Be prepared for sticker shock on 2015 models

Not because of the price but because of the fuel consumption ratings

Published: October 23, 2014, 2:05 AM
Updated: November 22, 2021, 4:16 PM

2015 NRCan Fuel Consumption Label

Be prepared for sticker shock when you're checking out the new 2015 model year cars and trucks. Not because of the prices (although that too may be shocking in some cases) but because of the fuel consumption ratings, which may be considerably higher than what you've come to expect.

In the absence of any other vehicle change, the posted fuel consumption rating is likely to be in the order of 15% greater than for last year's comparable model.

Don't get excited about that apparent increase, however, for it hasn't changed the actual fuel economy you're likely to achieve. It's just a more realistic assessment of that real world capability than has been reported in the past.

In Canada, those advertised figures are based on testing approved by Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) and published in its Energuide listings. In the U.S., the figures are published by that country's Environmental protection Agency (EPA).

We all know from our own experience that the published NRCan figures have been unrealistically optimistic. Under ideal circumstances with very careful driving they might be achievable in the real world but it just doesn't happen in ordinary driving – hence the usual caveat, "your mileage may differ."

Beginning with the 2015 model year, NRCan has adopted a new test procedure for determining fuel consumption that results in higher, more realistic ratings, which will come closer to what you might achieve in the real world.

Even a car with no real changes from 2014 to 2015 – for which the actual, real-world fuel consumption doesn't change at all – will show an increased consumption figure, but only because the procedure for testing and reporting it changed.

It's a step the United States took back in 2008, specifically to make the reported numbers more realistic.

Until then, both countries had used a so-called "Two-Cycle" laboratory test procedure for determining fuel consumption ratings: one cycle for city driving and one for highway. At that time, the U.S adopted a new "Five-Cycle" procedure that also took into account the effects of higher operating speeds, lower temperatures and air-conditioning use – all of which are more realistic operating conditions.

For reasons unclear, the Canadian government failed to change its procedures at the same time – in spite of long-held principle to harmonize vehicle standards between the two countries.

That's why, if you took the trouble to convert advertised U.S. mpg figures to L/100 km and compared them to Canadian figures, they didn't match up. That discrepancy is now rectified, effective with the 2015 model year.

Effective with the 2016 model year, a more informative fuel consumption label will be introduced also in Canada. It will include additional information such as the fuel consumption of other models in the same vehicle class and CO2 emissions.

Test procedures

The older Two-Cycle test was originally based on a "Los Angeles" driving regime, with separate fuel consumption ratings determined for City and Highway driving cycles. The tests are conducted in a laboratory at an ambient (surrounding air) temperature between 20 and 30 degrees C, with the vehicle initially stabilized at that temperature.

The City test covers 17.8 km at an average speed of 34 km/h, with a maximum speed of 90 km/h, 23 stops, more than five minutes of idling and relatively light acceleration rates (maximum 5.3 km/h/sec).

The Highway test covers about 16.8 km at an average speed of 78 km/h, with a maximum speed of 97 km/h, no stops and similarly light acceleration rates (maximum 5.2 km/h/sec).

The reported ratings (L/100 km) have been arbitrarily adjusted upwards by 10% (city) and 15% (highway) from the actual test measurements to more accurately reflect real-world results.

The Five-Cycle test added three more cycles to that process, addressing cold starting and operation at -7 degrees C, hot starting and operation at 35 degrees C with air conditioning on, and operation at higher speeds (maximum 129 km/h), with quicker acceleration (maximum 13.6 km/h/sec).

The increased figures that result still may not bring the advertised figures fully into line with your real-world experience, but it will bring them much closer.