2011 Mazda2 GS. Click image to enlarge
By Jim Kerr
Test drives of new hybrid vehicles have often included a fuel economy challenge. This is a prescribed route where journalists vie for the honour of Economy King – or Queen, as the case may be. Some of the fuel economy readings from these drives exceed even the manufacturer’s ratings, by far. While you may not want to drive the way these journalists have for your everyday trips, some of the techniques they use can be used by any driver in any vehicle to help maximize fuel economy.
It starts with acceleration. Slow is good. A technique my father taught me for driving on icy roads also works to maximize fuel economy: pretend there is a raw egg between your foot and the vehicle pedals. Step on it too hard and you end up with broken egg and a mess to clean up, so the trick here is “easy does it.” A light foot will reduce the amount of fuel injected and also allow an automatic transmission to shift to a higher gear sooner. With manual gearboxes, shift as soon as possible. Most manual gearbox gear ratios will drop engine rpm by about 600 to 800 rpm between the lower gears. As soon at the engine hits about 2,000 rpm, you should be able to shift up without lugging the engine.
The next step is to minimize braking. Anytime you use the brakes, you also have to use power again to accelerate the vehicle. This technique requires the driver to “read the road,” which means predicting what other vehicles will do, when traffic lights might change and any other road conditions that might change. It is better to slow down as you approach a traffic light and then maintain a slower speed through it if it changes rather than brake to a stop and accelerate again. Accelerating from a stop requires more fuel.
Other techniques include letting the vehicle speed up going down hills (within reason) and then letting it slow as it climbs the next hill. Even on the highway, a driver that pays attention and uses this technique can get better fuel economy than if the cruise control were set and vehicle speed remained constant.