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Trevor Collett | Jun, 25 2013 | 5 Comments

2013 VOLKSWAGEN THINK BLUE FUEL ECONOMY CHALLENGE

Variants Reviewed
Model Power/Torque Fuel Use (listed)
Golf 103 TSI Highline | 7sp DSG 103kW/250Nm 5.2 l/100km
Passat Wagon 130 TDI Highline | 6sp DSG 130kW/380Nm 5.4 l/100km
Caddy Maxi Van TDI250 | 5sp manual 75kW/250Nm 5.2 l/100km
Up! | 5sp manual 55kW/95Nm 4.9 l/100km
 

OVERVIEW

Last year, Volkswagen’s Think Blue fuel economy challenge was held on country roads: all cars were diesel-powered, and the route west of Canberra included, among other things, a run up a mountain.

The year before the event was held near Melbourne, with competitors - all from the media - despatched to drive as far as possible in a Polo on just one litre of fuel.

The event was back again this year. But this time the challenge was in the inner-city 'burbs around Sydney’s Eastern Beaches; and it also included two petrol-powered cars.

Normally, the lardy souls of the motoring press like to mash accelerator pedals. This time they were locked in mortal combat requiring the lightest touch on the accelerator, and to use the least fuel possible.

We're up for an arm-wrestle, so TMR once again took up the challenge.

 

THE CHALLENGE

This year, Australian rally star, Ed Ordynski, had been invited by Volkswagen to set the benchmark - we had to "beat Ed" (and other scribblers) to bring home the bacon.

Each car was to be driven along the same route with the sole objective to drive as economically as possible. The only number that mattered upon return was average fuel consumption.

This meant travelling at 50km/h where you might normally do 60km/h - while turning a deaf ear to impatient fellow motorists - scanning ahead, leaving all creature comforts switched off and constantly tracking the fuel reading.

The route included everything you would expect to find in a busy suburb such as traffics lights, major arterial roads and hills.

And the bar was high. Economy expert Ed had beaten VW's official fuel figures in all but one of the BlueMotion Volkswagens.

No time to settle in and no time for a practice run; the challenge was on as soon as the engine started. Intense stuff!

 

THE CONTENDERS

The contenders were a petrol-powered Golf 103 TSI Highline, a diesel-powered Passat Wagon 130 TDI Highline, a Caddy Maxi Van TDI250 (also diesel-powered), and the up! sub-light car, with a 1.0 litre three-cylinder petrol.

The up! and the Caddy were manuals while the other two had DSG units.

According to Ed's economy-driving bible, petrol powered cars are all about using the highest possible gear and lowest RPM, while diesels are simply about throttle percentage: the lower the better.

Each car was equipped with various Volkswagen BlueMotion technologies.

The Passat had the most goodies with brake energy recuperation, stop/start, gear-shift recommendation and a coasting function, which effectively selects “neutral” when the car doesn’t require action from the drivetrain.

Golf and Caddy miss out on the coasting function but get the other three features, while the budget-conscious up! only gets gear-shift recommendation.

There is plenty of BlueMotion technology at work behind the scenes too, with Intelligent Thermal Management system targeting engine and transmission fluids ensuring they reach operating temperature as quickly as possible.

 

Golf 103 TSI Highline with BlueMotion Technology

First up for us was the petrol-powered Golf 103TSI with DSG transmission.

Its 1.4 litre petrol engine had more than enough power for the low-speed driving on route - the highest speed limit was 70km/h, but we rarely saw it on the dial. Mostly, in city driving, super-economy depends on luck, with traffic lights being the mortal enemy.

Even with stop/start function, the wisdom from Ed was that in order for it to improve economy, we would need to be stationary for around seven seconds.

(So if you see a green light change to amber, get there as soon as possible and let the system stop the engine.

If you see a red light, roll the dice and see if you can time your arrival so that the light changes to green.)

At every opportunity, to keep rpm as low as possible, we slid the DSG selector to the left to grab a higher gear than the transmission would normally select.

Despite being a seven-speed, we only managed to select seventh gear once during the test.

The result? We managed 5.7 l/100km, which matched the official fuel figure but put us 0.7 l/100km behind Ed’s benchmark.

 

Passat Wagon 130 TDI Highline With BlueMotion Technology

The Passat 130 TDI Highline diesel was next, requiring a quick rethink before starting the engine.

We started off selecting ratios manually, but the Passat has more than enough torque for this low-speed inner-city drive. It quickly became apparent that this wasn't helping fuel economy, so we flicked the selector back to ‘Drive’ and left it there.

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This time we were travelling opposite to our first run, which seemed kinder on the fuel figure but had two nasty surprises.

There was a steep street that had traffic lights perched at the top.

Not a problem on the downhill clockwise run, but, uphill, a red light at this spot would spell disaster.

Ed mentioned that if we managed to get stuck there, we probably couldn’t win that particular leg of the challenge…

So of course, that’s exactly what happened. The stop/start function shut the engine down but we sat there knowing that a boot-full of throttle would be required to become mobile again.

The result was 5.6 l/100km, 0.2 behind the official fuel figure and 0.5 l/100km behind Ed’s benchmark.

 

Caddy Maxi Van TDI250 With BlueMotion Technology

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A diesel with manual gearbox combination would surely spell success at the bowser, wouldn’t it?

And this time, we had no choice but to select our own gears.

The echo of the empty rear cargo area reminded us that we were now driving a bare-bones tradesman’s van. Despite this, the Caddy has stop/start technology.

When stopped (blasted red light), selecting neutral with the foot off the clutch pedal (as you should) causes the engine to shut down. Then, just the slightest weight on pedal will prompt it to restart.

The Caddy returned our best result of the day with 5.0 lt/100km. This figure was 0.3 better than Ed’s benchmark and 0.2 better than the official fuel figure. High fives!

 

Up!, Five-Speed Manual

It terms of economy, we had saved the best for last.

The only configuration currently available in Australia for the up! is a 1.0 litre three-cylinder petrol engine coupled to a five-speed manual.

So the up! promised scooter-like economy and it didn’t disappoint, especially in this inner-city environment.

But the up! did present a few challenges. We no longer had the advantage of stop/start technology and the up!’s modest 55kW and 95Nm would mean that getting gear selection correct was crucial.

Or so we thought. Three-cylinder engines have a habit of surprising you, and the up! is no exception.

Its power and torque has no trouble shifting the up!'s 880kg, keeping up with traffic while still delivering on economy. And it comes with a flashing up-shifting arrow for optimum gear-shifts.

But as the sun moved westward, afternoon school-zones were now in force, and, in a challenge where a mere cup-full of fuel mattered, it was enough to make a difference.

Slowing means washing off momentum, meaning wasted fuel on getting moving again.

Regardless, the up! still returned an excellent 4.0 l/100km, matching Ed’s benchmark and beating the official figure by 0.9 l/100km.

 

TMR VERDICT

Often, when considering a new car purchase, most buyers start with the assumption the official fuel figure pasted onto the glass will be some unobtainable dream.

But VW's Think Blue challenge shows a couple of things: that with attention to detail, forward planning, some help from smart fuel-saving technology - and a little luck - those 'impossible' official figures are indeed achievable.

It may not win you too many friends on the road, but it is possible to achieve good economy and still get to the destination before the next full moon.

So how did TMR fare in the challenge?

We beat the official listed fuel figures twice and matched it once. We also managed to beat Ed’s benchmark once and matched it once.

Pretty good, yeah? We think so, but it wasn’t enough to take overall victory. Time to start planning for next year.

Results
Model ADR Ordynski TMR
Golf 103 TSI Highline | 7sp DSG 5.7 l/100km 5.0 5.7
Passat Wagon 130 TDI Highline | 6sp DSG 5.4 l/100km 5.1 5.6
Caddy Maxi Van TDI250 | 5sp manual 5.2 l/100km 5.3 5.0
Up! | 5sp manual 4.9 l/100km 4.0 4.0
 

Pricing (excluding on-road costs)

  • VW Golf 103 TSI Highline with BlueMotion Technology - $31,990
  • VW Passat Wagon 130 TDI Highline - $46,490
  • VW Caddy Maxi Van TDI250 - $27,990
  • VW up! - $14,990

 
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