If you’re a petrolhead and you have petrolhead friends, it’s almost a certainty that you’ve heard of Petron’s plans to introduce RON 100 among a select number of stations in the Klang Valley and on a much larger scale in Johor. We’ve been covering this news and updates over the past week or so based on rumours and speaking directly with station employees, but the real question is this: what exactly does RON 100 do for your car?
RON itself stands for Research Octane Number. It’s essentially one standard of measurement for the quality of fuel, but not in a traditional sense where cleanliness or refinement equates to cleanliness. RON refers to the stability of the fuel, and a higher number means that the fuel is more stable during combustion. A less stable fuel is more likely to auto-ignite in the chamber- that is to say it will detonate before the pistons are in the right position. This is indicated by pinging or knocking- the kind of strange rattling noise you hear in much older Protons or cars kept in bad condition. Understanding the specifics is a little more complicated, but all you need to know is that the higher the RON number, the more stable the fuel is.
What does the stability do for you? If we’re talking about a car up until the 1990s, generally any high performance car was required to use high octane (RON number) fuel. To get more performance out of an engine, you more air and more fuel, you need aggressive spark timing, and you need to compress the fuel-air mixture harder- the compression is where the issues begin. Performance cars in general, whether turbocharged (dynamic compression) or not (static compression), will have high compression ratios. The higher compression causes less stable fuel to auto-ignite/detonate, hence the need for higher octane fuel.
But most, if not all modern cars, have very clever electronics built into them. Nearly every car on the market today, including performance cars, will have knock sensors and automatic programming to reduce knock. The thing about knock is that it is not absolute- many factors can help to reduce risk, such as running richer (spraying more fuel in), or retarding ignition (slowing down when the spark plug fires). This means that you can run most cars on RON 95 without any issue, albeit at a slight power/torque loss at certain points. There is a reason race grade fuel is somewhere between RON 101 and RON 105, as it’s simply a necessity for such high performance engines.
This in itself is a caveat, because the opposite applies as well. While we may not know about the effectiveness of every manufacturer’s engine electronics, we are relatively sure that BMW’s systems do not take advantage of a fuel that is more stable than RON 97. What we’re saying is that you could pump RON 100 into a BMW, but it is highly unlikely that the stock electronics can make use of that extra fuel stability and produce more power as a result. If we are talking about aftermarket tuning and mapping then perhaps there may be some advantage to it, but for now RON 100 is likely to benefit only high end sports cars and modified machines. As for the rest of us, RON 95/97 will do perfectly fine.
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