Not So Green: 5 Small Cars With Poor Gas Mileage

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(credit: Thinkstock)

(credit: Thinkstock)

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With many of today’s small cars hitting dealer lots with EPA ratings that rival those of hybrid cars, it’s easy to forget that not all small cars are green. Many small cars win the gas-mileage race, but which small cars should you avoid if you’re trying to top out on fuel economy? These are five cars you should avoid. Pay attention: the list includes some surprises, including versions of cars known for their good gas mileage.

2012 Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X AWD

2.0-liter four-cylinder, six-speed automatic
17/22 mpg, 19 combined

Like so many small car gas-mileage champions, the 2012 Mitsubishi Evo X has an all-aluminum, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine. But unlike the greenest small cars on the market today, the Evo’s 2.0-liter lump isn’t built with gas mileage in mind. Instead, it’s built with pure power. Producing 295 horsepower and 300 pound-feet of torque, the 2012 Evo X is Mitsubishi’s tenth incarnation of the legendary world rally champion.

it’s no surprise then, that the Evo X features a sophisticated all-wheel drive system, a dual-clutch, six-speed automatic gearbox, and a drive system that offers ‘Normal’, ‘Sport’, or ‘Super Sport’. But while it is undeniably fun to drive, the Evo’s gas-guzzling days might be over, thanks to tightening gas mileage legislation. In fact, when the Evo X ends production next year, its successor, the Evo XI, could be powered by none other than a diesel-electric hybrid drivetrain.

2012 Subaru WRX/STI

2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, six-speed manual
17/23 mpg, 19 mpg combined

Just like its fellow Japanese rival, the 2012 Subaru WRX and STI with its 2.5-liter turbocharged engine and its six-speed manual, is unashamedly about performance first, and fuel economy last.

With as much world rally heritage as the Evo, the 2012 Subaru SRX — “Scooby” to its friends — isn’t quite as primal to drive as its predecessors, but when specified with its 2.5-liter, flat-four, turbocharged engine mated to a six-speed gearbox, it’s hard to think about driving in an eco-minded way. Based on the old-style 2008-2011 Impreza, the WRX is certainly not designed as an everyday driver, but will, at a push, help you with daily driving if you need it to.

There is a saving grace however: the 2012 Subaru Impreza. New for 2012, it comes with a 2.0-liter flat-four, engine that can get an impressive 36 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg city when paired with a continuously variable transmission. That’s a surprising 30 mpg combined. For the record, that particular engine and transmission choice makes it the greenest all-wheel-drive compact car on the market today. The best bit? The new Impreza, while less fun to drive than its sportier WRX and STi cousins, still packs a sporty punch.

2012 Mazda MazdaSpeed3

2.3-liter four-cylinder, six-speed manual
18/25 mpg, 21 combined

Mazda might be working hard to promote the 2012 Mazda3 with SkyActiv technology, but at the bottom of the gas mileage chart is its 2.3-liter sporty sibling, which is anything but green. In Mazda’s own words, “We started with something very good, then made it very, very naughty.”

Unlike the goody-two-shoes, 40-mpg SkyActiv-G 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine available on the 2012 Mazda3, the 2012 MazdaSpeed3’s 2.3-liter turbocharged, intercooled, four-cylinder engine can push out 263 horsepower and develop an impressive 280 pound-feet of torque. To help it stay on the road, Mazda put the Speed3 through extensive race-testing, including the famous Nürburgring in Germany, and of course, the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. It might buy you some extra seconds in the stop-light derby, but it won’t save you gas. Enough said.

2012 Volkswagen Golf R

2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, six-speed manual
19/27 mpg
, 22 mpg combined

Volkswagen has been known for many years for its green-minded diesel VW Golf variants. But with a 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, the 2012 Volkswagen Golf R is as far from eco-driving as the Golf brand gets.

With all-wheel drive, this particular Golf is built with performance firmly put before anything else. That’s reflected with a 5.9-second 0-60 mph time, tightened handling and sportier wheels. Inside, it looks, and feels, like a regular Golf, giving it a real everyday appeal.

Though it has all of the usual features you’d expect of a Golf, its performance-oriented engine is shockingly thirsty, which can dampen some of the enthusiasm.

2012 Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V

2.5-liter four-cylinder, six-speed manual
21/28 mpg, 24 mpg combined

Just like some of the other cars we’ve listed, the sporty 2012 Nissan Sentra SE-R-Spec V might give you quick acceleration times, but those come at the expense of gas mileage.

In its 2.0-liter form, the humble Nissan Sentra can manage 30 mpg combined. Add a larger, 2.5-liter engine, give it some sporty tuning, and it struggles to reach 24 mpg combined.

We can’t think of anything else to say about the Sentra SE-R Spec V, only to note with amusement that while it has 60 more horsepower than the base-level 2012 Sentra, its 180 pound-feet of torque is no match for the 207 pound-feet produced by Nissan’s cleanest car, the 2012 Nissan Leaf.

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This article originally appeared on Green Car Reports.

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