Driving green not such a chore after all

Zoomer | October 6th, 2009

The need to find a new source of automotive fuel is reaching the critical point. The problem, thus far, is that there has not been a clear leader in the race to replace fossil-based fuels – specifically, that the shift to the environmentally friendly side of the road is at loggerheads with the marketability of many of the solutions. For example, fuel cell-powered vehicles satisfy society’s desire for green transportation, but the cost of the technology and the need to build a refuelling infrastructure is off the chart.

The hybrid is the interim solution. The use of an electric motor, and the power it delivers, allows the gasoline side of the powertrain to be downsized, which reduces its thirst for fuel without destroying the driving pleasure.

To illustrate the point, Honda organized the Insight Eco-Challenge. This media challenge pitted Team Fletcher from the National Post against teams from Sun Media, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, CanadianDriver.com and MSN Autos.

The environmentally themed rally was split into a number of exercises. The first task was to visit four of five eco-venues in the Ottawa area. Each team had to select its venues and plan the driving route. Mercifully, the Insight’s navigation system allowed Team Fletcher (Yours Truly and wife, DD) to avoid that age-old “will you stop and ask for DIRECTIONS!” spat.

Along the way, we had to complete a photo contest. There were 10 points for getting four complete strangers to sit in the car and another 10 for snapping the Insight in a picturesque setting. Eleven other photos were required – one representing each of the letters in Insight as well as four green-themed snaps.

Team Fletcher’s first stop was Ferme Camino Farm, an alpaca ranch in Limoge.

The alpaca’s advantage, aside from the fact it is as cute as a button with beautiful eyes, is that it doesn’t eat as much as sheep, and the allergen-free wool produced is warmer than regular wool. This leg involved the longest highway run, which put somewhat of a crimp in our early quest for fuel economy – hybrids do their best work when purring about town.

Nonetheless, we managed an average 4.8 litres per 100 kilometres.

The next stop was the New York Central Trail in Russell. The park is a peaceful haven that’s home to the last vestiges of the now-defunct New York Central railway. It was here we found four unwitting Insight volunteers – three young girls pedaling little trikes and their mother. After my wife explained what we were up to, the triplets hopped into the Insight and posed with mom.

From Russell, we headed across country to Saunder’s Farm in Munster. This farm features North America’s largest collection of hedge mazes. In all, there are 11 puzzles in which to get lost. Time, however, was already becoming an issue. Next we hit the Rideau Pines Farm and Market in North Gower. Here, you can pick (or have picked) everything from cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, corn and broccoli to potatoes, cauliflower, onions, pumpkins, garlic and so much more. A punnet of strawberries later and we headed to the rally’s assembly point in Kars.

Here, the participant’s parking skills were put to the test. Team Fletcher was the only one to pick up points here – my wife parked the car within 200 millimetres of the pylon, earning us four points, which made my two points look pretty sad.

The final part of the Challenge was an environmentally focused quiz. Even for my stash of mindless trivia, the teasers posed a problem. The eco-tidbits were eye-opening: Recycling one aluminum beverage can saves enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for 20 hours; it takes one million years for a glass container to break down when it’s tossed into a landfill; the 1974 Honda Civic CVCC was the first car to meet emissions standards without a catalytic converter; and not even Jacques Cousteau, that fountain of oceanic information, knew where seahorses winter. Apparently, only the hook-tailed little devil knows that.

At the end of the day, Team Fletcher sat in second place behind the team from Sun Media – Glen Woodcock and his wife, Connie. However, there were enough bonus points up for grabs we could leapfrog the Woodcocks. The photo of the triplets garnered five points. Sadly, my beauty shot was, well, not so beautiful – and so second place.

The Eco-Challenge proved conclusively that the Insight, when driven with a light foot, returns excellent fuel economy. Team Fletcher averaged 4.2 L/100

km over the 198.9-kilometre rally. Remarkably, it sipped its fuel at this miserly rate even when driven at all the posted speed limits. Woodcock, a man usually known for his lead loafers, managed a rally average of 3.9 L/100 km, which prompted his wife to tell him to “get a move on!”

When driven with a serious eye to economy, I managed to get the Insight’s mileage down to an average of 3.8 L/100 km. If all test cars were as frugal as Honda’s hybrid, my wallet would like me as much as the environment.

Photograph by: Graeme Fletcher