Way back in March I wrote about Shell’s V-Power Nitro+ fuel, asking if it’s really worth the extra money you pay for it. It was a problem that always caused me an issue, as I couldn’t help but think that the differences between Tesco’s unleaded and Shell’s V-Power were insignificant. However, I used to run a Nissan 200SX exclusively on what was then called Optimax and was certain I could tell the difference. Both arguments couldn’t be right.
The solution was obvious; I arranged to spend a day with some of Shell’s fuel engineers, where we went through exactly what all the people in white coats do.
The first thing that surprised me was just how little I know. I’m a confident petrolhead, and know exactly how an engine works; some fuel and air is thrown in to a cylinder, where a piston then goes up and squeezes it all together. A spark ignites it, creating a huge explosion that pushes the piston back down. That turns a crank that drives your wheels. Simple.
What I didn’t realise was just how tiny the gap is to get the fuel in. There’s less than a quarter of a millimetre to squeeze that fuel through, and even then it’s only open for around 40 milliseconds. That takes incredible precision from the engine makers, but makes it clear why any gunky deposits inside your engine are a bad thing.
Shell had a couple of engines that they had cut in half, ready to show me just how much gunge does accumulate. The good news was that, with an average build up of deposits, the engineers seemed confident that it could all be cleared by running V-Power for just a couple of thousand miles.
The team then gave me a demonstration of how well a car runs on their fuel, handing me the keys to a Jaguar XJR and an empty circuit. I’m not one to ever turn down the chance to hurl a car around a race track, especially if it’s somebody else’s car, but the demonstration fell at the first hurdle; while there was no doubt as to just how well the Jaguar was running, without an identical car suffering from the build up of carbon that you’d expect, I was left with nothing to compare it to.
There was only one option left. I vowed to run one of my motors exclusively on Shell’s premium fuel.
Regulars will know that I’ve got quite a fleet to choose from, although none of them are worth any money. In fact some are worth literally no money at all. As I cast my eye over the fleet of dreadfully maintained and distinctly undesirable metalwork that litters my drive, wondering how best to test the fuel to its limits, I skipped past the old Lancia Dedra, ignored the famous General Lee(xus), and discounted a few more until I was left with the bus.
No, not an actual bus, but a Chrysler Grand Voyager I picked up recently for the grand total of £100. Its 3.3 V6 engine has spent the last 14 years bodging around central London, rarely seeing any motorway action and probably not even reaching much of an operating temperature. It’s tired, it’s dented and it’s very, very thirsty.
Thirsty enough that my Corvette is a better option as far as fuel goes, but that does lack back seats. It also runs on premium fuels already, so effective is the marketing message.
As I tuned up at the petrol station in the creaking, reluctant Voyager, I was wondering why the hell I was about to throw 60 litres of V-Power down the filler neck. It’s like heading to McDonald’s but taking a bottle of Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque with you – no amount of France’s finest will change the flavour of the main meal.
I turned the key, hoping for an exotic burble from the exhaust, but… nothing. Just the usual rattle. This could take some time.
The first thing to do was take the car round my test route, a mix of roads I take every test vehicle round to get a comparable base line of ride quality, dynamics and economy. The Voyager returned 18.1mpg. That’s £16.15 spent already.
This week I put the 250th litre in the tank, having covered around 1,100 miles. Throughout that time, has anything changed?
Amazingly, yes. The engine is running more smoothly now and there’s a definite change to the throttle response. It’ll never be quick off the mark, but the engine responds more quickly while also protesting less when idling. This isn’t just the placebo effect, but something I can (unscientifically) prove after filming things on my phone.
There’s no appreciable difference to performance however, although the two-tonne lump of Detroit’s finest was never going to be turned in to a sports car.
Economy has improved though. It’s averaged around 24mpg across the entire test, while a re-run of the test route returned a marginally more impressive 19.9mpg.
Using that figure, I’d save just £1.87 over the next 1,100 miles by using the cheaper fuel, assuming economy failed to improve further. That £1.87 has got me a smoother, nicer car to drive (or as nice as 14-year-old Grand Voyager can be) that should pollute less and be less prone to breaking down.
It’s not a scientific test, but if that result is repeated across my other cars, then I’m sold.
Your mileage may vary.