Just to get it out of the way, I never liked fuel economy runs.
The thought of driving at slow speeds, resisting every natural-born gearhead's temptation to overtake at will, accelerate hard or max out in the corners are things really don't appeal to me.
Hold that thought for now though, as here I am again, behind the wheel of the country's current best selling hatchback, trying to do it all over again.
Welcome to the Ford Fiesta Fuel Economy Run.
Lets wind the clock back a few years... 10 to be exact. Back in college -and our more reckless drag (and street) racing days- we never cared about fuel economy. Amongst my friends during the teenage years, our conversations usually ran along the lines of "yeah, dude, my car can do so-and-so seconds down the drag strip" or "my car just dynoed in at so-and-so horsepower". We would never be caught dead discussing things like "my car can do so-and-so kilometers on a liter of gas" or "my exhaust fumes only expend so-and-so grams of CO2 per kilometer". Men never talked about themselves and breaking records in their proud, fuel-efficient machines. It just wasn't "cool".
My, how things have changed in the 10 years since those street blazing days. Some of us have gained more along the midsection, a few of us are married and have kids, and we now have to work for money instead of getting allowances. What is common for all of us is that fuel costs have risen dramatically. The premium, high octane fuel that we used to pump into our tanks back in the day cost just 22 pesos per liter is long gone; in its place is gasoline that costs nearly thrice as much... and that's just the regular kind. Ouch.
So, when Ford Philippines asked us to do a fuel economy run in their new Fiesta, we immediately said yes; simply because fuel consumption is often the first thing people ask about any car these days. Not horsepower. Not the time it takes to get from zero to 100 km/h. Not top speed. Fuel economy is the new kid on the block.
12 people were chosen, with 5 pairs from the motoring press and 1 pair from the Ford Fiesta Club Philippines. All of us were to drive a Ford Fiesta equipped with identical 1.6 liter Ti-VCT engines and 6-speed Powershift transmissions, hoping to break the records set by the previous benchmark of 18.84 kilometers per liter.
Sitting inside a Ford again and getting ready for an eco run does bring back a few memories. Like I said, it's not our first time to do this with our friends from the blue oval as just last year, Iñigo Roces and I were also invited to take part in the Ford Focus Coast 2 Coast Challenge 2, a run that took us from Luzon's southernmost tip, Sorsogon, to its northernmost coast along Pagudpud. While many think that going slow and steady is easy, in fact it's the exact opposite. You have to suppress the urge go at a faster pace, overtake other cars as we normally would or even turn on the A/C because if you did, you wouldn't make it all the way. Do the math: 4 days of slow driving, 2 men in a car, zero air-conditioning. We just hoped that our Rexona didn't let us down.
Thankfully, for this Fiesta eco run, we wouldn't be turning off the A/C, as we weren't going for the no-holds-barred maximum. Instead we were trying to set the best fuel economy figures we can under realistic driving conditions. Instead of 4 days, we were to take just a 1 day drive to Currimao in Ilocos Norte for a total average distance of 573.3 kilometers. Seemed easy, but as we already know from our provincial roads, there's always a surprise around every blind corner.
So, at around 5 AM on a Saturday, our convoy set off from Ford's Balintawak dealership, hop on the North Luzon Expressway and the Subic-Clark-Tarlac Expressway, with our first stop at Ford Subic. What was supposed to be the easy part soon increased in difficulty, thanks to a sudden onset of torrential rains. Our pre-planned route took us through the SCTEX, the Tarlac and Nueva Ecija alternate route, back onto MacArthur highway and straight on through to Ilocos.
It would only get harder as we began to encounter various obstacles on the road, finding a safe way through while preserving the key to the run: momentum. Gain too much momentum and speed, you'll end up consuming more fuel. Lose it and you'll have to re-accelerate and use up even more. We had no escort to clear the way for us, so we had to overtake the usual field of tricycles, trucks and jeeps, as well as navigate chicanes-slash-checkpoints, road rehabilitation work. Occasionally we had to dodge the nonchalant pedestrian or even the sleepy, suicidal dog, cat or goat. Thankfully, no animals were harmed in the making of this economy run.
Over time and over the varying road conditions we encountered (tricycles, trucks, chicanes-slash-checkpoints and road rehabilitation work), the 6 Ford Fiestas were eventually separated by their respective speeds. 2 cars elected to take a slower pace than than the rest, averaging at around 50 km/h or even below. Another 2 cars stuck around at the 60 km/h mark, while the last 2 cars (ours included) opted to stay at the 70-80 km/h mark. Later on, these varying speeds/strategies will play a key role in the results.
The real trick was trying to find the "sweet spot". Initially, Iñigo and I fixated on staying in 6th gear with the lowest possible RPM, as it yields the best economy according to the tell-tale fuel eco meter on the LCD display. What that means is we try to accelerate the car to 70 km/h, let it shift to 6th, allow it to drop to 65 km/h and hold it there without letting it kick down back to 5th. Sounds simple enough, but believe me, it's very hard to get right. Even on the expressways it was a real nerve racking challenge, and nearly impossible to do once we entered the rural highways. Eventually we realized that the Fiesta has more than just one "sweet spot", as 4th and 5th can also deliver decent fuel economy at a certain RPM.
What we didn't expect, particularly in this top-of-all-the-line Ford Fiesta S, was how the role of the LCD fuel consumption readout would play. In our drive to get the best efficiency possible, not only did the driver have to actually drive the car, but he also had to keep an eye on the speed, the RPM and remember what gear we're in. Add a fluctuating fuel eco meter and you will go nuts from the sensory overload. Easy then.
With 15 hours on the road and 570 kilometers completed (every car had a slightly different odometer reading), we finished up at a Shell station near Currimao. The organizers love their surprises, so they kept the actual refilling numbers secret from us until the next day. A representative from the Automobile Association of the Philippines and one from the UP National Center for Transportation Studies were on hand to oversee the computation and verify the results. Good. At least if we did poorly, we can't blame the mathematics.
After a much needed rest, we were all anxious for the results. Surprisingly, all the Ford Fiestas matched or even beat the previous records set by the previous run by Ford and the Department of Energy, and were very close to each other. The car driven by Ford Fiesta club members Omar Gabrieles and Sherwin Go was able to do 18.297 kilometers per liter. The hatchback driven by Ron Delos Reyes and Angel Rivero did 18.829 kilometers to the liter, while Carlo Tirona and Enzo Teodoro was able to do 19.177 km/l in their hatchback. Our Fiesta came in at 3rd place with a consumption of 19.253 km/l, while Sharleen Banzon and Barbara Lorenzo were able to do the run with an average of 19.545 km/l.
There was one more surprise in store, as the car that returned the best consumption figures was the one driven by the duo comprised of Dino Directo and Tessa Salazar, finishing with an astounding 23.663 kilometers per liter reading. Their Fiesta's fuel efficiency can be attributed to their chosen pace, as the pair religiously stuck their speedo needle somewhere around the 50 km/h mark while some of us, our car included, were a little more liberal when it came to overtaking and overall pace.
Sure, it's far from the old days when we used to brag about horsepower or quarter mile figures, the epitome of being cool. With today's high fuel prices thanks to exponentially increasing demand and the more expensive means that the petroleum companies have to do to find and extract crude from the earth, getting the most mileage out of every liter -every drop even- and expending as little CO2 as we can really IS the new "cool".
So, when's the next one?