Burgers, sweat and tears on the 2019 WesBank Fuel Economy Tour
Brenwin Naidu and Bruce Fraser team up for 2,400km of fuel saving in a 2019 Fiat Tipo 1.3 MultiJet Diesel Easy
“Fuel” is the more tasteful f-word frequently on the lips of South African motorists. The price of go-juice is always on the up. And let’s face it: those little decreases, while welcomed of course, offer negligible respite for a strained budget.
Economy remains an entirely relevant criterion on the shopping lists for those looking to make a new vehicle purchase.
This is where the WesBank Fuel Economy Tour comes in. Over a five-day journey spanning the country, the competition saw 40 vehicles battling it out for supremacy as the most frugal car in the land.
We were invited to participate, fielding a Fiat Tipo 1.3 MultiJet Diesel Easy, which, on paper alone, is clearly a desirable pick if you want a parsimonious steed: the manufacturer lists a consumption figure of 4.5l/100km on its website.
But as we know, claims can be optimistic versus the numbers that drivers attain in reality. And that was the mandate of the challenge: to yield accurate, authentic consumption figures in real world conditions – no excessive hypermiling techniques.
Yours truly was at the helm, with colleague Bruce Fraser taking the passenger seat as the designated navigator.
We agreed that we would keep the air-conditioning on and follow the prescribed, national speed limits. Oh, and an eclectic assortment of music was essential too, with acts as diverse as Barry (White and Gibb), Jabu Khanyile, George Michael, Freshlyground, as well as a good number of kilometres covered in comfortable silence.
DAY ONE: EASY AS PIE
Spirits were high as we set off from the WesBank office in Fairland, Johannesburg, at approximately 8am. On the agenda that Tuesday November 12 was a simple route down the N3 to KwaZulu-Natal, where we would take lodgings in the Durban beachfront area.
The car had been inspected by the scrutineering team the night before. And all was clear. Neither Bruce nor I had plans to be known as the Lance Armstrong of economy runs.
We arrived at our halfway stop in Harrismith still feeling chipper. A spot of lunch and we were off again. We pulled into our final destination for the day at 2.27pm - roughly 595km in total.
As part of the rules, the organisers planned to institute penalties for time: to ensure that participants did not crawl, thus achieving unrealistic consumption figures.
Nobody incurred penalties on the first day. We had returned a figure of 4.05l/100km. We were in second place, behind a Renault Duster 1.5 dCi EDC, which achieved 2.9l/100km. That figure turned out to be incorrect. Chief organiser Charl Wilken confirmed that one of the marshals had underfilled the Renault. The actual figure was 4.0l/100km.
After a hearty meal, Bruce and I felt upbeat that we were poised for a podium finish. How wrong we were.
DAY TWO: LATE BUT ALIVE
This was where it all fell apart. That 639km trek from Durban to East London proved to be a challenging undertaking, as anyone who has ever driven the stretch will attest. It was a route featuring setbacks in the form of single lanes, many trucks, stray animals and small towns with a surprising amount of traffic.
Maintaining a reasonable speed (safely) was difficult. And so we witnessed some utterly shocking driving as contenders tried to beat the clock, with reckless overtaking and near-misses aplenty. It was by sheer luck that there were no incidents.
We opted to take a step back from the fever of competition and pilot our Tipo carefully and responsibly in the conditions. That made us late at both our check-in points, for which we earned a penalty of 29 litres, added to our overall consumption. Anyway, we had made it safely to East London, with a consumption figure of 5.17l/100km. With the penalty, our consumption was 6.96l/100km, knocking us into 32nd place (from first).
Burgers and milkshakes from the Windmill Roadhouse softened the disappointment somewhat. But we were still pretty sad.
In defence of the road safety issues we raised, the chief organiser said: “We will clamp on down strongly on this issue next year” and that “penalties will be applied”.
“I would also like to randomly pull two to three different cars’ footage every day, from next year onwards."
But he added: “People cannot expect from us to look at five to six hours of footage every day from all 40 cars.”
DAY THREE: OFF TO THE FRIENDLY CITY
A comparatively leisurely itinerary lay ahead on Thursday, as we saddled-up to drive from the Garden Court in East London to Something Good Roadhouse on Marine Drive in Port Elizabeth. Following this 295km stint, we would do a short loop around town before taking up temporary residence in Humewood.
Our spirits were dampened, although some progress was being made in clawing back a better position. After arriving in The Friendly City, our consumption was sitting at 5.12l/100km. With the penalty factored-in, that went up to 6.57l/100km, moving us from 32nd into 25th.
DAY FOUR: TAKING IT ALL IN
Our performance on the second day had sealed our fate. We were not going to clinch this one. Still, we soldiered on as before, maintaining a moderate speed and making full use of the ventilation system in the Italian sedan.
But our focus moved away from the disappointments of thwarted victory and more towards the outstanding coastal scenery to be viewed en route to George.
And it would be remiss to not afford our faithful chariot some praise. It is really unfortunate that Fiat struggle to shift the Tipo, particularly in this diesel-engine specification. While grunt around town errs on the flaccid side, the torque and momentum on offer at highway speeds, accelerating in fourth and fifth gears, is assuring. You get 70kW and 200Nm, the latter quite effective at providing overtaking pull.
In terms of amenities, there was not much to be in want of. Being the higher-grade Easy model (not the entry-level Pop), it benefits from automatic climate control, a reasonable infotainment system, steering-mounted audio controls, cruise control and rear parking sensors. This one is all yours for R272,708, while the range begins at R227,746.
By the end of this penultimate day, our consumption was 5.35l/100km (6.35l/100km with those pesky penalties) and we had moved into 21st place overall.
DAY FIVE: FINISHING STRONG
The last stretch saw us driving from George to Cape Town, parking the Tipo at the popular Cullinan hotel.
These last stages were a tad bittersweet, as Bruce and I reflected on the highs and lows of a memorable road trip in which laughter (and tears) were shared, a friendship was cemented and a newfound admiration for an underrated little car was forged.
The figure with the added time penalty was 6.05l/100km and our overall place was 20th – not that these two details matter outside the frame of the competition. Our actual average consumption over the five-day, 2400km journey was 4.89l/100km: impressive, you will agree.
Take a look at the field of contenders in the graph attached and see if you can spot how your car performed.