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Isn’t that Gordon Murray’s T25 city car?

Kind of. But it’s moved on a fair bit since we first drove it back in 2012. Now we need to think of it as a philosophy as much as a car, and the philosophy is energy reduction. So, in an unconventional start to a car briefing, I learn that, with everything averaged out, a western European person’s total daily energy use is equivalent to 125Kwh of electricity. Or, expressed another way, the energy contained within 450 burgers.

Transport accounts for about 35 per cent of that total – it’s the biggest energy consumer of all, followed by heating, lighting etc. Passenger cars account for 20 per cent of transport energy use – so about seven per cent of the total. That may not sound like much, but any improvements that can be made are worth having – especially given all the hoo-hah in the industry surrounding CO2 emissions and fuel economy.

The car – what’s with the colour scheme?

Look familiar? Well, although it’s still 90 per cent T25, it’s now called the Shell Concept Car. I know, I know, there’s a certain irony that a fuel company is involved in energy saving, but stick with it for a bit.

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Not least because there’s a delicious circular story between the three partners involved – the final one being Geo Technologies, a Swiss based engine development firm. Formula One links them all. So back in the late Eighties, when Gordon Murray was designing cars for McLaren, Shell were supplying all the fuel and lubricants, and Osama Goto, now the CEO of Geo Technologies, was head of Honda’s engine development team.

Maybe Honda ought to have him back?

Good point. Although these days the car he’s been developing isn’t quite as potent. The Shell car’s motor started life in a Mitsubishi kei car. They kept the head and block of the 660cc, three cylinder unit, but threw everything else away. Then started again from a different tack. Put simply they designed the lubrication to match the engine. Now this might not sound like much, but most firms will simply decide what oil to use and go with that.

The message from Shell is basically that if they’re involved earlier and more fully, then the lubrication can be designed in conjunction with the engine, which would help to extend engine life and improve efficiency. Put simply, the thinner the oil, the less friction, the better efficiency. I don’t know how familiar you are with your 15w 40s, but the bigger the number, the more viscous the fluid. The Shell concept car runs on 0w 12.

So that’s thin oil, right?

About the consistency of coffee. I don’t know if we’re talking Italian espresso or instant – I forgot to ask. Anyway, thin oil is part of the virtuous circle that Gordon Murray is so fond of. The car itself used to weigh 627kg, but now weighs 550kg.

It still seats three 95th percentile adults and has a 160-litre boot that extends to 720 litres with the two rear seats folded. And yet it’s only 2.5 metres long and 1.35 metres wide. Way smaller than a Smart ForTwo, small enough to fit on a table tennis table. Weight has been stripped from everywhere: body, suspension, brakes, steering, exhaust, cooling, interior. There’s practically no NVH materials in it.

They call it the weight waterfall – removing weight from one area means you can take more from another – so no power steering needed to turn the 145/70 R13 tyres and with only 550kg to shift, outputs of 43bhp and 47lb ft are enough to push it along at up to 100mph. At the moment it uses the old sequential manual from the Smart ForTwo, which is borderline hopeless and results in a 0-62mph time of 15.8 seconds.

Slow then?

Well yes, but that’s not really the point. It feels perky enough off the line and despite being a concept rides competently and isn’t anywhere near as unrefined as I expected. The central driving position is easy to adapt to, the only curious bit being the tall, upright, van-like driving position necessary to make the packaging work.

It’s a novel experience. Which is the kindest way to say odd. Despite being predicted to attain a four star EuroNCAP rating, you feel vulnerable because you sit so close to the perimeter. It’s better in the back, shoulders tucked back and legs stretched out past the driver’s seat. Three of us got in and went for a pootle around Dunsfold’s outer road. It was perfectly comfortable. And you can stand up and walk out of it.

The best thing is the turning circle – just six metres (two metres tighter than a black cab), meaning you can spin it round in ridiculously tight spots as well as park it nose in to the kerb. There is genius at work here even if it does feel – and look – rather like driving an invalid carriage, but the way the canopy opens and the fact there’s exposed carbon around the place shows there’s much more to it than that.

Andy Jones, design director at Gordon Murray Design, points out that the bodywork design would be very easy to change – at the moment it’s focused on reducing drag as much as possible (it has a Cd of 0.29). Underneath sits the T25’s iStream tubular steel exoskeleton tensioned by cored composite structural panels. It’s clever, light and cheap to produce.

Does that mean energy efficient to produce as well?

It does. 60 per cent less energy is needed to manufacture it than a conventional city car apparently, and it could be driven 100,000km before it uses as much energy as it costs to build a single SUV.

The Concept has been subjected to a raft of independent tests, too. On the regular combined cycle it returned 107mpg – remember this isn’t a hybrid at all and nor does it have a start stop system to make the most of idling periods. If it did have one they believe economy would go up another five per cent.

Shell didn’t run it on special fuel. I asked if they ran it on V-Power, but no, regular 95 as that’s what people would put in it. They also ran the engine with conventional lubrication – fuel economy fell by five per cent as internal friction in the engine went up by 20 per cent.

A five per cent gain just by using better oil?

That’s about the size of it – a gain that most big car firms would kill for as they strive to make stringent emissions targets.

So when does it go on sale?

It doesn’t. At the moment this is just a test bed – a very polished, complete and clever test bed, but a test bed nonetheless. It would need a bold, forward-thinking manufacturer to step up and take it on because it challenges conventional thinking so deeply. However, conventional thinking has only got us so far and if we’re serious about energy saving, this shows there’s another way.

Notes:

NEDC. Replaced by World Light Duty Transient Procedure sometime soon

Car production maybe 15 per cent, fuel production over its life another 10 per cent

What do you think?

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