This story in the U.K.’s Times Online is racing around the interwebs. Google “BMW 520d” and note how many pages deep it goes. Two goofballs journalists took a road trip, one in a Prius and the other in a BMW 520d. The BMW purportedly got about 4 percent better gas mileage than the “gas guzzling” Prius, which amazingly only managed a dismal 40 mpg. Coincidentally, that is exactly what our Prius got on a road trip last summer, which was not only jammed with people and camping gear but also had a giant cargo carrier strapped to the roof! Odd how the Prius always manages to lose these contests … unless they’re performed by independent third parties like Consumer Reports (Prius: 44 mpg, TDI Jetta: 34).

The Prius has set the bar and competitors are finally going after it. This is how homo sapiens are. This is what motivates them to build skyscrapers and airliners. For the first time in human history, they are finally competing over green issues, which is all good. The following story carefully orchestrated farce is, in reality, a tribute to the Prius engineering that kicked this whole show off. Somebody has a serious case of mileage envy.

The video starts with Nicholas telling us, “We are going to see if we can get there on one tank of fuel each … “

Okay, we have just established that these two are not rocket scientists — the Prius tank holds 11.9 gallons compared to the Beemer’s 18.5.

Next stop, Nicholas gives us a look at the BMW mileage computer. It shows 46.1 mpg. Jason tells us his computer is showing 45.3 mpg. I wonder what the readings would have been if Nicholas had been driving the Prius? Hint: you can expect to take a 2 percent mileage hit for every extra 100 pounds you carry.

Now, we have already established that these two are not rocket scientists, so when Nicholas tells us that, unlike the Prius, the BMW gets its high mileage from lots of “less radical things,” you might want to take his revelation with a grain of salt. His examples are as follows:

  1. A small four-cylinder engine (like the Prius).
  2. Low aerodynamic drag (like the Prius).
  3. Low rolling resistance (like the Prius).
  4. A fuel consumption computer on the dash (like the Prius).
  5. Regenerative braking for the battery (like the Prius).

Although not mentioned, I suspect the engine may also turn off at stops and may also have electric assisted steering (like the Prius).

Next, Nicholas tells us his BMW is still getting 46.1 mpg and that he would be very surprised if Jason is keeping up with him. Surprise! No further mention was made of Jason’s mileage.

Then we have Jason fretting that his tank of gas isn’t going to get him to his destination. Poor Jason — considering that his gas tank holds about six and a half gallons less than the Beemer’s does, you would think he might have figured that out beforehand. Oh well. A rocket scientist would also have just stopped at a gas station and filled up rather than run the car out of gas.

Next up, we have Nicholas peering in the window at Jason, who sadly (in more than one way) has just run out of gas:

Nicholas asks, “Jason? Have you run out of fuel?”

“Uh, yeah,” says a deeply chagrined Jason.

And, finally, it is time to find out who has won. What a surprise that was. A video of the average mileage displayed on each car’s onboard computer as they rolled to a stop would have made a dramatic end. But remember, these guys are not rocket scientists, which may explain why no such video evidence is forthcoming. Call me a skeptic, but our Prius consistently averages over 50 mpg on the highway.

This reminds me of an earlier comparison where a Prius lost to a diesel. The Prius computer showed 51.7 mpg highway as one might expect, but the “journalists,” assuming it must have been wrong, ignored it and somehow managed to calculate 38 mpg, thus launching yet another long-lived internet urban legend (along with the “Hummer is greener” and the “battery pollution” rumors).

From the article:

The official fuel consumption figure for the Prius — supplied by Toyota itself — is 54.7 mpg in mixed motoring. That’s a claim not supported by many of the letter writers to The Sunday Times who say they get nearer to 41 mpg.

Suspecting that everything said in this article may turn out to be wrong, I checked the official Toyota website, which gives 48/45/46 mpg for city/highway/combined. The EPA gives 48/45 for city/highway and Consumer Reports gives the Prius an average 44 mpg. And exactly how many is “many”? Is it more than one?

But here is what I find amusing: the BMW only got 41.9 mpg in the test run, when the official fuel consumption figure for the BMW — supplied by BMW itself — is 47.9 mpg!

And finally we have these contradictory statements from Jason:

The next day it became clear my Prius did not like motorways, at least not at 75 mph into a headwind … I’d lost to a Beemer and I was disappointed; I had never driven so slowly or carefully for so long in my life …

The Prius is a hatchback, not a sports car. Those speeds are not in its mileage design envelope. The aerodynamic penalty associated with an abrupt aft shape is tough to compensate for at higher speeds. Driving 75 mph is a dumb thing to do for numerous reasons.

The Prius was just the beginning. Better cars will show up. This need of diesel enthusiasts to bash the Prius is baffling. In Europe, there is a 35 percent price difference between the low-end Prius and this low-end BMW. That’s a steep price to pay for that purported 4 percent improvement in gas mileage.