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Losing the fuel economy war...


Mike updates us on his quest to lower fuel consumption

Usually, I don’t know when I’m beaten – or rather, I refuse to give up, try to hold my ground.

But I think I’m definitely losing the fuel economy battle, for the time being at least.

The plan was to improve my old 1.8-litre automatic EX 1800 Toyota Corona’s fuel economy by 10 percent, to take it from 26 miles per gallon (around 42km) to a shade under 29. We hit the wall around 27.5mpg, with the Corona refusing to get any better, despite feather throttle pressures and a raft of other tactics designed to improve economy. I was encouraged, though; there had been an improvement.

But the last fill-up showed a very different story: where I’d been getting a minimum of 520km out of a tank of 91-octane – and at 27.5mpg a useful 560km – I managed only 448km, despite maintaining the same economy driving regime and tactics.

So what went wrong? Nothing really. What had changed was where the car was being driven. I’ve moved house and the ratio of motorway travel to city streets has decreased. So I’m doing more stop start and travelling much shorter distances on the motorway, and the effect on the Corona’s fuel usage has been dramatic. I’m now travelling shorter distances each day but using much more fuel per kilometre.

The economy at the last fill-up equated to 22mpg, a major deterioration. I’m still going to try to improve on that but as far as achieving 29mpg is concerned, I guess I’m beaten.

Which has got me to thinking about smaller cars again, especially minicars with their excellent economy and increasingly much improved drive quality. It was Suzuki’s new Alto that set me thinking about these little cars again. The Alto (see p42) is a good-looking car that promises excellent economy, and I think it looks an attractive prospect.

I’m a little worried that this may be a sign of my advancing years but prefer to think it’s a newly-heightened sense of responsibility, though my innate reluctance to give anyone too much money for anything – I call it the Arkwright syndrome – probably contributes to the growing attractiveness of low-priced, fuel-miserly cars. I’ve flirted with the idea of running a minicar – or in the case of the cars I was considering, a microcar – before.

In the early 1970s, I was considering a Daihatsu 360 Max, Honda’s cute Z (fortunately not imported here after a toe in the water failed to attract much interest – I almost certainly would have bought one) and Suzuki’s rear-engined, Giugiaro-penned 360. Instead I bought a Mark 1 Ford Escort and was glad I had.

But now as fuel prices continue to bite ($107-$117 to fill the Corona) and I seem to be losing my fight to turn the Toyota into a more frugal consumer, the Hyundai i30, accomplished Kia Picanto and, to a lesser extent, the Daihatsu Charade, are starting to have appeal.

And now Suzuki is widening the choice with the new Alto due here in 2009.

Could I live with a car that small? I’m not sure, but as cars for everyday use in this traffic-clogged city, they’ve taken on a greater aura of appeal.

Advancing age, increased sense of social responsibility or just plain skinflintedness? Don’t know, but where minicars are concerned my spectacles have definitely taken on a tint of rose. 

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