Eco cars equal economy

Carolyn Barry in the Ford Econetic

G Magazine editor, Carolyn Barry, in Ford's new fuel efficient car, the ECOnetic. She is helping to drive it from Darwin to Adelaide in the 2009 Global Green Challenge.

Credit: Peter Watkins

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I must admit that I don't think I was fully prepared for the adventure Eco Car Challenge has been.

I signed up a couple of weeks ago with the general anticipation that a 3,000 km journey from Darwin to Adelaide would naturally create. However, after day two of the seven-day trip, with ambient temperatures of 40C and nine hours of driving - in no air conditioning - I started to have reservations.

Fortunately, that has been the hardest day.

The challenge is in its inaugural year and is being run in conjunction with the old favourite, the World Solar Car Challenge. As a first-year event, the aim is for entrants - from the fully electric Tesla Roadster, to a postman's bike (see photo below) and the not-so-eco Holden Malloo HSV ute - to beat the official fuel efficiency figure.

This is not necessarily the best way to judge an eco car winner; after all, if you have a high fuel use to begin with, beating the official figure is a lot easier! The overall fuel use is also recorded, so that should even out the score for the small cars.

I was tasked to Ford's new modern diesel car, the Fiesta ECOnetic, with co-driver and motoring journalist Peter McKay. At an official 98g/km, the soon-to-be-released ECOnetic is second only to the Toyota Prius in CO2 emissions for Aussie cars.

However, as I'm learning on this trip, driving technique has a lot to do with fuel efficiency. In fact, it can account for about 25 to 30 per cent of fuel use! Peter and I are certainly showing that we can consistently drive at about 3.1 L/100km, well below the official 3.7 L/100km of the car.

Admittedly, it does involve driving like a Nana to do so, and in some pretty less-than-comfy conditions at times. We're travelling at average speeds of 75 km/hr along highways that have max speeds of 110 - 130 km/hr. And we're driving with no air conditioning, widows up and no fan on. Call this dedication, but we're keen to show just how fuel efficient you can be in the harshest of circumstances.

Sweaty bodies aside, what I'm finding is that anticipation of the traffic and changing road conditions (such as big hills, or slow caravans) can make a big difference to fuel consumption. I'm also much more engaged with the driving and despite driving relatively slowly, it's not hard to be bored when each turn and slight hill is something to concentrate on!

So even though these aren't realistic driving conditions with all the creature comforts, it is a good example of the synergy of driving technique and car technology to achieve great fuel efficiency and low emissions.

If you want the blow-by-blows and to find out if we win the challenge (the Mini Cooper D's are pretty close behind!), follow me on Twitter.

Motoring journalist Peter McKay and I talking strategy before the day 2 leg.

Ford's new Fiesta ECOnectic that I'm helping to drive from Darwin to Adelaide.

An alcohol-fueled postie bike ridden by James Stanford from Top Gear Australia.