The 2018 AJAC EcoRun

Furthering fuel efficiency on the east coast

September 12, 2018
by David Miller

From the August 2018 print edition

Whether you’re driving a city car, large sedan, SUV or pickup truck, everyone wants to save a little on gas. That’s what makes fuel economy one of the most important factors for new vehicle purchases.
Luckily, automakers have been improving their craft year-after-year thanks to a number of advanced technologies, weight-saving measures and alternative powertrains to create more fuel-efficient products with an eye to reducing the global environmental carbon footprint.

To showcase the latest and greatest fuel-efficient vehicles available to Canadians, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) host an event called EcoRun. It’s an eco-friendly run that has AJAC journalists drive a variety of new vehicles in a fuel-efficient manner in order to provide real-world fuel economy data for the public. It’s a way of using certain driving techniques to teach consumers how they can get the most savings out of their vehicles and by doing so, showcase which vehicles are the best at it.

New Brunswick gets into the green scene
Now in its seventh year, the EcoRun chose New Brunswick, the first time it had been to Atlantic Canada. A year ago, this wouldn’t have been possible, but New Brunswick has the most rapidly growing infrastructure, subsequently becoming Canada’s first fully electric province. Infrastructure has been built up including a plethora of Level 3 chargers as part of its eCharge network that involved FLO, an EcoRun partner.

Given that no east coast province offers any electrification incentive to its inhabitants, it’s an unusual decision, but one that the province has embraced from a business and political level with local adoption and tourism at top of mind.

“We are very proud to spearhead the very first EcoRun in Atlantic Canada,” Gaëtan Thomas, president and CEO, NB Power. “By having a network of fast chargers throughout our province, it gives electric vehicles owners the peace of mind they need by reducing range anxiety while travelling.”

As the EcoRun and electrified vehicles as a whole have evolved, range anxiety have become less of an issue. With its continuously growing infrastructure, New Brunswick provided the perfect backdrop for a drive along the southern parts of the picturesque province with stops in Moncton, Sussex, Snider Mountain, Saint John, New River Beach, Saint Andrews and its capital of Fredericton.

The structure and format
Automakers entered a total of 19 vehicles for this two-day drive along public roads with the consumer or fleet business in mind. The field consisted of pure electrics, conventional and plug-in hybrids, diesels, hydrogen fuel cells and the highly efficient internal combustion engines.

Outside of having these cars on display, the aim is to see how these vehicles make out compared to the official automaker fuel economy ratings provided by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan). Each journalist was assigned six vehicles to pilot over six driving legs, and those results would make up the final EcoRun fuel economy statistics. Therefore, part of these results do come down to the individual drivers themselves, as a new set of drivers might have performed better or worse, and that’s what truly makes it a real-world test—it’s all about the averages.

In order to keep drivers from mashing the accelerator, the EcoRun has its own journalist competition as they vie for the honour of winning the Green Jersey, sponsored by the Canadian Fuels Association. The Green Jersey has been in effect since the EcoRun’s second year with Motoring TV’s Jim Kenzie being the only two-time winner, so the battle to outduel Kenzie was a talking point throughout.

Every year, there are plenty of takeaways from the EcoRun. This year, it was the total combined fuel economy number of the participating vehicles that included seven CUVs/SUVs that averaged 4.86 L/100km compared to NRCan’s 6.45 L/100km, for a difference 1.59.

It’s always hard to compare results from each year, as the combined fuel economy rating is dependent on the vehicles entered, the route chosen and the people who drive them. But if we take a look at the results from the Ottawa to Quebec City run from 2017 where only five CUVs/SUVs were entered at a combined NRCan rating of 6.07 L/100km, the AJAC journalists only managed to reduce that number by 0.84 L/100km to an average of 5.23.

That means that even though the EcoRun had two more utility vehicles for 2018, it managed to have 0.37 L/100km less than the combined total of 2017. It’s an astonishing feat and a tribute to both the drivers and mainly the automakers that keep making these vehicles more efficient.

As for the individual chariots themselves, leading the pack in fuel economy disparity (EcoRun numbers versus NRCan) was the 2018 Mazda6 2.5-litre SkyActiv-G with cylinder deactivation technology. Its official combined rating of 8.0 was demolished by an average score of 5.3 with two separate legs registering an incredible 4.7.

It’s possible that these legs were more highway than combined, but the highway total is only slated at 6.7, so even then it remains mind-boggling. The closest gas car to compare the Mazda6 to was the 2019 Volkswagen Jetta. It averaged 5.3 L/100km as well, another impressive accomplishment, but its NRCan combined rating was 1.0-litre less at 7.0.

Other vehicles that performed admirably included the 2018 Ford EcoSport, a new subcompact crossover to the Canadian market. It officially averages a combined 8.4 L/100km and that was reduced to 6.0 on the event with its lowest driving leg bringing it a 5.3, subsequently securing the Green Jersey for Saskatoon’s Jim Kerr.

If you wish to compare apple-to-apple vehicles, the EcoSport can be compared to the new 2018 Nissan Kicks that averages 7.2 L/100km and managed a 5.9 on the event with its lowest leg being a 5.0. Whichever way you slice it, both vehicles were exceptionally fuel-efficient and great new entries in the Canadian marketplace.

Electrified vehicles strut their stuff
New Brunswick’s charging capabilities was the ultimate decision point to come to the province, and that’s due to the 10 plug-ins on the event: two pure electrics and eight plug-in hybrids. Logistically, it’s challenging and that’s where the EcoRun partnerships with NB Power, FLO and NB Community College come in.

The EcoRun organizers were able to hook up temporary stations throughout the journey via FLO with the assistance of NB Power and plug them into the existing infrastructure mainly found at the NB Community College campuses in Saint John and Saint Andrews, as well as a stop at Snider Mountain Ranch.

The pure electrics get plenty of the attention, and the Chevrolet Bolt and Nissan Leaf proved their worth by combining the lowest fuel economy of 1.8 Le/100km. Those numbers aren’t surprising as they emit the least amount of pollutants while eliminating the need for gas. What’s more impressive than its fuel economy numbers are its increases in range with the Bolt able to go 383-kilometres (not having to charge at all on the second day of driving) and the Leaf jumping up to 242.

As a whole, the plug-ins and conventional hybrids were the second most fuel-efficient group with the Honda Clarity plug-in leading the way with an average of 2.5 L/100km and the largest EV range of 70.3-km, followed by the Toyota Prius Prime (2.9) and Hyundai Ioniq plug-in (3.0). The plug-in SUVs were lead by the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV at 5.6 L/100 km and the Mercedes-Benz GLC 350e at 7.0.

The results
The EcoRun is all about statistics and crunching through that data to find the information you’re after. There are too many vehicles to go over and analyze in this article, but you can check the entire box of statistics for each and every vehicle on the event.

Depending on the drivers and routes, the results will vary based on ones fuel-efficient driving habits. If you accelerate gently, drive the speed limit, coast to a stop and anticipate traffic, each and every person on the road can save money on gas or not have to spend at all with a pure electric, and that’s what the EcoRun proves in the end. Regardless what you end up purchasing, everyone can contribute to bettering the environment and no one can argue against that.

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