EcoRun 2017

KiaNiro

Kia’s Niro, a nifty new Korean crossover that also seems to be priced right

I’d still be driving up and down Autoroute 40, just outside Quebec City, were it not for the Kia Niro.

For I am the sort of person who could get lost in a room with one door, you see – not gifted with a ‘sense of direction’, as it were – and so became more and more convinced that I was indeed lost; just as the 2017 EcoRun was entering its final leg here in la Belle Province.

Ford's Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid

Ford’s Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid

This is the second year I have participated in the EcoRun, an interesting and worthwhile event that has been running for six years now.

Listen, rather than re-write the wheel here, so to speak, I’ma just post a link to the site and also this piece from last year if you want to catch up on how the whole thing runs.

In a nutshell, though, the EcoRun is essentially a great demonstration not only of new technology and methods aimed at reducing both emissions and fuel consumption – this years lineup of vehicles included hybrids, pure electric cars and Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell groundbreaker, the Mirai – but also a reminder that a lot of cars can yield great fuel economy just by minding your driving habits.Eco-12

You can check out the full field of entries here, and see a few gasoline-only contenders like Nissan’s Versa (two versions of it, too, manual and CVT), or Mazda’s CX-5.

It isn’t a contest with a defined winner, there is no singling out of any vehicle as being the best (and frankly that would be difficult to do, right? Comparing a Porsche Cayenne plug-in hybrid against, say, Hyundai’s new Ioniq would be complex).

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David Miller, co-chair of the 2017 AJAC EcoRun, with the whole vehicle lineup in front of the Joliette mural.

There is no real prize for the participating journalists either – who this year once again turned out to be a great group of some of my favorite people from across the country – but you can win a green t-shirt for being the most fuel-efficient of the bunch when the results are tallied.

Immediately realizing that I wouldn’t win, I intended to honor the spirit of the event; to demonstrate that any car can achieve better-than-stated fuel economy just by moderating one’s driving habits. No need to go nuts with any hyper-miling craziness, no driving down the shoulder of the road with the mirrors folded down and the A/C turned off to wring a few extra kms from the vehicle.

So I drove pretty much the way I normally do, but with perhaps more attention to not accelerating too exuberantly away from a light, sticking to the speed limit on the highway, coast wherever possible, that type of thing.

And anyway, it has always been my personal maxim that: ‘it’s not important if you win or lose, only that you do slightly better than Howard Elmer’.

The way EcoRun works is, a route from Ottawa to Quebec City was broken down into ten legs of roughly a hundred kilometers average, and at the end of each one we’d switch to another car.

CEO Louis Tremblay of AddÉnergie shows off the company's technology. They offer fast-charger station installations for homes and businesses.

CEO Louis Tremblay of AddÉnergie shows off the company’s technology. They offer fast-charger station installations for homes and businesses.

All in, I drove three hybrids, two plug-in hybrids, a diesel car and four strictly gasoline-powered vehicles. Talking with the various journos at the various stops (some pretty interesting spots, too) we all were seeing the results – pretty much every vehicle everyone used came in under the NRCan economy figures.

Even when you get lost like I do. A few of the cars didn’t have navigation systems in them, which for me is death – the organizers vastly overestimated my intelligence, and ability to read a printed route book and drive at the same time – so I took to following other members of our Eco caravan when I found myself in a Hyundai Ioniq without a nav app.

At the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres Hydrogen Research Institute for a brief overview of some of their facility!

At the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres Hydrogen Research Institute for a brief overview of some of their facility!

Except that following people never works. The guy I was tailing lost me at a light and I was on my own on Autoroute 40, right up until I noticed that someone else was following me (ha!) in the Niro, which I knew had navigation from driving it earlier.

So anyway, that solved that. Bonuses all around for everyone involved.

It’s not important if you win or lose, only that you do slightly better than Howard.

It’s not important if you win or lose, only that you do slightly better than Howard.

The takeaway lesson here, is that most any car can deliver good efficiency when driven optimally and with economy in mind. A decent showing all around, and pretty much every one of the entrants beat their stated economy.

There’s a list of the final fuel-usage tally of them all here, from a great event that continues to make its point and spread the word.

Check out the video!

2016 Toyota Prius

Like a lot of car writers from across the nation, I am looking forward to the Auto Journalists Association of Canada’s annual Test Fest next week; where the entrants will be pared down into their respective class winners (and from the pool of survivors, one will go on to become the Canadian Car of the Year).

I haven’t driven all the contenders in every class prior to the AJAC event, but I have driven a few. Here is a look at some of my favorites, prior to the upcoming Test Festprius-ajac-photo

The new look Prius is a solid competitor in the Full-Size Car group this year, where it is up against Malibu (hybrid), Optima HEV and Volkswagen’s Golf Alltrack.

Prius brings its natural Toyota advantage to the contest – the proven hybrid powertrain that revolutionized the world since its introduction nearly twenty years ago.

There’s a reason it is the best-selling hybrid of all time, but with the redesigned body and enhanced balance and aerodynamics, Prius now makes a case for itself as a really good-looking car as well (‘cuz let’s face, one of the most common arguments against the vehicle in the past has been its appearance – “ugly” was a word I often heard applied).

I loved the car before, because I am a fuel-economy freak; but when I first saw the latest generation unveiled in Frankfurt last year I loved it even harder.

Here’s a gallery of one I drove this summer – which differs slightly from the model entered in the CCOTY contest in that this one is equipped with Toyota’s ‘Upgrade Package’, whereas the formal entrant will be one with Technology Package.

This one, with upgrade package, came with a sticker price of $28,661 including freight charges; but that doesn’t include any hybrid-rebates that may be available, depending on your area.

2016 Mazda CX-9

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Sporting exterior design tweaks and a new-for-2016 engine, there is little to dislike in Mazda’s largest utility vehicle offering.

The CX-9 gets a new-look front end with the five-point grille that has become familiar across the rest of the lineup (which is a big improvement over the outgoing generation, if you ask me, I like the new grilles). If you’re shopping large utes with 3 rows of passenger space, and demand an interior that feels and looks high end, this is one to consider.2016cx-9-7

Outwardly, Mazda has gone in for the ‘angular’ look, with sheetmetal sporting more pronounced edges and corners – this school of thought can also be seen in offerings like Toyota’s latest-gen RAV4 (and pushed even further in Lexus’ RX350), and the new Murano from Nissan – with new head and tail lamps backing up the reworked face.

Its new engine is the standout change in the CX-9, though, with Mazda having dumped the previous generation’s larger (3.7 litre, and a pretty thirsty one, too, as I recall) six-cylinder powerplant in favor of a turbocharged four.

This is the first Mazda ute to get the latest SKYACTIV engine, a 2.5L direct-injection turbo, a responsive and quick little beast offering a potential 227 horses – a reduction from the outgoing V6, but it showed itself to be fast and smooth in my time with the car – and surprisingly, an increase in torque. Mazda states the engine is capable of a considerable 310 lb.-ft. of torque at very low (2000!) rpm.2016cx-9-12

The steering feel is a nicely weighted, controlled and engaged experience, which is pretty consistent with everything in the Mazda family; at least the ones I’ve spent time with.

I used a ‘Signature’ trim model, for purposes of this piece; the top of the line for the CX-9, so it comes as packed as is available. A power driver’s seat is standard across the lineup, but the brown-toned, Nappa-leather-upholstered perch in my test vehicle was mighty fine indeed. The instrumentation was augmented with a heads-up display (a feature I love – it is basically a little floating digital speedometer hovering just at the bottom of your field of view).2016cx-9-6

Mazda is justifiably proud of the improvement in fuel economy with the new engine, and better than I expected, frankly – I got 10.9L/100 km in my time in it, and a colleague reported 9.9 over a longer, highway drive.

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The CX-9 will continue to compete with rivals like Toyota’s Highlander, or the formidable Kia Sorento; but as it can qualify as an “all new” entry, it will be in the running at this year’s Canadian Car of the Year tests coming up in October.

There it will find itself comparing head to head with the reborn Chrysler Pacifica and GMC’s newest iteration of the Acadia in a variety of categories from roominess and ease of access to economy to acceleration. Should be an interesting result!

And finally, let’s get to the price. Always the money with me, you know?

As with virtually any of the competition I have mentioned, Mazda’s big crossover starts in the mid-30K range (but ha, ha citizen! for that you only get a front-wheel drive, base model). The Signature trim CX-9 however, will take that up to $52,130 before freight and taxes.

©Wade Ozeroff 2016