Last week Audi invited 18 journalists out to Albuquerque, New Mexico to take part in its newest TDI Challenge, which would see us travel 834 miles on one tank of fuel in the A3 TDI.
I wake up from a nap to find myself sweating in a car with the A/C off in the middle of the California desert. No this isn’t a nightmare, my driving partner and I are trying to reach it to San Diego, which is over 100 miles away, but our 2015 Audi A3 TDI’s gas gauge says were almost on empty. Why couldn’t we stop for fuel? Last week Audi invited 18 journalists out to Albuquerque, New Mexico to take part in its newest TDI Challenge. This isn’t the first time that Audi has set up a mileage challenge, since a similar drive was done with the A6 and Q7 TDI diesel models, but this time the only model in the challenge would be the all-new A3 TDI.
The challenge: Drive 834 miles from Albuquerque, New Mexico to San Diego, California on one tank of diesel fuel. Yes it is as insane as it sounds, considering the A3 TDI only has a 13 gallon fuel tank and a highway EPA rating of 43 mpg, which would only equal around 567 miles driving range, well short of our 834 mile goal. The drive took place over two days, which had us drive through the desert in New Mexico to a stop in Sedona, Arizona and then on to San Diego, CA. The drive proved treacherous, but in the end our trusty white A3 TDI was one of two cars out of the nine entries that made it to San Diego.
How did we manage to make it? Very slowly. We were told at the beginning that the only way that we could make it to San Diego on one tank is if we averaged 63 mpg. “You’re gonna blow the EPA out of the water,” hyper milling champ Wayne Gerdes told us before we took off from Albuquerque.
Several other writers tried methods, like adding cardboard over the rear wheels to make the A3 more aerodynamic or by trying to draft behind the big rigs that we encountered. Unfortunately none of those methods prevailed and my driving partner and I decided to take it a more proven way – slow, very slow. How slow? Well at times we were traveling at speeds as low as 37 mph on flat less crowded roads and up to 45-50 miles an hour on the highway. Every downhill was our saving grace as we threw the shifter into neutral and grinned like we were on a roller coaster. The goal was always to get the MPG meter to show ratings well above 60 mpg with the sweet spot being 100 mpg or an awesome 300 mpg read out as we were coasting downhill.
Audi did try to entice us to give up and ditch the A3 TDI at several stops along the way by teasing us with the keys to a shiny A3 convertible with a full tank of gas, but we kept telling ourselves no.
How did we almost lose our sanity? Of course we also had the A/C off, since it would have ruined our mpg. The idea was beneficial, but there were several times that I nearly lost it in the desert. Even with my clothes hanging in the window to block out the hot desert sun, it was still hotter than our deodorant could handle. Gross I know. Also you can only take it so long until you freak out when all the minivans, big rigs and every other car on the road goes speeding by you. Here we are sitting in the slow lane, hazard lights flashing, driving 45 mph on a freeway that has a speed limit of 70 mph.
In the end, it took us over 21 hours behind the wheel, but we made it to San Diego running on fumes. It took us over 21 hours behind the wheel of the A3 TDI to make it, but at most times we didn’t even notice the clock, since hyper milling requires a lot of mental focus and patience. With the continuous elevation changes it was a challenge to try to keep the tachometer in the 1,000-1,500 rpm range, which was always a battle since we had to also fight with the transmission as the car would try to downshift from sixth gear as hills approached.
By the time we reached San Diego our car said our final fuel economy was in the 62-63 mpg range, which is well over the posted 43 mpg rating. Would we ever recommend that you try to drive as slow as we did to achieve those numbers? Probably not, but it was amazing to see how far the Audi A3 TDI could travel on one tank of fuel.
You can see more of our adventure on Twitter with the hashtag: #TDIChallenge