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What Happened to the economical cars of the 1980's

Updated on January 20, 2011


These days the brag is that we have very efficient cars that get great gas mileage. Some examples are the Smart Fortwo and the Toyota Prius. While these cars do burn less fuel than some other cars on the road they are not efficient. Not by a long shot.



The Smart Fortwo is a tiny, 2 seat car that gets around 42 mpg on the highway. I drove one a few months ago and was very impressed with it for its comfort and ability to maneuver. It is quite fun to drive. But 42 MPG??? That is TERRIBLE! In the 1980’s there was a car called the Chevy Sprint. It was built by Suzuki and sported the same size engine as the Fortwo yet it could achieve nearly 60 MPG on the highway, and it was bigger and heavier. It also had 4 seats.  



The Toyota Prius is a 5 seat hybrid gas/electric car that is reported to get 40 MPG. It is a nice car but I once had a 1983 Ford Escort that could seat 5 and it got a consistent 45 MPG on the highway and it ran on gasoline only. It also was not fuel injected. It stands to reason that a car that size that is a hybrid should burn much less fuel but the Prius burns more. Granted, the Prius is a little bit bigger than the Ford Escorts of the 1980’s, but with advanced fuel injection and hybrid technology, why does the Prius burn so much more than the old Escort?



In the 1980’s several auto manufacturers equipped their small automobiles with diesel engines. Some of the most popular diesel cars were made by Volkswagen. There were 3 diesel Volkswagens in my family and all got 45 MPG on the highway or better. One of them got 51 MPG on a trip from Nevada to Virginia. These little diesel cars weren’t very powerful but they were economical.


Why then do we not have cars available today that will, at the very least, be as efficient as the cars of the 1980’s? That is an interesting question. There is a version of the Smart Fortwo that has a diesel engine that gets over 70 MPG. This version is not available in the US though. It has been said that the reason it is not sold in our country is that it puts out more pollution than the current laws allow for diesels. That may be, but here is something to think about. If the diesel emits more pollution per gallon of fuel as the gasoline emits, but burns less fuel then how much pollution is actually released into the environment each time the car is driven? I have yet to find a report that considers this line of thinking. Another reason that has been offered for not selling the diesel Smart in the US is that the American people won’t buy diesels. To this I say look at the number of Volkswagen cars on the road today that have the letters TDI on the back. These are diesels folks and people are buying them. Also, check out Craig’s List and EBay and see how much people are paying for old, worn out diesel Volkswagens. There is a market for diesels in the US.



If you like driving your huge SUV and don’t mind paying for the fuel that’s fine. Enjoy. But for the countless Americans that would like to have a choice I say: let us drive small, efficient cars. They take up less room which equates to less congestion on the highway and more room in the parking lots. We do have a choice. There are several diesel models offered by Volkswagen that get very good mileage. Somehow we don’t hear much about them in the news. We hear about the “amazing” Prius or the Smart Fortwo and how they are the answers to the so called fuel crisis but we hear almost nothing about the diesels that completely outdo them. I spoke with an owner of a 2005 diesel Volkswagen Jetta. I was told that it did not lack any of the luxuries we have come to desire in a car. It even had heated seats. If something like this interests you then speak up. Let folks know you want to drive a regular car that gets 50 MPG rather than 25. How about a hybrid that gets 80 rather than 40. Or a tiny commuter that gets 71 MPG on diesel rather than 42 on gasoline. I resent being told what I want. How about you?



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