The green technology that's probably already in your car
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Technology moves at a furious pace in the automotive world; it’s easy to think that to really improve your fuel economy, you need a brand-new model with lots of new-generation features.
But the truth is that if you drive a relatively modern vehicle, it’s probably fitted with a lot of technology that you can use to improve your eco-credentials right now. Here are five to think about.
Ask an economy driving expert and they’ll probably tell you that a cruise control system can’t match the skills of a sympathetic and attentive driver in saving fuel. That’s true.
But how many of us are eco-driving specialists (or want to be)? For normal people doing normal driving, cruise control is a great way to keep your speed constant and therefore improve fuel efficiency. That goes for both standard cruise and the adaptive variety, which will also keep your car an appropriate distance from the vehicle in front.
Trip computers are great for recording average fuel consumption on individual journeys, which can be a great motivator to try and maintain or better a certain figure on a return trip.
But most trip computers also have an instant readout, which will give you the litres per 100km in real time. Watching that is a great education in just how much difference a slightly lighter foot makes.
“Stop-start” or “idle-stop” has become very common on new cars over the past decade. It switches the engine off when you come to a halt at traffic lights (usually when you press the brake, or dip the clutch in a manual car) and automatically restarts it when you release the pedal to move off again.
Some brands/models execute the technology better than others; at its worst, stop-start can be slow to fire up the engine and feel a bit sluggish and annoying. So a lot of people simply disable it altogether.
But the truth is that idle-stop saves a lot more fuel than you think. A 2018 study by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) found that it cut down fuel use by eight per cent in city driving. It also cuts down urban emissions, because you’re not pumping pollutants out of the exhaust pipe while your car is sitting at traffic lights going nowhere.
A gear indicator will tell you not just what ratio you’re currently in, but often also when it’s a good idea to change up or down, often by way of a little arrow graphic.
That’s more relevant with manual-transmission cars, of course. But pay attention to the indicator and you might be surprised how early in the rev range you can change up to save fuel and still have the engine running at its optimum. It’s illuminating (literally).
Drive modes are also now common in cars. At the press of a button, they change the way the powertrain behaves to give the car a different dynamic character. We all use normal or standard modes a lot, there’s usually a sport mode to enjoy – but how many of us really hit that “eco” button on a regular basis?
Eco mode will usually make the throttle less sensitive and encourage the transmission to favour the taller gears as much as possible. It can make a noticeable difference to your fuel consumption.
It does also make the car much less responsive, which is why it’s not often used. But surely there are countless times in traffic and commuting when that really doesn’t matter? Give it a go.
Grow some trees
Lots of carmakers try and make eco-driving fun by rewarding you with little graphics when you achieve certain green-focused goals in your driving. For example, some Hyundai and Kia models have an “eco coach” within their trip computer menus that give you an electronic pat on the back when you drive more sustainably.
Honda rather famously encourages you to grow trees on the dashboard as you drive; Ford’s latest Mondeo hybrid wagon does that too (well, it’s more of a leafy branch).
Again, you don’t need to have the latest and greatest to have these features – or even a green-focused car. Hyundai introduced its eco-coach way back in 2012 - in the Veloster coupe!
Honda has been giving us trees on the dashboard even longer, most notably in the second-generation Insight hybrid (2009).