Gwendolyn gets a steady diet of premium, which here in the Quarter-Mile-High City is posted as 91 octane; it’s not required — Nissan says only that it’s “recommended” — but while this car is smart enough to recognize when it’s been fed cold soup and adjust itself accordingly, it’s also smart enough to punish you for your miserliness: based on other people’s experimentation with this same powertrain, I expect about a ten-percent hit in fuel economy with the cheap stuff, which costs at the moment about, yes, ten percent less than the preferred diet.

The logical question: what happens with even higher octane? World Tour ’07 took me to places where 93 octane is more than just a curiosity, and while the price wasn’t so different, the mileage was: I had several tankfuls over 30 mpg, which isn’t too shabby for a car on the high side of mid-sized with a honking V-6 and an A/C compressor that never entirely shuts off unless you’re in the middle of a blizzard.

To me, therefore, using premium is a no-brainer. (And in cars that don’t benefit from it, which is most of them, not using premium is also a no-brainer.) Not everyone is as sanguine about it, though, says Motor Trend’s Arthur St. Antoine:

Judging by the letters we receive, for many of you a “premium only” sticker on a new car might as well say “radioactive.” “No way I’d buy a car that runs on premium,” some write. “Who do you think I am, Bernie Madoff?”

Such responses baffle me, because often the cars that use premium — say, those with turbos or high-compression engines — are also the most entertaining. And aren’t we, as enthusiasts, ever in search of — and willing to pay for — maximum driving delight?

Maybe not. I wonder if the ’09 Nissan Maxima, Gwendolyn’s energetic niece, is getting any buyer backlash because it requires premium. In fact, if you must fill up with regular, says the manual, you should fill the tank only halfway and “avoid full throttle driving and abrupt acceleration.” No one, though, is likely to ask the question I can’t resist: “If you can’t afford premium gas, how the hell are you buying a $35,000 car?”


  1. Akaky »

    3 June 2009 · 10:36 am

    “If you can’t afford premium gas, how the hell are you buying a $35,000 car?”

    No fair being logical, dude

  2. Jeffro »

    3 June 2009 · 11:06 am

    Some people just like to gripe. The idea that the extra performance comes with a price offends them.

    The ‘Vette I used to own burned premium. I had the timing advanced (remember when we could do that?) to the edge – I could always tell when I got some crappy gas, because it would ping under acceleration. I could have retarded it to the point the engine would digest regular unleaded, but it sure drew the fangs. Not as fun at all.

  3. CGHill »

    3 June 2009 · 11:29 am

    I wonder if anyone’s griping about the little smart fortwo, which expects premium gas if it’s to produce its rated power (such as it is) from its three cylinders.

    (Answer: Yes.)

  4. McGehee »

    3 June 2009 · 11:53 am

    The one time I found it worthwhile to pay for higher-rated octane was last summer in the corn belt where methanol-ized mid-grade was substantially cheaper than petro-only regular. That was with a car we were driving as a favor, with only the operating costs to deal with.

    If that car had borne a sticker reading “premium only” we would almost certainly have honored it, but only because we weren’t being asked to keep it after the trip. If we’d been asked to pay $35,000 for it, it could have run on tap water and we would have begged off.

  5. McGehee »

    3 June 2009 · 11:55 am

    …because when cars run on tap water, the water department is going to jack up those water rates something fierce.

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