In a bid to show just how much thinking Blue - Volkswagen's version of 'Green' - can improve fuel consumption, Volkswagen invited us along to its Think Blue Eco Driving Challenge to steer four cars from its line-up that feature BlueMotion technologies, to see who could drive the most efficiently.
First off 'BlueMotion': blue represents the elements of water and air, while motion is about the need to keep things moving towards the future.
Canberra welcomes us in the morning with light fog, sunshine, one degree Celsius and roundabouts.
Claimed as unintentional, the Volkswagen Multivan escorting us to our mountainous destination is oozing calm, soothing classical music through its speakers. This is accompanied by the gentle, if a little patronising, voice of the female sat-nav. Those who aren’t falling asleep are definitely beginning to channel their inner efficiency-focussed driver.
We meander through our nation's capital from the airport to Mount Stromlo - the home of the Canberra Observatory and our base camp for the day. The astronomical location presents a thought. Is it Volkswagen linking itself with the planet and going 'Blue', or is it that with BlueMotion technologies they're aiming for the sales' stars?
We're introduced to our team for the event, highlighted by former Australian rally driver Ed Ordynski. You may be searching for the connection between sliding a rally car across mixed surfaces while avoiding trees and efficient driving but Ed explains that his use of smarter fuel-saving driving techniques when covering transport stages between competitive rally stages, meant more fuel in the tank for when it was needed in full attack mode as well as less top-ups required from the crew.
The challenge would consist of one run only in each of the four cars - passenger-free to keep weight down - through two different routes (one suburban, one through the hills with a gravel road feature). The average litres per 100km reading from each of the four runs would then be averaged to come up with an efficient-driving winner.
At our disposal is driving behaviour, efficient driving tips and the vehicles' individual BlueMotion technologies. All models employ engine start/stop, brake energy recuperation and gear recommendation (this includes manual, auto and DSG transmissions). The Passat CC scores a coasting function, or overrun fuel cut off, that ensures 0.0L/100km by deselecting the gear and declutching the engine. The new lighter Touareg employs intelligent thermal management, a system designed to speed up the warming-up process to improve fuel economy from an earlier starting point – not a great concern for us today.
Though not all the tech is available on all models yet, Volkswagen expects them to filter down from the top-level premium vehicles over time but will not give a specific time frame.
It's an odd scenario to be in, a driving challenge against Ed Ordynski that isn't about time or going fast. Yet, only moments into the first run, the competitive nature takes over and the game of balancing the numbers on the multifunction display’s trip computer with throttle inputs and applications begins.
Run one: Touareg - a missed turn-off for the gravel road track results in a 38km course taking 61km. This combines with a less than economical drive back to base for a soul-destroying 9.6L/100km. That’s it. Game over. The challenge is based on an average over all four runs, and with the first a total right-off, things aren’t looking good.
Run two: Golf – driving through suburban streets, road works and, you guessed it, roundabouts, a solid run is again hampered by an inability to read maps and follow directions. Minor detour included, a respectable 4.1L/100km results.
Run three: Tiguan – the same route as the Touareg and no missed turn-off. The gravel road excursion is a killer for the numbers, with some ARC-style work not helping to keep fuel usage in check. Manage to get lost heading back to base camp and confirm another disappointing run - 5.7L/100km.
Run four: Passat CC – this is it, the last run for the day. Determined not to get lost again, the 'easy does it' approach is called upon. This means using the CC's coasting function as much as possible, holding steady revs through the suburban route and a careful touch for the climb back up the mountain. It comes together to net a sound result. A better than sound result actually - 4.4L/100km, enough to beat Ed himself.
While they won’t always be able to be followed, Volkswagen's nine efficient driving tips help greatly. They may seem like basic concepts but they do work, provided your behaviour is in line with the philosophy behind them.
The Volkswagen team stresses that the key defining factor to BlueMotion, and its success in obtaining consistently good fuel consumption figures, is driver behaviour. Plant your foot off every traffic light, hold gears too long, rev gears too much, carry more weight and so on, and your wallet will suffer. Take the steps to heart and the savings are there to be had, even in cars that don’t feature new environmentally conscious technologies.
But therein lies the difficulty; with a general consumer population that struggles to bother with simple vehicle checks such as tyre pressures or regular services, is thinking Blue going to sink in?
And would the driving style used to produce our test figures be considered 'everyday', standard or normal? No, but there's no doubting that legitimate improvements in fuel consumption are possible.
The public will be put to the test too with Volkswagen bringing 12 competition winners to Canberra today to take part in the Think Blue eco driving challenge. The winner will represent Australia at the Think Blue 2nd World Championship 2012 event in Los Angeles in November.
Click on the Gallery for more images from the day.