Years ago, Top Gear aired a now-infamous segment in which Jeremy Clarkson compared the fuel economy of a Toyota Prius to that of a BMW M3... on a race track. The M3's better MPG remains hotly contested by prideful Prius owners, but the segment proved it's totally possible to have a hell of a lot of fun on the road, even in a high-performance environment like a race track, all the while keeping your fuel consumption the same -- or better -- as what you average during normal driving.
What follows is a trio of driving tips that will transform your daily commute and give you a nice little bump in your fuel economy. I tested them myself a couple years ago for Earth Day and proved the theory; what I'm about to tell you does work.
That said, these driving tips are fairly advanced. If you go cross-eyed when you read the words "performance driving," first go check out these driving techniques from pro racers. Safety comes before all else, but once you get a feel for it, you can practice these tips every time you drive. You know that fun windy road in your neighborhood with no traffic that you've driven upwards of 100,000 times? That's the perfect place to try 'em out.
1. Don't slow down (as much) for curves
Just as the secret to a good lap time on the track isn't how fast you go in the straights, but how little you slow down in the corners, fuel economy is all about maintaining your momentum so you need less energy after a turn.
Whenever you hit the brakes, your forward momentum is lost to heat energy -- that's why your brakes get hot. Well, newsflash: that heat isn't doing any work for you. Taking a corner slowly also means your tires are doing less work to change the car's direction. But by braking less and going just a little bit faster through a curve, you're demanding more work from the tires, and much less energy is lost to heat.
Obviously, I'm not suggesting you don't brake at all, or even that you ever take turns at unsafe speeds. Just don't overbrake and you'll do well here.
2. Drive a "racing" line
A "racing line" or "driving line" is a technique for going through curves that more efficiently utilizes your car's energy. The goal is to gently ease through the turn, moving your steering wheel as little as possible and making as few inputs as you can (any time you touch your steering wheel, brake, or throttle -- that's an input).
Essentially, if you're curving to the left, start on the righthand side of the road (obviously), but as you go through the curve, guide the car to the lefthand stripe. Coming out of the curve, move back over to to the right as you straighten out.
What you're really doing is spreading out the force required to turn the car. Think about it in terms of Mike Tyson. Would you rather have Tyson punch you in the chest once, or have a 100lb weight rested on your chest for 15 seconds? The total force exerted on your chest is similar; but speaking for myself, I'll take the latter, thanks.
3. Shift early and often -- even in an automatic
I won't pretend for a second that accelerating hard is in any way more fuel efficient than accelerating slowly. Still, if you must partake in a heavy dose of the loud pedal -- let's face it, acceleration is an itch that must sometimes be scratched -- there's absolutely no reason to wring out every last RPM on your tachometer. Shifting 500, 1,000, or even 2,000 RPM earlier than you or the car normally would will help cut back on the extra fuel you're spending. It's called short shifting. If your car is an automatic, it likely does this anyway under "normal" driving conditions, but because the computers aren't psychic, they won't realize you're driving briskly and paying attention to your MPG. Shift for yourself -- it's more fun that way, anyway.