Special Tactics Help Car and Driver Get An Amazing 121.7 Mpg in Honda Insight
14 October 1999Special Tactics Help Car and Driver Get An Amazing 121.7 Mpg in Honda Insight
ANN ARBOR, Mich., Oct. 13 -- With hunger to win being the mother of invention, editors from Car and Driver magazine recently conspired to wring maximum miles per gallon (mpg) from Honda's new Insight, a hybrid vehicle that is powered by a combination electric motor with a small 1.0 liter, 3-cylinder gasoline engine. The vehicle, rated at 61 mpg city/70 mpg highway -- the highest EPA rating ever given, goes on sale in December. The vehicle primarily runs on its gasoline engine, but its electric motor, which draws power from a nickel-metal hydride battery, boosts performance and generates power when the car slows down, recharging the battery. Eager to showcase its mileage capability, American Honda Motor Company invited writers from automotive publications, including Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics and Ward's AutoWorld, to drive from Columbus, Ohio, to Detroit, a distance of nearly 200 miles. The team that averaged the combined highest speed and the best fuel economy would win a $5,000 donation to the publication's favorite charity. "This was our kind of contest, requiring skill and open to imaginative rules interpretation," says editor-in-chief Csaba Csere (pronounced Chubba Chedda), an MIT-trained engineer. He enlisted senior technical editor Don Schroeder and contributing editor Don Sherman, both engineers by training, to formulate their winning strategy. "We were challenged and anxious to win," says Schroeder, "However, we felt we had to have a very creative strategy to achieve the best results." "An excellent way to improve mileage is to 'draft' the vehicle in front of you -- follow it so closely that the front vehicle breaks the wind for the second vehicle which means the engine doesn't have to work as hard to maintain speed," says Csere. "It's a trick used by NASCAR Winston Cup drivers. They've learned that tucking in behind another car not only increases mileage, but increases the speed both vehicles can run." After checking with Honda on the legality of drafting for the competition, the Car and Driver team laid out their plan. Outfitting a Ford Excursion from their test fleet, the Car and Driver team used metal tubing, plywood and rubber-like sheathing to construct a big V- shaped windbreak that protruded out and down from the Excursion's trailer hitch. The plan was that once Schroeder and technical assistant Andy Mead were under way in the Insight, they would join up with Sherman, who was driving the Excursion, and they would nestle the nose of the Insight into the windbreaker. To further enhance aerodynamics, Sherman opened the Excursion's rear doors and window. Schroeder says he drove so close to the rear of the Excursion that the nose of the Insight tapped the Ford's trailer hitch a time or two, fortunately leaving no damage to either vehicle. Schroeder and Sherman used two-way radios for communication and when Sherman had to apply the Excursion's brakes he'd throw up his hand. "It was a long, long trip," Schroeder says, "and I don't recommend that kids try this at home." Schroeder's amazing 121.7 mpg at 58 mph resoundingly beat second-place, Popular Mechanics which turned in an impressive, but less creative 83.4 mpg at 59 mph. Honda awarded both publications a $5,000 check. Car and Driver was also honored with a best overall while and Popular Mechanics won best in class. Ward's team achieved an honorable 73 mpg while averaging 61 mph. Car and Driver is donating its winnings to Arbor Hospice, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based organization that gives aid and comfort to people with terminal illnesses and their families. The complete experience and competition will be profiled in the January 2000 issue of Car and Driver, on newsstands December 11. Car and Driver magazine, headquartered in Ann Arbor, Mich., is the world's largest circulation automotive magazine and the premier source of information for automobile enthusiasts. Content includes everything from new car previews, road tests and features to industry news and automotive humor.