For the past several years, the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) has organized the EcoRun, an annual event designed to promote fuel-efficient driving and to test vehicles considered to offer the stingiest fuel consumption on the market.
For the 2017 edition, organizers brought together seven conventional gasoline-engine vehicles, eight hybrid or plug-in hybrid cars and three all-electric vehicles, as well as the Toyota Mirai, a hydrogren fuel-cell-powered car. In all, 19 vehicles driven by 19 professional automotive journalists took part in the two-day, Ottawa-to-Quebec City EcoRun this year.
The itinerary consisted of four stages, the first of which took us from Hawkesbury to Montreal via Saint-Jovite and Sainte-Adèle. The next day, the Montreal-Joliette stage was completed in a driving rain. Mercifully, Mother Nature took pity on us after that, and we drove the stages that ran through Trois-Rivières, Deschambault and Quebec City in a less-taxing light drizzle.
The goal of the exercise was for each journalist to drive four different vehicles per day, and attempt to use up the least possible amount of fuel or energy in each of them. It should be noted that the fuel-use averages compiled up by the journalists were mostly accomplished by doing nothing more exotic than sticking to the posted speed limits. In most cases, this driving technique allowed us to record fuel consumption totals inferior to the official averages published for the vehicles by Natural Resources Canada.
Here are my driving impressions and the results I posted for the eight vehicles I drove during AJAC’s 2017 edition of the EcoRun.
My dance card for the two-day run included three plug-in hybrid models: the Ford Fusion Energi, Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e and Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid. Of the three, the most economical was the Fusion Energi, which compiled an average for me of 4.7L/100 km, as compared to Natural Resources’ published 4.8L/100 km. This was impressive, though it was somewhat attenuated by the merely average driving experience the car provided, and by the trunk space being eaten into by the rear-placed batteries.
In the battle of the large SUVs, meanwhile, the Cayenne S E-Hybrid came out on top with an average of 8.0L/100km; the Mercedes-Benz lapped up 1.1 additional litres per 100-km stretch. The latter model was further hindered by an elevated floor in the trunk, again a result of the presence of batteries underneath. It did offer a more comfortable ride overall, but the Cayenne delivered a superior driving experience. The Porsche model also benefited from a more conventionally sized trunk. It is worth mentioning, however, that the commands and controls of the Porsche are significantly more complex than the other two models, making it less practical for everyday driving in an urban environment.
Despite all the media attention lavished on hybrid, plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles, the fact is that most of the cars and SUVs currently on our roads are still conventional, gasoline-engine models. For the 2017 EcoRun I got to drive three of them: the Mazda MX-5 RF, Nissan Pathfinder and Subaru Forester. The MX5 RF proved to be the most fuel-efficient of the three, compiling an average of 6.1L/100 km, much better than the official 8.1L/100 km figure for the model. Not only that but my average was bettered by several other participants in the event. What’s more, there’s no denying that the level of driving pleasure the MX5 affords its drivers is well above average.
As for the other two? Given its larger dimensions and heavier bulk, the Forester acquitted itself quite well, racking up an average fuel consumption of 6.9L/100 kn, far superior to the published 8.4L/100 km. The even bulkier Nissan Pathfinder, meanwhile, made good use of its new and improved V6 engine to finish its stage with an average of 9.0L/100 km – not too shabby for such a large beast.
Electric and fuel-cell
The Toyota Mirai fuel-cell-powered car was the only one of its kind included in the EcoRun. With an average recorded fuel consumption of 1.1L/100 km, moreover, it also proved to be the most fuel-efficient of all vehicles tested. What’s more, the performance it delivers is, if not exactly sporty, quite good. The Mirai is quiet as a mouse, features an advanced powertrain offering good gear shifting and drives like a conventional car. The major problem with the Mirai is that it’s still not sold in Canada. Here’s hoping Toyota can eventually convince the relevant governmental bodies to give the green light to this unique car.
The electrically-powered Volkswagen E-Golf came in with an average energy consumption of 1.7L/100 km (using Natural Resources Canada’s conversion chart). This version of the popular model drives just like any other Golf, except for its eerily quiet ride and a few aesthetic elements that distinguish it as an all-electric vehicle. On the day of my test drive, however, I set out on a run of over 60 km on a charge that only gave me a range of 47 km. Out came my smartphone and its Flo app to locate for me the nearest recharging station, so that I could recharge the battery enough to get me to my destination. This is the kind of experience that could easily have been quite irritating, but it served to show me that the public recharging system in Quebec is in place, is functional and is continually expanding.
Confirmation that laying off the gas pedal pays
The 19 vehicles included in AJAC’s 2017 EcoRun ran on different types of powertrains, including gasoline-fueled, hybrid and even fuel cell-powered. All were linked by one common thread, however: in all cases participants were able to produce results that improved on the official figures published by Natural Resources Canada. This proved once again that simply sticking to posted speed limits allowed for significantly reducing fuel or energy consumption, this of course in addition to reducing the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted. And I should stress that this did not mean driving at a snail’s pace either.
The ongoing expansion of the network of recharging stations in Quebec and elsewhere, the research being carried out at the Université de Québec à Trois-Rivières on hydrogen as an energy source for vehicles, and the rapid growth in the number of available hybrid models, all of these factors point to the inevitable evolution underway towards a world where all vehicles pollute less and use much less fuel - or none at all in the case of fuel-cell or all-electric vehicles.
Eloquently and tangibly, the EcoRun brings that point home.