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Petrol prices and small car dreams


So petrol has hit $2 a litre - premium petrol anyway

It was already reaching eye-watering levels, even 91 octane. The last refuel I did on the old Corona crested $100 for the first time, prompting me to think again about the merits of small cars, and to look for more ways to cut the old girl’s fuel use. You see, left to her own devices, the 1993 1.8-litre automatic Corona has something of a drinking problem. It has no problem drinking, just drinks too much unleaded 91 octane. There was a time when I struggled to get much more than 410 kilometres out of the Corona’s tank. But some re-education of the right foot – reducing braking and exerting lighter pressure on the throttle – as well as adopting momentum driving techniques as much as practicable – has expanded that to an average of 520km. But that’s still only 26mpg, in a mix of around 70/30 city to open road running. I’ve been trying to improve that further, with the aim of cutting fuel use by 10 percent, achieving 28mpg and getting around 560/570km out of a tank of gas. The first attempt elicited some improvement – 26.6mpg – and the current consumption looks promising, though the Corona’s fuel gauge has a disconcerting habit of hovering around a quarter of a tank as the kilometre count rises into the 400s, and then suddenly plummets to E and the little yellow light starts to glow as we inch towards 500km. Right now, I’m feathering the throttle – still getting off the line quickly at traffic lights – but letting speed build gradually rather than streak to 50kph, though even at full throttle the Toyota doesn’t exactly streak. I’m also doing more momentum driving, carrying corner speed and caressing the throttle on the exit of corners to maintain progress. I hope it’s working – it better. Short of moving to a smaller car, I can’t see many other ways of squeezing more kilometres into a litre of 91 octane. The trouble with driving a medium-size car like the Corona for more than a decade is that you get used to the more solid feel compared with a small car. Frankly I wouldn’t want to downsize  to something like a Daihatsu Sirion which may be a much more frugal means of transport but feels like what it is – a small car, with refinement levels that can’t match the 15-year-old Toyota.

There are cars, though, that manage the best of both worlds, the most amazing being Kia’s agreeably thrifty Picanto – a tiny car with no bad drinking habits, admittedly rather modest performance, but with refinement levels and ride quality once associated only with much bigger cars. Should I ever have to downsize in the interests of fuel economy, then the Picanto would be at or near the top of my list of possibles. Even more appealing is Hyundai’s similarly-sized but much more modern i10 which has been earning rave reviews in Europe. My cars of choice still remain Holden’s Commodore and Ford’s Falcon and their derivatives, but as the price of crude oil and – by extrapolation – petrol continues to rise, the big Aussies’ days may be numbered if they can’t find suitable diesel engines.
It’s hard to consider Kia’s Picanto or Hyundai’s i10 and Getz diesel as desirable dream cars but as the petrol crunch gathers momentum, good things in small packages are starting to take on a once unthinkable sheen.
Pass me those rose-tinted spectacles…


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