Do you want to know the secret to winning a fuel-efficiency drive? Well, so do I, seeing as how I lost. It wasn’t that I didn’t try, I really did, but somehow the results were not in my favour that day, placing a dismal 4th in my class (Mazda3 sedan). You might think that’s not too bad, but since there were only 5 vehicles per class (Mazda2, Mazda3 & Mazda CX-5) I wasn’t about the break out the bubbly anytime soon….
The thing about fuel-efficiency drives is that they challenge the driver to drive in the most, well, efficient and frugal way possible. In the real world though, truth be told, these scenarios are unrealistic. No one in their right mind would drive the way we did on a daily basis, not only would you go insane but you’d likely be honked off the road. However, there are some tips & tricks to be learned from this, especially if you want to achieve the average fuel-consumption (FC) that I clocked, which was around 4.6L / 100km, in a Mazda3.
Here are 5 simple steps that you can start doing today to get more bang for your buck and more mileage from every full tank…
- Proper tyre inflation – Did you know that up to 20% of a full tank of fuel is burned just from frictional-losses caused by the tyres going across asphalt? Yes, the energy it takes just to keep those four pieces of rubber rolling along can take up almost a quarter of your full tank. As such, make sure that your tyres are properly inflated at all times. The recommended interval for checking your tyre pressure is once a fortnight, and do it when the tyres are cold. If you arrive at the air pump at a petrol station on hot tyres, add a few Psi to the manufacturer recommended tyre pressure.
- Lose weight – It’s simple physics; the heavier your car, the more energy required moving it along, and thus more fuel gets burned. Lighten your load. Clear out your boot and interior of any unnecessary items. You’ll be amazed just how much all those unwanted items cumulatively weigh. It some instances it’s almost like you’re carrying an additional passenger in terms of stuff.
- Be light-footed – They’re called ‘jack-rabbit’ starts; flooring the accelerator pedal from a standing start may get you off the mark faster, but you’re not doing your FC any favours. Remember, a car burns more fuel getting to 100kmh than it does maintaining 100kmh, which is why your car always seems to return better mileage on the highway than in the city. Stop and go driving is a killer on fuel-efficiency, so who would have thought that ‘Waze’ would also become a fuel-efficiency tool eh?
- Be a smooth-operator – Yeah, just like that song by Sade (really showing my age here), avoid being too aggressive with the accelerator pedal. Smooth and gentle acceleration is key. If you’re driving an automatic, the transmission’s ECU will know when to shift for you and the most efficient time, and if you’re driving a manual do remember that your car usually makes its peak power well before redline, anything after that and you’re not making any power, just noise. So it doesn’t matter if you’re driving from coast to coast, LA to Chicago, just be a smooth operator (sorry).
- Maintenance – And last but by no means least, keep your vehicle in optimum running condition. As cliché as it sounds, if you take good care of your car, it’ll take good care of you. At the very least, adhere to the manufacturer recommended service intervals; remember, prevention is always better (and cheaper) than cure. Cars have warning lights for a reason, if one suddenly appears, get it checked as soon as possible, because the car is telling you it needs attention, it’s not well, so don’t ignore it. It’s like detecting an illness early on, and nipping it in the bud. General rule of thumb, the longer you wait, the costlier it’s going to be. A properly maintained and mechanically well-sorted car will always be more fuel-efficient than one that’s not.
The Mazda Challenge, hardly any ‘Zoom-Zoom’…on the way there anyway.
To emerge tops was quite simple really; the car in each category that used the least amount of fuel to get to Johor Bahru from PJ, wins. And in the spirit of fairness and equality, winners would be crowned in each of the three categories comprising the Mazda2, Mazda3 and CX-5. Air-conditioning systems were all set to a comfortable level and then sealed. The organizers also sealed the fuel tanks, bonnet and even the wing-mirrors, to stop us from ‘folding’ them in to create less wind-resistance, not that we would have…ahem. Time penalties would be implemented for those who show up at the designated check-points too early or too late too.
To cut a long story short because an FC drive is really boring, and we took almost a whole day to get to JB, the Malaysian Motoring Media put up a tremendous show. I for one was seriously impressed with the results that some of my peers achieved. The winners in each category were as follows:
Mazda2 – Dannis Tan & Izwaashura Sadali: 2.78L per 100km
Mazda3 – Yap Kam Foo & Durrani Sharom: 2.99L per 100km
Mazda CX5 – Chew Wooi Foo & Sim Soon Ming: 1.98L per 100km! (pictured below)
That last entry for the CX-5 category has actually caused a huge controversy and a rather unfortunate backlash for Mazda Malaysia when the result was posted on their official social media page. As fuel-efficient as the new Mazda Skyactiv engines are, it really does seem quite unbelievable to travel a total distance of 348.3kms and only use 6.9-litres of fuel, burning less than two-litres of fuel for every 100km. Even hybrids can’t achieve that.
Well, I was there and the organizers checked that car twice to make sure, and yes, apparently only 6.9-litres of RON97 needed to be topped up in the CX-5 upon reaching Permas Jaya, JB, from the Bermaz HQ in Glenmarie, PJ. None of the seals had been tampered with either, and this has warranted Mazda Malaysia to remove the car from circulation for a comprehensive check. Personally I’m more than a little keen to find out how this happened too.
I had a goal for this drive as well, I wanted to reach JB without the fuel-gauge moving, and I did. With the trip-meter reading almost 350km, the digital fuel-gauge of the Mazda3 was still displaying all the ‘bars’; it had not moved. I’d burned about 12L of RON97 though, nowhere near as good I’d hoped, despite the on-board computer telling me I’d averaged about 4.6L/100km (above), which was a decent enough number to not end-up dead last, and I’d not picked up any penalty points either.
I achieved this mileage by using some of the aforementioned points where applicable, but mainly by driving a lot smoother, especially when accelerating. Thanks to the ‘current’ or ‘instant’ FC reading provided by the on-board computer, point #3 up there becomes very obvious. Hard acceleration is also a killer on FC, as is driving over the speed-limit, thus, smoothly accelerating to a calculated speed of about 90km/h and maintaining that by ‘feathering’ the accelerator pedal became the order of the day.
As I said earlier, inherently the new Mazda Skyactiv engines are already very fuel-efficient, but with just a few more additional improved driving habits like the ones mentioned at the start of this article, it is possible to get even better mileage from any car, regardless of brand, and whether it’s a hybrid or not. I’m reminded of the time I did a FC test of my own some years ago in my own car, an Alfa Romeo 155 2.0 Twin-spark 16v. It’s not a very fuel-efficient car, and it was about 20-years old at the time.
I’d decided to drive from PJ to Penang as frugally as possible, utilizing all the pointers above, and upon reaching Georgetown, I’d burned only half a tank of petrol. The next day I filled to the brim and drove home, only this time, I drove like a madman. Hard acceleration, maxing the revs out whenever possible, treating the accelerator pedal like an on/off switch, and pretty much driving like petrol was free and I’d just stolen the car. I was on fumes by the time I reached my front gate.
This crazy weekend drive I did years ago proved just how much better mileage you can get from a full tank of petrol by driving more smoothly and sedately, and this very recent Fuel Challenge organized by Bermaz further solidified my staunch belief that any car regardless of body configuration can be fuel-efficient; it’s all in the way you drive…
Acknowledgement: Many thanks to Dato’ Ben Yeoh, Sharon, Ai Hoon & Shaowen of Bermaz Mazda for the invite to the media fuel-challenge, sign us up for the next one!