Fuel economy has become the No. 1 criteria on people's car shopping lists, making MPG figures a big marketing point for all of the automakers.
Several automakers have faced backlash after consumer discovered their cars don't quite hit the lofty fuel economy figures promised by the automakers, and Ford may be the newest casualty of all this pesky fact-checking by critics and watchdogs.
The magazine drove the cars 2,000 miles and consistently got around 39 mpg for the Fusion and 37 mpg for the C-Max. Jake Fisher, director of auto testing for Consumer Reports, said this is the largest discrepancy between what automakers MPG claims and the actual real-world driving results.
"It's not to say these are bad cars at all; they still get excellent fuel economy," Fisher said. "But we've been doing this for a long time, and we've never seen such a difference between the EPA estimates and our numbers."
Hyundai/Kia faced a similar debacle earlier this month after the Environmental Protection Agency reported it had tested the company's fuel claims and found the figured were off by as much as 6 mpg on some cars. And Honda was sued by a California customer who said her Honda Civic failed to get the 50 mpg that was advertised. She ultimately lost, but the case made headlines across the country.
Ford said its figures were certified by the EPA, but the EPA only verifies figures from the automakers on about 10 percent to 15 percent of the cars on the road.
Ford said some early reports from customers showed the cars getting even better fuel economy than 47 mpg.
"This reinforces the fact that driving styles, driving conditions, and other factors can cause mileage to vary," said Wes Sherwood, a spokesman for Ford. For customers who want to optimize their fuel economy, the cars come with different driving coach software to help drivers get better fuel economy, he said.
Automakers confronted with mileage discrepancies often revert to the argument that "your mileage may vary" – a valid point, given the way people drive can have a dramatic effect on fuel efficiency. Someone bombing down the highway at 85 mph, racing up to red lights and speeding away at green lights, will get much worse fuel economy than a patient, somewhat sedate driver.
But Fisher said the discrepancy in the Fusion hybrid and the C-Max hybrid were too large to let slip by. Normally Consumer Reports finds that there's a one or two mpg difference between its tests and the automaker's claims.
Still, 39 mpg for the Fusion and 37 mpg for the C-Max are impressive fuel economy figures. A few years ago, there were barely any cars on the road that could get more than 35 mpg, and now there are 24, according to FuelEconomy.gov.
Here's a video from Consumer Reports talking about the issue: