Vauxhall’s new Astra ecoFLEX is a perfect example of how engineers are putting their heads together and coming up with innovative ways of achieving ever better fuel consumption figures and lower CO2 emissions. You could, of course, go out and buy yourself a shiny new car, fitted with the latest eco measures, but there’s still plenty you can do to improve the miles that your existing car does to each gallon of fuel
That’s why when I had the opportunity, I signed up for a brain focussing session with an ecospecialist – Anthony Sale, a powertrain engineer at the Millbrook proving ground in Bedfordshire. Many will be aware of the large amount of testing that goes on at the facility, with General Motors putting several hundred thousand gruelling test miles on prototype models for all of its European brands. Vauxhall’s Insignia in particular was honed there, and development of the next Meriva continues apace.
The aim of the programme was to take a long hard look at my driving style and to look at ways that I can improve the way that I drive to maximise fuel economy. First of all, Andy asked me to drive on a demanding route around the test tracks, trying to replicate urban, hill-climbs and motorway motoring – the sort of routes that a driver would tackle in an everyday scenario. He remained silent throughout, not giving me any hints or tips, trying to see how I normally drive. I like to think that I am a relatively smooth driver; one that drives at a moderate speed, with careful attention given to anticipate the road ahead. At the end of Anthony’s chosen route, I achieved a not so bad 37.3mpg. While not the best that he has seen as a fi rst attempt, it was by no means bad at all – enough to give him cause to wonder if there would be much improvement whilst I was being coached around the course. The test car was a Vauxhall Astra Sport Hatch 1.9 CDTi, equipped with the 118bhp unit, and all of the data was tracked via the diagnostic port, with the information downloaded to a USB stick that can be inserted into a laptop. That then calculates all of the vital statistics to analyse where and how things can be improved. With all the information in his head, Anthony was able to devise a plan as to how he thought he could improve upon my driving to eek out more miles per gallon.
We set off and immediately Anthony suggested that I change up at around 2,000rpm and to accelerate moderately, avoiding sharp inputs to the pedals. Smoothness is the name of the game, and the trick is to avoid allowing the engine to over-rev or labour. This is easier said than done, especially around a route that you’re unfamiliar with. Anthony coached me to read the road ahead, making full use of any opportunities to coast along without using the accelerator pedal. This boosts fuel economy signifi cantly, as no fuel is used during coasting, providing you still remain in gear. The concentration over the route was immense, and certainly more demanding than I ever expected. Once I had fi nished the route and the information was downloaded, Anthony was pleased to report a considerable improvement – a 22 per cent improvement at 45.5mpg. I had travelled over the exact same route, albeit taking one and a half minutes longer than the original run. And best of all, all of the hints and tips that I had learned could be utilised immediately in my everyday driving.
TOP TIPS FOR ECONOMICAL MOTORING
Reduce your engine speed (avoid over revving)
Predict the traffic flow by looking ahead and lifting off the accelerator when you see traffic backing up. This enables you to coast to a halt at the back of the queue, rather than braking at the last minute.
Avoid harsh acceleration and braking.
Check that your tyres are correctly inflated.
Remove any unnecessary luggage from the car.
Use cruise control, to achieve a steady speed.
If you are likely to remain stationary for more than 3 minutes, switch off the engine.
Air conditioning uses more fuel, so use when only absolutely necessary.
Avoid short journeys, as a cold engine uses almost twice as much fuel as a hot engine.
Try not to accelerate up hills. Lift off the accelerator before you reach the summit and allow the momentum of the vehicle to take you over the peek.