Ford Mustang Shelby GT500
2013 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 (Photo courtesy of Ford)

With concerns about greenhouse gases, importing foreign oil and the government’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy requirement of 54.5 mpg looming, fuel economy is getting unprecedented attention from automakers and consumers. It may seem surprising, then, that while fuel economy is rising, so is the horsepower rating of many cars.

Paul Eisenstein of The Detroit Bureau noticed this phenomenon last month at the New York International Auto Show. He noted that alongside hybrid models such as the Nissan Pathfinder Hybrid and Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid stood cars like the 500-horsepower Chevrolet Camaro Z/28 and 950-horsepower Ferrari LaFerrari.

Eisenstein credits the rise in horsepower and fuel economy to “powertrain breakthroughs such as eight- and nine-speed gearboxes, direct injection and turbocharging.”

One example that shows how technology is giving us the best of both worlds is the Ford Mustang. The 2010 V6 Mustang has 210 horsepower and achieves an EPA-estimated 16/24 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission. The V8-powered GT has 315 horsepower and achieves 17/23 mpg city/highway. The Shelby GT500 has 540 horsepower and gets 14/22 mpg city/highway. For 2013, horsepower and fuel economy on all models have increased. The V6 model has 305 horsepower and achieves 19/31 mpg city/highway with an automatic transmission, while the GT has 420 horsepower and gets 18/25 mpg. The GT500 has 662 horsepower and gets 15/24 mpg city/highway.

2013 Hyundai Sonata
2013 Hyundai Sonata (Photo courtesy of Hyundai)

The technology that is allowing for more power and better fuel economy isn't just limited to muscle cars, though. From 2010 to 2013, the base Hyundai Sonata with an automatic transmission jumped from 175 horsepower and 22/33 mpg city/highway to 198 horsepower and 24/35 mpg. The 2010 V6-powered Sonata has 249 horsepower and achieves 19/29 mpg city/highway. Hyundai redesigned the Sonata in 2011, and in the process, dropped the V6 option in favor of a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The current Sonata Turbo has 274 horsepower and achieves 22/34 mpg city/highway.

The BMW 3-Series also follows this trend. The 2010 BMW 335i, with a turbocharged inline-six-cylinder engine has 300 horsepower and achieves an EPA-estimated 17/26 mpg city/highway. The 2013 model has the same engine and horsepower, but with two extra speeds in its automatic transmission, achieves 23/33 mpg city/highway.

“The good news,” according to Eisenstein, is that today’s cars are “both faster and more powerful than ever while still meeting tougher emissions and mileage mandates.” Better fuel economy, of course, also saves owners money at the pump.

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