Keith Adams and Matthew Hayward set out to prove that it’s not only possible to get to Monte Carlo on one tank of diesel, but also to have some fun along the way.
Like all good ideas, driving to Monaco on one tank was a spur of the moment thing. The bank holidays were looming, the weather promised to be good, and the Volkswagen Golf BlueMotion on the drive had already proven itself a consummate mile-muncher on a recent business trip to Germany. So why not combine the Golf’s long legs with some disciplined driving to go somewhere special on the cheap? Like Monaco, perhaps?
And that’s why – days later – Matthew Hayward and I find ourselves on the early morning P&O Channel crossing to Calais. After countless rushed crossings by Eurotunnel, a ferry seems incredibly relaxed and stress-free. But then, I need to be in that frame of mind – we’re going to be travelling slowly if we intend to get to Monaco on one tank. We’ve calculated that the Golf’s 55-litre tank should give us a potential 700-mile range if we can average 60mpg and run it dry; but as Monaco is 800 miles away from Calais, we’re going to have to do rather better.
Still, we love a challenge, and ruminate on the drive ahead while filling up the car in Calais. Resetting the satellite navigation and looking at the route gives a great sense of perspective. It’s claiming 791 miles of motorway running – about the same as driving from John O’Groats to Land’s End. Still, it’s a Saturday morning, and the weather’s good, and we’ve got 8GB of music loaded into the sound system. We’ve all the time in the world for our anticipated 16-hour drive.
We join the A16 autoroute and set a limit of 60mph. Driving to the motorway, we stick religiously to the gearchange indicator, and wonder if the MFD’s (multi function display) range is being pessimistic – it says we’re going to need to refill in 630 miles’ time. Oh dear.
The car’s behaving predictably impeccably. We’ve picked up our first toll ticket, and as we roll past Arras, we’ve racked up 50 miles. We have made one mistake – the intention was to use the slipstream of passing trucks to help us slip through the air with minimum resistance, but on a Saturday during the holidays, there aren’t any. Consequently, the fuel consumption is good. Very good. But not ridiculously good. We’re averaging 82mpg, and our range is 765 miles, but already it looks like we’re not going to make it.
We hadn’t realised how hilly northern France is! For mile after mile, we’re trying hard to improve the mpg figure, and it’s not happening fast enough for us. The hills either have our speed drop to the high 40s, or squeezing the throttle more than we’d like. Either way, we’re showing 84mpg. But more interestingly, the anticipated range continues to climb as the computer adjusts to our relaxed driving style – it’s now reporting a 900-mile range with 92 miles covered, and 892 to go. Surely we couldn’t make 1,000 miles on a tank full? That would be something.
We’ve just passed Reims and paid our first toll of €20.80. With just 200 miles travelled, we’re covering ground slowly, and are only just over a quarter of a way there. But the good news is that we’re still averaging 82.2mpg with a range of 580-miles still showing. We’re both astounded by the Golf’s refinement, though – at our 55 to 60mph cruise, the car’s whispering along in near silence, and we’re not showing any signs of discomfort – it all seems so grown-up. It makes us wonder what the real advantage is in buying a full-sized executive car, such as the BMW 5 Series or Audi A6. The weather’s getting warmer though, and against all economy driving advice, we intermittently use the air conditioning in order to de-stuff the interior. It wakes us up a bit, too.
It does finally feel like we’re a long way from home. France’s interior seems vast and empty from the A31 west of Dijon. We see the odd car now and then, and distant church towers on the horizon as we speed on by. We’ve finally managed to latch on to a truck and gratefully grab its slipstream, as fuel consumption had been rising as the air temperature became hotter and the hills steeper. Fuel consumption threatened to drop below 80mpg before our truck turned things around – it’s at this point that Matthew says, ‘I hate to break the bad news, but we’re only just half way!’ Time to let him drive for that wise crack!
Our second toll of the day – Reims to Lyon, and it comes in at €39.80. Ouch. The good news is that we’re on 81.9mpg with a range of 560 miles showing and 320 miles left to go. Excellent. After the deserted centre of France, Lyon’s combative périphérique proves something of a challenge – and amusing for those of us who like seeing bad driving in live action unfold in front of us. We’re now in the south, and the scenery would be getting nicer, if we could see it. It’s at this point we decide that with such a positive fuel situation, and with tolls denting the budget so heavily, we need to leave the autoroute and head for the hills…
Only now do we peel off the A7 autoroute. We needed to be well clear of Lyon in order to find a decent A-road route to Monaco, which doesn’t take in fuel consuming urban running. The signs tell me that we’re heading for the curiously named Gap – but even better than this, we’re not far off the Route Napolean, which is one of Europe’s finest driving roads. Time to find somewhere to sleep and gather our thoughts for the interesting drive ahead. Most importantly, we’re ‘only’ 202 miles from our destination, and the MFD still claims that there’s more than 350 miles left in the tank when we stop – exhausted – at a little village called Villard de Lans.
The sun has yet to emerge from behind the mountains that surround us, but it’s already looking like we’re going to have a great day. Our spirits are lifted by the picturesque mountainous scenery – something we hadn’t seen in the darkness of our arrival last night. It’s a beautiful sight and has us anticipating the final part of our drive, and as we check yesterday’s fuel consumption figures, we’re pleased to see that we have averaged 82.0mpg since leaving Calais.
It’s been an amazing morning’s drive. The roads are near-deserted, and although the hills we’ve been climbing – and descending – have taken their toll on the reported range, we’re enjoying the rollercoaster ride immensely. We’re paying attention to our range and distance remaining, and although we drive quickly to hang on the coat-tails of the skilled local drivers who like to go fast, we carry as much speed as prudent through the corners in order to maintain momentum. And it’s here that the Golf surprises by excelling in the corners. It’s entertaining, grippy and poised and it’s also agreeably quick, if you keep it on the boil and hang on to the lower gears in a most un-diesel like manner. Impressive, and fun in equal measure. As we join the N202 – Route Napolean – we know there’s more of the same to come.
After some spirited driving on what is undoubtedly one of the finest driving roads Europe has to offer, we’ve dipped into negative equity on our fuel situation. Our distance remaining has dropped below the range the MFD is reporting. But traffic is getting denser; we’re approaching Nice, and the going gets slower. Thankfully, it’s just slow and not stop-start, so the consumption situation improves. But it’s a culture shock driving into the city after a day of deserted autoroutes and those wonderful, uplifting mountain roads.
We’ve made it! It’s 27.5 degrees, and the sky is huge, cloudless and the deepest blue we’ve ever seen. Monaco has never looked so welcoming, and although the traffic is murder, with a claggy run in from Nice, we’re glad to be here. The fuel warning bonged into life literally as we passed the ‘Monaco’ entry sign. But we’re happy, as we meet our target of getting to the Côte d’Azur on one tank. The Principality is teeming with people, and getting anywhere near the casino with the Golf for a trophy shot is going to be impossible. So, instead, we head down to the F1 circuit, where the iconic blacktop is eerily quiet in the lead up to the arrival of the Grand Prix circus. It gives us a chance to take in the atmosphere, do a fair bit of sightseeing, and finally relax after our long drive.
But down to business, and a well-earned refill. We hope that tax-free Monaco might encourage cheap fuel, as it does in similar tax havens such as Andorra, but it proves not to be the case, with fuel from the black pump coming in at €1.50 per litre. Ouch.
In the end, our trip comes in at 785.2 miles, and to brim the tank we need to pump in 48.7 litres. That’s an average of 71.82mpg, which considering the fun we had in the last 250 mountainous miles, we’re more than happy with.
It might not be the headline figure some might have hoped for, but we’ve proved that the Golf BlueMotion is a car for all occasions. Fuel saving (with well over 80mpg possible) when you don’t need to have fun, yet still a great driver’s car when you do.