2018 AJAC EcoRun: fuel efficiency at its finest

MONCTON, New Brunswick – The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada's (AJAC) EcoRun event—now in its seventh year—is an eco-friendly drive that showcases a variety of fuel-efficient vehicles available or soon-to-be available to the public. There are no categories, no separation of mainstream and luxury vehicles, nor any winners decided in the end. The vehicles entered stretch from city cars to trucks and its powertrains come in different forms including pure electrics, conventional and plug-in hybrids, diesels, hydrogen fuel cells and the typical internal combustion engine.

The victors of the EcoRun are the consumers as the event has managed to prove year-after-year that if vehicles are driven with fuel efficiency in mind, they will most likely best the automaker's stated combined fuel economy ratings derived from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan), an EcoRun partner.

For 2018, the EcoRun headed to New Brunswick with 19 AJAC journalists from across the country for a two-day drive around the picturesque province. Just like every year before it, the real-world fuel economy results lead the headlines with a combined 4.86 L/100 km in comparison to NRCan's 6.45 L/100 km.

The results are totally reliant on these AJAC journalists, who mostly chose the vehicles they wished to drive over six legs. Therefore, if a driver happened to coast at key times or conversely drive aggressively (and trust me, it happened), those driving legs would help or hinder the results of that particular vehicle.

A Deeper Look Into the Individual Vehicle Performances

Considering that there were seven CUVs/SUVs on the event, the combined fuel economy rating of 4.86 L/100 km was astounding. Even more so was the 1.59 L/100 km difference from the NRCan ratings, and that was aided by a few vehicles that stood out from the pack.

Typically, the pure gasoline internal combustion engine or diesels are the ones that pop out the most due to a higher combined fuel economy rating. With no battery play and less technology involved, these gas or diesel vehicles have more wiggle room to create a wide disparity in fuel economy, depending on the way they are driven. The largest disparity this year came from the 2018 Mazda6 2.5L SKYACTIV-G with cylinder deactivation technology clocking in at a measly 5.3 L/100 km – 2.7 less than the stated 8.0 combined city/highway figure.

It's an impressive number that successfully shows off the gains that Mazda has made over the years. When looking back at past Mazda6 EcoRun entries for its 2015 and 2016 model years, featuring its 2.5-litre engine and i-ELOOP regenerative braking system, it averaged 6.57 and 6.14 L/100 km, respectively. Those years featured the new SKYACTIV engine, but it was the 2018 model year that made the most environmental impact after the i-ELOOP was dropped.

The Mazda6 proves that the internal combustion engine is still alive and well, but they weren't the only ones. In fact, all the pure gas engines did at least 1.0 L/100 km better than the NRCan rating: Ford EcoSport saved 2.4 (6.0 L/100 km), Volkswagen Jetta 1.7 (7.0 L/100 km), Nissan Kicks 1.3 (5.9 L/100 km) and the Mazda CX-3 at 1.0 (7.2 L/100 km). In addition, the only diesel entry—the Chevrolet Equinox—managed to achieve a 5.8 L/100 km fuel economy rating, 1.6 less than its official rating.

Electrified Stays King, but Takes Time

Gasoline and diesel vehicles impressed during the event, but the pure electrics still ruled the roost when it came to the lowest fuel economy and the biggest reduction to the environment's carbon footprint. Scoring the lowest average were naturally the two electrics in the Chevrolet Bolt EV and the Nissan LEAF, tied with 1.8 Le/100 km.

When taken to the second decimal the Bolt slightly won out, but where it achieved the most praise comes down to its 383-kilometre range compared to 242 in the LEAF. The current-generation LEAF's increase in range will be well appreciated by consumers, but the Bolt was able to avert any charging on Day 2 of the event, eliminating all signs of range anxiety, the biggest thorn to buying a pure electric.

Other highlights come down to the hybrids, which may just be the future “green” solution. Ten of them were on-hand for the event: eight plug-ins (Chrysler Pacifica, Ford Fusion, Honda Clarity, Hyundai Ioniq, Kia Optima, Mercedes-Benz GLC 350e, Mitsubishi Outlander and Toyota Prius Prime) and two conventional hybrids (Lexus LS 500h and Toyota Camry).

On the EcoRun, there isn't enough infrastructure to charge eight plug-ins and two EVs at each stop, so the plug-ins get rotated around with some legs driven on pure gas or a combination of electricity and gas. The plug-ins cause an infrastructure nightmare given its short pure electric range, but those numbers make a difference when fully charged. If the EV range were to be expanded, it would provide more incentive for consumers to consistently charge them up, and it makes you wonder how many just can't be bothered after a while.

During the event, the Clarity had the most EV range at 70.3 kilometres, propelling it to an impressive 2.5 L/100 km average, leading the way of all hybrids. Not surprisingly, the Prius Prime, which had the second-largest EV range, scored the second-lowest average at 2.9 L/100 km (just ahead of the Ioniq at 3.0), however that actually achieved a higher average than its NRCan total of 2.78.

The only other vehicle to do worse than the official rating was the Chrysler Pacifica hybrid. Based on the EcoRun driving legs and its 53-km EV range, an average NRCan rating of 5.5 L/100 km was fixed to the Pacifica during fully charged drives, otherwise the leg was rated against its 7.3 pure gas score. In the legs when it was fully charged, the Pacifica had ratings of 6.7, 5.5 and 4.4; while on pure gas it could only muster a 7.3, 7.0 and 7.5, averaging a total of 6.4 compared to that aforementioned 5.5 number.

It's an anomaly compared to all the other vehicles entered, so one can either look back at those posted numbers or the drivers themselves. Keep in mind that the last leg achieved a 4.4 L/100 km in the longest 135-km stint, so that driver was at least doing something right.

What we Get from the EcoRun

As much as the Pacifica's numbers are an anomaly, so is the AJAC EcoRun, at a time when it's all about the next award. There's a reason the EcoRun has lasted seven years, as it not only showcases various vehicles in the best fuel-efficient light, it also informs consumers that they can save money at the pumps (or completely when buying an EV) by their own driving habits.

Coasting to a stop or on a highway, accelerating gently, driving the posted speed limits, anticipating traffic, as well as not idling are simple techniques that can be applied to one's everyday drive. Sure, AJAC journalists are professionals at what they do and will probably turn off the air conditioning during the event, but those numbers aren't magic and others can achieve those same results and save a lot of money in the process.

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