When you think of driving skill, the first few things that probably come to mind are: How much control you have of the car at break-neck speeds; how good are your gear-shifts? How well do you choose your racing lines? How late can you brake while coming into a corner? Sure, all of these skills take a bucket-load of practice to master. But have you ever put any thought into how hard it is to drive a car slowly? Now, before you start to question my sanity, just consider the amount of patience involved in driving a car for kilometres at a time; while making sure the revs don’t climb more than a few 100rpm above idle.
Our weapon of choice was the 85hp Renault Lodgy RxL, equipped with the ultra-efficient K9K 1.5-litre diesel engine, a 50-litre fuel tank and a fresh set of 185/65 Apollo tyres; all these elements combined would be ideal for setting a record mileage run. We also had the option of the 110hp Lodgy that came with six gears instead of five. And yes, I know that more horsepower is always better, but that’s not what we needed in this situation. The five-speed gearbox would also allow for more manageable throttle modulation at lower revs. And even though the Lodgy is technically an MPV, capable of seating seven people, its unladen kerb weight is a mere 1,300kg; the perfect vehicle for this sort of mileage run.
Now a Delhi-Mumbai run doesn’t sound overly exciting by itself. But throw in the condition that the fuel tank will be sealed off by auditors until you reach Mumbai and things start to get interesting. There’s a lot of planning that goes into pulling off something like this. And let’s not forget, there’s also a fair amount of mental preparation required.
Consider covering almost 1,400km with a feather-light foot on the accelerator and still managing to stay awake after about six hours of continuous driving. Sure, it sounds pretty simple as it is; but let’s not forget, that this is out on Indian highways, where the traffic is unpredictable, and around this time of the year, the weather in the western part of the country makes ovens seem quite bearable. How did we bypass this? Drive during the night, rest during the day. And keep some entertainment options in the car so you don’t doze off. Avoid using any auxiliary functions of the car like the audio system. This would simply put an extra load on the electricals and let’s not forget, we only get a single tank of gas to make this run.
The Road Ahead
The event flagged off from the Renault dealership in Delhi NCR on a hot April day. Now, part of the game plan was to drive at night, when traffic levels are relatively lower. Not to mention that at night, temperatures also tend to be a bit more bearable. And let’s not forget, the air-conditioner was not supposed to be used because the load put on the engine would increase fuel consumption. So, after the flag-off ceremony at the Renault dealership in Delhi NCR, the Lodgy was tanked up and the fuel tank sealed off by officials. We set off on April 10 at 2:30am and headed towards Jaipur. Now, when you think of endurance and cars, I bet one of the first things that come to mind is the Le Mans race. And we all know Renault is no stranger to Le Mans. But what you need to keep in mind is that for a drive of this sort, you also need to have your mind sharp at all times. Aside from being limited to micro-inputs from your throttle foot, you need to take into account inclines in terrain and stray traffic. Overtaking involves a whole new kind of calculation; there’s switching into the fast lane with much faster moving traffic while managing to constantly keep the revs hovering around the 1,000rpm mark – it’s all about momentum.
Behind The Wheel
We managed to reach Jaipur at about 9:30am. Part of the strategy of saving time and fuel was to find accommodation along the highway itself. Any unnecessary detours had to be avoided at all costs. It’s a good thing we chose to drive at night. Scorching temperatures of 40 degrees-plus greeted us in Rajasthan. Not something you want when you’re trying to concentrate. The saving grace is the road conditions in this part of India; stick to the main national highways and you’ll be greeted with pristine stretches of tarmac. Try these roads at night and you’ll find them even better, except for the stubborn oncoming traffic that thinks keeping headlights on high-beam all the time is normal, or maybe it’s just their way of celebrating an everyday version of Diwali.
The second leg would take us from Jaipur through Rajasthan and wind up for the day in Udaipur. We set out at around 7:00pm in the evening and made our way. On day two, things started falling into a bit of a rhythm. Driving for five-six hour stretches seemed like a decent pace to keep. Constantly making stops would mean running through all the gears all over again; which, as we all know, is never great for fuel consumption. The music in the car helped a lot with keeping our brains simulated. If not, we’d be counting all the imaginary chickens streaking across the road. We arrived at Udaipur at around 5:40am and now it was time to rest. It’s a rather strange sort of sensation; forcing yourself to sleep during the day. But the brain needs to be rested for this sort of thing, so sleep we must.
The third leg of the run took us from Udaipur into Gujarat and finally, we’d make a stop at Vadodara. The fuel tank remained sealed; and what’s surprising was that after almost 700km, we hadn’t lost a single bar of fuel. We imagined something could possibly be wrong with the fuel gauge, or the Lodgy was turning out to be quite the frugal little chugger; and at this point, we found it to be quite heartening. So, we departed at around 11:30pm from Udaipur and noticed a slight increase in truck traffic once we crossed into Gujarat. Stressful driving conditions called for a one-hour halt on the way. We rolled into Vadodara at around 8:30am and it was time to call it a night, or a day. By this point, our body clocks had gone for a nice sweet toss.
Well rested and spirits high again, it was time to embark on the last gruelling stretch of the journey – Vadodara to Mumbai. The Lodgy was well stocked with snacks and refreshments. As the clock struck 7:00pm, we set out from Vadodara, onward to Mumbai. The second bar of fuel dropped after completing 1,108km. We still had about 300-odd kilometres to go and wondered if the Lodgy had been playing us all along. We now started worrying if there would be a sudden drop in fuel bars and we’d be stranded by the side of the road. Nonetheless, we pushed the Lodgy on. We lost another bar of fuel at 1,269km on the trip meter, at about 120-odd kilometres from Mumbai. There was a small uphill-ghat section at Ghodbunder, just before entering the city. This was the home stretch and it did take a lot of patience to continue with our mileage driving habits. But by this time, we had managed to keep with the rhythm that got us this far.
We made it! We completed 1,388km from Delhi-NCR to Mumbai on a single tank of fuel. As we triumphantly drove into the petrol pump at Jogeshwari, Mumbai, the officials checked the seals and confirmed that there had been no tampering. It was time to see how much fuel was consumed. Only 32.91 litres! That would equate to the Lodgy returning an overall fuel efficiency figure of 42kpl! So, if we drove the Lodgy until the 50-litre tank ran dry, we’d cover almost 2,100km on a single tank of fuel. That’s the same distance from Mumbai, on the West coast to Guwahati in the North-Eastern state of Assam! You’ll have to forgive the abundance of exclamation marks. It’s not every day that you complete an almost 1,400km journey on just a single tank of fuel, whatever the car may be. The Lodgy was spectacular and shocked even us with its fuel efficiency. Well, now it’s time to go get a bit of rest and see how long it takes to reset our body clocks. We seem to have passed the patience test. It’s time to get back to normal driving speeds again.
How it’s done
Tyre pressure Always keep tyre pressure higher than normal. Under-inflated tyres will increase rolling resistance and reduce fuel efficiency.
Reduce weight Remove all unnecessary objects from the car. The lighter the car is, the less load there will be on the engine.
Maintain momentum This means reading traffic, judging inclines in terrain and keeping as constant a pace as possible.
Throttle modulation Feathering the throttle will consume the least amount of fuel. But also take into account that throttle inputs should reduce on inclines and increase slightly on declines.
Minimise gear-shifts Always stay in the highest gear possible. Working the gearbox often will automatically increase revs and, in turn, reduce efficiency. Coasting in neutral will not help.
Windows up Keeping the windows down will reduce the aerodynamic ability of the car and cause drag due to resistance created by the car itself. So, keep windows up at all times.
Maintenance Ensure your car is in optimum condition at all times. An engine running in
good condition will always extract the maximumout of every litre of fuel.