Can you really drive 834 miles on one tank of fuel? The simple answer is yes! Well, it’s possible in one car - the 2015 Audi A3 TDI. Last week we took part in Audi’s TDI Challenge, which set out to prove that it is possible to drive from Albuquerque, New Mexico to San Diego, California on a single tank of diesel fuel. After about 21 hours behind the wheel, which took us through three states, we were one of two teams that crossed the finish line, but it wasn’t easy. Read on to see how we managed to cross the finish line in San Diego with our sanity partially intact.
Earlier this year Audi released the 2015 Audi A3 TDI, which is a compact entry level sedan that was previously only offered as a five-door hatchback in the U.S. The A3 TDI is powered by a 150 horsepower 2.0L four-cylinder diesel that is mated to a standard six-speed automatic transmission. It’s only available with front-wheel-drive and it’s rated at 31 mpg in the city, 43 mpg on the highway with a 36 mpg combined rating. With its 13.2 gallon fuel tank it’s easy to quickly figure out that based on the combined EPA rating, the A3 TDI would only have a driving range of 475 miles, which is 359 miles below our 834 miles goal.
Even with the odds against us on paper, Audi’s engineers had a secret. EPA ratings are always only an estimate based on the EPA’s internal testing, which means that there are certain techniques and driving conditions that can change the fuel economy ratings. With this knowledge in hand and obviously a lot of their own internal testing, Audi set out to prove that the A3 TDI’s EPA ratings can be easily beat.
Presenting the Audi A3 TDI Challenge: Audi invited 18 journalists out to Albuquerque, New Mexico with the simple challenge to make it to the final stop, Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego on one tank of diesel fuel. The tanks were sealed shut and no extreme modifications to the A3 TDI were allowed. Audi knew that most drivers wouldn’t succeed, but maybe a select few could make it. Audi gave us two days to complete the trip, which would take us from our first stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico to a brief overnight stop in Sedona, Arizona and then on to our final stop in San Diego.
Day One: With 18 journalists eager to get behind the wheel, we all paired up into the nine available A3 TDIs. My driving partner, Anton quickly chose a top spec white A3 TDI. There were plenty of other more vibrant colors to choose from, but you’ll soon read why the “boring” white exterior was the best choice. After a few quick pics we were off. The night before hypermiling champ Wayne Gerdes told us that in order for us to even have a chance to make it to the California coast we had to average over 63 mpg, which is much higher than either the 43 highway or 36 mpg combined ratings. How would we achieve it?
Everyone knows that speed kills fuel economy, so we started out on the freeway with a speed around 55 mph. Thanks to the A3’s Driver Information System, the A3 provides you with real time mpg ratings, which told us that at 55 mph we were going too fast to get close to the 63 mpg goal. With the cruise control set to 50 mph we were on our way to Sedona. The only time we ever achieved speeds that were even close to the posted limits was when we were going downhill with the car in neutral. We quickly learned that neutral was our friend. After nine hours we were the last team to pull into Enchantment Resort in Sedona. Even though we were last, we had a surprise waiting for us. At dinner it was announced that out of the nine teams, we were in the lead with an average fuel economy just over 61 mpg, of course no one but Anton and I knew how slow we had to go to achieve that. Thanks to the series of hills on our route, we our average speed was around 38 miles for the first 340 mile trip.
Day Two: To kick off the second day we were warned that the second leg of the trip would take us through the desert and since we were driving with our A/C off, that meant that we would definitely be sweating. Because of the expected heat we took off before the sun rose with our A3 powering up at 5:30 am. The day before we only achieved an average of 61 mpg, which was just short of our 63 mpg goal, so we knew that we had to find more techniques to use even less fuel on the second day. This would mean slower speeds, more neutral downhill rides and a neat pulsating technique. Audi expected at least half of the nine cars wouldn’t make it to San Diego, so Audi set up several stops towards the end of the route “bail out points” where drivers could throw in the towel and either refuel their car or trade in the keys for an A3 convertible to complete the trip in. Anton and I knew that that would not be us, we were in it until the end.
After several hours in the hot heat, A/C off and the speedometer set for somewhere around 38-39 mph we crossed the border and made our first stop in California. We quickly learned that several teams had no caught up to us, meaning that at this point it could be anyone’s game. Time to ramp it up! This mean’t even slower speeds, which probably annoyed more than a handful of drivers that had to swerve around us. The A/C remained off, which made the A3’s interior to start smelling like a locker room and every chance we could find we would put the car in neutral. We anticipated that things would soon get a bit scary as we noticed that the A3’s computer only said we had a 150 miles of driving range left, but we still had about 230 miles until we made it to San Diego.
By the time that we reached the Chocolate Mountains we were still about 100 miles from San Diego, but we had a problem – our car was now telling us that our car was out of fuel and the we had zero miles of driving range left in the tank. Stress set in. At this point all but three cars had given up, but we wouldn’t be one of them. Even when Audi’s engineers told us we were out of fuel at the last two bail out points, we figured we would just push the car if we had to. Fingers crossed we inched closer to our target with our biggest worry being that we would run out of fuel on the Coronado Bridge. Luckily we didn’t and just over 12 hours after we left Sedona we were the first car to pull into the Hotel del Coronado in San Diego. 834 miles on one tank! At the end of the day only other car would successfully finish the trip.