Vehicle recommendation for high elevation

Discussion in 'Start Your Journey Here' started by Elemental, Apr 22, 2013.

  1. Elemental

    Elemental Member

    Hi from Denver (more or less), long time lurker!

    Currently I drive an AWD '06 Element, manual transmission. My commute takes me to Summit Country a couple of times a week, 1-1.5 hours over one, and sometimes two 11,000 ft passes. I don't have any towing or heavy duty needs, just me and sometimes 2-3 skiers/bikers.

    The Element is a great car (my favorite of those I've owned, in fact), but I bought when I lived at sea-level, and by the time I get to Loveland Pass it needs a heavier foot than I want to give it. That, its brick shape causes a noticeable drop in FE over 55-60mph. :roll eyes:

    Any recommendations? I'd love to get gains in both FE and high elevation non-wheeziness. Do TDI or a turbo petrol engine have an advantage up high compared to each other? I prefer manual, but that's not a deal-breaker, I suppose.
  2. jcp123

    jcp123 Caliente!

    Powerwise, yes a turbo would theoretically alleviate a lot of the problems you are having.


    From what I understand of physics, the amount of energy needed to get mass X up hill Y will still be the same. Since energy is derived from fuel burned, they will be equivalent, and in fact it may do you WORSE to have the turbo huffing on the engine. If you are able to give less throttle, the tradeoff is that the motor and turbo are having to work slightly harder to pull that air past the more-closed throttle plate. Since a diesel doesn't have a throttle plate, that wouldn't be an issue for it. And, since diesels inherently get good mileage, that might be a good way to go if you are convinced the Element is no longer right for your circumstances.

    If that seems counter-intuitive, don't worry. And maybe somebody else can explain it better/more simply than I can.
  3. RedylC94

    RedylC94 Well-Known Member

    jcp123's reply was generally pretty good, I think.

    Yes, any turbocharged engine, whether diesel or gasoline, will be less affected by high altitude. Any gasoline-powered vehicle with as much space as the Element is likely to use about as much fuel hauling you and your friends and gear up those mountains.

    Don't worry about using "a heavier foot" at altitude That's unlikely to harm the engine, although it's power will be reduced.
  4. Prozac

    Prozac Well-Known Member


    What size are you looking for? It would be easier to give some suggestions if we were able to understand your needs, especially for cargo room. Stuff like, AWD or FWD, cargo space for 4 suitcases, etc will net you some better answers. Happy Shopping!
  5. Elemental

    Elemental Member

    Thanks for the information, I'm already learning a lot.

    I would like to go Element-size or smaller and with better FE; the Element can carry skis and bikes with 3 people (love the dash-mounted shifter, long cargo can run the length of the vehicle with one backseat up), but not four, so using external racks or a box becomes inevitable anyway. I don't need to carry much in the way of luggage, just that gear.

    AWD is nice to have, but I'm fine with FWD, snows, and restraint; we see plenty of rental SUVs gone off the side of the road on I-70!

    The Fiesta 1.0 looks appealing, but I think that's pushing it a little too far; there's pictures of folks crammed into the backseat on this site, and I'm not sure I could put stuff on the roof and open the hatch all the way. I might even consider a sedan with a 60/40 split seat that would let me put skis in and carry more than myself and one passenger. Oddly, the new Accord or Civic won't do this.
  6. Harold

    Harold Well-Known Member

    If you like your Element you may find the fit even better? Check them out and give one a shot! H
  7. PaleMelanesian

    PaleMelanesian Beat the System Staff Member

    The new Civic will, but you have to step up to the EX trim to get a split folding seat. Stupid honda.

    Be forewarned, the Fit is not a powerful car. The turbo Fiesta is going to be better at mountain climbing. It's just that the Fiesta is a smaller car. (That was me in the that back seat photo)
  8. xcel

    xcel PZEV, there's nothing like it :) Staff Member

    Hi Andrew:

    OT but that was one of the best drives I have ever experienced thanks to everyone who was along for the adventure. I am just sorry that you, Mike and Brandon had to take turns in the backseat of the Fiesta during it :(

    This is Andrew when he is not happy.​

  9. Elemental

    Elemental Member

    jcp123 (and RedylC94), I read this a few more times and it soaked in, thanks. So I understand it in my head; turbos have a parasitic loss because it's an accessory the engine has to turn?

    Weirdly, it brought me back to a more tender age, reading something about the geared superchargers on the Merlins powering Mustangs and Spitfires vs. the massive trunking feeding the Pratt turbosupercharger in the P-47, but I'll hold off threadjacking myself.

    I do have it in my head that I'd like to have more or less the same power higher up. As work commutes go, it's the hilliest I've dealt with.
  10. Prozac

    Prozac Well-Known Member

    While out of the turbo, the small displacement will get best use out of the fuel. Once into the turbo, the massive amounts of air being rammed into the throttle body needs to be offset by massive amounts of fuel. The more you have to spool the turbo, the more fuel you are using.

    Turbos are generally more fuel efficient because they don't have the parsitic loss of a supercharger. No matter what, more air = more fuel.
    Last edited: Apr 22, 2013
  11. herm

    herm Well-Known Member

    The P-38 used turbos to gain high altitude capabilities, and thus long range.

    The Ford Flex has the 3.5L Ecoboost V6 and is available AWD or FWD.. lots of room for skis and 4 passengers since the wheelbase is 117" long. I believe Wayne tested one and got very good results.

  12. Elemental

    Elemental Member

    Prozac, the dim bulb in my head is getting ever brighter, thanks.

    Wayne & Andrew, glad to hear good company made it a great trip, that was indeed the picture I was thinking of.

    I drove the Fit, really liked the drive and the interior, but I think it's little NA mill would struggle, maybe more so than my Element.

    And no, I'm not a necessarily Honda guy, although I've had several over the years.
  13. Prozac

    Prozac Well-Known Member


    Not a problem. I know that area pretty well. I used to be stationed in Colorado Springs and understand the need to get up some of those "hills". Granted, that was prior to me caring about MPGs. Back then I spent most of my time driving V-8 Jeeps.
  14. jcp123

    jcp123 Caliente!

    True, but P38s operated at a hugely higher altitutde than either the stat-of-the-art tech, or what we run here, 30K feet or more. In that realm the "turbosuperchargers" gave them a great boost (though at best economy setting they still ran about 2mpg).

    Down in the Rockies, as I said, a turbo will boost power by helping to equalize cylinder pressure to closer to what it'd have at sea level. With that power, though, comes more fuel use when it's dipped into.

    Assume you have the same vehicle - Element vs. Element, with the same wheels, tyres, tyre pressure, etc. and you drive the exact same route in the exact same temperature at the exact same speed...the turbo will use no more fuel. Flogging the turbo motor will use more fuel.
  15. Elemental

    Elemental Member

    This is good to see. I don't want a turbo so I can channel my inner Jeremy Clarkson and Powerrrr through Loveland Pass; for this reason (and that I don't want to pay for premium gas, although diesel would be fine) I can safely cross the Focus ST and Fiesta ST off my list, but the 1.0 Fiesta sounds a bit more useable than the Fit at 11K feet.

    I'm not in a hurry, either. Should I be looking at the Mazda6 diesel and next year's incoming Sportwagen diesel? And what's more important: weight, or being able to carry the gear on the inside of the car vs. drag penalty for hanging it outside?
  16. jcp123

    jcp123 Caliente!

    I'd say weight will be your bigger enemy in that scenario, wind resistance seems to be a lesser evil.

    Keep in mind that coasting down may net you (nearly) as much benefit as you lose going up, too.

    I'd go for the Mazda diesel...VW's are a bit testy on reliability, so unless you want a 36 month lease (the length of the warrantee), I'd probably go Mazda.

    Physics is complicated. But not compared to Quantum Physics...
  17. Harold

    Harold Well-Known Member

    CRV may be one too consider . More stream lined than the brick you presently use! H
  18. RedylC94

    RedylC94 Well-Known Member

    That's true only if the downgrade is not so steep or crooked or infested with stop signs or stoplights that you're forced to brake (including "engine braking").
  19. joshdurston

    joshdurston Rogue Canadian

    The Chevy Cruze 1.4 Turbo gets great mileage, might not hold your snow boards the way you want though.
  20. Bike123

    Bike123 Well-Known Member

    Bring 3 pairs of skis/boards along, and look for less brick-shaped cars with split rear seats. When I put a wide ski box on my Saturn SL2, I lose at least 4 mpg, vs. skis in the car. My ski commmute is Fort Collins through Denver to Snow Mountain Ranch (N of Winter Park).

    We have less wind resistance than folks at sea level. But we lose engine power at altitude (less air, but fuel drops proportional to air), so a reasonably powered car feels like a dog climbing at 11,000 feet. If that is a problem, a turbo will help, but yes, there is a fuel cost to using the turbo. Turbo diesels are good, but a non-turbo diesel loses power at altitude just like a gas powered car. I don't buy the suggestion that with a heavier car you will recover the energy on the way down. We have to do way too much engine braking coming down the passes.

    But you also mentioned bikes. Bikes on the roof have horrible drag. Behind the car is much better, and inside is especially nice (but I'm not going to buy a vehicle big enough to put the triplet inside). Can you get 3 bikes and people inside your Element? Two? Keeping the element may not be such a bad idea. Just get used to going a bit slow up to the tunnel or Loveland Pass!


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