Behind the wheel of the Hyundai ix35 CRDi – eco style
When the PR team at Hyundai asked CarAdvice to drive a Hyundai ix35 CRDi from Melbourne to Adelaide, and back to Melbourne again, on a single tank of diesel, I immediately thought of that well known phrase from that Aussie movie The castle, “tell’em they’re dreamin’ ”.
That’s a total of 1476 kilometres in an SUV weighing in at over 1700 kilos, with a seemingly small 55-litre fuel tank. I know exactly what you’re thinking, it just doesn’t compute, does it?
Amazingly though, it’s an automotive feat that has already been accomplished by the eco-adventurer, Hans Tholstrup. This extreme greenie drove the same route, in exactly the same type of vehicle, and achieved the impossible, which is in fact, possible.
The only problem is, Hans is very good at these Eco gigs, and worse still, I’m told he gets off on it. We’d much rather spend our time using obscene quantities of fuel, testing the latest and greatest performance machine on some perfectly laid, closed section of tarmac.
That said I stupidly put my hand up for this gig, when we found out we were up against Top Gear magazine, but without properly understanding the complexities and consequences of emulating such a drive.
The more we learned of Han’s outstanding achievements in the world of ultra efficient economy drives, the more it became obvious to me, that it would be tough act to get anywhere near the performance of this legend, who makes his living driving crazy long distances while using microscopic quantities of fuel.
Nevertheless I was all-ears when it came to any economy driving tips from Hyundai’s tech support guy, who recommended a constant speed anywhere from 75km/h-80km/h wherever possible. Turns out, he’d done a few runs with some diagnostics hooked up to the car and the ix35 used the least fuel between this speed range.
Personally, I was intending to eyeball the instant fuel reading, which would tell me if I was using too much throttle or perhaps, not enough, as was the case during some extra long hill climbs.
The other tips included more extreme measures such as, absolutely no radio or iPod, no air conditioning at any time, and the closure of all air vents, which another expert suggested would cause unnecessary drag as cool air entered the front air intakes (still not sure about that one).
Hans had also worked out that if you get caught at a red light, it’s best to hit the stop/start button and shut the engine off, as this practice will consume less fuel than at idle.
I was even starting to question my shoe selection, after I noticed Top Gear’s James Stanford, was wearing a pair of ultra light weight running shoes, instead of the usual flat soled driving numbers. Was this my first mistake?
With Melbourne’s morning grind all but over, it was almost time to roll but not before the fuel tanks we filled to the brim and then officially sealed by the RACV.
Armed with the latest TomTom Satellite Navigation systems, the plan for day one was to drive to the small farming town of Keith, in South Australia, where we would overnight, before heading off to tag the outskirts of Adelaide early the next morning.
No sooner was I on the freeway heading to Adelaide than the message on the two-way suggested that I don’t exit where the Sat Nav says, but rather, keep going to the next.
That message, by the way, came from the Top Gear car that just as quickly retracted his suggestion, but only after I had missed the exit, which cost me an additional four kilometres.
Was this the ultimate competitive strategy, to send the Sydney-sider on a holding pattern around Melbourne, while they steamed ahead towards Keith?
Thankfully I was back on track and settling in on what would turn out to be a long slow haul, with plenty of shoulder driving to allow the trucks to get by safely.
Several hours had passed and Hyundai’s PR guy was asking how my fuel consumption was going. Alarmingly, I was drinking the stuff at the rate of 6.3L/100km and frankly, I needed to get down to 4.6L/100km or I didn’t have a hope of beating anyone.
The good news was, that I had not yet lost a single bar on my digital fuel gauge, but I figured once I lost the first bar, things would go south in double quick time.
I had been seriously feathering the throttle for the last five hours, and self-doubt was starting to creep in, when all I had to show was a lousy 5.7L/100km. At least it was falling albeit slowly.
Was this Han’s guy a magician, what tricks did he use to get consumption down to 4.6L/100km?
It was time to lift throttle control to new levels of precision and sensitivity, which meant that every hour or so, my right foot would fall asleep through some kind of self induced RSI. When that happened, the only way to control foot pressure was to use the instant fuel consumption readout.
You also don’t want to be moving the steering wheel any more than you have to either, as even the slightest movement of the tiller, can mean more friction and less of that wonderful momentum.
My biggest problem was that I found the best speed to reduce consumption was between 65km/h and 70km/h and not the 75-80km/h, which had been recommended. That meant throwing out my low friction policy and having moving to the shoulder of the highway every time a B-Double loomed up in my rear vision mirror, which was alarmingly frequent at times.
No radio, makes for an incredibly boring 12 hour drive, but I found the level of concentration required for test tube like fuel consumption is extreme and coordinating throttle pressure with the instant fuel read, should be an Olympic sport.
I ended up thirty kilometers behind the Top Gear entry but that didn’t worry me, as the average fuel gauge was reading 5.5L/100km although, I had some worrying reads of up to 13L/100km while climbing some long slow inclines.
After nearly 9 hours behind the wheel of the ix35, I was getting close to needing a ‘nature calls’ break. Holding on any longer was simply out of the question, but I needed to find the perfect point on the crest of a downhill decent to pull up, so that so that fuel consumption would be negligible when I rejoined the route.
Hyundai’s PR relayed on the two-way radio that he was keen for us to go on to Murray Bridge and overnight there, instead of Keith, which would see us only 80 kilometres from Adelaide.
Temperatures inside the cabin in my ix35 were starting to fall dramatically. Worse still I didn’t want to use the heater for fear of any undue load on my fuel consumption and my jacket was packed away in the support car, so it was a little on the chilly side.
I’m not sure it was physically possible to go any lighter on the throttle than what I’d be practicing for the last three hours, but my average fuel use was refusing to budge from 5.5L/100km.
I was starting to think that this was going to be my best effort, although there was some consolation though, the Top Gear powered car had managed just 5.7L/100km, but we were both a long way off Tholstrup’s Herculean effort.
One thing is for sure though, after twelve hours behind the wheel, my back was as good as gold. The standard pews in the ix35 are some of the most comfortable and supportive in the business and great on a long trip.
There’s only one cure for late nights and early morning starts, and it’s called a Red Bull shot, although don’t ask me to explain what’s in this stuff, but I can tell you, they work well enough.
The final stretch to ‘Eagle on a Hill’ was less than an hour away and was to be an eco-driver’s nightmare. Extra long hill climbs made ten times worse by me not having enough speed to take advantage of the momentum rule.
Shock horror when the ix35 was slowing to near 40km/h, which meant opening the throttle up – big time, for an instant fuel reading of 14L/100km. This was not the picture I needed if I had any hope of dropping consumption to below 5.5L/100km on the journey back to Melbourne.
Arriving at ‘Eagle on a Hill’ would prove extremely valuable, as Rally Champion, Ed Ordinsky, who had also notched up a few successful eco-runs himself, had kindly agreed to meet with us and offer a few handy tips that we could implement on the drive back.
After listing to Ed, it was clear that I had been utterly misguided in my practice of using the manual shift option off and on, for the last 700 kilometres. Leaving the transmission in auto was the way to go, according to Mr Ordinsky, which had my 100 percent vote. I could now focus entirely on throttle pressure in my quest to reduce the average fuel consumption.
Another useful tip worth following was to take your foot off the throttle down steep enough slopes, so that the car would coast down in gear and on it’s own momentum. The reward for this tactic was a 0.0 fuel consumption reading for minutes at a time at some locations.
Half way back to Melbourne and I had reported 5.4L/100km to the support car and I was confident of bringing that number down further.
We were now 300 kilometres from Melbourne and I was down to just one fuel bar on the readout, but had managed to lower the fuel burn rate to just 5.2L/100km.
Seriously, this was the best any human being was going to get out of the ix35. Perhaps Hans wasn’t human after all.
The support car had sent me a message, ‘Top Gear has lost all bars and the fuel gauge was flashing’, but they had already gone through Ararat and were heading to Ballarat.
I was about 30 kilometres from Ararat, but I was still hanging on to my last fuel bar and then ‘bing’ it was gone and started flashing. Now I would have to go into survival mode, if I had any hope of making it back to Melbourne, which I truly believed was now simply impossible.
What we had going for us, was that my fuel consumption was still hovering on 5.2L/100km and the Top Gear car had already covered an additional 100 kilometres on empty and was refusing to quit. It had also started flashing sixty-kilometres before my car, which was some cause to celebrate.
The boys in the support car were keeping my sprits high, by telling me over the two-way that I was going to make it all the way to Melbourne and beat Hans’s previous attempt. I hoped so, because it was already 8pm with another couple of hours to go and I was hungry and hadn’t had a pee in over six hours.
Word came through that the Top Gear car had already done 150 kilometres with the fuel light flashing. How was this even possible on a 55-litre tank?
His luck had to run out soon. If we couldn’t beat Hans Tholstrup, then a win over Top Gear would be a well-deserved consolation prize.
Just after 9pm and with the tripmetre reading 1287 kilometres, the silver ix35 driven by James Stanford, had used its last drop of diesel and had come to an abrupt halt on the side of the highway, some 130 kilometres from the Melbourne CBD. That said 1284 kilometres on a single tank of diesel was no small effort.
I was nearly 30 kilometres behind at that stage and my average fuel reading still sitting on 5.2L/100km. It hadn’t budged one iota, despite my best efforts.
We were traveling along nicely having just hit the 99km to Melbourne mark on the TomTom. ‘Watch out Hans, here we come”, was what I was thinking, when the unthinkable happened. My tank was bone dry and I was still 98 kilometres from Melbourne, having covered a total of 1344.7 kilometres.
At least when the seal was cut and the emergency 10-litres went in, we could fast track it back to Melbourne for a well-earned feed at one of this town’s finest eateries.
The Problem was, the time was already 10.00 pm and we had at least another hour before we would be back in town. After all that, it was looking like club sandwiches on a room service tray or a cheeseburger at Macas, should starvation take hold.
After all is said and done, both ix35’s performed outstandingly on a single tank of diesel while providing a comfortable place to sit on what was a long and tiresome journey.
While I might give the next eco drive offer a miss, I’m available for a track test of the Hyundai Genesis Coupe if they ever decide to bring it down under.
Final results were: