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Though a disappointingly large number of Australians are taking the head-in-the-sand approach to climate change, Europeans are treating the problem seriously and are looking to buy cars that maximise fuel efficiency.
Volkswagen is by far the biggest automotive maker in Europe and the local Australian importer has just completed a major media event in Canberra to demonstrate the fuel saving features of its latest models. Running under the tag of Blue Efficiency, Volkswagen’s extreme fuel savers have numerous technical devices to trim carbon emissions and at the same time reduce their fuel usage. Let’s analyse them before going into details of the greatest fuel saving method of all.
Stop-Start systems turn off the engine when it’s not required and fire it up again almost instantly when needed. Volkswagen has it on both manual and automatic versions of its Blue Efficiency range. The system can be turned off by the driver. Engineers say the car has to be stationary for about 15 to 20 seconds to justify stopping it because some extra fuel is required to fire the engine up again. If traffic is crawling along fitfully the driver can turn off the stop-start system.
Fuel Cutout stops fuel going into the engine when it’s not needed, typically when the car is slowing down or running down a hill. If you set the onboard computer to show the instantaneous fuel consumption you can have the satisfying experienced of it reading 0.00 litres per hundred kilometres.
Brake Energy Recuperation. Rather than taking power from the engine to charge up the battery all the time, this system charges the car’s battery when the brakes are used or the car is running downhill. If the electronics sense the battery is getting too low and the engine is still working hard then it automatically switches over to the ‘always charging’ system currently used on most cars.
Gear Recommendation is used in Volkswagen Blue Efficiency models with manual gearboxes. Quite simply, it suggests the correct gear to the driver from moment to moment for best efficiency (not necessarily lowest consumption). If it senses the car is being driven gently and then recommends up changes at lower revs. If the car is climbing a hill and/or being driven in a spirited fashion Gear Recommendation will suggest holding onto lower gears longer.
Coasting is the most interesting of the new Volkswagen fuel saving systems to our way of thinking. Remember when dear old dad would put the gearbox into neutral when going downhill to cut fuel use? The Volkswagen system does just that, but only in models with DSG automatic transmissions. It keeps the engine running so you still have normal braking and power assistance to the steering.
Intelligent Thermal Management is currently only used on the Volkswagen Touareg turbo-diesel models as part of their Blue Efficiency package. This cuts engine cooling to a minimum until the powerplant has reached its correct operation temperature. The system will make its way down into the smaller-engined models in the near feature.
Earlier we mentioned “the greatest fuel saving method of all”. What is it? Quite simply the person behind the steering wheel. Correct driving can easily trim fuel usage by 10 per cent, and savings of 25 per cent are there if you manage to tame a wild driver. Volkswagen Australia offers every customer a booklet full of economy driving tips and it has received a lot of praise from those who were perhaps not aware of the best ways to reduce their fuel costs.
Volkswagen Australia, well aware of the competitive nature of the typical Aussie motoring journalist, then ran an economy drive for us to test the cars’ features and our own (real or imagined) driving skills. All the Blue Efficiency vehicles had turbo-diesel engines and comprised two cars; Golf and CC, and two SUVs: Tiguan and Touareg.
Two courses were set, and both were real doozies. Starting at the top of the hill on which the Mount Stromlo Observatory is perched the Golf and CC were taken through a fairly torturous suburban run then a hard climb back up the mountain. The Tiguan and Touareg run was even tougher, incorporating some pretty serious off road sections with some slopes that required second gear up long steep inclines.
Yours truly managed an (imaginary) gold medal in the Tiguan economy event and felt quite pleased with himself. But my fuel usage was typically five per cent higher than that of Australian rally champion Ed Ordynski who set the course for us. It’s fascinating to note that high-performance drivers can be more economical than day-to-day ones when the conditions demand it.