One of the first things potential new car buyers look at nowadays is fuel economy. The costs of running a vehicle are high enough already, meaning that consumers are looking to tighten their belts in whatever way possible. More and more people are buying cars for their thriftiness with fuel, often downsizing and sacrificing performance and space for the sake of frugality. However, the consumption figures that manufacturers claim are often optimistic at best. With real-world driving comes unpredictable situations; traffic, road works and even driver behaviour can alter the fuel economy drastically, especially when compared with manufacturer claims.
That’s why CAR magazine takes every vehicle it tests on a 100 km mixed fuel route, in order to see how the real-world figure stacks up against what is claimed in the brochure. Often, the figure we achieve is slightly higher, but still similar. An example of this is the Mercedes-Benz C220d we tested for the June 2019 issue. The Stuttgart-based brand claims the midsize sedan is capable of sipping just 4,40 L/100 km, while we managed a still-impressive 4,90 L/100 km in realistic conditions.
And that brings us neatly to the WesBank SA Fuel Economy Tour. Comprising five days, the 2 500 km road trip commenced in Johannesburg, with the convoy of 40 cars heading to Durban, East London, George and, finally, Cape Town. When Renault South Africa contacted CAR for a potential driver, I raised my hand, excited to not only take part in the inaugural event but also to see the natural beauty our country has to offer. Armed with a light foot and steely determination, I set off for Johannesburg. Outside the WesBank building sat a blue (pre-facelift) Renault Kwid Climber. While the naturally aspirated 1,0-litre, three-cylinder petrol engine produces only 50 kW and 91 N.m, I was more interested in the impressive claimed fuel consumption of just 4,7 L/100 km.
With the Kwid ready for action on Tuesday morning, we set off for Durban. To prevent people from driving excessively slowly in order to achieve the best fuel consumption possible, the journey had to be completed at an average of a particular speed or above. This ensured that real-world figures were achieved, moving at speeds the average owner would do when commuting or going on holiday. Day one was certainly challenging, since having to drive 650 km on unfamiliar roads is no mean feat. Arriving in Durban, the weather added an extra element of difficulty, with the rain pouring down and the traffic responding with gridlock. Thankfully, we arrived with mere minutes to spare and managed to obtain an average of just 4,42 L/100 km.
With a fuel tank filled to the brim with unleaded and sealed, the Kwid was faced with an even more daunting task on day two. Starting out in Durban CBD, we had to average a good speed through the city, despite the traffic lights, speed limit and congestion. As we hit the highway en route to East London, my navigator informed me we were effectively three minutes behind. With the rainy weather and trucks everywhere, we decided that safer progress was more important. The sheer number of uphill sections didn’t help either, with the Kwid struggling to maintain a balance between speed and fuel economy as it climbed each incline. At the end of day two, we arrived in East London and were presented with an 11-minute penalty. This impacted our score negatively, relegating the Kwid to 17th place. The rules state that for every minute a vehicle is late, a litre of fuel is added to their total consumption. This balanced out at 5,77 L/100 km, far from our excellent performance the day before.
Still, no matter. Day three arrived and my navigator had come up with a new plan of action. The idea was to carry a good average speed through the town and get onto the motorway quickly, so we could reduce our speed and conserve fuel. It worked too, further aided by the kind traffic lights that shone green as the Kwid passed each and every one of them. A short stint on the old East London Grand Prix circuit was a welcome relief from the economical driving all the competitors were practicing, with a bit of frugal fun allowed as we headed round the historic raceway. By the time our Climber arrived in Port Elizabeth, we had built up a 31-minute gap. This was excellent news, allowing us to take it easy and extract as many kilometres as possible from our remaining fuel. It showed in the results too, where we moved up to 15th place on day three, and improved our overall consumption to 5,68 L/100 km.
The final two days was where we hoped to make up a significant difference, to counter the effects of the penalties. Heading into the Western Cape, I relied on my familiarity with the roads to plan ahead. As we hit Knysna, the traffic in the town centre caught nearly everyone out, with the uphill sections only adding insult to injury as we made our way to George. The Kwid managed to maintain a decent average speed, even when heading uphill. This no doubt helped us, bringing our average down even further, to 5,56 L/100 km and moving us into 14th place overall.
Saturday morning arrived, with the final stage upon us. The threat of rain and roadworks heading into Cape Town had many competitors worried. But a rather enjoyable drive awaited us, with the Kwid barely facing any challenges. Indeed, a clean road and a lack of stop-and-go road construction worked in the little Indian-built car’s favour. As the convoy crested Clarence Drive, the rain let up and the clouds parted, allowing a stream of sunlight through. A positive sign, I thought, as we joined the N2 and made progress towards our final stop of the day.
Overall, my goal of at least cracking the top 10 wasn’t achieved. However, it was certainly a valuable lesson in economical driving, and an opportunity to see the beautiful country we live in. At the end of the trip, the Kwid managed to achieve an impressive average of 4,95 L/100 km, a commendable figure overall and one that helped Renault attain the title of the most fuel-efficient brand at the event.
Model: Renault Kwid 1,0 Climber
Price: R160 700 (pre-facelift model)
Engine: 1,0-litre, 3-cylinder, naturally aspirated
Power: 50 kW @ 5 000 r/min
Torque: 91 N.m @ 4 250 r/min
0-100 km/h: 13,67 seconds (tested)
Top Speed: 152 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 4,70 L/100 km (claimed)
CO2: 112 g/km
Transmission: five-speed manual
Service Plan: Optional (pre-facelift)