2018 Prius Prime

My new favorite PHEV, right here:

We have a saying out here in Edmonton, a pithy witticism of homespun folksy wisdom “What the heck happened to our fall?” because although we do get a very nice autumn, the beauty only lasts a couple of days and then the wind kicks up and blows all the leaves off the trees and everything looks like a backdrop from a Tim Burton movie.

Thus it was, in the final days of October, that I was delighted to head for Ontario, where the trees are still adorned in colors; and also where the testing days for the Canadian Car of the Year are held.

Fully recharged in about 2 1/2 hours on a Level 2 charger. The Hilton in Ajax has a bank of chargers for both regular EVs and Tesla vehicles.

There were a lot of nice vehicles at the CCOTY event (held at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, formerly called Mosport) but I tell ya, one of my favorites wasn’t an entry in the contest this year – it was this one right here: Toyota’s Prius plugin hybrid.

I had the chance to put some time in a Prime, getting from Pearson airport to the city of Ajax, where the voting journalists make their home for the four days of the event, and commuting to the CTMP site.

Overall, I put about 427 km on the Prius, driving to the site every day; mostly highway kilometers – and this is where a hybrid vehicle saves the day. The Prime will run purely as an electric vehicle for as long as it can (and the Prime has more battery capacity than the regular model Prius) and after it runs out of charge switches to operating as a regular hybrid car, with its gasoline engine in combination with the (dual) electric motors.

The basics are this: the Prime employs a 1.8L gasoline powerplant, which combined with the electric motors yields a net output of 121 horsepower. It’s a front-wheel drive four seater (2+2 configuration) with a CVT transmission, all rolled up in a compact, hatchback body that sports a little more style than the regular Prius.

While the horsepower numbers don’t sound impressive, I never found the car let me down. It handled merging and passing on the highways without causing me a lot of angst or apprehension, and at one point I managed to fit four full-sized adults into it without anyone feeling cramped.

The car is comfortable enough in the driver’s position, with ample overhead space – oh, and hey! – heated seats and a heated steering wheel make for a welcoming environment on cold mornings.

My test car, in a trim level they call Prime Upgrade with an additional Technology package option, gave it a full-featured suite of electronic conveniences with an upgraded audio system and a heads-up display that projected all the pertinent information.

Prime models also get a bigger information screen on the center stack, and satellite navigation system (which is a lifesaver for people like me, I don’t know the area around Toronto/Ajax well at all). Indeed, without the nav system I would probably still be driving up and down the 401).

As for the economy case, even though I was mostly operating in hybrid mode (the fully electric range got used up fairly quickly during highway driving, and the Prime will automatically switch to using the gas engine), I still ended with fuel consumption of only 3.9L/100 km, which actually beats the stated FE number from NRCanada.

When I was just running short distances around Ajax, my fuel consumption was zero, as long I kept it charged; and the hotel I was at (a Garden Inn) provided a bank of Level 2 chargers for guests; which would fully recharge the battery pack in about two-and-a-half hours.

Prime is the only member of the Prius family I hadn’t driven before (or it was, anyway, if you’re following the action from the LA auto, you’ve seen the company introduce and AWD version of the car) and has made itself my personal favorite.

The one seen here, with its Tech package option, came to $38,570

2018 Honda Clarity Touring

Another Home Run from Honda

Back in the day, the guy whose job it was to use the pole with the suction cup on it to rearrange the numbers on gas station’s signs would have been frantically working overtime to keep up with the rapidly changing cost of fuel.

A good-looking PHEV sedan with family-friendly space and cargo room, designed to run on purely electric power as much as possible.

Good thing we live in the future now, and those signs are electronic and can be revised with the touch of a button, making the numbers easy to change as gas prices rocket skyward; fluctuating wildly all the way.

It is times like these that hybrids and pure-electric vehicles attract attention anew, and Honda’s Clarity has been one of my favorites this year.

The car is a plug-in electric vehicle, with the gasoline engine combined with electric motor setup everyone is by now familiar with, but the deal with PHEV vehicles is that the hybrid battery can be recharged by – yes, plugging it in.

Here’s the thing with pluggable hybrids like the Clarity, they can be charged with household current (although that takes a long time, but if you can leave it overnight that will top up the battery), or more quickly with high-voltage Level 2 or Level 3 charging stations. Not everybody has 240v available at their home, of course, but an infrastructure is beginning to develop making the fast chargers available.

These can be few and far between, though, depending on where you live. I think there are a grand total of three such stations in my area (I found one at an Ikea store, and two more at branches of the Edmonton Public Library).

And here’s the salient point: I ended up with an overall fuel economy rating of 1.9L per hundred kilometers driven after putting on about 340 km in mostly city driving, when I was able to keep the Clarity fully charged. That’s insane.

Of course, that number changes when the battery gets low and the car uses the gasoline engine more; you’ll especially notice it on the highway – although even driving from Edmonton to Calgary under mostly gas power, the vehicle still came in at just over 6L/100 km.

A Clarity featured in the recent AJAC EcoRun event won a lot of hearts and minds with this kind of economy, and kudos for remaining an all-round ‘real’ car as well.

Honda touts the model as a ‘no compromise’ vehicle, citing the reassuring presence of the gasoline engine as a counter to range anxiety (which is a real thing, btw. I have driven purely battery-operated vehicles and experienced first hand the lump in the throat that starts when the juice gets low and you still have a fair distance to go).

Wrapped around all the technology, though, is a pretty decent car regardless of the drivetrain.

The one in the photos here is a Touring trim (so, top of the Clarity line), which showed off good people- space inside (along with overall cargo volume), and a comfortable array of surfaces and supports for passengers.

Clarity doesn’t compromise the driving experience, with more-than-ample power and torque (it outdoes a number of competitors, like Hyundai’s Sonata or the Kia Optima PHEVs, and Ford’s soon-departing Fusion Energi) with the combined output from the system rated at 212 hp.

Three major drive modes are selectable, the usual Normal, Eco and Sport choices (and a driver really can feel the difference in response when put into Sport) as well as what Honda has named ‘HV Mode’ – designed for use at highway speeds when the gasoline engine can be used to recharge the hybrid battery.

The price is where potential buyers may get balky, but in areas where rebates are available for purchasing efficient cars (I’ve read that it can be up $14K in some regions, but that doesn’t apply in Alberta), that may be something people can justify. Especially with the fuel saving factored in.

The 2018 Clarity starts at $39,900 for a base model; but the Touring trim test car I used pushes that to $43,900

Pretty neat stuff any way you approach it, and I must admit it’s kind of cool living in the future. Despite the loss of those gas station sign-changer jobs.

 

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.