It was bound to happen sooner or later--a tech story geared toward building a fuel-efficient car. But before you die-hard enthusiasts decide to act hastily and pull out your pitchfork to storm the doors to our office headquarters, let us explain how this project isn't your typical mpg project car build.
From the get-go, our goals are simple. We're building this Civic as a reliable daily driver that delivers excellent fuel economy, but not at the expense of practicality. The car would have to be visually appealing to the masses with absolutely no compromising on its looks. No spaceship body kit, ugly wheel covers, or teardrop-shaped nose cones. Forget terms like hypermiling, hybrid technology, crosswind barrier, and drafting. These are blasphemous words frequently used by eco-friendly drivers, not us. The complex usage of "pulse and glide" acceleration pedal techniques in an attempt to save fuel isn't what this project is about. We're planning on driving this car like your average teenager trying to impress the cheerleading squad. With that said, it's important to understand up front that Project Sipper is not comparable to a modern sedan, with all of the creature comforts most drivers expect . . . because it doesn't need to be. We don't mind having a stripped interior and no audio to go along with adding modest aero modification. In the end, all we demand is that this car run reliably when we set out on our final test, a grueling five-day road trip.
We're simply thinking out of the box by building a car that's far from resembling your typical mpg machine. The plan is to lower the car, fit it with aftermarket wheels, custom aero work, full exhaust system, engine work, and finally tune using a Hondata S300 engine management system. What sounds like your average tuner vehicle is anything but typical to a hypermiler. Believe me when I say this build consists of using methods that would shock your average eco driver/car owner.
Simply Sipping, Not Guzzling Fuel
Fifth-generation Civic DX, LX, and EX models are a dime a dozen but finding a VX model is considered so rare nowadays that it's like finding a unicorn. Why is this car so popular, you ask? The VX model with its D15Z1 1.5L VTEC-E engine, rated at 92 hp is the most fuel-efficient fifth-generation Civic. Although this Civic is over a decade old, it still offers better fuel economy in comparison to most hybrid vehicles on the road today.
After spending over a month in search of a straight-bodied, clean-titled, and unmolested vehicle, we finally found our project car in a Craigslist ad. A quick email exchange with the seller followed by a phone call landed our Editor Charles on a one-way plane trip to "Sactown", otherwise known as Sacramento. Upon arrival, Charles gave the '92 Honda a quick look over and exchanged money to the sum of $3,000 before taking the six-hour drive back home. Yes, you read that correctly; it's not a typo. The car really did cost that much.
Fuel economists love the D15Z1 VX engine and with good reason. When tested on the road returning back from Sactown, we achieved 45 mpg highway at best, even before we began modifications. We hit 43 to 45 mpg on our first road trip, accelerating normally (no hypermiling here) after doing between 65 and 75 on the highway for the majority of the trip. With future mods, the car will probably average 60-plus mpg without breaking a sweat. We'll take this ride over a Prius any day!
Government EPA rates the Civic VX slightly higher at 39 city/49 highway with a combined of 43. We assume our slight drop in fuel economy was a combination of Charles' heavy foot and some minor issues we found later on with the engine. With 248K on the odometer, the car was, for the most part, stock, with the exception of some unnecessary aftermarket wiring, a nonworking alarm, and the cutouts for a set of missing foglights. Besides a handful of issues, including a few dents and dings, worn-out suspension bushings, oxidized paint, and faded interior seats, the car was in good condition-a testament to the overall durability and longevity of Hondas.