Audi A4 Miles Better Challenge — miles mayhem

Leow Ju-Len

A fuel consumption challenge to Genting Highlands and back in an Audi A4 sees CarBuyer sweat it out for victory

GENTING HIGHLANDS — What does it take to win a fuel economy challenge? A steely mind. A steady hand (actually, two would be better). A strong stomach. I know this now because I’ve done it, partnering Cheryl Tay, a fitness blogger, triathlete and the founder of a movement called Rock The Naked Truth.

Cheryl is the one on the right

Now that you’re back from googling “Rock The Naked Truth”, I can tell you that Cheryl and I lifted figurative gold at the Audi A4 Miles Better challenge, a semi-friendly competition between local car writers that completely went against the basic nature of journalists: it was a contest to see who could drink the least.

Specifically, we were free to be our dipsomaniac selves, and thank goodness for that. It was the throats of three Audi A4s that we were meant to keep as dry as possible.

The idea was for writers to team up and drive the A4s to Genting Highlands and back most of the way, brimming the tank before and after to see how much fuel we used, or didn’t use.

Unfortunately we couldn’t slip into a petrol station and put a few sneaky litres in because Audi was smart enough to seal the filler cap, but possible winning strategies included: a) buying a tow rope and paying a lorry to tow us a couple of hundred kilometres, b) pretending to get lost and spending extra time on straight, flat highway (one shifty bunch actually did this and ended up in second place) and c) hoping the other teams would screw up somehow and hand over victory.

Because the third car was driven by a crew from a site that may or may not sound like SG Bar Mart, Cheryl and I opted for (c), figuring that it was the sensible thing to do under the circumstances.

Audi Singapore’s senior manager for PR Lee Nian Tjoe (above, left) cooked up the whole idea, and took it upon himself to sacrifice precious office time by accompanying us the entire way, even spending two nights at the Crockford Hotel on top of Genting with us.

The Miles Better Challenge was, he reckoned, a good way to showcase the inherent efficiency of the Audi A4 2.0 TFSI, because if bumbling motoring writers can get it to use fuel sparingly, then anyone can. It seems quite likely, too, that Nian Tjoe simply wanted to see some pesky journalists sweat.

And boy, did he get his wish. We sweltered, we sweated, we swore, and then we sweated some more. The thing about a fuel economy challenge is that when you compete in one with the air-con on, it’s like trying to run a marathon in slippers. Technically you could still win, but you have to be out-of-this-world good. So we reached for the ‘Off’ switch immediately.

In a car like the Audi A4, the air-con uses roughly 0.3 to 0.5 litres of petrol to run per hour. That’s up to 5 litres in a 10-hour jaunt, say, to Genting Highlands and back — way too costly in a challenge like this one. So Cheryl and I, along with all the others, saturated the A4s’ lovely cabins with our sweat. If you ever encounter a fairly new Audi A4 2.0 TFSI in the second hand car market that looks immaculate but smells a bit like unwashed socks, back away. Back away fast.

“What’s that smell? Oh wait, it’s victory…”

I should say that if you’re ever going to spend around a dozen hours in what is effectively an oven, you could pick a worse companion than a triathlete.

After expressing her despair at my insistence that we switch the a/c off, Cheryl grumbled a bit, but then quickly reasoned that she’s used to sweating anyway, given that she’s more of an Ironman than most men.

She came up with some useful insights from her own sweaty world, too. For instance, she’s learnt from cycling that when you’re approaching a hill, you want to build up a bit of speed to let momentum carry you to the top, and then ease off once gravity can take over. Handily, the A4 has a coasting mode that’s perfect for this technique. Click the right gearbox shift paddle when you’re off the accelerator and the gearbox slips into neutral seamlessly, so the engine can enjoy an idle moment. You’ll be amazed at how a freewheeling car can just keep going and going, a bit like one of Cheryl’s stories about her love life.

More endurance competition stuff from Cheryl — looking far ahead to anticipate traffic and slip through it in a way that conserves momentum, driving at a steady 90km/h without sudden acceleration or braking — saw her hand the A4 over to me with an astonishing 3.8L/100km showing on the trip computer.

Mind you, the A4 is rated at 5.2L/100km, which is pretty astonishing itself. I can remember when that sort of fuel economy was only achieved by small hatchbacks that barely had the power to pull the skin off a char siew bun. Yet, here we have a plush, well-equipped sedan that’s about as crashworthy as it’s possible for a car to be, converting fuel to forward motion at an incredible rate when conditions are right.

Some of the usual tricks apply — the Audi’s engine has a lean-burn mode that cuts the fuel/air ratio when the driver has a light touch on the accelerator, for example. But there’s also something called “B-cycle” combustion, which shortens the time the intake valves stay open during each intake stroke of the engine. It beats me how that makes it use less fuel, honestly, but it must do something.

It’s worth pointing out that the A4 2.0 TFSI has 190 horsepower, so if you throw discipline out the window you can send it to 100km/h in just 7.3 seconds. That’s my excuse for bringing our score to an embarrassing 4.5L/100km by the time I pulled up at the Crockford’s porch, anyway. I was having loads of fun getting the Audi to zip around the many corners on the way up Genting Highlands; possibly too much fun, because Cheryl complained about a sore neck when we arrived.

I promised her I would make up for the terrible fuel economy by making use of the A4’s steady roadholding to carry lots of speed down the mountain. I couldn’t do anything about her neck except reassure her that she wasn’t the first person to experience acute pain there after spending hours with me.

I can’t say I made back much lost ground after we descended the mountain, and even if I did the next thing I did was to expertly steer us into a traffic jam looking for the North-South Highway. Feeling sheepish, I handed the Audi back to Cheryl for the long final stint to the refueling stop just outside Yong Peng, about 100km from the border, and watched as she patiently, steadily brought the fuel consumption back down, pulling into the designated Caltex station where Audi’s Nian Tjoe was waiting with the nozzle. 

We’d covered 663km and used up 28.557 litres of fuel, a rate of 4.30L/100km. The shifty, second-placed team nipped at our heels by consuming 4.58L/100km, while the thirstiest team put in the thirstiest performance by downing the stuff at 5.15L/100km.

That’s better than the factory claim of 5.2L/100km, but a whopping 19.8 percent more than what Cheryl and I had consumed.

That leaves us with a couple of ready takeaways. First, if you care about fuel consumption (or, by extension, climate change) at all, driving a modern car with dedicated eco tech like the A4 2.0 TFSI is half the battle. Second, driving technique still makes a difference, and it’s possible to drive a frugal car extra frugally.

Beyond that, if you ever enter a mileage challenge yourself, I highly recommend partnering up with some sort of endurance athlete used pacing herself and keeping her mind on focused on victory, and who doesn’t mind sweating it out in a car with no air-conditioning. While she brings that to the table, you can do your part by bringing deodorant. It’s one thing to snatch victory, but quite another to sniff it.


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Leow Ju-Len

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