68.7 MPG. No Kidding!

Driving habits can save you big money as test drivers of the new 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid Found.

The king of compact cars has another impressive jewel in its crown, as editors at website Hybrid Cars managed to juice 68.7 MPG out of the 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid on a ten-mile test course. The car's fuel economy is officially rated at 44/44/44 city/highway/combined miles-per-gallon. So what funky feat of driving allowed this amped up gas mileage?

It all comes down to the logic that how you drive your car affects your fuel economy as much as what you drive. The name of this game is hypermiling, and it can give your car some extra bang for your buck as gas prices creep up to $5.00 a gallon.

Hypermiling, of course, has risen in popularity as a response to the escalating gas costs that tormented the 2000s -- with the current national average teetering around 4 bucks, while parts of the country are closer to $5.00. Hypermiling was so often referred to back in 2008 when gas prices went above $4.00 a gallon that the New Oxford American dictionary officially selected "hypermiling" -- coined in 2004 by Wayne Gerdes -- as the 2008 "Word of the Year."

To hypermile: is to attempt to maximize gas mileage by making fuel-conserving adjustments to one's car and one's driving techniques. Rather than aiming for good mileage or even great mileage, hypermilers seek to push their gas tanks to the limit and achieve hyprmileage, exceeding EPA ratings for a vehicle's miles-per-gallon.

Though the Civic's fuel economy trails that of the Toyota Prius, which gets 50 mpg combined in city and highway driving, it is nonetheless a great case study for exploring the payoff of hypermiling, as well as a way to satisfy a consumer's "greener-than-thou" needs. This new ad for the Civic Hybrid featuring "Jack the woodsman" shows how the image of the hybrid driver lends itself to a few laughs.

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Sure, the earth-friendly Eco Assist feature is enough to make one's beard coo with baby birds who have taken up residence. But added to that, the vehicle, which starts at $24,050 and is available at dealerships this month, features a tauter body and more aerodynamic honeycomb grill, a raked windshield, five-spoke alloy wheels, and a high-performing 1.5 liter, 8-valve, SOHC i-VTEC engine to complement the hybrid features. In short, the styling is an improvement over the sensible-shoe profile of the old one.

Yet even in light of these mechanical tune-ups, even more power may be in the drivers' hands and foot than many drivers understand, especially when trying to eek out 68.7 MPG. Drivers can save a bit on tank gravy based on how they negotiate the machine on the road.

Some techniques of hypermiling involve minor adjustments to driving ergonomics, while others are downright controversial. So how did the Hybrid Car manage the impressive 68.7 MPG figure?

A few no-brainers can help drivers understand how to squeeze out as much mileage as possible from gas.

Resist the need for speed

Research the Honda Civic Hybrid

Speeding wastes gas, and the more you put the pedal to the metal, the less efficient your fuel usage becomes. By the same logic, using cruise control to prevent speed augmentation and shifting to neutral and coasting can take some of the brunt off your gas pedal. The folks over at Hybrid Cars found that accelerating at a steady rate to 45 mph and maintaining that pace as much as possible translated to a top MPG figure in a contest among journalists.

Reduce obstacles and load

Cutting down on friction and the burden on your vehicle can also up the ante. In short, the Robert Frost road-less-traveled-by rationale proves ill-advised here; though the bucolic country road may offer the delight of a nice vista, its bumps, curves, and numerous stops reduce fuel economy. By contrast, a route with a level road and fewer traffic lights and stop signs can, even if longer, be more efficient on your gas tank. By extension, any extra weight you have on your car--the ol' bike or kayak, say--will obviously decrease your fuel economy as you lug around
the equipment. And for Pete's sake, take the 40-pound bags of water-softener salt you bought at Home Depot last weekend out of your trunk! Are you carrying a spare tire and jack? If you have never changed a tire in your life, and instead carry around a AAA card and a cellphone to get bailed out of a flat, you might opt out of carrying that extra weight.

Be a rebel

For the transgressive out there, there's a surefire, if risky, way to gain some MPG. Tailgating larger vehicles to save fuel by drafting (i.e. increasing the aerodynamic flow) proves a perennial favorite for hardcore hypermilers. It's your own one-man driving insurrection--all under the auspices of a semi. Another efficient but rule-breaking phenomenon comes in coasting instead of breaking at stop lights and traffic lights.

A few pitfalls to avoid: coasting down hills in neutral, driving too slowly, dangerously tailgating larger vehicles for drafting, recklessly breezing through stop signs, over-inflating tires, and driving with two left wheels on white highway strip to reduce friction. That stuff is only for those asking for trouble. We do not recommend it.

Of course, there's been no shortage of fanfare surrounding the one-up-manship game, as fuel efficiency die-hards have created contests battling for top honors. At the 2008 World Fuel Economy Championship, for example, the Honda Insight, Toyota Prius, and the Ford Escape Hybrid all achieved fuel economy world records -- with the Insight turning in an imagination challenging 213 MPG, albeit while rolling through all stop signs and having the tires inflated beyond normal.

Though the new capabilities of fuel economy in cars are impressive, penny pinching drivers or environmental enthusiasts can still milk their cars for more through the advantages afforded them in hypermiling "lite." The only question remains, how much they're willing to risk to save a quick buck.

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