A foolish road to go down

fuel efficient Audi's A3 can achieve impressive economy - if driven correctly
fuel efficient Audi's A3 can achieve impressive economy - if driven correctly

The Volkswagen Group, parent company of premium car manufacturer Audi, has been ordered to qualify its advertised fuel consumption figures to reflect that they might not match the reality of “real” driving by consumers.

Audi’s website claimed that its A3 TDI was “the most fuel efficient Audi ever” by achieving a “quite remarkable” 68.9 miles per gallon (mpg).

But one driver who bought the car said the figure was misleading and challenged if it could be substantiated after being unable to achieve the same result.

Defending the claim, Volkswagen said the figure was obtained from the manufacturer’s tests carried out in accordance with EU regulations, but said complaints from customers who had been unable to achieve the same result were “occasionally encountered”.

It said fuel figures did not give an accurate representation of the actual consumption that could be expected from any particular vehicle and were provided “only to enable comparisons between different vehicles or models”.

There were also “infinite variations” in driving styles and in road, car and weather conditions, all of which could have a bearing on the results.

The most worrying aspect of this decision is that it finds flaws in a system that has worked perfectly well up to this point, and will only lead to problems and expensive solutions as an alternative method is worked out. There is truth in the fact that car manufacturers have optimised vehicles to perform well under these tests; after all, if the car-buying public weren’t interested in fuel consumption, then the claimed figures would not appear in advertisements at all.

But there is already an important qualification in that these are ‘claimed’ figures.

Unfortunately the problem lies with the end user. Performance claims with any device are regulated, but achieving them yourself requires an appropriate method from the operator.

If you’ve never learnt how to drive economically, you can’t be expected to do so. Using the air conditioning, opening a window, carrying four passengers - all these things have a dramatic effect on fuel consumption.

The claimed figures are not false, they are a guide to the best achievable performance given ideal conditions.

If these EU-regulated figures are rejected by the car-buying public, the result will be an expensive ‘real-world’ simulation that will simply add to the price of a new car. You have been warned...