Driving usually isn't much of a challenge, but sometimes we make it one: Attempting to beat our best time for a trip. Trying to perfectly execute a heel-and-toe downshift. Plotting to nab the best possible parking space. Such activities add interest to the routine. What about the challenge of coaxing the most miles out of every gallon of gasoline? For us, that was a new one.
A contest of economy looked to be every bit as much a measure of skill, cunning, and iron will as is a contest of speed. This type of competitive driving is newly relevant and increasingly popular. Naturally, there are Web sites devoted to it. You've probably heard the word that describes it - hypermiling, for which CleanMPG.com's Wayne Gerdes takes credit. The term is relatively new, but the techniques behind it are not. In fact, the idea of a fuel-economy contest stretches back at least to the 1930s, with the widely publicized Mobilgas Economy Runs.
We decided to construct an economy run of our own, a test of man and machine. Ah, but which machines? To take the concept out of the realm of Toyota Prius owners and biodiesel Volkswagen Golf drivers, we wanted gas guzzlers. An SUV for sure, a sports car, a luxury sedan - the kind of cars with drinking habits closer to our depressing national fleet average (just over 20 mpg).
We chose three disparate vehicles but all with exactly the same EPA ratings: 14 mpg city, 20 mpg highway, 16 mpg combined. In the luxury category, we have the Infiniti M45x, driven by contributing writer Preston Lerner; playing for the sports cars is BMW's M3, piloted by West Coast editor Jason Cammisa; and representing SUVs, please welcome the inarguably full-size GMC Yukon, with senior editor Joe Lorio behind the wheel.
Our aim was to see who could get the best gas mileage piloting these profligate fuel swillers on a three-leg, daylong odyssey from West Hollywood, California, to Joe's Café in downtown Santa Barbara, then to Giovanni's Fish Market in coastal Morro Bay, and finally to the Texaco station just west of a huge oil field in Lost Hills. We allowed ourselves ten percent longer than Google Maps said the trip should take. To the winner would go honor, fame, and bragging rights - mostly the last one.
Gentlemen, start - but for God's sake, don't rev! - your engines.