In tuning, what are standard conditions?

Posted on August 16th, 2016 in Driving Emotion,Economy,Engine Management,Honda,testing by Julian Edgar

It’s been cold hereabouts, and I have been doing some more on-road tuning of my MoTeC-equipped, turbo Honda Insight.

(But before I get to the subject of this column, a point on the DIY tuning of programmable engine management. In short, it’s the best fun-for-$ expenditure you can ever make on a car.

Why? Because after you’ve bought and fitted a system, you’ve just gained a pastime you can do for literally ever. There is always – always! – a tuning change you can make that will cause the car drive fractionally better in a given situation, or to develop slightly more power, or to use a little less fuel.

In short, buy programmable management and you’ll never need another hobby or leisure activity!)

So anyway, this time I had the car on 98RON and there was an ambient temp of 5 – 10 degrees C.

Over the last two years I’d have tuned the ignition timing maps on this car for literally hundreds of hours. That might seem to indicate that I’m rather slow at it, but in fact more accurately reflects the statements above about gains always being able to be made – and also the fact that the little Honda is very sensitive to ignition timing variations.

As an example of the latter, it’s one of the very few cars that I know of that requires some negative timing figures if it is to avoid detonation. That’s especially the case at low revs and when only one intake valve per cylinder is working (ie VTEC is off), so giving very high combustion chamber swirl.

I do the on-road tuning of the ignition timing using a microphone temporarily mounted in the engine bay (clipping it to the throttle cable works well). This microphone feeds a small amplifier and I listen on headphones. With this system I can not only clearly hear detonation, but I can also hear the harsher edge the engine develops just before detonation.

In addition to the headphones – and the laptop on the passenger seat – I also have another trick up my sleeve. A dashboard-mounted knob allows instant variation in ignition timing of plus/minus 10 degrees.

So I drive along (lots and lots of empty country roads around here), listening to the engine through the amplified headphones. I might be at 2000 rpm, full throttle in 4th gear, the engine just coming onto boost and lugging hard up a hill. VTEC is switched on. (So that the engine will readily accept boost pressure, I have the engine switch to two-valves-per-cylinder operation from 1750 rpm upwards at full throttle. The engine doesn’t like it so much if only one-valve operation is occurring as it comes onto boost – in this non-VTEC mode, I have heard turbo compressor surge.)

Anyway, in these conditions, where change is occurring relatively slowly, I manually advance the timing with the dash knob and listen carefully. If the car clearly goes harder (almost always) and there’s no sign of detonation (or its precursor sounds), I pull over and add some timing at that spot overall ignition timing map. Then repeat the process….

Now you know why it takes me so long!

Anyway, finally to the point of this column.

As with all programmable management systems, the M400 has a base timing map (it uses RPM and MAP axes) and then a series of correction maps. These corrections include coolant temperature and intake air temp. Because, as I’ve said, the Honda is very sensitive to timing variations, I use all these correction maps.

Let’s take a look at intake air temp – and how I influence it.

I regulate intake air temp by using a water/air intercooler and variable pump speed. If the intake air temp is below 35 degrees C, the pump stays off. Depending also on throttle position, as the intake air temp rises above that figure, pump speed increases. Together with the effect of the thermal mass of water within the heat exchanger, the upshot is that in nearly all conditions of ambient temperature and boost, the intake air temp stays within the range of 20 – 50 degrees C.

Initially, I’d intended to aim at an intake air temp of around 45 degrees C (the higher temp better for fuel atomisation and so fuel economy), but I found that to avoid detonation, timing had to be retarded at this intake air temp. I then reconfigured the water/air intercooler pump map (ie I turned the pump on earlier) to aim at an intake air temp of around 35 degrees C.

So, all well and good. On this basis, the main ignition timing map would be configured optimally for 35 degrees C, and the intake air temp correction map would knock off timing as the temp rose above this.

Hmm, but what about when it is very cold, like it has been over the last few days? I’ve seen intake air temps lower than I’d ever planned – around 25 degrees. The intercooler water pump is off, but the air entering the turbo is so cold that even with spurts of boost, the water within the intercooler heat exchanger is staying at less than 35 degrees.

And in these conditions I’ve been hearing precursor sounds of detonation through my headphones.

Is it because the density of air (and so cylinder filling charge) is greater, resulting in higher combustion pressures? That is, the greater mass of air (more likelihood of detonation) is more than offsetting the colder air (less likelihood of detonation)? And so do I pull back timing at lower intake air temps (ie less than 35 degrees C) as well as at higher intake air temps (above 35 degrees C)?

And do I therefore accept that, in the real world, the engine will probably never be running the timing as specified in the main chart – after all, while intake air temp might occasionally be at 35 degrees C, stopped at traffic lights in might be 40 degrees, and down a long country road hill it might be 30 degrees – and so on…

And how do I correctly tune this intake air temp correction map? After all, to do it accurately I’d need road test ambient temps that range from -10 degrees C to plus 50 degrees C.

And, thinking about that, I have in fact tuned at the high intake air temps. Early in the tuning process, in the middle of summer and with an ambient of about 35 degrees C, I can remember doing repeated 0 – 160 km/h runs, flat out and working the little car as hard as I dared. I was tuning the high temp ignition timing correction chart (and also revising how much boost gets pulled out in these conditions – another variable!).

Looking out the window as I type this early on a Sunday morning, it’s frosty and foggy, about 0 degrees C. I should, I think, get away from this desk and hit the road for some tuning…

It’s a process that will literally never be finished.


Manufacturing decline not always as analysed

Posted on June 18th, 2016 in Economy,Ford,Holden,Mitsubishi,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

I have just finished reading a book on the manufacturing decline that has occurred over the last 60-odd years in the UK. It’s called The Slow Death of British Industry and is subtitled A Sixty Year Suicide 1952 – 2012. It covers, decade by decade and industry by industry, the decay in making things in what was once a great manufacturing country.

The industries it covers include car manufacture, ship building, aircraft design and construction – and also more obscure industries like pharmaceuticals. It describes the companies that fell by the wayside, were absorbed by others, or ended up being split into so many entities that their whole reason for existence simply disappeared…

Companies like Dorman Long (builder of the Sydney Harbour Bridge), Parsons (the inventers of the steam turbine) – and car brands like Wolseley, Triumph and Jowett.

The book catalogues in excruciating detail the union bloody-mindedness, the inept management, the worthless interventions of government, the confusion in direction and execution.

And visiting Britain’s wonderful technological museums (as I have done) where you can see Concorde; the SR.N4 hovercraft; the remains of one of the crashed Comets; the beautiful Jaguar E-type; the fastest steam locomotive in the world (the Mallard); the world’s first code-breaking electronic computers; the Sinclair electronic calculator – it makes this whole story of UK manufacturing success and decline come alive.

But there are some things missing in the analysis. They’re the same things missing in many analyses that occur here in Australia of our similar (but smaller scale) decline in domestic manufacturing.

Firstly, quoting massive reductions in the share of employment that manufacturing comprises in the economy is to miss the point that such changes have occurred in all first world countries. For example, that’s the even the case in countries like Germany and France that are often cited as manufacturing powerhouses we should be emulating.

In much the same way as primary industry (farming and mining) once dominated employment, these days, tertiary (service-based) industries now create most employment. That decline in the share of employment held in manufacturing jobs is exactly what you’d expect with greater mechanisation, use of robotics and so on. We wouldn’t want to be hand-building all our cars, one at a time, as was once done. Productivity would be terrible and cars would be unaffordable. So, of course machines will replace people, manufacturing productivity will improve and employment in the sector will decrease as a proportion of total employment.

Secondly, ignored is that the decline in local manufacturing is based entirely on a reduction in demand for those goods. If the pubic, the buyers, choose not to buy locally made goods – and instead buy imports – then of course (unless they are competitive in exports), local manufacture will decline.

In other words, to be brutal about it, uncompetitive domestic companies go broke. They may be uncompetitive in technology, in branding, in price, in innovation – in all cases, consumers vote with their wallets.

So we hold a major collective responsibility for manufacturing in our country declining. The person who blames the Federal Government of Australia for the loss of car manufacturing in this country – that is, the loss of Toyota, Ford and Holden – often has a Nissan Patrol in their driveway, or a Honda, or a BMW. The person who complains that the last Australian-built washing machine recently came off the production line is the same person who has never bought an Australian-made washing machine.

Thirdly, and as an extension of this idea, globalisation, free trade agreements and geographical shrinking of the world through information technology has increased the flexibility with which consumers can make choices. I source electronic modules on eBay from China; they’re bought from either the manufacturer or wholesaler of these products. I can remember when some such modules, able to be sourced only from local retailers, cost me over ten times as much and would take a month to be delivered.

I can very much empathise on a technological history level with the loss of once great companies, once great manufacturing enterprises.

But that’s a completely different perspective from saying that we should all have paid more for inferior goods– and so on a societal level have had a lower standard of living – to prop up manufacturing companies that had become uncompetitive.

I think that in the future, commentaries on the decline of manufacturing will appear to be as relevant as those that bemoan the fact that most people no longer till farms for a living.



My year

Posted on December 7th, 2014 in Aerodynamics,AutoSpeed,Driving Emotion,Economy,electric,Honda,Hybrid Power,Intercooling,Opinion by Julian Edgar

Well, it’s nearly the end of the year, and I have been reflecting on my busy car modification 12 months.

All the modifications I have done have been to my little Honda Insight.

Fitting a turbo, water/air intercooler and making and fitting a new airbox. Installing a MoTeC M400 ECU, and then doing all the engine mapping on the road. Fitting a MoTeC CDL3 dash, and then upgrading to an ADL3 dash.

It’s been a huge amount of fun turning the all-alloy, two-seater Honda hybrid into a fuel-efficient turbo with about 70 per cent more power than standard from its 1 litre, 3-cylinder engine.

None of these mods was cheap, but all gave the results I’d been hoping for.

And in the last few weeks I have been playing with the suspension. And, so far, this has been cheap! I calculated the required specs for new springs front and back, sourced them at near zero cost, then installed them. That step was very successful, so then I fitted a new rear antiroll bar – this time, for a cost of less than fifty bucks.

The car is absolutely transformed in both ride and handling – and I am yet to fit the new dampers, which at the time of writing, are on their way from the US.

Sitting in the corner is the next Insight modification – a Tritium Wavesculptor200 high voltage electric motor controller. It will be used to run the Honda’s standard 10kW electric motor, although not always at only 10kW. Given the nature of electric motors, I should be able to over-rate it for short periods, gaining perhaps 20kW for huge short-term torque.

I plan on controlling the Wavescluptor200 using outputs from the MoTeC ADL3 dash. The dash – really, a digital control system that happens to have a display – has a full range of programmable maths functions and can use 3D look-up tables.

The new high voltage battery pack and battery monitoring system? I am yet to decide on these things.

I don’t know if I will achieve my final aim of 0-100 km/h in the Sixes and fuel economy in the high Twos (litres/100km), but the challenge is enormously exciting and rewarding.

In the meantime, we’re off to the United States for five weeks. We’ll be concentrating on the eastern side of the country, and have on our itinerary a long list of technical and automotive sights – and sites. We hope to next year bring you a series in AutoSpeed that describes some of what we see.

Finally, I also published another three books this year – if you are interested, search on Amazon under my name.

Have a safe and happy Christmas and New Year, and remember: for fun and challenge, nothing beats modifying your car!

A new dash

Posted on October 14th, 2014 in Economy,testing,tools by Julian Edgar

I’ve always enjoyed having lots of gauges in a modified car. Even in my first car – an air-cooled, 2 cylinder Honda Z – I fitted an oil temperature gauge. Subsequent cars have had gauges that show everything from exhaust gas temperature through to air filter restriction.

So it’s not surprising that I have been enjoying the MoTeC CDL3 digital dash that I have fitted to my Honda Insight.

What has surprised me, though, is how much my enjoyment of the car revolves around the dash. These days, where driving fast means that you get locked up, having the ability to be entertained by the dash rather than by just the driving is a major advantage. And being able to program the dash to show the parameters you want adds another layer of enjoyment.

So I have the dash displaying on the main screen:

– Engine rpm (bar graph)
– Speed (derived from the dash’s GPS input)
– Gear (worked out by the dash based on road speed and revs)
– Fuel level (using the standard Honda fuel tank sensor, with the result calibrated in per cent)
– Engine temp
– Lambda number (showing mixture strength, where Lambda 1 = 14.7:1 AFR)

Then, on the bottom line of the screen and able to be scrolled through by pressing the standard Honda FCD button on the dash, I can further bring up:

– Manifold pressure
– Inlet air temp
– Fuel injector duty cycle
– Engine oil pressure
– Engine oil temperature
– Ignition advance
– EGR valve duty cycle
– Water/air intercooler pump duty cycle
– VTEC on/off
– Lambda short term trim
– Lambda long term trim

The dash is also able to be configured to display different text-based warnings. I currently have warnings displayed for:

– Seatbelt
– Door open
– Engine hot
– Engine cold
– Oil pressure
– Lean
– Battery level
– Inlet air temp
– Fuel level
– Change up
– Change down
– ECU hot
– Dash hot

These warnings are all ‘smart’ – eg the seatbelt warning shows only when the car exceeds 5 km/h with the seatbelt off, and the ‘change up’ warning shows only when a certain combination of throttle position, gear, manifold pressure and road speed occurs.

The CDL3 dash is now part of the old range of MoTeC dashes that use a B&W LCD (rather than the newer models’ colour displays) and cannot be configured with anywhere near the versatility of the current stuff. However, the major advantage from my perspective is that the old dash shape fits perfectly into the Honda’s instrument binnacle.

So what can’t the CDL3 do, things that I’d really like? The answer is not what I would have thought before buying it: more than anything else, I’d like the dash to be able to perform maths functions. For example, to be able to show trip fuel economy, where fuel used is divided by distance travelled. And I’d also like it to be able to show maxima and minima of all readings, and….

In fact, the CDL3 has been such a success that I am upgrading to the ADL3 dash – same footprint and display, but the ability to do maths functions… and a whole lot else. Luckily, like the original CDL3 dash, I have found one second-hand – as I write, it’s on its way.

Picking gauges

Posted on April 2nd, 2014 in Economy,Honda,Hybrid Power,testing by Julian Edgar

It’s not often that you get a clean slate in terms of designing an instrument panel.

With my Honda Insight project, where the standard instrument panel is being ditched and replaced with (primarily) a MoTeC CDL3 digital dash, to some extent the type of display becomes obvious – it’ll be dominated by the MoTeC unit.

But what about the factory-fitted warning lights – things like ABS, EPS (electric power steering) and airbag malfunction indicators? And how will high beam, low beam and the action of the indicators be shown? And will there be data that I will want to be able to see but the MoTeC dash won’t easily show?

Despite the dash not likely to be installed for many months, I’ve been mulling over these ideas.

At this stage – and things may well change – this is what I am thinking I’ll need:

Warning lights for:

 – high beam

 – low beam

 – left indicator

 – right indicator

 – EPS

 – ABS

 – airbag

 – handbrake / braking system fail


Small backlit numerical LCDs for:

 – high voltage battery voltage

 – electric motor current flow


MoTeC dash display of:

 – engine rpm

 – coolant temp

 – fuel level

 – road speed

 – manifold pressure

 – intake air temp

 – gear

 – oil pressure

 – oil temperature

 – turbo exhaust back-pressure

 – water/air intercooler pump drive voltage

 – 12V battery voltage

Some of these MoTeC-displayed parameters (eg intake air temp and rpm) will be communicated via the CAN bus from the M400 ECU.

One parameter (selected gear) will be internally calculated in the dash, while other parameters (like oil temp and pressure) will require dedicated sensors.

Note that the MoTec dash allows different data to be displayed depending on the mode selected – so not all of these things will be available all at once!

On the list above there are a couple of unusual ones.

I want to be able to see turbo exhaust back-pressure because, in order to provide low rpm torque, the turbo that is being used is small. However, if as a result of its small size, the exhaust back-pressure is overly high, then fuel economy will suffer. It’ll be good to be able to see this figure.

So why show the water/air intercooler pump drive voltage? The pump will be varied in speed by the ECU. This is needed because I want to control the intake air temp, rather than just keep it as low as possible. For much of the time, I would expect that the pump will be operating at less than full speed. Displaying pump drive voltage will allow me to see at what speed the pump is being driven. Not only will this be interesting in itself, it will also allow me to assess how effective the control strategies are that are being used to operate the pump.

As I said, all still a long way off, but I need to start sourcing bits and installing sensors right now.

3500 kays in the UK

Posted on January 19th, 2013 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,hyundai by Julian Edgar

I’ve just come back from driving 3500 kilometres around the United Kingdom, done in 3 weeks.

The purpose was a family holiday, where we just happened to see as many engineering marvels as we could in that time and distance – something that was achieved, and will be covered in an upcoming AutoSpeed series.

A lot of the driving time was spent on the excellent freeway (“motorway”) system that exists in Britain. These roads are typically four or six lane highways – here in Australia, they’d all be marked (and enforced) at 110 km/h. And in the UK, the posted motorway limit is in fact 70 mph (113 km/h).

But the kicker is that people actually travel at 80 – 85 mph (about 135 km/h). Despite there being plenty of traffic sped cameras, and an occasional police car, the enforcement is set at a level where these speeds are fine.

And boy, does it ever make a difference to travel time when you can sit on 135 km/h in the right-hand lane!

The drivers are disciplined, courteous and aware – average for average, much better than drivers in Australia. In those 3 weeks, much of it in wet and windy weather conditions, I saw very few accidents and witnessed even fewer driving mistakes.

The Australian politicians who believe that any higher limit in (most of) Australia than 110 km/h would kill swathes of people – I wonder if any of them have driven overseas (as opposed to being chauffeured) while on their international ‘study trips’…

The car we had for the trip was a Hyundai i40 diesel ‘Blue’ wagon.


It was brand new, with only delivery kilometres on the odometer. Well-equipped in the guise we had it, it came with seat warmers, excellent navigation, dual climate control, leather, colour instruments LCD, parking sensors – and so on.

The diesel was coupled to a manual 6-speed box, that was slightly notchy when cold and always had an overly long throw. Not over-endowed with power, the car turned in a fuel economy in the low Fives in litres/100km – really excellent with the car heavily laden and often driven at speed.

Driving mostly on highways disguised one of the shortcomings of the engine – its off-boost performance (say up to 1500 rpm – and a low redline in a diesel, remember) was woeful, and the transition to on-boost torque sudden and lacking progression. In urban conditions, and especially where a sudden spurt of power was needed from a standstill, the car could border on dangerous.

Interior packaging was very good, with one exception – as with many current cars, the window sill line was too high, especially in the back. Even sitting on a booster seat, my 8-year-old son could only just see over the window line – stupid.

Ride and handling were also fine for our purpose. Grip levels weren’t huge (low rolling resistance tyres?) but with good stability control, there were no issues. Ride quality was excellent – but remember, that was with 3 people and lots of luggage. Less heavily laden, the ride would have been harsher.

I thought it a superb car for the purpose to which we put it. In fact, the Hyundai struck me as a very well built car coming from a maker with perhaps 50 years of designing and building cars behind them. Interesting, when even 5 years ago some Hyundais were dubious at best.

I’ve been shooting photos for publication for over 30 years, and I knew the trip would need lots of pics taken. However, I didn’t really want to lug around my digital Nikon SLR – so I bought a new camera. After much consideration and reading of reviews, I got a Canon G15.

What a superb little camera!

Its ability to shoot with high quality in very low light, often without flash, is exemplary. This ability comes from having a fast lens (unusual in pocket cameras), high lens quality at all apertures (again unusual in this class) and having sufficient modes to match the needs of a professional – or the rankest of amateurs. I particularly like having exposure compensation on an instant-access dial – I less like not being able to quickly modify flash output.

Especially in difficult, contrasty or low light conditions, the camera performed very well indeed.

The Prius C is indicative of Toyota having lost its hybrid way

Posted on May 26th, 2012 in diesel,Economy,Global Warming,Hybrid Power,Opinion,Toyota by Julian Edgar

I think the new Prius C is indicative of Toyota having lost its hybrid way.

I write that with a rather heavy heart: anyone who has read my stuff over a long period will know that I previously embraced and relished hybrid technology.

The first hybrid I ever experienced, around the year 2000, was an NHW10 grey-market Japanese import Prius – it blew me away with its refinement, quality and fuel economy.

Back in 2003 I new-car-tested a hybrid Honda Insight – we did 3,500 kilometres in four days. The fuel economy? Just 3.6 litres/100km. The original Insight is the most fuel-efficient car ever sold in Australia.

In 2004 I tested an NHW20 Prius over 5,400 kilometres in seven days; I then called it one of the most fascinating cars you can buy.

As a magazine tester of new cars (a role I no longer play) I also drove two models of the Honda Civic Hybrid, and the hybrid Lexus GS450H, Lexus RX400h and Lexus 600hL.

I own a first gen Honda Insight, and for years I owned an NHW10 Prius that I first supercharged, and then turbocharged.

But I’m not wedded to hybrid technology.

My current main car is a mildly-modified 2008 Skoda Roomster 1.9 turbo diesel. It gets fuel economy in my use that varies from the high-fours (in litres/100km) to about 6 litres/100km. And that from a relatively old and low-tech diesel design.

I haven’t driven the current model Prius, but I’ve experienced a Camry Hybrid- and wasn’t much impressed. The fuel economy wasn’t outstanding, and the car drove with an uninspiring feel.

But with the release of the Prius C, I thought that things might be very different.

The lightest (1120kg) and cheapest (AUD$23,990) hybrid Toyota sold in Australia, the Prius C has an official fuel economy rating of 3.9 litres/100km. That’s the same as its big brother Prius – but surely that must be a quirk of the testing system… with the C’s smaller size and mass, and lower total power, surely there’d be a benefit to real-world fuel economy?

And boasting a host of advanced technologies – including a new inverter, motor and battery – you’d expect that this to be as good in fuel economy as a hybrid Toyota gets.

Well that might be the case – but unfortunately, these days, it just isn’t good enough.

Today I visited a Toyota dealership. It wasn’t with just prurient intent: if the car did what it was supposed to, I was quite prepared to buy one.

The presented i-Tech model (a higher trim level that costs $26,990) was OK inside, although definitely nothing outstanding. The interior room was alright (a tall adult could sit [j-u-s-t] behind a tall driver); the digital instruments were clear; the seats comfortable; the load area pretty small (and the rear seats fold to give a pronounced step in the floor); and the double-DIN upgrade nav looks like it should cost only about $400 through eBay.

But hey, it’s a small car that isn’t priced at luxury levels.

On the road, with three adults and a seven-year-old in the car, the transmission refinement was good, the steering welcomingly much heavier in feel than previous Toyota (and Lexus) hybrids, and the power was – well, a bit disappointing. The last Prius I drove, now an old-model NHW20, could on green lights wheelspin its way across intersections – the current Prius C had not remotely enough low-down torque to do that. But, again, it was OK – but definitely not scintillating.

But the fuel economy? Oh dear.

In a gentle drive, about a third through urban conditions and the rest on 80 and 100 km/h freeways, the car massively disappointed. It started off at about 6 – 7 litres/100 (not a problem; it was a cold start) and then gradually dropped to about the mid-Fives. With the ultra-economy mode then engaged, it continued to drop – reaching a low of 4.6 litres/100 and then rising finally for a trip average of 4.7 litres/100 for the 20-odd kilometres.

Well, isn’t 4.7 litres/100 really good?

Only if you have no better comparisons…

My 1999 (read that again – 1999, that’s 13-year-old technology!) Honda Insight in similar conditions would, I’d guess, be in the mid-Threes – but that’s in a car that is much smaller (only two seats) and is also much lighter. So in many respects it’s not a fair comparison.

But what about my Skoda Roomster? It weighs about 200kg more than the Prius C, has much better performance, vastly more interior space – and like the Prius C, has 5-star crash test safety.

Since we’d taken the Roomster to the dealer, I immediately drove exactly the same road loop just undertaken in the Prius C. We didn’t have the salesman aboard, but apart from that, the conditions were as identical as it was possible to make them – same speeds, same roads, same traffic.

And the fuel economy of the Roomster? It came in at 4.9 litres/100km.

Seeing those figures: 4.7 for the cutting edge, small, 2012-model hybrid Prius C, and 4.9 for the much larger, old fashioned 2008-model diesel Roomster, suggests to me that in the real world, plenty of current small diesels will match the fuel economy of the Prius C.

For me, the Prius C could not be justified in any way as a replacement for my existing car – the Roomster.

And so then you wonder – for whom would the Prius C be justifiable over other fuel-efficient cars? After all, why buy a car that is demonstrably far more complex, and has a battery pack that will one day fail, when the raison d’etre of the hybrid – fuel economy – is no longer stunningly better than the others?

The above statement really indicates that Toyota has lost its way: that the hugely innovative and technologically incredibly brave step that occurred with the release of the NHW10 Prius at the end of 1997, the move that saw car makers the world-over stare in disbelief and then turn towards hybrids – well, that technology is now more about selling cars on a gimmick rather than through demonstrable real-world advantage.

What a bloody shame.

DIY Breakthrough – FuelSmart

Posted on August 18th, 2009 in Economy,testing by Julian Edgar

Improving the fuel economy of vehicles is vastly harder than making them able to go faster: one is simply about jamming-in more fuel (and air) and the other, well, the other is about burning that fuel more efficiently.

That’s why I am so pleased with FuelSmart, the DIY electronic module that we’re covering in AutoSpeed this week and next.

Rather than modify the car’s engine management (or any other system), FuelSmart uses a dashboard LED to show when the car is being driven in a way that is not fuel-efficient. To put it simply: the indication tells you when you’re being a bad driver.

Having now driven many kilometres in my car equipped with FuelSmart, I realise that the action of the LED is training me to adopt a new driving style, one that is demonstrably more economical. It doesn’t mean that I am driving more slowly, it doesn’t mean that I act like there’s an egg between my foot and the throttle, and nor does it mean that the car is being mistreated.

Instead, I use plenty of throttle but get up through the gears fast, I lift right off when approaching traffic lights and other stopping points (rather than leisurely trail-throttle), and in slow-moving traffic I am one gear higher than I previously drove.

The sensitivity of FuelSmart is adjustable: you can set it so that it illuminates the LED only when you’re driving really badly, or at the other extreme, you can set it so that it indicates when you’re driving only a little badly.

During development I tried setting FuelSmart so that it was very sensitive and then went testing in heavy urban traffic. As always, the goal was to keep the warning LED off as much as possible.

And you know what?

After about 30 kilometres of driving, I was exhausted. It was just such hard work keeping the engine absolutely always in its optimal range of throttle position and rpm. The fuel economy was stunning, but hell, was I ever worn out!

Having experienced that extreme, I now run with the FuelSmart adjustment set much more modestly.

With it set in this way, I asked my wife to drive the car to the local shops. “Just drive to keep that new LED switched off as much as possible,” I said.

When she returned, I asked her what she thought.

“Well,” she said, “I’ll take your word for it that it improves fuel economy – it sure doesn’t feel that way! It’s telling me I’m not using enough throttle here, to lift right off there, to change up a gear here – it’s nothing like I expected it to be.”

Yes, I am very pleased with it – FuelSmart is a fascinatingly effective device.

My driving life is now changed forever…

Posted on April 3rd, 2009 in AutoSpeed,Driving Emotion,Economy,electric,Electric vehicles,Global Warming,Opinion by Julian Edgar

I feel like one of the first pilots of jet-powered aircraft. They immediately knew that they were flying the future: there could be no going back to pistons and propellers.

Today I drove the car that, for me, spells the end of the piston engine for performance cars.

The car was the all-electric Tesla, and its performance – and the way it achieved that performance – was just so extraordinary that I am almost lost for words. That a start-up car company has created such a vehicle is simply unprecedented in the last century of automotive development.

For the Tesla is not just a sports car with incredible performance (0-100 km/h in the fours) but also a car that redefines driveability. Simply, it has the best throttle control of any car I have ever driven.

Trickle around a carpark at 1000 (electric) revs and the car drives like it has a maximum of just a few kilowatts available. It’s the pussy cat to end all pussy cats: Grandma could drive it with nary a concern in the world. Put your foot down a little and the car seamlessly accelerates: heavy urban traffic, just perfect.

But select an empty stretch of bitumen and mash your foot to the floor and expletives just stream from your mouth as the car launches forward with an unbelievable, seamless and simply immensely strong thrust.

There are no slipping clutches, no flaring torque converters, no revving engines, no gear-changes – just a swishing vacuum-cleaner-on-steroids noise that sweeps you towards the horizon. The acceleration off the line and up to 100 km/h or so is just mind-boggling – especially as it’s accompanied by such undemonstrative effort. The car will do it again and again and again, all with the same phenomenal ease that makes this the winner of any traffic lights grand prix you’re ever likely to meet.

And it’s not just off the line. Want to quickly swap lanes? Just think about it and it’s accomplished. 

In fact drive the car hard and you start assuming that this is the only mode – outright performance. But then enter that carpark, or keep station with other traffic, and you’re back to driving an utterly tractable car – in fact, one for whom the word ‘tractable’ is irrelevant. Combustion engines are tractable or intractable; this car’s electric motor controller just apportions its electron flow as required, in an endlessly seamless and subtle variation from zero to full power.

It’s not just the acceleration that is revolutionary. The braking – achieved primarily through regen – has the same brilliant throttle mapping, an approach that immediately allows even a newcomer to progressively brake to a near-standstill at exactly the chosen point.

A seamless, elastic and fluid power delivery that no conventional car can come remotely close to matching; a symphony on wheels to be played solely with the right foot; an utterly smooth and progressive performance than can be explosive or docile, urgent or somnambulant – literally, a driveline that completely redefines sports cars.

There’s no going back – my driving life is now changed forever.

Footnote: the Tesla drive was courtesy of Simon Hackett of the ISP, Internode.

The Best DIY Tools and Techniques

Posted on March 31st, 2009 in diesel,Driving Emotion,Economy,Mufflers,Opinion,pedal power,testing by Julian Edgar

This week in AutoSpeed we start a new series that I’ve immodestly called the ‘Ultimate DIY Automotive Modification Kit’.

It’s not the sort of material that you’d find anywhere else but at AutoSpeed – and, perhaps for that reason, longstanding readers will have seen much of the content before.

What the series does is integrate the testing and modification techniques that over the years I’ve discovered  to work for all cars.

Yes, all cars.