Girl TORQUE: Eco Driving

AutoTrader NZ
Published 3 September 2020

What rally driver Emma Gilmour found hardest about the driving in the AA EnergyWise rally was spending so long off boost in the turbo Impreza WRX STI she was driving.

She’s used to hurling cars about, to making the most of their power – not treading a light throttle for fuel economy.

But she’s a professional; if you have to pull away from lights or cruise hills at 100kph without getting the turbo to spool up, she’ll do it. That this superheated hatch drank like a Corolla for the 1763km distance with an 8.1l/100km average proves it works.

And anyone can do it. Hyundai invited Hyundai owners to drive its entries and after a bit of instruction and a half day practice, most got under their car’s claim and the rest got near it. You don’t have to be a rally driver, of spend your driving life thinking only about the throttle to save fuel.

There are several simple techniques you can incorporate into your daily driving habits.

Avoid hard acceleration and heavy braking. In an auto, pull away from junctions on a light throttle to encourage it to change up early; in a manual change gear early; and lift off the throttle well before traffic snarl-ups or junctions.

That’ll work best if you look ahead – if you’re catching a slow truck, or see the speed limit or lights are about to change or there’s slow traffic ahead, lift off early rather than charging into the fray then slamming on the brakes. And maintain a decent following distance so the car in front doesn’t dictate when you brake, with the bonus that such attention also makes you safer.

Don’t brake hard into bends and hoon out of them; lift off the throttle gently before the bend and steadily accelerate away.

Lift off just before the crests of hills too, the car’s momentum should get you over and the downhill will build up speed.

Don’t forget to service your car regularly and check the tyres – the eco drivers all used the recommended tyres at the recommended pressures. The AA says a well-maintained car can use 10 or 20% less fuel than a poorly maintained one. It’s less likely to leave you stranded, too.

Use the air con only when you need to – but use it instead of opening windows at open road speeds; open windows create drag!

Don’t carry useless guff in the car, take the roof rack off when you don’t need it, and don’t speed. Your car is working less hard to get along the road at 98 than it is at 108.

And of course don’t think you’re being clever by coasting in neutral, drafting trucks or other such dangerous or silly stuff – you won’t need to.

Just driving smoothly may be enough. I drove the Camry hybrid (which won its class) to Taupo in tandem with my partner, who was en route to Wellington in his V6 Hilux Surf. He followed my speed, slowing when I did, accelerating exactly as I did – and got to Taupo without needing a fill. That’s a record for him, and achieved purely by avoiding hard acceleration up hills, out of towns and away from junctions, and lifting off well ahead of any need to stop.

Try it some time – your wallet will thank you.

Read past Girl TORQUE columns here.