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Economy challenge: Can a Volvo get to Austria on one tank?

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Green-Car-Guide has taken part in an economy challenge to see if it’s possible to drive from the UK to Volvo Snowbombing, a huge music party at the ski slopes in Austria, on one tank of fuel – so did we make it…?

The car for the challenge was the brand new Volvo V60 DRIVe estate, capable of 62.8 mpg, with emissions of just 119 g/km CO2.

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The distance from Volvo’s UK Marlow HQ to the Mayrhofen ski resort in Austria, host of Volvo Snowbombing, was 830 miles. The mission: could we drive to Austria without running out of fuel?

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The first challenge was that the V60 DRIVe was absolutely literally straight off the production line – with virtually zero miles on the clock. A brand new, tight engine that hasn’t been run-in is not the best recipe for high levels of economy.

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The next challenge was that our co-driver, Matt Joy from the Press Association, got tangled up in Monday morning South East traffic and arrived over an hour late. Although this wasn’t a race, a late start meant that we weren’t able to drive super-slow, as we would be late arriving at our overnight stop.

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So with a brand new car hot off the production line, and an hour late, we rolled over the start line at Marlow and headed towards Folkestone and the Channel Tunnel.

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Being fresh and keen, we drove between 60 and 70 mph in the UK, resulting in fuel consumption of 65.7 mpg, and a projected range of 1050 miles.

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After being transported under the English Channel we started the next stage of the journey, along the straight roads of flat and featureless northern France. Even though we were on an economy run, we thought that we might die of boredom if we carried on driving so slowly, so our speed rose to the maximum legal limits.

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The tedious landscape gave us time to consider the car we were driving. Although the Volvo V60 (the estate version of the S60) has been out for a while, our car was one of the first DRIVe ‘eco’ versions, with a 115PS 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine, six-speed manual gearbox, and features such as engine stop/start. Although we’d only driven a fraction of the journey, already it was becoming apparent that the V60 was a quiet, refined and comfortable car. Admittedly, with our very light right feet, we were hardly putting the car through a hard time, but whatever we asked of it, the car delivered with no problems.

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And so we arrived at our halfway point in Metz, France. We arrived with just over half a tank of fuel, and feeling confident. Unfortunately that feeling would not last the entire journey…

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The next day we set off with the satnav showing that we had 438 miles to drive, which was scheduled to take 6 hours 39 minutes. This all sounded like a long time to be sat behind the wheel.

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The mission was to get to Mayrhofen in Austria without running out of fuel. The mission didn’t state anything about having any spare fuel left in the tank once we’d arrived, so we decided that we would see if could arrive at the destination without having to drive super-slowly, even if it meant that we only had a thimble-full of fuel left in the tank upon arrival. We didn’t realise how knife-edged this challenge would become…

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We soon had no idea whether we were in France, Belgium or Luxembourg, as all three countries seemed to merge together as we passed through. However we knew when we’d entered Germany, as it wasn’t long before we were woken up by a Lamborghini screaming past, being chased by an Audi R8. We were obviously on an autobahn.

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There are still reasonable stretches of autobahn that don’t have a speed limit. Driving at 60 mph on such roads was just too much of a test of our patience, so we decided to see if we could coax the Volvo to Austria on one tank under a more typical driving style. So 80 mph became a regular reading on the speedo while in autobahn country.

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Our entire journey was spent scrutinising the range left on the satnav compared to the range left in the fuel tank. Up until the appearance of autobahns we always had spare range left ‘in the bank’. However as we entered Austria we realised we were approaching a fairly critical situation.

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The satnav said we had 28 miles to go, and the range read-out said we had 35 miles to an empty tank. That’s not a lot of spare miles in the bank anymore, especially as we were about to head up into the mountains.

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The next 20 miles were the most tense of the entire journey to date, and then the dashboard suddenly proclaimed that we had zero fuel in the tank and zero miles of range left. We then had to attempt to nurse the car to the final destination with unbelievably light pressure on the accelerator pedal. We somehow managed to reach the centre of the resort where we were staying, but then we had to climb up a hill to the hotel – all with no fuel and no range.

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By some miracle we crawled into the car park just ahead of Duncan Forrester, Head of Volvo’s Public Affairs, Events & Sponsorship, who was there to witness us arriving first, and without having run out of fuel. It turned out that all the other cars needed refuelling and so we ended up winning the challenge – even though we were in an estate which was less economical than the S60 saloons that were also taking part in the event. Our overall fuel economy was 56.4 mpg.

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Feeling very pleased with ourselves we refuelled the car using the contents of the emergency jerry can and set off to find some snow, which seemed to be very conspicuous by its absence. It took two miles to locate the only evidence of snow in the village; artificial white stuff on the lower reaches of the ski run leading down to the resort.

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And then a very strange thing happened. One mile later the car started spluttering and promptly ran out of fuel. This was three miles after refuelling with a jerry can that should have given a range of around 60 miles. No-one could offer an explanation why this happened, but we ended up just about being able to freewheel into a local fuel station.

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The V60 subsequently provided perfectly functioning and practical transportation for a collection of skis and snowboards for the next day, which was spent playing on the glacier – the only place where there was any decent snow left.

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Following various crashes and somersaults purposely laid on to amuse a certain Duncan Forrester whilst on the slopes during the day, Volvo Snowbombing provided evening entertainment courtesy of the Prodigy, Fatboy Slim and lots of other acts only known to young people.

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So what did we learn from two days driving through Europe in a Volvo V60 DRIVe? The car is extremely comfortable, quiet, and refined. It can cruise perfectly happily all day and despite only having a 115 PS 1.6-litre engine it has sufficient response to accelerate you away from the dangers caused by a combination of slow trucks and fast Germans on the autobahn. It also comes with a whole host of safety features.

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However, most importantly, our challenge proved that you can drive a Volvo V60 normally from Marlow to Mayrhofen on one tank of fuel. Overall we estimate that we averaged 65-70 mph. Even at these speeds it’s possible to drive fuel-efficiently by driving smoothly and applying light pressure on the accelerator at all times. We were regularly able to achieve 80 mph and 90 mpg on downhill stretches on autobahns, however we eased off to around 60 mph to gently coax the car uphills.

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We’ll be honest. Volvos from years gone by wouldn’t have been our car of choice to undertake such a journey. But we’ve changed our view. We genuinely climbed out of the car after 836 miles without any aches or stiffness, and our overall average of 56.4 mpg is genuinely impressive for a car of this size.

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Our only advice to any potential buyers would be to seriously consider the R-Design specification; our car didn’t have this trim, but the S60s and V60s that had the body kit and glamorous alloys looked fantastic. And even with features such as bigger wheels and tyres, the emissions are officially unchanged.

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Prices for the Volvo V60 DRIVe start at £24,670. The S60 DRIVe saloon starts at £23,495 and is marginally more efficient, with 65.7 mpg and 114 g/km CO2. Both cars are available in ES, SE and SE Lux trim levels – as well as R-Design specification.

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Paul Clarke

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