Saab dominate ALD fuel economy test in Spain

RE-POSTED – This effort from Saab Spain got drowned out by news earlier this week. It’s been re-posted to give people a fuller opportunity to read through what they achieved here.

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This is a story that I covered briefly in a Saabosphere posting a few weeks ago, but I’d like to cover it again today in more detail.

In short, Saab Spain entered a voluntary test that would measure a vehicle’s fuel economy over a 350km course on real-world roads. They ended up achieving the largest fuel economy reduction in comparison to official figures amongst all vehicles tested.

The reason I’d like to cover it again is because I recently had a chance to meet and talk with Ramon Cano from Saab Spain. Ramon was the guy at the wheel during this test, with a Spanish journalist sitting in the car with him (to ensure no funny business happened during the test).

Ramon, left, was accompanied by a journalist from Autofacil during the test (click to enlarge)

When a vehicle is released, it always comes with an official fuel economy rating. in Europe, this rating is measured according to criteria set under Regulation 715/2007 (Euro 5/6). You can click here and see how it’s done, but in short, they put the vehicle on a chassis dynamometer and ‘drive’ it according to a set course for a number of cycles. The reason for doing this is so that all vehicles can be measured according to the same course and under the same conditions. You don’t get the variations in temperature, wind, traffic, etc, that could influence a real-world measurement.

As mentioned previously, one of the tests in the ALD fuel economy challenge was to see how far under this official result the vehicles could perform.

The number of entrants into this competition is pretty small, with only nine manufacturers making vehicles available. I guess if you’re not a chance of starring in the competition, it’s best to avoid the potential for negative publicity. Entries were fielded by Ford, Mazda, Nissan, Opel, Peugeot, Renault, Seat, Volvo and of course, Saab.

The entrants had to select a car from their range to participate in the test. All they knew was that they would have to drive it along a route that was 350km in length on public roads. The actual route was kept secret until just before the test in order to reduce the possibility of teams preparing specifically for that route.

Vehicle selection, of course, is quite important in a test like this. Driven carefully, a manual vehicle will generally achieve better fuel consumption results than an automatic. A petrol engine is generally more desireable than a diesel in a test like this because a diesel has very low official figures before the test even begins. There’s more room for improvement in the figures for a petrol engine.

With a desire for a petrol-engined manual car, Ramon probably thought his luck had completely run out when he was given a TiD automatic 🙂

When you hear about ‘hypermiling’ competitions, you’ll commonly hear about a small car cruising flat roads at around 40km/h in low gear. This ALD test actually included a timing component, like a regularity rally, meaning that entrants had to drive at a reasonable speed in order to make it to checkpoints along the route within a given timeframe. Taking too long between checkpoints attracted a time penalty that was applied to your final fuel consumption readings, thus negating any advantage you might have got from going slowly.

Driving the car as much as he could in manual mode, and with careful application of the throttle and equally careful use of coasting opportunities, Ramon managed to improve significantly on the official fuel economy figures for the Saab 9-5 TiD. The official figure for this model is 6.8l/100km and the final figure achieved on the test was 5.641l/100km, a reduction of some 17% over all.

I’ve heard many, many stories over the years of Saab owners getting actual fuel consumption readings that were better than the official figures. It’s a reasonably common occurrence. But 17% is quite incredible, especially when you consider that the Saab 9-5 TTiD is a 5-meter long, two-ton-plus vehicle fitted with already officially low-consumption diesel engine, as well as an automatic transmission.

Ramon’s driving tips for better fuel economy:

  • The key factors is to always drive in advance of real events.
  • Remove pressure from the throttle when a traffic light ahead is red, despite how far away it is.
  • Increasing the ‘security distance’ between you and the vehicle in front of you, so that your speed is more constant.
  • Avoid using your brake as much as possible (using the brakes destroys energy you create when you’re on the throtte).
  • Keep the engine within the optimum turbo range as much as possible.

Saabs have a habit of looking quite comparable to others on paper and then performing extraordinarily well in actual real-world conditions. This phenomenon is well noted in respect to vehicle safety, where Saab have often emphasised their “real world” philosophy and have earned great respect from insurers and other groups because of this.

Anecdotal evidence is accumulating more and more with tests like this one in Spain, suggesting that Saab vehicles seem to be more economical than some official test results claim. Of course, we’re happy with those official results, too, but it’s nice to know that Spanish customers will have some local, monitored tests to look at to show what they might look forward to.

Congratulations to Ramon and the team at Saab Spain for their achievements in this exercise.

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3 Comments

  1. Saab should make this a press release! Very good advertisement for the brand.

    About fuel economy: my Hirsched 9.3-II 1.8 Turbo convertible has a remarkable increrase in fuel economy with the new E10 fuel in Germany! It used to be above 10 liters / 100 km in my use and now is in the 9.5 liters range.

  2. This matches my experience with the 4 Saabs I have owned.  My 1997 900 S stickered at 19/27 mpg and I have averaged 26.7 with maybe 35% city miles.  My 2008 9-3 Aero is rated at 15/24 and I have averaged 24.2 with perhaps 40% city miles.  My former 2004 9-3 Linear 2.0t can get 36 mpg on the highway even though it’s rated at 20/30.  Even though the EPA fuel economy sticker rules have changed over the years, it’s still impressive.

  3. Great article on the disparity between government EPA numbers and Saab’s true capabilities.  One of the reasons I switched my entire household to the Saab brand was this very reason, improved fuel economy.  Fueleconomy.gov rates my 9-3 manual SC at 23 mpg (combined). So far in 2011, my best improvement over this figure has been 32.5 mpg (41.3% improvement) with a
    average of 30.5 mpg (32.6% improvement). Ditto on the press release request as a segment of the driving public focused on safety and fuel economy would be drawn to Saab by this news.

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