Choos­ing an eco­nom­i­cal car

Hamilton News - - DRIVEN.CO.NZ -

It’s a bit of an old wives’ tale that smaller cars are al­ways more eco­nom­i­cal. In fact, fuel econ­omy is a com­bi­na­tion of sev­eral fac­tors and it de­pends how you use your ve­hi­cle.

A car that has a larger en­gine isn’t al­ways less eco­nom­i­cal. For ex­am­ple, ear­lier mod­els of the Toy­ota Prius Hy­brid ini­tially had 1.5-litre en­gines, but now they’re fit­ted with a 1.8-litre en­gine which is more eco­nom­i­cal than the pre­vi­ous model thanks to its im­proved tech­nol­ogy.

Ve­hi­cles con­tinue to im­prove with in­no­va­tive de­sign — and the tech­nol­ogy be­hind cars plays a large part in deter­min­ing how eco­nom­i­cal it is.

Nowa­days, man­u­fac­tur­ers cre­ate a ve­hi­cle to meet the needs of a spe­cific mar­ket, so it’s im­por­tant to un­der­stand what you are buy­ing. Smaller ve­hi­cles with en­gines be­tween 1 and 1.3 litres are de­signed for get­ting about town (Mit­subishi Mi­rage, Holden Spark, Mazda 2 etc). They of­ten have one-speed CVT trans­mis­sions, per­fect for eco­nom­i­cal city run­ning and are light­weight which gives good ac­cel­er­a­tion.

How­ever, on open roads these pocket rock­ets of­ten have to work the en­gine fairly hard to main­tain 100km/h, mean­ing heavy fuel con­sump­tion. There’s lit­tle power in re­serve par­tic­u­larly when loaded, for main­tain­ing hill­climb­ing speeds or pass­ing in over­tak­ing lanes.

Small ve­hi­cles also tend to have smaller brak­ing sys­tems which in­cor­po­rate sim­pler drum brake sys­tems on the rear, and some­times sim­pli­fied sus­pen­sion.

Though this is well-suited for city driv­ing, these sys­tems are pushed on the open road. If used for an ex­tended time, this can lead to in­creased ser­vice costs for brakes and over­all wear. So, un­less you’re an ur­ban driver, this car wouldn’t make the cut as an eco­nom­i­cal ve­hi­cle choice.

For those of us who drive in and out of the city, and for those who only have one car, a Honda Civic, Toy­ota Corolla, or VW Golf (medium-sized cars) are eco­nom­i­cal choices.

These mod­els have good lev­els of power, safety and re­li­a­bil­ity, mean­ing they are more suited to all types of driv­ing. The en­gines run at a rel­a­tively lower rpm than the small Ja­panese im­ports and their gear boxes are good for open road and city use. If you want to go to the next level of fuel sav­ings, think about mov­ing into the hy­brid world with the likes of the Hyundai Ioniq, Toy­ota Camry and even the lat­est Corolla is avail­able as a hy­brid op­tion.

Though larger cars aren’t the most prac­ti­cal within cities, they are great for the open road.

Gen­er­ally, they have good safety fea­tures and pro­vide com­fort, but in­evitably the en­gines tend to be quite large, in­creas­ing the over­all weight of the ve­hi­cle.

If you spend more of your time in ur­ban driv­ing en­vi­ron­ments than on the open road, hav­ing a large car will end up cost­ing you. Uun­less you re­quire a car with a bit of ex­tra space, there’s no point in own­ing a big­ger ve­hi­cle.

The ser­vic­ing bills can also be slightly higher for large cars as some­times they have six cylin­ders rather than the tra­di­tional four.

When choos­ing an eco­nom­i­cal car for use on New Zealand roads, it’s al­ways a good idea to de­ter­mine what you will be us­ing the car for. Once the pur­pose is de­ter­mined, con­sider other fac­tors dur­ing your search such as ser­vic­ing costs.

If you’ve found a Euro­pean car that’s eco­nom­i­cal, re­mem­ber ser­vic­ing costs will gen­er­ally be higher due to the ex­per­tise re­quired to work on one.

You might save costs on fuel but you could spend more on the main­te­nance of the car than if you were to buy a Ja­panese ve­hi­cle.

Pho­tos / Ted Baghurst

A Honda Civic (left) and Toy­ota Corolla, both ver­sa­tile mod­els.

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