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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

BMW X5 40e

Electrifying Bavarian Design

BMW’s X5 utility vehicle lineup expanded back in the 2015 model year to include a fourth choice when they added the 40e to the family (there are three other X5 choices, two gasoline engine models and a diesel), and the 40e was the first of the company’s more mainstream vehicles to inherit the technology they developed for their more futuristic-looking i3 and i8 cars.

There aren’t a lot of PHEV vehicles in the premium/luxury segment, yet, but there a lot in the pipeline as everyone rushes into hybrid and fully electric automobiles – but Porsche’s Cayenne is already available with a similar drivetrain, for example.

Looking at it from the outside – and the inside, for that matter – the plugin X5 isn’t greatly different than the rest of the lineup, the readily identifiable grille and headlamps, and side-and-rear profile of the eDrive model are near identical, its mostly the badge and distinctive cover of the chargepoint on the driver’s side front panel that give it away.

All around, it retains the appearance, and that’s a good thing; as the X5 in general has been one of the company’s best sellers, and certainly their most practical offering for this time of year, out here in majestic Edmonton; the Paris of the Canadian prairies. I’mma apologize that the car is dirty in the test drive photos and Youtube vid, but you know, it’s hard to keep anything clean right now.

As a hybrid, the 40e is powered by a combination of electric motor and gasoline engine, in this case a 351v lithium ion battery mates with a 2.0L inline four-cylinder, aiming to optimize fuel economy with the electric assist, as well as lowering emissions. It can be run in strictly electric mode, as well, BMW claims for a distance up to 40km. So in theory, if you lived very close to where you work, you might scarcely ever have to fill up the tank. In theory, that is. In reality the cold conditions had me running on gasoline power for most of the week.

The gas engine on its own peaks at 241 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft of torque, and combined output with the electric motor shoots up to 313 horses. The hybrid X5, like all X5s, has EcoPro, Comfort (default) and Sport modes, which change the vehicles behavior by changing the shift point and throttle response.

Now, where a PHEV differs from a regular hybrid is that the battery can be recharged by – you guessed it – plugging the vehicle in. The 40e can be recharged on household current, although I’ll level with you, that takes a long time; but will also accept charging with level 2 or level 3 high-voltage fast chargers.

The problem with this, though, is that not a lot of people have an extra 220v panel at their homes, and at least there I live there aren’t a lot of Level 2 chargers available. Check this out, though, my test vehicle is equipped, through it navigation module, to find and locate charging stations. Pretty cool, eh? I found one at an Ikea store, and a row of three of them at one of Edmonton’s public libraries.

Screw these people.

But, prepare to gasp in horror and dismay, my friends, ‘cuz look what happened when I tried to use the library ones. Yeah. Do any of those look like plugin/electric vehicles to you?

Driving experience the X5 is very much like any of it’s linemates – it displays tight and responsive steering, great performance and acceleration in all of its drive modes, and does a good job of holding the road in corners; but I want to tell you, the hybrid is a heavy vehicle and you’ll feel that in the handling. It is almost 200kg heavier than the 35i gasoline only model, and actually weighs more than a Toyota Tacoma, for example. So, um, stopping distances are affected, as I learned in my first day in the car on icy roads.

The price jump for selecting the 40e may also influence your decision here, with a rather hefty premium coming with this power train. Here’s a breakdown of the pricing, if you’re interested: MY17 X5 40e Price

Consider that a 35i model starts at $68,500, and that jumps to $74,950 for the 40e plugin, but the test vehicle we are looking at here powered that to a frightening $88,500 when loaded up with option packages that take it to the level that I figure a premium-brand buyer would want.