Serious Hypermiling in a VW Passat TDI

It is a pretty good rule of thumb that automotive journalists tend to like cars that go fast.

It is a pretty good rule of thumb that automotive journalists tend to like cars that go fast. Really fast. They particularly like them when they are able to drive them fast. Really fast.

But not all. There’s Wayne Gerdes. He’s an automotive journalist and founder of Gerdes is a hypermiler. No, this doesn’t mean that he drives cars at hypersonicesque speeds. Quite the contrary. Chances are, if you were on a two-lane highway behind Gerdes, you’d be practicing your passing skills before too very long. And while some cars are now being equipped with start-stop systems that shut the engine off when it isn’t necessary for propelling the car, Gerdes is something of a human start-stop system.

His approach toward driving is to eek out every bit of mileage as is humanly possible. Or maybe that’s inhumanly possible because Gerdes has set mileage records in more than 100 vehicles.


Bob Winger (left), Jon Browning, VW of America president and CEO (center), and Wayne Gerdes (right)

His latest record—a new Guinness World Record—is for the “lowest fuel consumption—48 states for a non-hybrid car.” He and co-driver Bob Winger, drove a 2013 Volkswagen Passat TDI Clean Diesel 8,122 miles, starting at VW of America headquarters on Friday June 7 and returning there on June 24. They put miles on the car in all 48 contiguous states.

And they achieved 77.99 mpg. In a diesel passenger car. A car that you can buy at your local VW dealer. A car without a hybrid system or electric motor or anything else. In fact, the hybrid record is 64.6 mpg. The previous diesel record was 67.9 mpg.

Gerdes said, “Obviously, we employ some specialized techniques to achieve such figures, but there’s no reason why owners of TDI vehicles shouldn’t be able to achieve great mileage with a few simple pointers.”

Among his tips:

  • Look ahead for anything that might impede your forward motion—15 to 45 seconds ahead.
  • Use downhill momentum to help you get up the next hill.
  • Accelerate lightly. And try to coast to stops, avoiding heavy braking (which sort of goes back to the looking ahead).
  • Obey the speed limits.

We think there’s more to it. Lots more. More that most people probably wouldn’t want to endure in their daily drives.

Look at it this way: the Passat TDI Clean Diesel with a six-speed manual is rated at 31 mpg city/43 mpg highway. Presumably looking ahead isn’t going to get you to nearly 78 mpg. It certainly can help but, really. . . ?