2.10.2015Next Green Car's MPG Marathon
For those who might have missed our coverage on social media, Next Green Car took part in this year's MPG Marathon over Tuesday and Wednesday of this week (29th and 30th September). The event, which has just completed its 15th year, sees teams of two drivers try and get the best MPG out of their machine.
We went along and helped represent the electric vehicle (EV) market by driving a Kia Soul EV, which covered around 370 miles. Sitting next to me was Sam Young from Next Green Car's leasing partners GKL Leasing, and we took a day's driving each, with Sam covering the first day. There was just one rival in our EV group, the BMW i3 REX, which its driver had decided to use purely in EV mode. All the other vehicles, including the i3 REX, had their fuel tanks brimmed and sealed before we all set off on the first day.
With everyone able to take their own route throughout the two days, mileage varied quite dramatically, with some entrants such as the Ford Mondeo Hybrid and Caterham Seven 160 covering just 359 and 365 miles respectively, clearly deciding that the shortest possible distance covered would be key, no matter what the size of roads or trickiness of terrain. Other models went for the opposite approach, using easier roads and covering more miles, with the likes of an RAC entered Mercedes Vito van and Jaguar's XE racking up 416 and 418 miles respectively.
For EVs, the situation was complicated by the fact that we needed to stop off and recharge en-route, meaning we needed to factor in charging points along with the pre-determined checkpoints arranged by the event's organisers. Thankfully, we had the resources of Zap-Map to draw on.
As second car to leave the MPG Marathon's base at Heythrop Park Hotel - Enstone, Oxfordshire - the Next Green Car Kia set off just after 11am to our first checkpoint south of Basingstoke. Our route was fairly straightforward and followed by many. All was going smoothly and Sam and I had to decide whether to push on with a direct run to Basingstoke or divert slightly to top up at Reading Services. In a decision that set the tone for the rest of the day, we continued on directly to Audleys Wood Hotel for lunch and our first brief top-up of electricity.
Unfortunately, we were only able to charge the Kia from the mains so the miles trickled in as we took our compulsory 45 minute break. With only a slightly increased range, we continued on to a "Park and Spark" quick top-up using a fast charger at Popham Services. This gave us enough range in 20 minutes to head on to the next stop, just north of Melksham, with Sam driving via Andover and Devises through some stunning scenery over the Wiltshire downs. Again, there was a decision whether to stop at Melksham's rapid charger, and again we decided to push on straight to the Beechfield House hotel for a tea stop, and then on to Chippenham's rapid charger.
With our driving going well and the range proving better than expected, we were confident that Chippenham would give us enough charge to head back to Enstone, due to arrive near the 6pm time limit. We'd covered more than 120 miles with only brief top-ups of charge and headed in to Chippenham with around 10 miles left in the tank.
It was here though that things began to go wrong. The traffic in Chippenham was horrendous, with roadworks on a large roundabout in the centre of the town not in sync with any of those on surrounding roads. Still, sitting in an EV, we weren't worried about our range, just the time issue - and the deadline was there to make sure competitors didn't simply drive dangerously slowly around the course. Fighting through the traffic, we parked at the rapid charger, plugged in and went for a wander around the town for 20 minutes. Arriving back at the car, we realised that there wasn't much rapid about the rapid charger, taking the car up to only 32 per cent charge in that time. By now, we were realising that the Soul would cover a little over a mile per charge per cent and, with a trip of around 60 miles left, it simply wasn't enough.
We waited another 20 minutes until the charge had crept up to around 60 per cent. With this, we knew it would be tight to get home but we were confident that we could coax the car back, and that any extra time spent plugged in would make us even later. Fighting our way back out of Chippenham's traffic, Sam got us onto the open road and we were heading back to Enstone, using the sat-nav to guide us - we'd been using the system all day and it had been faultless.
However, I'd put in the wrong location, and everything went to rapidly downhill. Instead of hitting Heythrop Park in the list of options, I clicked on Heythrop - a small village about half a mile as the crow flies from the hotel. However, by road the distance is five miles and this proved our undoing. Travelling along, we were experiencing a little range anxiety, with a buffer of only three to five miles between reported range and our destination. Sam did a great job of getting the best out of the Soul EV and we got to a junction and turned left, when we should have turned right if the sat-nav hat the correct destination entered.
This took us to the hamlet of Heythrop which, in the gloaming, looks very pretty it must be said. Realising our problem, a frantic recalculation took place and we tried to get back to the hotel with extremely minimal charge, firstly taking a road that proved to have a locked gate across it, when the roof of the hotel was just visible over the next hill. We turned around with nothing showing on the car's range and headed back, finally pulling up back in Heythrop - completely out of charge and going nowhere. A call to the RAC got us back to the hotel, around three and a half hours later than expected at 9.30pm, hungry with red faces. Still, at least we gave everyone else a bit of a laugh.
So day one was a bit of a disaster in the end, though our spirits remained high and the pair of us had had quite a laugh, despite the none-too-brilliant result. We had realised that the fact that neither Sam or I had driven the Soul EV before, despite plenty of experience in other electric models, had worked against us and that we were determined that day two would go better - and it did.
Day two was almost a run of the first in reverse, though slightly skewed so that the first stop was just off the M5 at Tortworth. With this in mind, we stopped for a rapid charge at Michaelwood Services which went well. Popping around the corner to Tortworth Court, we checked in and went on our way to Essebourne Manor near Andover with a stop off at the Melksham rapid charger we had by-passed the day before.
After a lunch stop, since we were in an EV, we didn't need to divert to the petrol station with the other cars to have their tanks unsealed and refilled. We headed straight back to Enstone, via a charge at Chieveley Services, and arrived just in time for the 3pm deadline. Everything went smoothly on day two and the Soul EV proved to be a great car to cover long distances with - one of the best EV's I've driven.
So where did we come? Well unsurprisingly considering our first day, we were beaten by the BMW i3 REX but, considering it was our first time in both the car and the event, Sam and I were happy with our novice showing nonetheless.
A lack of familiarity with the car and the need to stop twice as much as the conventional models hurt our attempts to compete directly. Whereas those cars had to make two stops to ensure people were well rested enough to tackle two days of tricky driving, we had to stop to charge on top of that and the time constraints made a big difference.
As I have heard before though, the MPG Marathon is an excellent event, and we certainly had the most eventful time on it. If nothing else, we have shown, certainly on the second day, that an EV can be used for a long journey with relatively little change to routes and routine. Regular top-ups at rapid chargers keep you going and we finished ahead of many other cars, despite stopping an additional two times.
For the rest of the entrants, the winner of the best outright MPG figure were Mike Linford and Jemma Champion in a Peugeot 208 Active BlueHDi 75 Stop/Start, achieving 104.5 MPG - almost 30 per cent more than the officially quoted 80.7 MPG. The winner of the best improvement was the team of Paul Clifton and Shaun Cronin in a 2WD Honda CR-V 1.6 i-DTEC SE, who improved upon Honda's figure of 64.2 MPG by 31.4 per cent, finishing with 84.34 MPG.
Find out more about the MPG Marathon here, and keep an eye out next year for a significantly better showing from Next Green Car - we promise!
Official photographs courtesy of Scott Dennis Photography