Fuel-efficient set rising to the challenge

First staged in 1896, the legendary London to Brighton (England) is the longest running car event in the world. The Brighton to London (Ontario) EcoRun is the newest.

The British car event was originally called “The Emancipation Run” and this new Canadian auto event also celebrates change… to clean, fuel-efficient personal transportation.

This week’s first part of a two-part series on the event will focus on my EcoRun drive experience and some of the cars involved in it. Next week we’ll look at the stops along the route, some that were very, very interesting for a number of reasons.

Not a race, rally or contest of any kind, yet last week’s inaugural Eco-Run attracted 14 auto manufacturers and over 20 vehicle entrants. It’s interesting to see all these vehicles together as it shows how far the industry has already come. All are available for sale right now and they also demonstrate eco-friendly diversification.

The four pure electric vehicles and three plug-in hybrids in the group used every stop along the route to grab power from the grid. The rest were conventional hybrids, diesel or gasoline engine vehicles with unique fuel saving or eco-friendly features. Luxury class vehicles can also be fuel efficient, with entries from Mercedes-Benz and Porsche attracting lots on attention at the tour stops.

Fuel economy and electrical power consumption was monitored by folks from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).

Drivers in the EcoRun were also challenged by NRCan to adopt a fuel-efficient driving style that would equal or surpass the fuel rating figures in its annual Fuel Consumption Guide Book, which is a free government publication. Early results apparently show that as many as 80 per cent of the vehicles entered achieved this goal.

Day 1 of the EcoRun started out at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) in Oshawa, and there I was assigned to the 2013 Mazda CX-5 SkyActiv for a drive to Centennial College in Toronto. This is the first vehicle from Mazda to offer the full suite of its SkyActiv Technologies. Highly efficient engines and transmissions, plus body weight-saving and honed aerodynamics are all parts of this package.

The CX-5 boasts the best highway fuel economy (5.7 L/100 km using regular gasoline) of any SUV sold in Canada. This leg of the tour turned out to be the best, from a fuel conservation perspective, as I was able to maintain a constant speed for long periods. On the highway, an on-board fuel computer dipped to as low as 5.2 litres per 100 kilometres at one point, though I eventually averaged 6.8 L/100 km.

Day 2 and next up was the Kia Optima Hybrid. Although it looks and feels different, this car has the same full hybrid powertrain as the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Like most Kia products, however, it’s aimed at a younger buyer and puts greater emphasis on performance. Talking to a Kia rep, who came with the car, I also discovered that dealers can now re-program the steering to a customer’s preferred level of power assist. There are three levels of programmable assist.

The NRCan fuel guide gives Optima Hybrid a 5.6/4.9 L/100 km (city/ highway) rating. Our all city driving route took us right thought the centre of Toronto and out to Oakville, with a stop for lunch (and tour) at the Evergreen Brick Works, an environmental centre. On the first part of this leg the fuel meter averaged 7.1 L/100 km and got a disappointing 9.4 L/100 km on the second part. Having two extra passengers and their gear on board no doubt didn’t help fuel economy.

My final EcoRun test drive was in the Porsche Panamera S Hybrid. A $130,000 plus, four-door, four-seat “supercar” with a power out-put of 380 horsepower, yet average fuel consumption is only 6.8 L/100 km, according to Porsche, based on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC). It also makes Panam-era S Hybrid the most economical Porsche of all time.

A full electric drive mode can activated at the push of a button, but it has limited (low speed) operation-al parameters. On a 50 km mostly back-road driving route to McMaster University in Hamilton, it registered 8.6 L/100 km on the fuel meter. NRCan has not yet assigned Panamera S Hybrid an official fuel consumption rating.

Organized by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), the EcoRun was also sup-ported by the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA). Both associations have common goals that make events like the EcoRun possible.

“Our members tell us that they want us to be an unbiased source of reliable information on environmental issues,” said Alayne Craw-ford, manager, Public Affairs, CAA.

Bob McHugh is a freelance automotive journalist, writing on behalf of BCAA.

Here’s a complete list of the EcoRun entries:
Mini Cooper (BMW)
Fiat 500
Ford Escape
Ford Focus Electric
Buick Regal e-Assist
Chevrolet Volt
Chevrolet Cruze Eco
Honda CR-Z
Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
Kia Optima Hybrid
Mazda3 SkyActive
Mazda CX-5 SkyActiv
Mitsubishi iMiEV
Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG
Smart Fortwo Electric Drive
Nissan Leaf
Porsche Panamera Hybrid
Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid
Toyota Camry Hybrid
Lexus CT 200h Volkswagen Passat TDI Clean Diesel

Chevrolet Volt and Mitsubishi iMiev.
Photograph by: Bob McHugh, for PNG