Comparing fuel costs for Canadian vehicles

With gas prices rising, drivers are feeling the pressure in their wallets, and some may be reconsidering their choice of vehicle and the fuel they put into it.
The Smart Fourtwo convertible, displayed at the 81st Geneva International Motor Show in March 2011, has a gas cost that is considerably lower than other vehicles. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

With gasoline prices rising, Canadian drivers are feeling the pressure in their wallets, and some may be reconsidering their choice of vehicle or their preferred source of fuel.

After all, taking an SUV with its V8 engine out for a spin is going to cost considerably more than tooling around in a tiny subcompact.

Based on the per-litre regular gas cost of about $1.41 that many consumers in central Canada faced Wednesday and vehicle fuel consumption ratings listed on the Natural Resources Canada website, it would cost $23.55 to drive a Lincoln Navigator SUV 100 kilometres on city streets. On the highway, going that distance would cost $16.22 for fuel.

The gasoline cost for that same distance on city streets in a considerably smaller Smart Car would be $8.32, and $6.78 on the highway.

Driving a Honda Accord sedan 100 kilometres in the city would cost $12.69, while that same vehicle on the highway would have a gas cost of $8.18.

The rising gasoline prices could also prompt drivers to consider other fuels or hybrid vehicles.

A Volkswagen Jetta running on diesel, which had an average price across Canada this week of $1.27 per litre, would set a driver back $8.51 to go 100 kilometres in the city, and $5.84 to go the same distance on the highway.

Propane more common in fleets

If a driver is putting propane in the tank, there would typically be a 25 per cent savings over gasoline, said Jim Facette, president and CEO of the Canadian Propane Association.

Mileage on propane depends on a number of factors, he said, noting that many of the propane-powered vehicles in Canada are in fleets.

Which fuel costs less?

An easy way to compare fuel costs for automobiles is by using consumption ratings measured in L/100 km or miles per gallon for each vehicle.

For electric vehicles the U.S. introduced a new measure in November 2010, called miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) for  comparison to traditional vehicles.

For example a 2011 Nissan Leaf, a mid-size electric car, is rated at 99 MPGe. Using electricity only, the Chevrolet Volt gets 93 MPGe. In comparison, a 2011 Toyota Corolla, the top-selling car, gets 29 MPG.

In Canada, after government rebates, the starting prices for the Leaf and the Volt are about twice the price for a Corolla.

The cost for different types of fuel can be compared by examining the energy content for each fuel. Using figures for energy content from the U.S. Dept. of Energy and average  vehicle fuel prices  on May 9 in Ontario, these are the costs for one kilowatt hour (in cents):

  • 15.29 gasoline
  • 13.02 diesel
  • 12.47 propane
  • 11.44 compressed natural gas

Putting ethanol (more than is blended into regular gasoline) into the fuel tank could be another option, although there are relatively few retailers selling it in Canada.

Standard ethanol blend (E85, containing 85 per cent ethanol, 15 per cent gasoline) prices in Canada are 12 cents per litre lower than  gasoline, said Gordon Quaiattini, president of the Canadian Renewable Fuels Association.

In a Lincoln Navigator capable of running on an E85 blend, the fuel to go 100 kilometres in the city would cost $29.03. On the highway, it would cost $20.25.

Mileage difference diminishing

Because it contains less energy ethanol gets lower mileage than gasoline.

"With today's current car technology, if you're comparing a tank of E85 versus a tank of unleaded, you don't travel as far, but with engine technology changes that are happening, that mileage difference is diminishing," said Quaiattini.

The 2012 Buick Regal, for example, will have E85 capability and Quaiattini said there is expected to be no difference in mileage compared to gasoline.

"The issue, though, is the availability of that fuel in the marketplace," said Quaiattini, who noted efforts are being made to expand the number of ethanol pumps available.

Electricity lowering fuel costs

The Chevrolet Volt has an overall combined gas-electric fuel economy rating of 3.9L/100 km. Based on the $1.41/litre cost of gasoline, going that distance would cost a driver $5.50 for the gas.

Gasoline for a Toyota Prius, which also runs on regenerating battery power, would cost $5.22 to go 100 kilometres in the city, and $5.64 for 100 kilometres on the highway. Based on its combined city/highway fuel consumption rating of 3.8L/100 km and gas at $1.41/litre, the gas would cost $5.36 to go that distance.

Biodiesel fuels — from vegetable oil and rendered animal fat — are not widely available in Canada and are not used extensively in personal vehicles. There are a few retail sites in Ontario and British Columbia.

Prices track about the same as diesel, said Quaiattini, who noted efforts in Canada to expand the industry. Mileage is the same whether an engine runs on diesel or biodiesel.