But I wonder if all the wizardry in the world will ever be able to make a gallon of unleaded fuel stretch to anything like the distances now being returned by some of the latest-generation compression-ignition diesel units.
The thought came to mind soon after Skoda's Superb joined our long term test fleet and showed itself capable of covering in excess of 65 miles to the gallon during the gentle treatment some of us believe should still be accorded to new motors while being run-in.
But six months on, the Volkswagen Group's omnipotent 1.9-litre turbocharged diesel has racked up a praiseworthy average of 54.3mpg over more than 9,000 miles of major route, country road and city street driving in conditions ranging from a sub-zero blizzard on the M11 near Cambridge to the blistering heat of more recent weeks.
Most fleet operators would rate that sort of return as being excellent from a supermini and good enough from a compact car. But in my book, getting more than 50mpg from a vehicle that's as big as a limousine and tips the scales at about 1,500kg is nothing short of remarkable.
Better still is the way this luxury five-seat saloon achieves this kind of economy. The Superb doesn't have to be driven in a feather-footed manner and has to be pushed particularly hard for the average to drop to 48mpg – which makes the Czech Republic's long wheelbase version of the Passat an excellent choice for long-haul work.
The car has other virtues, too. I'll admit that the Superb's extra body length means it doesn't handle quite as sharply as the Passat, but the compromise is so small as to be inconsequential and is more than compensated by the extra space, which provides unsurpassed accommodation in the rear. Stretching room puts the Superb in a class of its own and allows travel in the Comfort model to be such a restful experience. Thanks to a seven-league boot, this surprisingly well-equipped model is as suited to the role of family hack as it is to business motoring.
The big Skoda is such a compelling fleet prospect that I'm not surprised UK sales are ahead of target. The Superb would be the perfect basis for a world-class estate, of course, but sadly, it will not happen: the parent company is hardly likely to allow its Czech division to provide too much in-house competition for VW's load-lugger range. Maurice Glover Price (OTR) £17,700 CO2 emissions (g/km) 154 Company car tax bill 2003/04 (22% taxpayer) £58 per month Insurance group 10E Combined mpg 48.7 Test mpg 54.3 CAP Monitor residual value £5,200/30% HSBC contract hire rate £347 per month Expenditure to date Nil Figures based on three-years/60,000-miles