2008 Volvo S80
3.2-liter inline-6, 6-speed auto, front-wheel drive
16 mpg city/24 mpg highway
If you need proof of interdepartmental political wrangling in the automotive industry, look no further than to head scratchers such as the following: The all-new-for-'07 (but you might not notice unless we told you) S80, Volvo's top-of-the-line über-sedan, is offered with three engines -- all of which get within 1 mpg of one another. There is, however a spread of 76 horsepower and 89 pound-feet of torque between the least and most powerful offerings.
In the best-case fuel-economy scenario, the S80 with the 3.2-liter, naturally aspirated inline-six gets 16/24 mpg; competitors such as the Lexus GS and Mercedes E-class provide better fuel economy with more powerful engines. An obvious solution is a diesel, such as the 2.4-liter turbo-diesel five-cylinder available in the European S80 that generates 182 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Volvo wants to launch a diesel here by "around the end of the decade," according to company reps.
Even equipped in its most expensive guise with the sculptural and guttural Yamaha-built 311-hp, 4.4-liter V-8, a C/D editor described the S80 as offering "all the flavor of Wasa crisp bread, which is like eating particle board." For those whose driveways are littered with bricks that refuse to die and who will buy a Volvo regardless, our advice is this: If you're going to spend $40,000 on a 235-hp, 3.2-liter S80, spend $43,000 and get the 281-hp turbocharged 3.0-liter.
2008 Pontiac Solstice/2008 Saturn Sky
2.4-liter inline-4, 5-speed auto, rear-wheel drive
19 mpg city/24 mpg highway
Talk about lose/lose: The naturally aspirated versions of the Pontiac Solstice and Saturn Sky twins get worse gas mileage than the significantly faster and more interesting turbocharged Solstice GXP and Sky Red Line. As equipped with the forced-induction 2.0-liter Ecotec and an automatic, the pair streaks to 60 in a screaming 5.2 seconds. With the base 2.4-liter Ecotec under their sculpted hoods, they're two seconds slower to 60 and lose 2 mpg on the freeway.
It comes as little surprise that Lotus Engineering was responsible for much of the Ecotec's development, certainly having a greater impact on versions such as those installed in the GXP and Red Line. The turbo 2.0-liter -- also installed in the Cobalt SS and HHR SS -- is a techno powerhouse, featuring cutting-edge bits such as direct injection and a twin-scroll, quick-spooling turbocharger. The 2.4-liter features high-compression variable valve timing and makes decent numbers, but decent isn't good enough when your little roadster weighs a ton and a half. Even the porkmeister A4 cabriolet gets 21 city and 30 highway.
Given the environmental benefits, it's obvious to us that the turbocharged Ecotec should fill the role of base engine, with a 300-hp twin-charged version taking over for the hot-rod Red Line and GXP.
Anything on E85
City/Highway: Minus 25 percent
E85, a blended fuel consisting of 85-percent ethanol and 15-percent gasoline, has been championed (by GM in particular) as a viable and green solution to the petroleum problem. Unfortunately, both adjectives are a stretch. You could fill volumes with debate over the benefits and social, fiscal, and environmental costs of ethanol, at least the starch-derived strains, so we won't.
What you need to know is that E85 reduces the fuel economy of any vehicle burning it by about 25 percent. For example, the grand-prize glugger of the full-size-truck segment, the Dodge Ram 1500, gets 12 mpg in the city and 16 on the highway. Fill 'er up with E85, and the fuel "economy" falls to 9/12. That's right, a single-digit mpg number, something the average person only experiences in Uncle Dwayne's RV or when renting a U-Haul truck. Or take the Dodge Avenger V-6, which gets a semi-respectable 19 city/27 highway. Pour in the corn juice, and watch mileage drop to an SUV-like 13/20.
Pres. George Bush recently announced a proposed mandate for 35 billion gallons of ethanol production by 2017, so you'll probably see more vehicles so equipped, regardless. An upshot of an ethanol/alcohol future is that we tired journalists will have a whole new hamper of words and terms involving alcoholism and ethanol overindulgence to reach into.