Car Tech

Is Premium Gas Worth the Price?

It's an open secret that many drivers in Canada, including more than a few gearheads, don’t give much thought to the consumables they buy for their vehicles. Most people choose different brands of tires, engine lubricants, and even the fuel they put in the tank with a terrifying mix of apathy and indifference.

But, as my parents told me, these items are the lifeblood of one’s car. Even my grandfather, a man known for squeezing every penny until it squealed, spared no expense when it came to running and maintaining his vehicles. He perpetually bought base model GMC trucks but was certain to perform every service on time and with products of the highest quality.

Today’s drivers have a wealth of choices when it comes to fuel. When they rock up to the pumps, they are presented with a bank of different grades packing varying octane levels. New drivers – and even seasoned vets – might ask what the real distinction between them is and if it makes an ounce of difference which one is chosen.

For answers, we go straight to the top to speak with experts whose understanding of fuels and chemistry far outstrips our own. Dr. Selda Gunsel is the Chief Technology Officer and Executive Vice President of Technology for the Shell Group, tasked with the responsibility of leading a global group of scientists and engineers whose job it is to drive innovation in energy technologies that make their way into the fuel tanks of vehicles across Canada, such as a new formulation of the brand’s flagship Shell V-Power NiTRO+ Premium gasoline.

“Over the span of 4.5 years,” explains Dr. Gunsel, “Our team screened hundreds of new molecules, which led to the discovery and introduction of a third fuel detergent intended to clean carbon deposits in direct injection systems.”

For anyone who fell asleep in class, direct injection places the introduction of gasoline in an engine very close to the combustion chamber, far closer than old technology such as port injection. This permits a more controlled delivery of fuel, increasing efficiency and power.

The trouble is, just like port injectors, these direct injectors accumulate carbon, which hampers fuel delivery. To help visualize this, it’s like the shower head in your washroom at home; if mineral deposits clog the jets, it’ll spray water in haphazard ways and eventually clog up to the point of uselessness. When that happens to the direct injectors in an engine, fuel economy and power output can drop precipitously. The new formulation of V-Power NiTRO+ Premium permits Shell to claim the fuel can clean 100 per cent of deposits from fuel injectors, up from 70 per cent, an assertion backed up by reams of testing and measurement data.

Not that it’s easy to quantify this stuff. After all, direct injection (DI) systems are buried inside an engine, unlike port injection systems in which scientists could just remove an intake for weighing or visual inspection. Shell got creative with its measuring tools, examining fuel trim through engine management systems to reliably make the type of claim it promotes. And yes, there was winter testing of this new formula here in Canada at temps as low as minus 40 degrees Centigrade.

“The challenge was balancing the formula to retain friction and corrosion benefits of the previous V-Power NiTRO+ Premium formulation but, at the same time, forge into this arena of cleaning up DI deposits,” says Dr. Gunsel. “Solving a hardware issue by reformulating the fuel it burns is a great outcome and really practical engineering solution.”

Indeed, restoring parts of an engine to its original condition through fluid chemistry is remarkable, especially since physically replacing parts deep within the bowels of an engine can be a costly and difficult endeavour.

Beyond the scientific discoveries of chemical formulations that help scrub away carbon deposits and contribute to more efficient engine operation, a fuel’s octane rating can significantly impact how well a powertrain operates. Some manufacturers go so far as to publish different horsepower ratings for the same vehicle depending on the octane rating of the gasoline running through its fuel system.

Why? Generally, when an engine is built with a turbocharger (which is designed to stuff more air into the cylinders to aid combustion), it is instructed by the car’s computer to increase the likes of boost and spark advance until the engine senses what engineers call “knock.” This is a condition involving less than optimal detonation of the air/fuel mixture inside a cylinder and can cause harm to an engine. Fuels with higher octane ratings resist this knock quite well, permitting more boost or spark advance, resulting in more power. In fact, third-party testing of some popular vehicles with turbocharged engines – even mainstream ones like the Mazda CX-50 – revealed faster acceleration times with a tankful of high-octane fuel.

Even if you’re not a gearhead looking for an extra kick in the pants but simply an everyday
Canadian driver looking to take care of their vehicle, running a fuel like this is a smart call. Its performance-enhancing properties and the ability to clean away accumulated gunk on the fuel injectors of a modern engine make the premium paid at the gas station for this new formulation of Shell V-Power NiTRO+ Premium worth the cash.

A promise of more efficient operation with the chance of extra power? With base trim GMC trucks now having turbocharged direct-injection engines, I can confidently say Shell V-Power NiTRO+ Premium would be Pop’s choice at the pumps. You can find it at most Shell stations in Canada starting this month.