People, I am pissed off. I did some traveling recently and found myself in two spots of the Deep South. Yes, I did partake of fantastic barbeque, fried foods and a trip to the Ryman Auditorium but I also found something that really disturbed me: Cheap gas! Yes, you read that correctly, cheap gas. Now I understand full well in today’s day and age cheap gas is a relative term. For people living in Venezuela, anything over US$0.25 is expensive. But for those of us living in the US watching oil prices rise more than we like, prices at the pump are still cheaper than other developed nations for one reason: Taxes. Which is oddly the reason that as a resident of the California Republic I am used to paying one of the highest prices in the union. I consider it the ‘vig’ I have to pay to Jerry Brown for living in a place where they hand out blondes at the airport.
The MetroCard in my wallet, just in case the second avenue subway makes its way to Santa Monica, still gives me free license to tell Jersey jokes. But one thing no New Yorker laughs at – drastically lower fuel prices just across the river. Well worth the trip to put up with the car jacking capital of the world that is Newark to save some dosh on your next fill up.
But nothing prepared me for this: Over a dollar a gallon difference between California and states east of the Mississippi! After cursing every possible culprit responsible for this travesty on the flight home, I set about looking for the cause. I know Governor Brown is a big fan of raising taxes but this was a stretch even for him. After poking around I found the guilty party: Refineries. Alien to me, there are those within our borders that don’t see rising energy costs as a problem. These are the very same folks that will have you believe the commodity that is oil rises in price due to political instability in far off lands. Let me put this as nice as I can. Bull tinkle!
A lot of the pain we are all feeling in energy prices comes from within our borders – oil traders and those who run refineries are artificially playing around with supply and demand. Not pleased that oil on the whole is down 10-15% in the past couple of months, supply out of refineries – unleaded gasoline – is now restricted in the west. As my Econ 101 professor at ASU put it so eloquently, low supply = they got ya over a barrel.
To underscore the problem here, consumers of lots of oil – airlines – are starting to take matters into their own hands. A couple of months back, the owner of a major refinery in the Northeast – cough, ConocoPhillips, cough – shut down a key refinery thus wreaking havoc on prices for everything from unleaded to jet fuel. Well, a major carrier in that region, Delta, had enough. They went into the oil business and bought the very same refinery. This is really how ridiculous the whole situation is: An airline, as if it doesn’t have enough headaches with unions, weather and unruly passengers, decides to take on the quagmire that is refining its own jet fuel! Now I could test the limits of my University degree blithering on about how manipulation like this affects our overall economy but that is a topic WINACHEE and I will focus on in depth in a forthcoming full episode. So where am I going with this now that I am off my soapbox? An experiment.
Living in a place where I am paying 25% more per gallon that has zero to do with taxes, I wanted to determine if I could drive a real car efficiently. Real car? Not a hybrid. Not a small econobox. A car that one would be proud to drive. A car that has some luxury to boot. A car with some space. And most importantly, a car with a supercharger.
Enter the 2012 Audi A6 3.0T. Audi, like Delta, has a vested interest in this region of the world. Over the past couple of years they have been selling cars so fast in this country I am beginning to think that they too, are handing out blondes. In the VW corporate hierarchy, Audi customers appreciate details but unlike Bentley customers, are indeed affected by the price of fuel. So Audi tried something a bit different: Swap the V8 for a Supercharged V6. In theory, you get the power of a V8 but should achieve better MPG.
Now first, a few ground rules. The goal is to best the EPA city estimate for the 310 HP Supercharged V6 of 19. That means the following:
1.) No Sport mode
2.) No manual shifting of the 8 Speed Transmission
3.) And sadly, no fooling with Audi’s Drive Select program (individual settings for steering, throttle and suspension)
It all started out pretty innocently. Full tank of gas with a range of 455 miles. Then I had to put it in ‘Drive’. And stay there. I tried to reason in my brain that showing my non car guy passenger how the sport mode works on the way to his daughter’s wedding would not violate the rules and thus not affect my fuel economy. The display told me otherwise. Average briefly dipped below 14 MPG.
After my one transgression, I was as religious as a church mouse. And driven like that, my Audi A6 was as inoffensive as a Toyota Camry. Not exactly the driving factor to bust your arse to be able to afford one of these things.
As a distance runner, I have tried all sorts of diets. Some high in carbs just before long distances and some low in carbs at the beginning of training. Driving this way made me feel exactly as if bread was being taken away from me. I felt loss. I felt sorrow. I felt the world would not go on. But as you do, I looked elsewhere for my fix. And that is where I found Silicon Valley with a German twang.
Enter Google. As if you don’t have enough subscriptions to manage and pay for each month, you can now subscribe to yet another data plan and have Google search abilities built into your Audi. It even doubles as a rolling WiFi hotspot! A rather nice diversion when you must drive the car as if your grandparents are with you. It was then that I realized this has two benefits. You can search on the fly without being locked out of entering text. Done so in a retro Palm Pilot/Graffiti without learning hieroglyphics kind of way – writing with your finger. And second, your maps change from hangman era to HDTV. Audi’s really onto something here: Why is everyone else knocking themselves out to redefine the user interface of the car when there is something we are all accustomed to: Our computer.
And not just in the ‘hey, let’s see if we can put a really bad copy of a mouse in a car’ like other German car manufacturers who shall remain nameless. I would tell the folks back in Ingolstadt to make this system user configurable to work either with your smartphone’s plan or an additional plan if we want to use the hotspot feature and you would have the perfect mousetrap.
Cool but not my favorite distraction from my challenge: Night vision. Like Big Cats on the Discovery Channel, I could watch this for hours on end. Yes, there is a safety angle and Audi has nailed it with a Star Trek touch. People walking on the side or in front of you are highlighted – and followed - in a yellow ‘Target Acquired’ kind of way.
The jet fighter thievery continues atop the dash with a heads up display. Other than softer looking fonts, this system does all the same things as GM’s but the real question here is this: Why is this not standard in all cars? I have to believe the cost is no longer an issue – especially in the region of luxury cars.
Now, one of my favorite Audis is the S5 V8 Manual. Truly an awesome car from visual, driving and aural perspectives. Unlike this A6, the design of the S5 will age gracefully. But Audi tried this same trick for the convertible – swap out the V8 for the Supercharged V6. From an EPA perspective there is a slight MPG advantage – 3 MPG city – but really for the person buying one of these, is that enough to skip the V8?
So how’d I do? Driving normally – meaning not accelerating like a Prius owner playing the MPG game, I beat the EPA City Estimate by 1 MPG! This, after driving solely in town, with and without passengers and sitting in stop and go traffic. But more importantly, this out of a 4045-pound German luxury car that really is a case study in how to build an interior.
While I remain pissed off about oil traders and refinery owners rifling through my wallet, the point is this: For a short period of time I refused to let the 1% change the car I want to drive. I slightly changed the style in which I drive. And in the process, found a whole new world open to me. Now all I need is for United Airlines to buy a refinery outside LA while I wait for the 2013 V8 powered S6 – in the interim, will someone please pass the bread.
You can see our 2012 Audi A6 3.0T photo gallery here