In what seems to be an emerging pricing pattern industry-wide, Hyundai is notably reducing the starting MSRP of its upcoming all-new subcompact, the 2012 Accent, while bumping up its (currently non-existent) sex appeal, fuel economy and content level.
The Accent sedan will start at $13,199 when it arrives in early June, or $1,100 less than the base '11 four-door, and only hundreds more than its U.S. starting price.
For the hatchback coming by late June, the '12 Accent keeps the current $13,599 starting price, but also makes a significant practicality upgrade from a three- to a five-door body, on top of the new safety content and upgraded engine.
There is more to this pricing story versus the U.S. Accent, however. You may recall that the Accent made major PR waves in Canada back in 2008 when it became available for a cash price of $9,995, thanks to combining various incentives that made it the least-expensive new car available in Canada. This was for a stripper Accent hatchback, with no A/C, stereo or automatic transmission. Although the deal was short-lived here (at least without some major haggling), it was a new car for what then and now amounts to a used-car budget.
Yet this price and no-content combo is still available on the '11 Accent in the United States, now in limited quantities, since the '12 Accent sedan has already launched there. And while the latest Accent sedan's U.S. starting price of $12,445 seems reasonably close to our new lowered one, Hyundai Canada's destination charge to get it to you is about double the freight charge in the United States, at $1,495 (Canadian) versus $760 (U.S.).
All in all, Canadians will pay $1,489 extra for a base 2012 Accent sedan, courtesy of those higher MSRP and delivery charges, and about $2,240 more for a fully loaded GLS four-door with the (impressive for a subcompact) six-speed automatic: $19,494 (Canadian) versus $17,255 (U.S.), before taxes. Put in this perspective, that $1,100 price cut still seems worthwhile, but hopefully as a step closer to parity rather than an end result.
Hyundai Canada argues that its destination fee isn't just freight, but includes various fuel, administration and dealer prep charges. To be fair, there is a Canadian 6.1 per cent tariff on non-North American-made vehicles coming into the country, compared to a 2.5 per cent duty for cars headed to the U.S. from South Korea.
Now that the Canadian dollar has stabilized above the American greenback and consumer voices are once again questioning the price differences in the two countries on many goods, and especially on vehicles where the differences often total thousands of dollars, that U.S.-Canadian price gap looks set to remain a thorny issue for auto makers in the months to come, as all are working now on establishing 2012 prices.
Dash fuel consumption meters unreliable
A recent sample survey of 14 tests in seven vehicles by auto site Edmunds.com found that the fuel consumption readouts in most new vehicles regularly underestimate the car's fuel use by an average of 5.5 per cent, with some gauges understating fuel thirst by a whopping 19 per cent.
That severely optimistic gauge belonged to a 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid, while a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta TDI was close behind, claiming fuel economy 16 per cent better than what Edmunds measured. The site measured these fuel consumption figures by using a preset distance and measuring the amount of fuel used to travel it, although the report didn't go into detail on its methodology.
Most vehicles were much closer to reality than this to reach Edmunds' 5.5 per cent average final figure, taken from the admittedly small sample. But the site makes a good point in that drivers who use these numbers to log their fuel consumption for work or for budgeting purposes may be stretched into unexpectedly higher fuel bills over time by such optimistic numbers.
Especially for thirstier cars, pickups and large SUVs, if inaccuracies closer to 15 per cent are common, these could result in $2,000-$4,000 extra dollars over a five-year life cycle, at current American gas prices, the site concluded.
Explanations provided by various auto makers suggested that the lower power density of ethanol blended into the fuel was the most likely to affect readings, as could weather and how well tuned the vehicle was.
How far can you stretch it?
Speaking of fuel economy, if you've ever wondered how far you can actually push your car after the low fuel light comes on - assuming you've seen your low fuel light, which some diligent folks out there haven't - this knowledge may help you save some money at the pumps while helping the environment, at a slight convenience cost.
Tankonempty.com is a crowd-sourcing site that lists the distance its visitors reported that they've travelled with the low fuel light on in their particular car. It then takes an average of all these distances, and calculates the average distance travelled by the site's visitors in that car on the low fuel light.
Chances are, it's more than you think. The site lists about 44 miles (77 km) for the Honda Civic, about 80 miles (129 km) for the Dodge Grand Caravan, and about 39 miles (63 km) on a Ford F-150, Canada's perennial best-selling vehicle.
Drivers concerned about high fuel prices may wish to put this knowledge to good use. Everyone has heard the usual ways to maximize your fuel economy: watch your speed (especially on the highway), keep your tires inflated properly, plan your errands together, and avoid carrying weight you don't need.
Arguably, the fuel you're not using also constitutes weight you don't need. And that weight can be significant. Think about what hauling around 12 of those four-litre milk bags would feel like: that's what your average compact car gas tank holds. And any mid-size or larger SUV or pickup could easily hold 100 litres or more.
Granted, there are limitations here. Being an American site, the distances are all in miles, but more of an issue is that there's no differentiation between years or generations of vehicles. So vehicles like the Civic, F-150 and Grand Caravan that have gone through major size and technology changes over their many years on the market could impact its low fuel light number, as could more examples of older, out-of-tune examples also pushing down the overall low fuel range.
So don't treat this number as gospel, just a guideline.