Motoring: The key to a good figure

A READER rang me to complain about the fuel consumption of his Ford Fiesta. Its official urban figure was 41.5mpg, yet he was getting only 37. I told him he was doing well, that those official figures were only a guide and, in some ways, were a con. He seemed surprised. I guess it is the government endorsement that gives the figures such credibility.

There are three official fuel- consumption tests: an urban cycle, said to be a good simulation of typical city driving conditions; a constant 90km/h (56mph); and the constant 130km/h (75mph) test.

Most car makers pull every trick they can to optimise the figures: the promise of good fuel consumption sells cars. Typically, they will select the best engine from the production line. There is reckoned to be a 5 per cent difference in normal manufacturing tolerances between the best and worst engines. The best motor for good fuel consumption is the one that gives the most torque (pulling power) at the lowest revs.

The manufacturer's test car is likely to be fitted with the brand of tyre that offers the least rolling resistance. (Customers rarely have a choice: they simply take the brand that happens to be on the car when it is delivered.) Then the tyres are pumped up as hard as possible to reduce friction. If the handbook suggests a range of pressures, the test car's tyres will be at the maximum one. Some tyre manufacturers quietly allege that some car makers recommend overly high tyre pressures in their handbooks, purely to get good government fuel consumption figures. But when the car is delivered to the punter, a lower tyre pressure will be used to provide a more comfortable ride.

And some test sites give better figures than others. Many manufacturers do their 'run-down' tests in warm climates, such as Spain or Italy, and ideally in the warmest possible weather. Hot air is thinner, and therefore has less aerodynamic drag.

According to one engineer I spoke to, the overall improvement, thanks to these tricks, can be as high as 10 per cent. The upshot is that these government fuel figures should be treated with suspicion, and used only as a rough guide when buying a car.

Another warning: never believe the 56mph fuel figure, which is the one nearly always quoted in the ads. You will never, ever replicate this figure in normal, everyday driving.

CAR CABINS are usually awful. Swathed in dark grey plastic or, when car makers are really bold, black, dark blue or even dark brown, they offer a sombre and depressing environment. The plastics employed are usually of the cheapest possible variety: thin, hard and nasty to touch. And the only splashes of colour to lift the gloom (no wonder so many drivers look morose behind the wheel) are woven, with precious little flair, into the seat

fabrics.

Even the new Renault Twingo, named the most innovative car of 1992 by Autocar & Motor magazine, is littered with penny-pinching disappointments. Its switchgear is bright green, big and quite rubbery: all positive signs. The seat fabric is purple, red and green. Yet the plastic trim that surrounds this coral reef is the usual North Sea grey.

The Twingo, though, is not the only sign of better times ahead. The new Ford Mondeo comes with a rather fetching tan-coloured dash, as well as the ubiquitous dark grey, black and dark blue. The Land-Rover Discovery was a real trend-setter: when it went on sale in 1989, its cabin hue was Cambridge Blue; a Mondeo-

like tan followed.

Grey interiors have become de rigueur over the past decade or so, because grey works with any exterior colour. Car makers have therefore been able to rationalise their trim colours, and save money. Never mind the gloom, watch profits boom] Never mind, either, that black and other dark colours show up dirt, and are hot and oppressive in summer.

Research in the United States has shown that the most restful colour for cabins is green. That is hardly surprising: green is redolent of the countryside. But it clashes with most exterior

colours.

These days, however, car interior designers are not only experimenting with brighter colours, they are also lobbying for the return of natural materials, or more natural-looking materials. Everyday cars of 40 years ago often had leather upholstery and wooden dashes and door trim; they had chrome-plated door handles, window winders and interior locks. So the cabin of a Fifties car was a much more appealing place to travel in than today's plastic and polyester cocoon.

At the recent Paris show, Volvo displayed a model with a startling yellow and purple dash, though that may be taking things a little too far. Its cabin was partly made from cork, and leather and suede-like materials are being used more and more. For me, the most attractive so far is Lancia's handsome Alcantara trim: it looks and feels like suede, but it is cheaper and easier to maintain.

Many Japanese car makers have already reintroduced 'chrome-plated' door handles; unfortunately, the chrome is all too obviously laid-over plastic. An engineering friend tells me that real chrome-plated metal door handles - lovely to touch, as well as to view - cost about pounds 1.50 extra per car. Why is no mass car manufacturer prepared to spend this sum on their low- to medium-range models?

TO MARK the 25th anniversary of the London-Sydney Marathon, first of the 'modern day' long- distance car rallies, 106 25-year-old cars will set off from Chelsea Harbour, London, on 17 April to drive to Sydney. The rerun, sponsored by Lombard, is a proper, competitive rally; the only oddity is that all the cars must be of a type available when the original event was held in 1968.

The 11,500-mile route takes cars through France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan where, in Tashkent, two Russian Antonov military cargo planes will carry the surviving competitors over the Himalayas to Delhi. The rally then heads south to Bombay, from where the Antonovs will fly the cars to Perth and a 3,500-mile dash to Sydney Harbour, where the cars should arrive on May 16.

I will be doing the event with my Dad in a Mk1 Ford Escort.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Ashdown Group: Sales Support - Buckinghamshire - £25,000

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Internal Sales Executive ...

    Recruitment Genius: Field Smart Meter Engineer - Gas and Electric - Dual Fuel

    £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises in the installa...

    Recruitment Genius: Programme Manager

    £30000 - £35500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity for...

    Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum