The (True) Heroes of Economy
Which modern day cars actually deliver the economy that makes a difference.
"Green" is the buzzword nowadays in every almost every manufacturing sector, more so in the automotive world. And, save for a few petrolheads who crave more cylinders than miles per gallon, everyone is on the look out for vehicles that mildly sip fuel and make the most of the flavor. However, not everyone realizes that there are some genuine good hatchbacks that offer comfort, design, flexibility and safety without compromising on fuel economy.
Of course, it isn't always about petrol. For the markets where diesel car sales are going up, people are discovering the ease of use of modern, technologically advanced diesel engines - their fantastic bottom end grunt and drivability on one hand, and their low fuel consumption and emissions on the other. Here's a look at a noteworthy few.
Volkswagen Polo BlueMotion TDi
The new VW Polo is just as compact as any good hatchback and just as well built as any good Volkswagen. It offers comfortable seating for four, and even five passengers if need be. You have a boot that can fit a good amount of luggage and an equipment list that would shame some family sedans. Yet, under that bonnet is a rather small 1.2L turbocharged 3-cylinder engine that develops 75 hp and a more than ample 180 Nm of torque. These figures may not seem like much, but in reality, are more than adequate for everyday use in the city as well as on highways. Add the lightweight construction and manual transmission and you end up with fuel economy figures of over 50 mpg on the combined cycle, and low CO2 emissions as well. On the highway, this car can deliver over 70 mpg if driven at optimum speeds consistently.
FIAT Punto MultiJet
The Punto is one of the most beautiful of Italian designs and also makes for a very exciting car to drive with it's range of engines, including the sprightly Abarth version. However, the lesser known diesel variant is something of a revelation. FIAT and GM-DAT had, a long time ago now, developed a high-pressure common-rail direct injection diesel engine with a flexible platform of various engine sizes and outputs, the bulk of which ended up being the 1.3L turbocharged 4-cylinder. With 75 hp and 190 Nm of torque across a wide torqueband, it offers fantastic driveability and, even better, great fuel economy of almost 50 mpg combined. There's also a 92 hp / 209 Nm version, and that too is unbelievably frugal.
Volvo C30 D2 DRIVe
One of the more expensive offerings in this list, for a good reason, is Volvo's C30 hatchback - recognized as one of the most beautiful hatchback you can buy today. As always, Volvo's list of standard safety equipment is longer than most specification lists of other manufacturers, but that's not all there is to a Volvo. You see, in the cold north, the Swedes have been busy working on improving their engines further, eking out a little more power, and making them take smaller sips of fuel at the same time. Their 1.6L diesel engine in the DRIVe model makes 115 hp and 270 Nm of torque, as much as some SUVs used to produce from their 2.0L engines earlier! This gives it great performance and amazing drivability. It also features a 6-speed manual transmission with Start/Stop which cuts the engine when stationary to reduce fuel consumption, and starts back up in a few milliseconds when you step off the clutch. It is also one of the world's first cars to offer CO2 emissions of under 100 gms/km!
Hyundai i10 / i20 CRDi BlueDrive
Hyundai has in their arsenal two small, but powerful weapons - the i10 and i20 hatchbacks. While the i10 is available with a small, but phenomenonal 1.1L 75 hp CRDi diesel engine, the i20 has a 1.4L 90 hp CRDi diesel, which is also available on the i10 in the higher, more expensive variants. These engines are smooth, have great pick up and are paired to some unbelievably smooth transmissions. The equipment list of almost all Hyundai car models exceeds expectations and that makes them terrific value for money offerings. Over 50 mpg combined is not only achieved regularly, but very soon, owners begin to expect that sort of economy every time, and they deliver too!
The Future of Economy
That brings me to an interesting point. How do you really compare how green a car truly is? "Green" does not always mean just fuel-efficient. If you take battery powered cars for example, it has been noted how much pollution is actually caused in sourcing the materials to make the batteries. Nickel mining, processing and actual manufacturing results in far more pollutants than a an average Lamborghini supercar would produce in it's lifetime, however short it may be. The point is not just about fuel economy or emissions. It's about so much more. It's the carbon footprint, the overall use of production materials that go into making the components for the car - the seats, the wheels, the tires and the bodywork. It's the end result of all of it.
Another example was when Toyota launched the Prius. At the time of it's introduction in the US, most cars there were running 3.5L V6 engines, more or less, with top end variants equipped with gas guzzling V8 engines. With the displacement of the gasoline engine in the Prius, paired to the hybrid drive system, it made a lot of sense! Then, many years later, it was launched in India.
India has a massive population and is home to the city of Pune, which has the highest number of two-wheeler / motorcycle riders in the world. While a sizeable chunk of the population also drive cars, the majority of those are hatchbacks with 1.0L or 1.2L engines or compact sedans that don't exceed 2.0L in displacement. The Prius just doesn't make sense here! With the exorbitant import duty structure making it cost more than double it's intended MSRP, $60,000 give or take, it is more of a status symbol used by a businessman to show his green-streak than anything else.
Besides, the ultimate solution would be to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels altogether. Even the most economical diesel engined cars are sipping precious non-renewable natural resources, while battery makers sap the Earth of it's nutrients in a deplorable manner. Why do automobile manufacturers have to spend millions on development costs for a system that cuts the engine when idle, or even brake energy regeneration? Why can't people just realize that THEY are the key to being efficient and "green". If we are more responsible in our actions, only then can we truly expect a change for the better. In the words of a notable journalist and one of my most inspirational characters, a certain Mr. Jeremy Clarkson, "It isn't what you drive, it's how you drive it!"