The number of models that can run on the E85 ethanol is at an all time high. Choices include cars, minivans, SUVs, and pickup trucks. General Motors leads the industry in E85 ethanol-capable vehicles, with more than a dozen models for 2007. Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ford also field a selection, with Mercedes-Benz and Nissan represented as well.
In this report, two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive versions of a vehicle are counted as variants of the same model. Under that formula, our report on 2007 E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicles contains 27 entries: seven midsize and full-size cars, nine SUVs (all with V8 engines), eight pickup trucks (all with V8s) and three minivans.
Pricewise, the lineup starts with the $19,520 Touring-model edition of the Chrysler Sebring sedan with a 190-horsepower V6. At the high end is the $43,050 Nissan Armada full-size sport-utility vehicle with a 317-horsepower V8. (Prices quoted do not include destination charges.)
Horsepower ratings range from 201 in the V6 Mercedes-Benz C230 sedan, to the 320-hp V8 in General Motors' full-size pickup trucks and SUVs.
As for fuel economy, the most fuel-efficient E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicle for 2007 is the Chevrolet Impala sedan and its Monte Carlo coupe counterpart with the 211-horsepower V6. Their EPA rating is 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway. Trailing the pack is the Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck with the 235 horsepower V8. It's rated at 9 mpg city/13 highway. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates, fuel economy suffers by some 20 percent running on E85 ethanol versus conventional pump gasoline.
It's this flexibility that gives them the nickname, flex-fuel vehicles. No manufacturer charges extra for E85-ethanol capability versus a model's gasoline-only counterpart. And E85 ethanol fuel costs about the same per gallon as conventional 87-octane gasoline.
That's not to say that climbing aboard the E85 bandwagon is without some sacrifice. As we'll see in subsequent sections of this report, the benefits of using E85 ethanol are balanced by reduced fuel economy, scarcity of E85 ethanol fueling stations, and a flex-fuel vehicle fleet made up mostly of full-size trucks and SUVs.
E85 is shorthand for a blend of combustible motor-vehicle fuel that's 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent conventional unleaded gasoline. Ethanol is derived from plant material, corn mostly. Because its raw materials come mostly from U.S. farms and are distilled in U.S. refineries, ethanol is touted as a renewable energy source that has the potential to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.
E85 ethanol produces fewer harmful exhaust emissions than conventional gasoline. Proponents add that utilizing this renewable energy source helps stretch the earth's finite supply of fossil fuels. They also position E85 ethanol as a support for American jobs and agriculture. They also argue that the home-grown fuel helps the nation's trade balance and reduces tax dollars and military resources needed to secure our supply of foreign oil.
American automakers, stung by criticism that they lag their Japanese rivals in production of gas/electric hybrid vehicles, have embraced E85 ethanol under the umbrella of energy conservation and independence. Already having built several million E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicles over the last decade, GM, Ford, and the Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep group say they plan to put a combined total of 2 million more on the road each year, starting in 2007. Their top executives have lobbied for increased government support of ethanol production. And the companies fund campaigns to promote the use of E85 ethanol and the installation of more E85 ethanol pumps at gas stations.
But not everyone is so enthusiastic about E85. Critics deride the millions of dollars in tax subsidies provided ethanol producers, labeling them government handouts that go primarily to giant agricultural interests and big-corporation refineries. Detractors doubt the environmental benefits, noting that lots of nonrenewable diesel and gas is consumed to grow, transport, and process corn that becomes ethanol. Some maintain it requires more energy to produce ethanol than ethanol itself provides. Even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges that putting more E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicles on the road could raise levels of some types of harmful air pollution.
That's just a sampling of a growing debate over E85 ethanol and flex-fuel vehicles. For anyone considering the purchase of an E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicle, still other questions may hit closer to home. Here are the topics we cover in this article:
- The Pros of Buying an E85 Ethanol Vehicle
There are a lot of pros to running your vehicle on E85 ethanol and many reasons to consider switching from a vehicle that runs on conventional to a flex-fuel vehicle. You won't pay extra for an E85 vehicle or suffer a performance deficit. Your car will pollute less, and you'll support America's energy independence. Many believe that E85 is one way to end America's dependence on fossil fuel. Read this page to learn more about the benefits of owning an E85 vehicle.
- The Cons of Buying an E85 Ethanol Vehicle
While owning an E85 vehicle certainly has its positives, there also are negatives. Miles per gallon suffer when you run on E85 ethanol because it doesn't contain as much energy as regular-grade gasoline. Also, simply finding a place to fill up on E85 ethanol is a challenge because most pumps are located in the Midwest or on private or government property. Lastly, if you're looking for an E85 flex-fuel subcompact or compact car, you're out of luck. Find out more about the cons of E85 vehicles in this section.
- E85 Ethanol Vehicles for 2007
We list every 2007 E85 flex-fuel model, including EPA fuel economy estimates for E85 vs. conventional gasoline. If you're thinking of purchasing an E85 vehicle, this page will serve as an important reference tool.
The Pros of Buying an E85 Ethanol VehicleE85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicles have been available for years, but choices are broader than ever for 2007, with 27 different models for sale in the U.S. That's up from 20 for the 2006 model year, and just seven in 2000. GM offers 15 E85 ethanol flex-fuel models totaling about 400,000 vehicles. It offered nine models in 2006. Ford expects to sell 250,000 E85 ethanol flex fuel models this year. Clearly, E85 vehicles are growing in popularity and you might be asking yourself, "What's in it for me?"
E85 Vehicles Are Simple
GM identifies its E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicles with "Flex Fuel E85" badges and yellow fuel-filler caps. Ford labels its E85 ethanol flex-fuel models with a tree-and-road logo and a decal reading "FFV," for Flexible Fuel Vehicle. The Chryslers, Dodges, and Jeeps display a silver "Flex Fuel E85" tag. E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicles from Mercedes-Benz and Nissan do not carry any special identification.
compatible. A yellow gas cap can be found on most General Motors'
E85-compatible vehicles (bottom) and indicates the same.
Though some estimates say it costs the manufacturer about $150 to make a vehicle E85-ethanol capable, no automaker charges extra for an E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicle compared to its gasoline-only counterpart. Some flex fuel versions of engines are optional at extra cost, but it's the same charge as for the conventional gas version of the same engine. The Ford F-150 pickup is an example. Its base price is $18,220, but that's with a 202-horsepower 4.2-liter V6 engine, which runs only on conventional gasoline. To get E85 ethanol flex-fuel capability, you have to order the 300-horsepower 5.4-liter V8. The flex-fuel-capable V8 is a $1,645 option, but that's the same price as its gasoline-only counterpart.
E85 Is Just as Good as Gasoline
If you purchase an E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicle, or discover you already have one, and choose to run it on E85 ethanol it won't require drastic changes in your driving habits. Any E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicle can run on 100 percent E85 ethanol, 100 percent pump gasoline, or any combination of E85 ethanol and gasoline. The vehicle's on-board diagnostic systems adjust for any of these blends and keep it running according to manufacturer's specifications.
Neither should you notice a difference in vehicle performance using E85 ethanol compared to gasoline. E85 ethanol flex-fuel capability doesn't change the horsepower ratings of any of these engines. Their "flex fuel" capability means they have to run well on either type of fuel, so even though E85 ethanol carries an octane rating of 100-105, versus 85-95 for gasoline, manufacturers do not tune E85 ethanol-capable engines for higher performance than their gas-only counterparts.
Indeed, in a road test of an E85 ethanol flex-fuel Chevrolet Impala on both 87-octane gasoline and E85 ethanol, Consumer Guide's automotive editors could not detect a difference in engine performance, smoothness, or sound.
Some E85 ethanol proponents say the blend keeps fuel systems cleaner than gasoline, for potentially lower long-term maintenance costs. But GM and Ford have no special maintenance requirements for their E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicles, but other manufacturers may require use of specific engine lubricants. Check your owner's manual or consult with your dealer. And if you're fueling up with E85 ethanol, share that fact with your dealer service department or parts supplier when ordering replacement parts.
E85 Vehicles Are Eco-Friendly
If your concerns run to America's energy independence and the environment, an E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicle is one way to express it. Every mile you drive on E85 ethanol fuel is a mile you're not driving on conventional gasoline, and that prolongs the plant's stores of petroleum.
Vehicles fueled with E85 ethanol have lower carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide emissions than conventional gasoline or diesel vehicles, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, ethanol is water soluble, non toxic, and biodegradable. E85 ethanol also contains far fewer potential contaminants than found in gasoline.
While these advantages are considerable, there are some drawbacks to E85 vehicles that you should keep in mind. We'll look at some of the negatives in the next section.
The Cons of Buying an E85 Ethanol VehicleAdded expense and reduced convenience are the primary drawbacks of driving a flex-fuel vehicle on E85 ethanol, and you also may feel limited in the variety of vehicle types available to you. Here are some of the negatives you need to consider if you're thinking of buying an E85 ethanol vehicle:
In the expense category, E85 ethanol users need to buy more fuel and fill up more often than they would using 100 percent gasoline. That's because E85 ethanol fuel contains less combustible energy as gasoline per unit of volume.
Overall, using E85 reduces fuel economy by about 20 percent. In other words, a tank of E85 ethanol will take you only about 80 percent as far as a tank of conventional gasoline. Running on conventional gas, the V6 Chevy Impala, for example, is rated at 21 mpg city/31 highway. Running on E85, the same Impala is rated at 15 mpg city/22 highway.
Not only will you consume more fuel using E85 ethanol, you may pay more per gallon. Rising demand, limited supply, and extra costs associated with the transportation of E85 all play a role in its pump price. The EPA in November listed the average price for a gallon of E85 ethanol nationally at $2.41, compared to $2.23 per gallon for regular-grade gasoline. However, some Midwest service stations were pricing E85 ethanol as much as 30 cents per gallon below regular-grade gas.
General Motors used the 2007 Chevrolet Avalanche to launch its
"Live Green, Go Yellow" E85 campaign.
Convenience is an issue, too. It may be difficult to find a gas station that carries E85. Fewer than 1000 of the nation's 180,000 gas stations have E85 pumps, and most of those stations are in Midwest corn belt states. As of November 2006, Minnesota had the most E85 fuel sites, 300. Illinois had 132, Missouri 63, Iowa 56, and South Dakota 50. Most states had fewer than a dozen. Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Vermont had none.
A list of stations that carry E85 ethanol can be found at E85refueling.com. And if you drive a GM flex-fuel vehicle equipped with the OnStar assistance system, the OnStar advisor can direct you to the nearest E85 refueling station.
Choice is a hallmark of today's automotive landscape, but that's not necessarily so for E85 ethanol vehicle shoppers. The list of flex-fuel vehicles includes such popular models as the Impala and Chevy Tahoe, Ford F-150 pickup, and Jeep Grand Cherokee. But it does not include two vehicle classes gaining favor with fuel economy-conscious buyers: subcompact and compact cars.
The automakers have decided, for now, to concentrate their E85 ethanol flex-fuel programs on larger vehicles, which are less fuel-efficient to begin with than small ones. Their strategy holds that the E85 ethanol campaign is designed to reduce America's consumption of gasoline, so the greatest good comes from using E85 ethanol in the vehicles that burn the most gasoline.
"It's all about reducing the amount of petroleum that vehicles use," said Dave Barthmus, GM's spokesman for environmental and energy matters. He said GM's calculations show that over 15,000 miles, "a small [gas/electric] hybrid car" will consume 120 more gallons of gas than an E85 ethanol flex-fuel Tahoe full-size SUV with a V8 engine.
Barthmus said GM acknowledges some of the disadvantages of flex-fuel vehicles, such as less range per tank of fuel than on 100 percent gasoline. "We're trying to be as up front about that as possible," he said. However, he added, GM is optimistic that increased production of ethanol would lower E85 pump prices, and that more refueling stations would come on line to address the issue of convenience. Still, he acknowledged, using E85 ethanol fuel may be "more [an expression of] altruism than economic sense."
For some people, altruism may be incentive enough. Whatever your motivation, the next page has a comprehensive look at your 2007 E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicle choices.
E85 Ethanol Vehicles for 2007Here is a comprehensive look at your 2007 E85 ethanol flex-fuel vehicle choices:
Chevrolet Impala LS and LT 3.5
Chevrolet Monte Carlo LS and LT
Chevrolet Suburban LS, LT and LTZ
Chevrolet Tahoe LS, LT and LTZ
Chrysler Aspen Limited
Chrysler Sebring Touring
Dodge Durango SXT, SLT and Limited
Dodge Ram 1500 ST and SLT
GMC Sierra 1500
|GMC Sierra 1500 Classic |
Class: Large Pickup Truck
Base price range: $24,515 - $35,520
Engine: 295-horsepower 5.3-liter V8
EPA mpg city/highway (gasoline): 16/21 (2WD), 15/19 (4WD)
EPA mpg city/highway (E85 ethanol): 12/16 (2WD), 11/14 (4WD)
What we say for the Chevrolet Silverado 1500 Classic holds for this GMC version, and both merit Recommended status despite a design that dates to the late 1990s. As on the Silverado Classic, the E85 ethanol flex-fuel 5.3 liter V8 is standard or optional, depending on the Sierra Classic version ordered.
GMC Yukon SLE and SLT
GMC Yukon XL SLE and SLT
Ford Crown Victoria
Jeep Commander Sport and Limited
Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo and Limited
Lincoln Town Car
Mercedes-Benz C-Class C230
Mercury Grand Marquis
Nissan Armada SE and LE
Now that you know the benefits and drawbacks E85 Ethanol vehicle you can make an informed decision that meets your driving needs.