Efficiency the name of the game

by Jim KerrAuto Tech . Jul 27 2018
Supplied / AJACThe AJAC EcoRun proves with the right driving style you can do better than a vehicle’s advertised fuel economy.

Supplied / AJAC

The AJAC EcoRun proves with the right driving style you can do better than a vehicle’s advertised fuel economy.

EcoRun, an event hosted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) went to New Brunswick for its seventh annual showcase of fuel-efficient vehicles.

Nineteen vehicles ranging from economy compacts to luxury coupes were driven by AJAC members on the highways and back roads of New Brunswick over two days.

Vehicle powertrains included pure electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, conventional hybrids, diesel engines, hydrogen fuel cells and gasoline engines. Actual fuel economy figures were recorded and compared to the window sticker ratings provided by Natural Resources Canada (NRCAN). The results surprised me.

On Day 1 of EcoRun, I drove three distinctly different vehicles: a Mazda CX-3 powered by a conventional gasoline engine, a Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid vehicle and the Nissan Leaf electric. Comparing the three proved enlightening.

The goal was to drive for economy but maintain a realistic driving style. On the highway, I often set the cruise control at the speed limit but would switch it off if there were hills to better control slight speed increases and deceleration. Air conditioning was on most of the time, but to save some fuel, the AC compressor was switched off if the interior was cool.

I started at Moncton city hall driving the Mazda CX-3. The Mazda performed perfectly on the rolling terrain as we climbed to the checkpoint at Snider Mountain Ranch, a beautiful summer camp for youth. During my drive, the CX-3 was very comfortable and quiet. I achieved 6.9 litres per 100 kilometres, well under the 8.2 L/100 km rating from NRCAN. The CX-3 proved you can get very good fuel economy without the expense or complicated technology of hybrid or electric vehicles, plus it was a fun vehicle to drive.

Next came the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV. The cluster showed a range of 26 kilometres on pure electric power before I would need the gas engine. Using the paddle shifters on the steering column to control the regenerative braking levels of one through five (max is five), I was able to increase that range to 31 kilometres as I left Snider Mountain Ranch. Most of the drive was on the highway as we headed to Fredericton and lunch.

I must confess I didn’t use the cruise control much on this section of the drive and I experimented with the regenerative braking features of the Outlander. Level 5 regen slows the vehicle like you were stepping on the brake pedal. In electric mode, the Outlander cruises effortlessly on the highway and when I ran the battery down, the gas engine cut in smoothly. A button on the console allows driver control of battery charging from the gas engine and with a little more experience with it, I could have driven more efficiently. But even so, I achieved 5.1 L/100 km, better than NRCAN’s 6.2 L/100 km rating.

The final vehicle of the day was the Nissan Leaf, with about a 130-kilometre drive on the highway from Fredericton to Saint John. Because other drivers had depleted the Leaf battery, I was left behind for about an hour while the Leaf was charged at a public charging station. This showed a shortcoming of electric vehicles for longer-distance highway travel, but it did give me the opportunity to enjoy the city’s riverfront walking paths. With a 159-kilometre range showing on the Leaf instrument cluster, we unplugged and headed to Saint John.

The Leaf cruises effortlessly on the highway and acceleration is good. I watched the range indicator drop as we drove, but it was always higher than the navigation system showed the distance to our destination, so I wasn’t worried. There is some gear whine from the powertrain when decelerating and accelerating but otherwise, the Leaf is very quiet inside and cruises effortlessly. I set the cruise at 100 km/h and achieved the equivalent of 1.7 L/100 km, better than NRCAN rating of 2.1 L/100 km.

Overall, the combined fuel economy of all Journalists was 1.59 L/100 km better than the NRCAN rating for all 19 vehicles, which shows that it really is possible to achieve or better the NRCAN ratings on the window stickers with some smooth driving techniques. Drive at the speed limit, accelerate smoothly, avoid passing other vehicles and brake only when necessary. Not only do you save yourself money, the drive is also more relaxing and enjoyable.

You can see all the vehicles, drivers and results at ajac.ca/eco-run.