AJAC EcoRun more than just a drive in the country

Smooth driving habits, advanced technologies combine to reduce driving costs

Published: July 4, 2019, 6:30 PM
Updated: October 11, 2021, 10:03 AM

2019 AJAC EcoRun - (Credit: AJAC/John Walker)

CALGARY – The eighth edition of the recently completed AJAC (Automobile Journalists Association of Canada) EcoRun continued the event’s tradition of demonstrating to Canadians that adjusting driving habits and techniques results in significant savings in their transportation budgets. The participating group of 20 vehicles, which included pure electric cars, plug-in hybrids, gas-electric hybrids, conventional combustion power, a diesel pickup and even a hydrogen fuel-cell-powered EV, matched or improved (with two exceptions that missed the mark by just a tenth or two of a litre) on the official NRCan fuel consumption ratings.

Significantly, the 20 AJAC members, who rotated through various vehicles over the six legs of the 2-day, 877-km drive that wound its way through Alberta from Edmonton to Red Deer, Drumheller, Longview, Banff and Calgary, were able to reduce the overall fuel consumption average to 4.7 litres/100 km, compared to NRCan’s average for the fleet of 5.59 L/100 km. While EcoRun consumption rates have been steadily improving over its eight years of existence, the 2019 results mark the first time the event’s overall average has broken the 5.0 L/100 km milestone.

The drivers managed to achieve the impressive fuel consumption rates by simply adjusting their driving techniques to a more fuel efficient mode, including such steps as adhering to the posted speed limits, minimizing hard acceleration at launch, looking ahead and planning stopping, merging and passing manoeuvres in a more fuel efficient manner – techniques that any driver can adopt, regardless of the age and make of their vehicle.

In addition to testing the vehicles’ fuel efficiency in real-world conditions, one of the other goals of EcoRun is to showcase the latest offerings from automakers, so consumers who are looking for more fuel-efficient or alternative-fuel vehicles can make informed choices when shopping for a new ride. This year’s fleet of participants certainly met that target.

For example, the 2020 Ford Explorer, a full-size SUV with three rows of seating and plenty of grunt, yet impressively efficient, won’t be in showrooms until the fall. Its model lineup includes a gas/electric hybrid that tows up to 2,268 kg. While NRCan hasn’t announced official consumption ratings for the hybrid, it achieved 7.2 L/100 km on the final leg of EcoRun, a mainly highway run from Banff to Calgary, and 8.0 overall for the event.

Hyundai not only fielded a conventional gas-powered Elantra and its impressive new Kona EV, the company also added its hydrogen fuel-cell-powered Nexo for three legs of the event. The absence of a hydrogen fuelling station within range of the event route limited the Nexo’s ability to complete the entire run, but it certainly made a positive impression with the drivers who had an opportunity to drive this new vehicle.

Over the lifespan of EcoRun, significant improvements in alternative-fuel vehicles have been achieved by the manufacturers, especially in electric models. Battery size and range have increased while recharging times have dropped.

At the same time, supporting infrastructure has increased, with the number of recharging stations growing almost daily, making it possible for EVs to travel extended distances. Even in oil-rich Alberta, corporate and government at all three levels are working to bring more charging sites on stream.

When EcoRun started eight years ago, the limited range of EVs meant short driving legs, interrupted by frequent, lengthy charging stops. The lack of infrastructure meant it was necessary for AJAC to haul along a diesel generator to give the EVs enough boost to get to the next stop. This year, the organizers were able to map out a route that included more practical distances between stops – and charging stations eliminated the need for the generator. In Edmonton, for example, the Rogers Centre complex has multiple charging posts installed in its underground parking garage (although several units ended up malfunctioning). In Calgary, a downtown civic parking garage featured 15 stations. The ATCO charging station at a Canadian Tire outlet in Red Deer was ideally located to give the EVs in our fleet the necessary boost.

Reflecting the growing interest and practicality of EVs, five pure electric vehicles participated in this year’s EcoRun, including the luxurious Jaguar I-Pace; the perky Chevy Bolt; the Kona’s cousin, the Kia Niro EV, and the newly upgraded Nissan Leaf Plus SL. Additionally, Mitsubishi entered its plug-in hybrid Outlander, which posted the best score for an SUV with a 5.2 L/100 km overall. The Toyota Rav4 hybrid was close behind, posting a 5.4.

For those consumers who prefer to stick with conventional gas-powered vehicles, it’s worth noting the modern efficiency technologies built into the latest crop of such vehicles produces surprising consumption rates, especially when compared with the more costly hybrid models. The Elantra, for example, posted a best leg score of 4.3 L/100 km, while its overall average was 4.4. Its NRCan rating is 6.8.

Mazda entered a pair of Mazda3s – one a hatchback with all-wheel drive; the other a front-wheel-drive sedan. The AWD model finished the event with a 5.4 L/100km total, while its sister car was 5.7. Compare those ratings with the NRCan listings of 8.2 and 8.0, respectively. The diesel-powered Chevrolet Colorado pickup also achieved dramatically better efficiency than its official government rating of 10.5 L/100 km. On one leg, a driver achieved a 6.6 consumption rate and overall, the Chevy posted a 7.2.

These are just a handful of examples where technology and smooth, sensible driving techniques combined to generate impressive results. Check out the listing below for vehicle-by-vehicle results. If you’re in the market for a new car, crossover, SUV or truck, there are fuel-efficient powertrains in nearly every category in the marketplace. Combine those choices with more efficient driving habits and your transportation budget will definitely be less painful.                

2019 AJAC EcoRun fuel consumption by vehicle

EcoRun Vehicles L1:
Chevrolet Bolt 2.2 2.0 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.6 1.8 2.0
Chevrolet Colorado Diesel 7.5 6.6 6.7 7.8 7.1 7.6 7.2 10.5
Ford Explorer Hybrid 8.0 7.7 8.0 8.8 8.4 7.2 8.0 TBC
Hyundai Elantra X X X 4.3 4.5 4.4 4.4 6.8
Hyundai Kona EV 1.9 1.6 1.8 1.7 1.6 1.7 1.7 2.0
Hyundai Nexo 4.0 3.9 3.9 X X X 3.9 4.1
Infiniti QX50 7.0 7.0 7.3 8.1 6.3 7.5 7.2 9.0
Jaguar I-Pace 3.1 3.4 X 3.1 X 2.9 3.1 3.1
Kia Niro EV 2.3 1.8 1.9 1.7 1.7 1.8 1.9 2.1
Lexus UX 250h 4.9 4.8 4.9 5.3 5.1 5.3 5.1 5.6
Mazda3 GS AWD 5.1 5.1 5.9 5.8 5.5 5.2 5.4 8.2
Mazda3 GS FWD 7.8 4.6 5.6 5.6 5.0 5.7 5.7 8.0
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV 6.0 5.0 5.5 3.6 5.4 5.8 5.2 6.2*
Nissan Altima 5.1 5.4 6.1 5.7 5.9 5.8 5.7 7.5
Nissan Leaf Plus 2.1 2.0 2.2 2.2 2.5 2.0 2.2 2.2
Toyota Corolla Hybrid 4.2 3.6 4.1 3.9 3.7 3.2 3.8 4.5
Toyota Prius AWD 3.6 3.3 3.6 3.7 3.7 4.1 3.7 4.7
Toyota Rav4 Hybrid 5.5 5.2 5.4 5.1 5.8 5.1 5.4 6.0
Volvo XC60 T8 5.4 6.7 6.5 6.6 6.7 7.4 6.6 6.5*
Volvo XC90 TB 7.8 7.6 7.4 5.4 6.9 7.1 7.0 7.2*
AVG Consumption             4.7 5.59