With an invitation to test Volvo R-Design models 390 miles away from Los Angeles in Scottsdale, Arizona, I had to choose between a 75-minute flight and a 6 ½-hour drive. Since I'm a sucker for road trips, I dodged the Boeing 737 and made the trek in our long term S60 instead-another stretch of open road, another chance to test the long distance capabilities of our resident Swedish sedan.
The 880-mile roundtrip was also the perfect opportunity to experiment with fuel economy. But first, a confession: I'm not much of a hypermiler. Try as I might to hover in that sweet, lower-speed zone where highway mileage is optimized, I'm likelier to adopt a less-modest cruising velocity and arrive at my destination slightly sooner than the slower, fuel-sipping alternative affords. The route from Los Angeles to Scottsdale didn't help my cause: with 65-mph speed limits throughout California and seemingly endless stretches of 75-mph speed limits in Arizona, this would be a true test of right foot discipline.
First, a little background on our S60's fuel economy so far. With the odometer currently at 7,200+ miles, studying our stats reveals that we've filled up the S60 a total of 22 times, spending $1,191.84 (mostly on regular, 87 octane gas) along the way. The difference between the trip computer's indicated fuel efficiency and the actual figure has varied by around one mpg over the course of ownership so far. Our overall fuel economy average has worked out to 21.98 mpg, which is consistent with our primarily city driving and the car's EPA rating of 20 mpg city, 30 mpg highway.
Before hitting the road for Arizona, I did two things to help maximize the Volvo's chances for decent fuel economy numbers: 1.) Though the minimum recommended octane rating is 87, I filled up with premium fuel to aid engine efficiency, and 2.) I boosted the tire's inflation pressures to 5 PSI above normal for lower rolling resistance, a common hypermiler technique.
Within Los Angeles city limits, traffic limited my speed to an average of 55 mph, allowing me to feather the throttle and occasionally coast, which displays a rather satisfying instant fuel economy number: 99.9 mpg. In total, cruising at that speed led to an indicated running average of around 34 mpg-a solid 4 mpg above the official EPA rating. But as the congestion lightened up, the average dropped; by the time I was hovering around the 65-mph speed limit, my indicated average dropped to just below 30 mpg.
Entering Arizona's 75-mph speed limit-enforced sections and disinterested in clogging traffic along this high-speed corridor of seemingly endless highway, my mileage dropped further. After testing the R-Designs in Scottsdale (which you'll read about here soon) and turning around to head home, a refuel in Parker, Arizona revealed an indicated fuel economy of 30.2 mpg and an actual figure of 28.6 mpg. I had extracted 482.6 miles from a tank of gas; based on those figures, I could have eked out a total of about 500 miles from the 18.5-gallon fuel tank before I'd be stranded on the side of the road. Not bad.
At the end of the day, my measurements revealed that cruising at a reasonable average of 67 mph results in roughly 29 mpg fuel economy-and by dropping those constant speeds by a few miles per hour, it's possible to get the S60 into the 30+ mpg range.
Overall, our experience had less to do with the Volvo's fuel economy performance and more to do with driver behavior; by further limiting my speed during my 6 ½-hour drive, I could have done a little-but not a whole lot-better than my 28.6 mpg average, which is to say that the S60 performed more or less on target with its highway fuel economy figures. However, the adage that "Your mileage may vary" also cuts the other way with the S60, as our hardcore performance driving experience proved, not surprisingly, that pedal-to-the-metal driving can yield numbers in the low teens.
If your patience exceeds the temptation to rush from point A to B, you can expect the S60 to deliver a mild bump above its EPA estimation. But as our trafficked stretch of driving in Los Angeles revealed, you shouldn't expect much beyond those few extra miles per gallon even when you're cruising along at mellow speeds-making the S60 capable of exceeding its official mpg numbers, but perhaps not enough to qualify it as a hypermiler's dream.
Want to learn more? Follow our long-term test of the Volvo S60.