Hypermiling Ruined My Relationship With One Of My Cars

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I know using the word “relationship” with a car might seem extreme to readers who see their cars as transportation appliances, but we aren’t all that way. Every car has its own unique quirks and areas where it excels. When you drive a vehicle tens of thousands of miles a year, or push it to the limits, you become one with it. The car can truly become an extension of yourself once you get to know it well.

Photo by Volkswagen. Sorry, the actual Jetta in this story needs a wash. I hated it that much until I eased up on hypermiling and let it be what it was meant to be.

You’ll find people who are big fans of even the most shitbox cars because they’ve made a connection, and that connection with a vehicle can happen for different reasons. We all like different things, and have different personalities, so different cars will appeal to different people.

The Jetta I Hated

I write a lot on here about my experiences with my Nissan LEAF, and some about electric bikes and scooters. The thing I mention less is that the LEAF is not my only vehicle. There are times that I still have to burn gas in either the Acura MDX or the VW Jetta. I don’t do it much, and the Jetta’s odometer proves it. We’ve had it for over 2 years, and it only has about 7,700 miles on it. However, those 7700 miles were mostly doing things the 2018 LEAF just doesn’t do well, like travel in rural areas with no charging infrastructure.

Probably the worst experience was when I attempted to take the LEAF to Alamogordo, New Mexico. I was just a little short on power to get it back to my hometown of Las Cruces, and needed a charge. After spending three hours trying to find a place to charge, we finally had to pay $25 to sit at an RV park for another three. So, when we go out that way, we take the Jetta.

As far as non-hybrid gas-burners go, the Jetta is pretty efficient. If I take it easy, it’s not hard at all to get 45 MPG on the highway. If I’m extremely careful, I can get that number in the city by employing various hypermiling tricks or get well over 50 on low-speed rural roads. The car has a 6-speed auto transmission (a concession I had to make for my partner who can’t drive a manual), but it does have the manumatic/tiptronic “+/-” feature, making it bearable. The little 1.4L turbo engine with lean burn and other fuel saving features is very good at gas sipping if I treat it right.

The thing is, though, that I mostly have hated the Jetta since my partner fell in love with it on a test drive. I could thrash the various EVs I’ve owned, and drive it like I stole it without feeling any pain at a gas pump. The Jetta’s turbo will give me the extra power a normally aspirated 1.4 can’t give you, but it does so at the cost of stuffing more air and fuel into the combustion chambers, and over the course of a tank, it adds up if you don’t keep your foot out of it. While capable of amazing mileage, it’s also quite capable of getting mileage in the teens like a V8.

I’ve hated the car until very recently because I was afraid to really drive it. I could hear my wallet screaming and I could feel the disapproval of drowning bears weighing down on me. When pushed to redline, it was almost like Greta was there in my Jetta screaming “how dare you!” It was easier to just avoid driving the car, and let it sit while I flogged on the LEAF and had fun with the instant torque, with far less guilt and expense.

So the Jetta mostly sat in the driveway, providing reliable shelter for some of the neighborhood feral cats on most days.

But then the LEAF had to go in the shop.

There’s an open recall on it for a bonding plate, it needs the Rapidgate update, and one of the CV joints is making noises. Problem was, I was approaching the end of the 60,000 mile drivetrain warranty, and didn’t want to be on the hook for that CV joint. To make matter worse, the nearest Nissan dealership that will work on a LEAF is an hour’s drive away at the speed limit. I eventually got the LEAF in for service, but it sat for a few weeks and I had to use the Jetta to keep getting things done.

At first, it was kind of a torture. I’d get in the Jetta, and carefully try to keep it out of boost. I could shift it into second almost right away, and I’d bump the shifter to + several times to get the earliest possible shift into third. I’d glide for ages, maximizing the number of feet traveled with every little drop of gasoline.

But finally, one day, I snapped. I couldn’t take the self-torture any more. I studied the response of the car, figured out how to optimize driving for the engine and its lag, and started having some fun with it. Once I changed my mindset, it was like suddenly driving a different car.

When I started pushing it more, I realized that in many ways it could be more fun than the LEAF. It doesn’t have the planted feeling of a BEV, but it does have less body roll. By shifting at the right times, it’s possible to minimize the turbo lag, and get a fairly decent takeoff (for a low-displacement 4-cylinder, at least). All in all, giving up on hypermiling has made it a much more enjoyable vehicle.

Wait, Are You Advocating Polluting More?

No. Definitely not. The wider point I want to make here is that we aren’t going to get the public to adopt cleaner vehicles if the cleaner vehicle isn’t reasonably enjoyable. No amount of guilt-tripping, punishment, or extra cost is going to get most people to do something that sucks.

That is probably why we are seeing big differences in the uptake of EVs. Cars designed to be fun first and ecologically friendly second sell better than the cars that strictly focus on being a good economy car.

We need to keep this in mind.

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Jennifer Sensiba

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

Jennifer Sensiba has 1773 posts and counting. See all posts by Jennifer Sensiba