40 mpg city/highway and 33 mpg combined, I averaged 28.6 mpg over seven complete fill-ups during my trip -- a figure not too far off the 29.2 mpg real-world estimate reported on the fueleconomy.gov website. The best fuel economy would likely have been seen on the mostly flat stretch of I-5 between Redding and Firebaugh, Calif. where the Elantra's trip computer estimated a 365 mile range. Unfortunately, the pump clicked off at 7.128 gallons before the tank was full, and wasn't noticed until about a mile or two later when I was back on the freeway. Based on our fuel log, that tank would have been good for around 32 mpg.

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The best we did record was 31.8 mpg. Strangely enough, that was achieved on the most mountainous part of the journey between Redding and Grants Pass, OR., where the I-5 winds through the mountains and peaks at 4310 ft. The worst was 23.5 mpg, seen on the final leg going back into Los Angeles and the associated traffic. The other tanks were consistently in the high 20-mpg range at 30.6 mpg, 29.9 mpg, 28.7 mpg, 28.5 mpg ,and 27.2 mpg. Not bad but shy of the EPA's estimate 40 mpg highway. You can check out a full breakdown of fuel economy in the chart below. In the Elantra's defense, its on-board trip computer indicated our average speed throughout the journey was 65 mph, which includes city driving. Also somewhat interesting is that the Elantra's "ActiveEco" button didn't seem to have an effect on fuel economy. Both the best and worst ratings were achieved with the button on and the green "ECO" light on the instrument panel lit.
A few weeks later, I would take the Elantra on another trip up to Redding and back in an attempt to hit the elusive 40 mpg. I knew I had to drive it in the most mind-numbingly painful way possible, as anything else would result in a low-to-mid-30 mpg figure at best. My test track would be I-5 south running from Redding, Calif. all the way to Los Angeles. I'd top off in Redding, and then hypermile my way home.

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I didn't want to be a danger to myself or others, however, so the decision was made to travel at exactly the posted speed limit -- not faster, not slower -- and that I wouldn't be drafting big rigs. Mercifully, the limit was 70 mph for most of the drive. I was going to do it right -- not without gimmicks, but just without most of them. Cruise control would be on the whole entire time, the whole trip would be driven without the use of air conditioning, and the Elantra's "Eco" mode would be left on.

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To increase the odds of hitting the big 4-0, I left Redding in the late afternoon to minimize the risk of traffic and to cut down on the time I'd spend in 80 degree heat with no A/C. As planned, I topped off in Redding, rolled the windows up, made sure the "Eco" light was on, and gingerly accelerated towards the freeway.
Once on the slab, I set the cruise control at the posted speed limit, which at that point was 55 mph. After a few miles, it went up to 65 mph and as I gently accelerated, the Elantra downshifted to the detriment of fuel economy. When the limit went up again to 70 mph a few more miles later, I switched into manual mode to make sure it stayed in sixth. The same "gentle throttle in sixth" approach would be taken for each passing maneuver as well.


At this point, all I could do was drive until I ran out of gas or spontaneously combusted due to boredom. (Dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It's just not really widely reported.) In an effort to combat boredom, I spent my seven hours flipping through the satellite radio stations and watching the Elantra's average fuel economy meter. With around three-quarters of a tank left, the numbers peaked at 37.6 mpg and then slowly fell to 37.0 mpg. With about a half tank left, the number started dropping a lot more rapidly. By the time I stopped for gas 416.6 miles later with an estimated 30 miles of range left, the readout read 35.8 mpg.

Needless to say I was disappointed. With the clock rapidly approaching midnight and some 120 miles left before I was home, I accepted defeat. As it turns out, all was not lost. When I did the math the next morning, it turned out that on my miserable, awful, terribly boring fuel economy run, I used 10.473 gallons of gas while traveling 416.6 miles. Using simple divison, that provides a fuel economy figure of 39.77 mpg, which of course rounds up to 40 mpg!. Freakin' A.


Our Car
Service life 7 months/13,575 miles
Average fuel economy 26.5 mpg
CO2 emissions 0.73 lb/mi
Energy consumption 127 kW-hr/100mi
Unresolved problems None
Maintenance cost $93.45 (1 x oil change, tire rotation, inspection)
Normal-wear cost $0


Read more: http://www.motortrend.com/roadtests/oneyear/sedans/1205_2012_hyundai_elantra_update_5/#ixzz1wBhKRS6c
 
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