The recent RAC Future Car Challenge extended to a hardly challenging 63 miles.

Fleet World’s MPG Marathon ran to a much more respectable 370 miles. But how about trying to eke out fuel over a genuinely daunting distance? Like, for instance, Rome and back?

That’s the thought that occurred to me when Ford’s invitation to the new Fiesta launch in the eternal city plopped on my electronic doormat.

Because after a decade of MPG Marathons in which no-one had managed to beat 100mpg – despite coming tantalisingly close -– 2012 saw not one but two did just that. And one of them was a Fiesta. First Mick Linford smashed the 100mpg mark in his Kia Rio 1.1 CRDi eco with 102.21mpg. Then Andy Dawson’s Fiesta 1.6 TDCi EcoNetic absolutely pulverised it with an astonishing 108.78mpg. Having myself managed only a derisory 88.96mpg in a Panda 1.3 diesel, I was keen to discover the Fiesta’s magic ingredient.

A call to Ford established that not only was the Marathon-winning Fiesta still on the press fleet, it remained in all its be-decalled Marathon finery, enhanced by ‘MPG Marathon Official Winner 108mpg’ stickers. And yes, they would be delighted if I drove it to Rome and back.

Now, anyone who has driven on the MPG Marathon (and over the years that ‘s included an awful lot of Western Group members) will know that in general you trickle along at 30-40mph, using coasting and other dark arts to ration that precious fuel out drop by drop. By the time you’ve done a couple of hundred miles of that, you’re ready for an overnight stop and a good helping of organiser Ross Durkin’s generous hospitality. But Calais to Rome is almost exactly 1,000 miles, on top of the 200 miles from my Somerset home to Folkestone. Making it a 2,400 mile round trip.

So it isn’t realistically feasible to drive that distance in full-on MPG Marathon mode. It would take too long, be too tiring and probably get you rear-ended by a Ferrari on the autostrada del sole. Instead, I aimed to get the best economy I could on the way down, then come back at the legal speed lmits (where possible).

And that’s what I did. On the way down I pretended I was in a 40-tonne artic, jogging along with the trucks in the inside lane at 60mph. When that got too tedious, I diverted onto more interesting roads, like a couple of little D-road passes in the Vosges that have been left almost bereft of traffic by a tunnel (they’d make a great press launch driving route – maybe for Peugeot with its Mulhouse factory nearby). What I lost in economy on the way up, I made up on the way down, and the blaze of autumn colour beat anything the tunnel had to offer.

One night in St Dizier, another on the outskirts of Milan, and then by 5 0’clock on the third day I’d reached the rather grand Bernini Bristol hotel in Rome’s Piazza Barberini, where the Fiesta posed on display to greet the rest of the press group (and Ford UK chairman Joe Greenwell) who arrived a couple of hours later.

While next morning everyone else coached to the launch venue – Cinecitta, Italy’s answer to Hollywood – I made my way there by car.

Spectators on the coach, including our esteemed new chairman, watched with interest as I not only caught up with it in Rome’s murderous rush hour traffic, but scythed past and pulled confidently ahead. Attempts to shrug that off as my normal brio came unstuck when a few twigged that I was following a lead car and (with a defunct SatNav – thank you, TomTom) desperate not to lose it.

The trip computer had shown a good but hardly Dawson-challenging 81.8mpg when I arrived in Rome, along with a 51mph average speed. A brim-to-brim calculation after filling up at Cinecitta saw that drop to 77.8mpg.

Released from my self-imposed restraint on the way back, I cruised at a comfortable 75-80mph, but it was actually surprising how often I was forced back down to truck speed as they overtook on two-lane motorways. Nevertheless, I’d averaged 61mph until heavy fog on the last day in northern France pulled it down to 57mph, along with an indicated 72.2mpg (which turned into 69.0mpg after the brim-to-brim calculation).

Conclusions? Well, it’s a hell of a long way to Rome. And spending 45 hours driving over six days gives you a pretty good handle on what a car’s like to live with. A test from which the Fiesta emerged with shining colours. My biggest niggle was the awkwardly positioned window switches. And guess what? On the new Fiesta they’ve been moved to an altogether handier position.

As for that 108mpg, I have to admit I couldn’t get anywhere near it. Time to hang up my economy driving gloves, perhaps?

John Kerswill
John Kerswill
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