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APA at the 2018 AJAC EcoRun

By: Ron Corbett, APA Staff Writer

 

EcoRun banner affixed to each particpating vehicle 

2019 marked the seventh consecutive EcoRun organized by the Automobile Journalists of Canada (AJAC),  and the first time the event took place in eastern Canada. Of the 19 vehicles involved in the six performance legs of the EcoRun this year, two were full electrics, eight were plug-in hybrids, two were conventional hybrids, and five were conventional gasoline engined vehicles. Also participating was a lone diesel and one vehicle powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Each AJAC writer was assigned to a different vehicle for the six legs of the event. Compared to my first EcoRun in 2016, plug-in hybrid vehicles have proliferated, and astoundingly, there has been an impressive increase in the fuel economy of conventional gasoline cars. Of the 20 AJAC writers taking part in the 2018 EcoRun, I achieved a fifth place rating for fuel parsimony.

 

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold is flanked by New Brunswick Finance Minister Cathy Rogers and EcoRun Co-Chairman, David Miller

New Brunswick was able to host the 2018 EcoRun as a result of its installation of an electric vehicle recharging network over the past few years. With 30 level 2 (240 volt) and 18 level 3 (400 volt) charging stations in operation, 95 percent of the province is accessible to electric car owners; there are ambitious plans for a network of 2500 charging points by 2020. 

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold waves off participating vehicles with the green EcoRun flag

 

Chevrolet Equinox diesel

Currently the only diesel-powered non-prestige crossover on the market, the high-torque Chevrolet Equinox diesel delivered effortless, flexible power from a standstill and in typical driving, but incremental speed gains on the highway were more languid. GM has gone to great lengths to ensure impressive refinement from its 1.6L diesel that is available in both the Equinox and Terrain crossovers as well as in Cruze compact car.

Fuel consumption of 6.8L/100 km on the first EcoRun leg was higher than the 5.8L/100 km logged by the vehicle of the run but lower than the 7.4L/100 km NRCan figure.
 

The 1L three-cylinder turbo powering this Ford EcoSport proved to be very frugal

Assembled in India (!), the Ford EcoSport, first introduced for the 2013 model year, arrived in Canada in 2018, co-inciding with a major facelift the for model. 

The EcoRun EcoSport was powered by a 1L turbo three-cylinder gas turbo engine that produces 123 horsepower and a similar torque figure. The engine is flexible, delivers more than sufficient urge and except for an occasional mild boom period, is smooth and quiet. The conventional six-speed automatic transmission works very well with this engine which is turning over at only 2000 rpm at 100 kilometres per hour. The steering is nicely weighted and precise and the ride-handling balance is well sorted.

The cabin features clear gauges and logical controls, with Ford's Sync3 touch screen interface working very well indeed. Front passengers are treated to comfortable seating and plenty of room, but rear seat legroom trails that of other micro-crossovers by a wide margin. Strong air-conditioning and a tuneful audio system delivered comfort and good company on the range-topping Titanium trim driven. Though the cabin boasts all manner of equipment and "luxury" touches like leather upholstery, the quality and appearance of various cabin components is uneven and the look is unimpressive. Cargo space is good and is accessed by an "old school" side hinged doorgate.

Fuel consumption of 6L/100 km matched the overall EcoRun total and was considerably less than the 8.4L/100 km NRCan figure.

 

The Nissan Kicks is very easy on fuel despite its very conventional drivetrain (AJAC Photo)

Though it looks like a crossover, the front-wheel-drive-only Kicks is essentially a tall hatchback. Nissan supplied the range-topping SR model for the EcoRun. In town, the 1.6L four is smooth, quiet and flexible. The powertrain gains speed quickly enough, the car is a serene cruiser and the CVT works well with the engine. With quick steering, the Kicks feels light and nimble in town but it transitions toward detached at highway speeds, and lacks a definite centre point, making the car feel slightly nervous at cruising speeds. Handling lacks any sense of engagement but the Kicks compensates for its lack of verve in the curves with a supple ride.

The cabin is assembled from attractive, matte-finished hard plastic trim. With clear gauges, a large dash touch screen and straightforward climate controls, drivers quickly acclimatize to the Kicks. Seating is comfortable front and rear and legroom for both rows of seats is impressive for a car of its size. Kicks trunk volume borders on vast for a vehicle this small. The performance of the audio system on the range-topping SR model was astonishingly good.

Fuel consumption of 5.9L/100 km on the third leg of the run matched that of the overall EcoRun consumption figure and was less than the 7.2L/100 km NRCan figure. 

The Ford Fusion Energi is smooth, quiet, luxurious and economical

The Energi plug-in hybrid version of the Fusion combines a 141 horsepower 2L gasoline four and an electric motor to produce a total system output of 188 horsepower. Fully charged and under ideal conditions, the Fusion Energi can travel up to around 40 kilometres under pure electric power, after which it reverts to conventional hybrid operation. Power reaches the front wheels via a CVT. If you are interested in the Fusion Energi, you should act quickly as Ford has announced it is discontinuing the car as it abandons the passenger car market in North America.

The result of the combined efforts of the powertrain elements is quick, quiet, acceleration and relaxed cruising. The rest of the Fusion reflects very careful development that puts it ahead of some luxury cars in terms of ride, handling and refinement. However, like the (now discontinued) Ford C-Max Energi, the poor packaging of the enormous battery pack consumes much of the trunk of the Fusion, leaving cargo space at a premium. 

Leaving Saint-John with a full charge, the Fusion Energi plug-in achieved a fuel consumption figure of 2.4L/100 km in mostly electric mode. The impressive EcoRun overall fuel consumption figure of 4.2L/100 km figure matched the NRCan rating for the car.    

EcoRun cars at rest in New River Beach, New Brunswick

Kia's Optima PHEV plug-in successfully reconciles speed, space and frugality (AJAC Photo)

The Optima plug-in combines a 155 horsepower 2L four and a 66 horsepower electric motor for 202 total system horsepower. Under ideal conditions, the range of the Optima plug-in on fully electric power is 47 kilometres. Power reaches the front wheels via a conventional six-speed automatic transmission.

The plug-in powertrain shuffles power around seamlessly, is quick and quiet, and with its conventional automatic transmission, is surprisingly normal to drive. The steering is light, detached feeling and requires some concentration to keep the car running true on the highway. Mechanical and wind noise are well suppressed, but road noise is more prominent than expected from a car in this segment.

Like most Kia's the cabin is elegant with clear displays and very logical controls. The interior is vast and seating is supportive. Unlike the Fusion Energi, which cedes most of its trunk space to its battery pack, clever packaging of the Optima plug-in results in a roomy cabin and commodious trunk.

Starting with a depleted battery pack on the fifth leg of the EcoRun, the Optima PHEV logged 5.5L/100 km in my hands, versus its best leg of 1.9L/100 km, the 4.1L/100 km EcoRun average and the 4.2L/100 km NRCan rating.

The new Volkswagen Jetta logged remarkable fuel economy on the last leg of the EcoRun 

Just recently on sale, the new-for-2019 Volkswagen Jetta was a participant in the EcoRun this year. Like the current Golf and most newer VW's, the Jetta is based on the new MQB platform.

The EcoRun Jetta was powered by a turbocharged 1.4L four that produces 147 horsepower and a stout 184 lb.ft. of torque. The turbo four is mated to an eight-speed conventional automatic transmission.
The engine is strong, smooth, very flexible and refined. The Jetta's steering is lighter than some would prefer, but is accurate and holds its line well on the highway; steering assist is adjustable on higher trim levels. Handling lacks engagement but the Jetta's ride is very supple. With a smooth powertrain and well-suppressed road and wind noise, the Jetta is a terrific highway car. 

The design and materials of the new cabin are big improvements over its lacklustre predecessor. The Exceline Jetta supplied for the EcoRun was equipped with VW's Digital Cockpit, with a Transistor Film Technology (TFT) screen that can be configured in numerous ways. The rest of the cabin uses various bits, including VW's very good infotainment screen, purloined from other VW models. Seating is comfortable front and rear. Front seat occupants enjoy good space but rear seat legroom is class average.

The Jetta logged a 4.7L/100 km consumption figure on the last leg of the EcoRun, which was comfortably less than the 5.3L/100 km EcoRun overall average and considerably less than the 7L/100 km NRCan figure.

Summary 
The need to stop and top up the batteries meant that the EcoRun took two days complete a route that most people could comfortably complete in a single day in a gasoline or a hybrid vehicle. That said, the range of newer pure electric vehicles has been improving steadily, making ownership of a battery electric vehicle (BEV) increasingly viable. Furthermore, various plug-in hybrids now offer sufficient range to allow many drivers to complete their daily commute solely in electric mode, an appealing prospect especially when you factor in the lack of range anxiety which is always in the background when driving a pure BEV.

Though the technology of the various electric and hybrid vehicles showcased was dazzling, the fuel economy logged by some of the strictly conventional internal combustion engine vehicles that were on the EcoRun was astonishingly low. The increasing frugality of conventional cars clearly demonstrates that internal combustion gasoline engines will remain a viable technology for the forseeable future. 

As for advanced technology vehicles, large rebates offered to electric and plug-in hybrid buyers in Quebec, British Columbia, and previously, Ontario, have done much to spur sales of the vehicles in those jurisdictions. While Quebec and B.C. are still big supporters of electrification, Ontario has literally pulled the plug on taxpayer assistance and has cancelled all rebates for electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in Canada's most populace province. In provinces without subisidies for electric cars, only the most dedicated green vehicle enthusiasts will ignore the lack of an economic payoff for opting for the technology and buy anyway. Higher gasoline prices in the last year or so have made conventional (non plugin) hybrids look interesting once again. If you keep the vehicle long enough, they offer solid fuel savings over conventional vehicles and those savings can eventually offset the higher initial acquistion cost of the vehicle.