EcoRun 2018!

Prologue: Good Morning New Brunswick

The EcoRun vehicle showcase wrapped up its seventh year late in June, once again demonstrating the real-world utility of a cross section of fuel-efficient cars. This was my third year participating in the event (which is staged by the Automobile journalist’s Association of Canada).

I’ll get to that pretty quick – and you can find background info on EcoRun here and here, for a rundown of what its all about – but first, can we get a shout-out for the province of New Brunswick!

Serving as the backdrop for the adventure, the beautiful province provided fine scenery and a backdrop of Maritime lifestyle for myself and the other participants as we wound our way through three cities on some beautiful roads.

This year marked the first time NB has been the staging ground for EcoRun, and it is also he first year it could have been – the event requires somewhere to plug in for the various PHEVs and all-electric vehicles that account for many of the cars used for the drive, and the province has just completed a year-long implementation of the province’s charging network.

Indeed, NB has gone from having virtually no public charging points for such vehicles to having 49 of them, including 18 level 3 chargers (level 3 are the ‘fast’ chargers, these are the ones you want if you’ll need to get up to full battery in a reasonable amount of time).

Photo courtesy John Walker/AJAC

That alone is a good reason to plan your holiday in the Atlantic province if you drive, say, a Honda Clarity or Toyota’s Prius Prime, but put it together with the hospitality and scenery and (of course) the food, and my advice is to put New Brunswick on your list of Canadian adventures.

Go ahead, learn more here.

EcoRun: Part One

The scene at Catch 22 in downtown Moncton.

We kicked things off in Moncton, where we’d landed the day before and fueled up with a dinner at Catch 22 Lobster Bar downtown; which I mention for no other reason than to say that if you are ever in downtown Moncton, eat at Catch 22. Order the lobster, of course, but really, order anything on the menu.

The next morning, Day One, the assembled auto journos and our nineteen vehicles gathered at Moncton City Hall where we were welcomed by the province’s Finance Minister, Cathy Rogers, and the city’s Mayor Dawn Arnold.

Justifiably proud of the giant strides made so quickly in modernizing the provinces electrical infrastructure, they waved the EcoRun green flag to start us on our way – nearly 600 kilometers split up into six legs of driving over the next two days awaited.

NB Finance Minister, Cathy Rogers, and Mayor Dawn Arnold, with EcoRun co-chair David Miller at Moncton City Hall. Photo by John Walker/AJAC

I started out in Ford’s Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid (and with as many vehicles as we had at the 2018 event, of course not all the participants could get seat time in all the cars, so I’ll focus mostly on the ones I drove).

The Energi is the pluggable gas-electric hybrid version of the Fusion (and this may be one of the last chances to see one, for as I’m sure you know, Ford is going to stop selling cars in North America to focus on trucks and utility vehicles). A full-size sedan boasting a roomy and comfortably appointed interior beneath some good-looking sheetmetal, I put a little over a hundred km on it en route to our first change point, a recreational family holiday spot called Snider Mountain Ranch.

Now, I won’t lie to you, me and some of other drivers kind of blew the curve for the Energi – I ended with a fuel consumption number of 4.6L/100km (which is high, for that car, a couple of the other drivers got into the low fours and one brought it down to a ridiculous 2.4L/100km)

The thing of it is, though, it wasn’t that long ago that those numbers would have been considered really good – that’s how far hybrid technology has come.

Anyway, we spent a couple of hours at Snider Mountain (where the EV and plug-in hybrids were recharged at Flo chargepoints) and then saddled up in new vehicles.

I took a run from the ranch to the City of Fredericton in Mazda’s CX-3, one of a few gasoline-only vehicles entered in the EcoRun this year. Mazda loves to make the point that even in a field of hybrids, the SkyActiv underpinnings of the vehicle can still yield very good economy.

And here’s the thing – it did. I put over a hundred km on it and beat the NRCanada rating by over a litre per hundred. Nearly all the drivers who used the CX-3 did – average economy for our event was 7.2 – versus the official rating of 8.2 from NRCan.

That’s kind of the main point of EcoRun, that virtually any vehicle can achieve better fuel economy when driven with an eye to lowering consumption. I didn’t do anything special with my driving habits in any of the cars; except maybe for sticking to the posted limits and trying to avoid hard braking and lunging starts; and I figure all the other participants did the same. AJAC strongly discourages ‘hypermiling’ techniques (i.e., driving waaay too slow) as it defeats the spirit of the event.

Anyhoo, switching cars in Fredericton I got into one of my favorite new vehicles of the year: Honda’s Clarity plug-in.

The Clarity was originally going to be present in New Brunswick with both its powertrains (it is also sold as a hydrogen fuel cell car, but apparently the FC one wasn’t able to make the event).

Clarity is a full-size family car that I will feature pretty soon right here on the world’s finest website; as it delivered some of the best fuel economy I have ever seen. No kidding, I did a week-long test of one recently where it ended up at an incredible 1.9L/100km over 360 kilometers driven.

I really have nothing but praise for the 2018 Clarity.

Here’s my room at a Delta in Moncton. The layout was very similar in other members of the chain we stayed at.

We rolled into Saint John at the end of day one and parked everything at the hotel. As a bit of trivia, all the hotels we stayed at were Delta. What I found interesting was how uniform the room layout was in all three of them. Once you get used to it, everything is exactly where you found it in the previous one, which is pretty handy when I want to locate the TV remote and flip on the Cartoon Network while I fall asleep.

EcoRun: Day Two

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

Most of St. John downtown appeared to be under construction when I rolled out the next morning, resulting in a detour where I almost immediately got lost; but fortunately was driving the Camry Hybrid from Toyota, which had an excellent navigation system.

Good thing it was a short leg to a cool little spot called the Baybreeze restaurant, where we performed another car swap. I didn’t post my best mileage in the Camry, but I want to stress it came in with an overall score of 4.8L/100 km, which beat its NRCan rating.

Mitsubishi’s latest gas-electric utility vehicle was up next – the Outlander PHEV. Once again, this new entry outperformed its FE rating overall, but I bet it could do even better. There’s a lot of tech onboard and a lot of fuel-saving, efficiency-boosting wonders within its electronic presets. Mitsubishi’s rep gave me a bit of a rundown on the basics, but you know, this tiny brain of mine…

I am hoping to get a longer-term test drive in the Outlander plugin (hopefully this summer) and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

The best possible car to finish up the 2018 EcoRun was the Lexus. I didn’t plan it that way, it just worked out that I got the new LS500h sedan for the final run to our last destination, back in Fredericton.

It goes without saying it is a supremely luxurious auto, and after a couple days of sitting in cars for extended periods, well, give me the one with the massage seats.

The LS500h is also the only car that I beat the rest of the field in, finishing up at 6.9L/100 km, which is just over two litres per hundred better than the NRCan numbers, and even lower than the average posted by AJAC drivers at this years event (which was 8.0)

And with that, the ‘Run came to its end at the Delta Marriott in Fredericton (the nicest of the three we stayed at, imho). Now, while EcoRun isn’t run as a competition, either for the vehicles or the drivers, the group does award the Green Jersey to whomever posts the best overall fuel economy.

Just to show you that anyone can win, I won it last year; but for 2018 the prestigious t-shirt was taken home by Jim Kerr, a real good guy and long-time auto writer (and mechanic, and teacher) from Saskatoon.

But the point that EcoRun is truly making, is that this is a game anyone can win; regardless of what they drive; and with gas prices where they are, it would foolish not to play.

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

You can view the stats of all the models driven here; and once again, I exhort you to visit New Brunswick when you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid

I’ve always felt that if I had to make the choice, I would buy a loaded Camry before I would buy an entry level Lexus, and that is certainly the case with this one.

(Incidentally, here is a link to a brief Youtube video with the XLE Hybrid, holding its own on a frigid day here in Edmonton).

A Camry in XLE trim is practically a luxury car, perhaps lacking the brand cachet of Lexus, but consider that this one still comes in about 6K less than the ES300h, which is pretty much the equivalent of the Camry in size and configuration.

The major points of our test Camry are: it’s powered by a 2.5L four-cylinder gasoline engine, which on its own can produce 176 horsepower (and 163 lb.-ft. of torque), but as a hybrid it also adds an electric motor – branded by Toyota as their Hybrid Synergy Drive system – which brings the combined output to a potential 208 hp.

And of course, one of the things about electric power is that the torque comes on at very low rpm, putting the power to the wheels very quickly, especially when the Sport Mode of the Camry hybrid is activated.

I’m not trying to imply that it’s some sort of sports car here, it isn’t, but the vehicle provides ample power and a driving experience that won’t leave the daily driver feeling let down. It comes up to speed promptly and deals with everyday demands admirably whether on the highway or here on the streets of Edmonton.

But where the advantage lies with hybrid vehicles like this is with the increased fuel economy and savings at the pump over the life of the vehicle – Toyota states a combined consumption rating for the Camry Hybrid of 5.2L/100km, although I’ve gone a little over that (this one ended up with 6.0 after about 400 km of mostly city driving, but it has been my observation that cold weather affects the mileage of hybrids by forcing the cars to use the gas engine more).

Inside the 2018 XLE you find comfortable seating and decent headroom, a dash layout where all major controls are easy to find and understand, and a suite of new tech for 2018.

Now, if you watch our Youtube video you may notice that a lot of the apps on my test vehicle come up grayed out, as they aren’t activated for this press car, but regardless, you can see where the apps would be activated through the combination of touch-screen and interface buttons of the Entune 3.0 suite.

Entune is apparently an open source, Linux based system for the communication module – and the 2018 Camry is the first vehicle to get the system.

This Camry XLE also includes a comprehensive set of safety features, my favorites of which are blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic detection, and a backup camera that will display an overhead, bird’s eye view of the car.

And while less space-age and futuristic, another feature I like on the Camry XLE is the tire-pressure monitor (which can be displayed as a little graphic on the cluster behind the steering wheel if you cycle through the submenus with the steering-mounted controls) that shows the pressure in each individual tire. I like that so much better than lower-end systems that will only alert you that there is a low tire, but makes you get out and check each one to find it.

So ultimately, there isn’t much to dislike in the all-new Camry Hybrid (and it is ‘all-new’, Toyota says the 2018 shares almost no components with the previous generation).

The Camry is also a top-finalist in the Large Car category for the Canadian Car of the Year, presented by Automobile Journalists Association of Canada

You could pick on the price, I suppose, as the XLE does come in a little higher than competitive hybrids from Korea; and perhaps the appearance – although again, the car looks better in my opinion than the outgoing model.

I wouldn’t call it ugly – it isn’t – but rather what a number of people describe as ‘boring’, but that is of course in the eye of the beholder. (Although, do me a favor and check out that big plastic grille and see what you think).

Our test car here, a pretty complete package as is (there are no options listed for our tester) came with a sticker price of $42,832.50 CDN

AJAC EcoRun 2016

Kingston

photo by Jeff Wilson/AJAC

(Ottawa, ON) Alright, I knew going in I wouldn’t win the contest, lead-footed feller that I am. I am not a hyper-miler, my gentle friends, but I gave the EcoRun Challenge a fair go this year.

(You’ve heard of hypermiling, right? The practice of squeezing every last kilometer out of every drop of fuel, mostly by driving incredibly slowly and getting rid of every bit of extra weight and aerodynamic drag on a vehicle to reap some pretty astounding economy).

I’m not quite willing to go to those kinds of extremes – I didn’t fold down the side mirrors or shave off all my body hair to save the extra weight and dump my pocket change and empty my head of heavy thoughts – just simply drove a variety of vehicles according the best practices of economical driving habits, as outlined by Natural resources Canada.EcoRun7

The basics of it are pretty straightforward – keep your speed down (although I never drove dramatically under the limit, ‘cuz that’s just ignorant), avoid sudden bursts of acceleration, and above all: keep it smooth.

I didn’t win the coveted Green Jersey, of course, but I’ll tell you that by sticking to the spirit of the event I got better fuel economy than usual. In fact, everybody did; from every vehicle that was entered in this year’s Challenge.

Porsche

The lineup was as diverse as it gets at the 2016 EcoRun, running the gamut from hybrids and pure electric vehicles to a high-falutin sports car and a diesel pickup. Photos by Jeff Wilson/AJAC

It was a diverse field of entries this year, too, featuring not only what you may expect in a fuel economy contest (hybrids, plug-ins and pure electric vehicles Like Nissan’s Leaf), but straight-up gasoline powered vehicles as well – including a pickup truck and a full-on sports car.

Heck, I averaged 7.0L/100km in the Chevy Colorado Diesel pickup on my run in it, which is way less than the projected number from NRCan (10.3L/100 km), and the 2017 911 Carrera entered in the contest by Porsche achieved an overall score of 7.8L/100km, which is incredible.

Fact is, every entry in this year’s EcoRun got better economy numbers than their various manufacturers state on their window stickers; which shows you what a change in driving habits can do.ColoradoDiesel

Check it out for yourself – here is a link to the overall scores of all the cars in the group, 27 of them in total.

This is the fifth year that the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada has put on the EcoRun, and the first time I have participated in it. The event moves around the country, but this year came home to Ontario where we ran a rout from Toronto to Ottawa, driving different cars on different legs of a journey that rolled through Belleville, Coburg, and Kingston.

We drove on highways and backroads, we drove in cities and towns. We drove through Ottawa’s downtown during rush hour, which is something I don’t recommend; but is a great chance to operate in EV mode if your vehicle is equipped for it.Ottawa

I didn’t drive everything that was entered, of course, two days is actually a pretty short time, but in everything from Fiat’s cutie-pie 1957 edition 500 to Toyota’s RAV4 (hybrid) I beat the projected FE, and so did everybody else.

EcoRun10

Allie Marsh, the Event Coordinator of AJAC’s fifth annual EcoRun, demonstrates the connection of Hyundai’s Sonata plug-in hybrid.

And again, I didn’t do anything particularly special or scientific on any of my drives. Kept it within five of the limit, no fast passing or erratic maneuvering and above all smoothness, whether accelerating, braking or changing lanes. I didn’t run the A/C for the most part, and kept the windows up most of the time to reduce drag, but really nothing anyone couldn’t do.

Indeed, my only regret is that there wasn’t enough time for me to drive Toyota’s Mirai vehicle, the only hydrogen-powered auto entered in the EcoRun, but Lesley Wimbush of Postmedia did. (Disclosure: I know Wimbush, and I am totally using the massive popularity of my site to plug the fine work of a broski. Or sisterski as is the case here).

As said, I didn’t win the contest (wild-eyed hypermiler Jim Kenzie did. I suspect he may have shaved off his body hair, as his coefficient of drag felt abnormally low when I shook his hand).

What I did, though, was got an up-close look at what a difference driving style makes in any car, for anyone.

AJAC’s EcoRun doesn’t declare a winner among the autos entered, as it would be somewhat contrary to the spirit and point of the event (and also difficult to categorized, as obviously pure electric cars would be the most efficient, not burning any gas and all, and how would you evaluate a fuel cell vehicle against a diesel pickup, for example), but among the gas-electric powertrains, as you no doubt expected, Toyota’s Prius, Hyundai’s Sonata plug-in and Ford’s C-Max Energi hybrid did the best.

The thing is: what the EcoRun proves is that with optimal driving habits, everyone’s a winner.

The Heart Attack Burger

(Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON) Ah, Test Fest 2012! I rolled in early and I blew out late, in a Land Rover LR4.

The annual showdown of the finalists for Canadian Car of the Year was on the menu. I’m a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada – though not a very powerful or influential one – and I and all my little media-weasel friends were there to sample the goods; down here in lake and wine country.

Because I arrived the day before the car-tests were to begin, I had some time to drive around, and just across the highway and down the road from my hotel – in the shadow of GM’s parts plant in St. Catherines, Ontario, I found the Good Eats Diner.

I stopped in for a late breakfast, as I was fresh off an overnighter and had basically hopped off a plane in Toronto and driven down to the region in my LR4.

It’s my kind of place: an unpretentious little roadside stop offering good food at reasonable rates, and I had a plate of ham and eggs with a side of buttermilk pancakes in an atmosphere full of friendly staff and happy regulars.

The food was good – and I will draw your attention now to that oft-overlooked side dish, “home-fries”, which are excellent here.

Must have something to do with the potatoes used, or the grapeseed oil I assume they are cooked in, from the amount of grapeseed oil bottles I saw around; but what caught my attention was the mention on their sign out front, of something called the Heart Attack Burger.

They weren’t making them the first day I stopped in, but I knew right then that I had to have one. It happened that I finished up the last day of Test Fest drives way early on the final Friday of the test-fest (because hey bubba, I am just that good) and immediately struck out from the Niagara airport (staging ground for the CCOTY contest for the past several years now) for my new favorite diner.

Once again, I draw your attention to them fries.

The star of our show – the mighty HAB

As you might imagine, the Heart Attack Burger is a giant oversize novelty sandwich guaranteed to fill you up real good with everything that is, technically, bad for your weight-loss aspirations.

The ‘buns’ are two grilled cheese sandwiches (with bacon!) bookending a big meat patty and the usual fillings; tomato, onion, lettuce. It comes to the table stuck through with a knife to hold the thing together, as it towers above your plate.

It’s magnificent, of course, but I hesitate to recommend it – I couldn’t finish mine – the HAB is something you order once, just to say you’ve done it. I’ll go back, of course, next year’s Test Fest is already on the horizon; but next time I’ll get a normal one. And more of those excellent fries.

I survived a Heart Attack burger, and so will you, but now I am in Burger Rehab and on the road to full Burger Recovery.

The diner is run by a right-on bro named Paolo Miele (here’s the deets! follow his Tweets!); make sure you hit the Good Eats Diner if/when you find yourself in the St. Catherines area.

Wade Ozeroff © 2012