The Masters golf tournament awards a prestigious green jacket, and the Tour de France has yellow jerseys for stage and overall cycling winners. And now the 2013 AJAC Eco-Run rally – that test drove 22 fuel-saving vehicles from Ottawa to Montreal this year – has a Canadian equivalent: the coveted Green Jersey.
The jersey is a new competitive wrinkle of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada annual Eco-Run event, which highlights some of the most fuel-efficient and planet-friendly vehicles in their respective classes, cars and trucks that may easily become overshadowed by faster, newer and more headline-grabbing machines.
The Green Jersey was meant to encourage all participating AJAC drivers to drive with fuel economy in mind, and it seemed to work. Whereas last year, event organizers were encouraging us to watch our heavy right feet, this year there was a reminder to keep it at least within the realm of the speed limit.
A competitive bunch, us auto media types, no matter the speed – or lack thereof.
My Green Jersey win was a surprise to many, including myself, since a Green Jersey T-shirt had been handed out to two other drivers earlier as recognition for their stellar hyper-miling efforts, making them front-runners for the overall title.
After a brief city drive, the first recipient, Gerry Frechette from RPM magazine, received his green T-shirt from Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver as part of the event's ceremonial green flag press conference, where the minister discussed new fuel economy labels that are in the works to better reflect the potential cost savings and emissions reductions by advanced technology vehicles such as these, though he didn't specify when they'd arrive.
Steven Bochenek, of Autos.ca, garnered the next day's Green Jersey, at the start of the second day of our three-day roundabout route from Ottawa to Montreal, with stops near Parliament Hill, and at the advanced PMG test track and crash test facility in Blainville, Que. With those stops, our convoy took two days to complete an Ottawa-to-Montreal drive that usually takes two hours, which allowed us plenty of time to sample the various hybrids, pure electric cars, plug-in hybrids, diesels or advanced technology gasoline vehicles on five separate route legs.
And when you're trying to minimize your fuel bills, leaving early and driving conservatively will help you with any vehicle, no matter its power source.
Granted, we had a few high-tech aids to help us lower our fuel consumption, as well as accurately measure that real-world fuel efficiency. Eco-Run drivers before the event were asked to take an online course at ecodrivingonline.ca, which promises to reduce your fuel bill by up to 25 per cent by "greening" your driving style.
The half-hour online tutorial included some fairly obvious fuel-saving tips, such as reduce air conditioning use, keep to speed limits and avoid heavy right-foot inputs. But taking a full five seconds from rest to reach cruising speed takes practice for most, or remembering to check tire pressures regularly, or removing roof racks or fuel-sucking weight from your trunk.
To measure how well we applied such tips, each vehicle was fitted with advanced data loggers by Waterloo-based CrossChasm Technologies, which connected to the OBD II port in each car to record detailed acceleration, braking and fuel consumption use. The information was then wirelessly transmitted, parsed and analyzed to produce an eco score, based on the firm's software, which it uses to help fleets and consumers analyze and reduce their fuel bills. In this case, it not only graded our individual eco-driving ability, but also helped us see patterns among the different types of green cars, especially when comparing their real-world (if gently driven) numbers to their official Canadian fuel consumption figures.
Perhaps most surprising, unless you read about the inaugural Eco-Run last year, was that the majority of these cars actually achieved the official numbers published in the federal government's 2013 Fuel Consumption Guide. Of the 17 vehicles that were data logged and have published NRC numbers, eight produced overall event-wide combined city and highway averages that landed in between their published city and highway range, or exactly on its combined FCG figure.
"What we see in the data is that, in good weather, a driver that is focused on getting really good fuel economy can get within the NR Can range," wrote CrossChasm's CEO Matt Stevens in an e-mail after the event. "It is becoming clear that some vehicles are far more sensitive then others to certain tweaks to the driving conditions … slightly aggressive driver, air conditioner on, high speeds, stop/go traffic – it varies heavily by vehicle."
Five vehicles actually used less fuel than the FCG figures, split between gas, plug-in hybrid and BEV models. So take a bow, Smart fortwo ED, Subaru Forester, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Ford Fusion Energi and Mazda6 SkyActiv, you performed above and beyond in this test. This doesn't mean that these vehicles used the least amount of fuel overall, but that they exceeded expectations when compared to the unrealistically optimistic figures that even the federal government concedes could "better approximate real-world performance," according to NR Canada's website.
Then there were those that fell below the Canadian government's generous fuel efficiency ratings, even though the routes were largely made up (more than 90 per cent) of highway driving, on temperate days, with little heavy traffic outside the short city portions. That highway heaviness likely hurt the regular hybrids as a group, as their stop/start systems and regenerative braking tend to boost fuel economy most in the city. Of the five (non-plug-in) hybrids rated, only the Infiniti M35h fell within its official FCG efficiency range.
2013 AJAC Eco-Run Fuel Consumption Summary
|Fuel Consumption (L/100km)||.||NR Canada Ratings (L/100km)|
|Ford Focus EV||1.81||1.74||1.78||1.7||2.0||1.8|
|smart fortwo electric drive||1.35||1.54||1.50||1.5||2.1||1.8|
|Electric Vehicle Average||1.45||1.50||1.50||1.7||2.2||1.9|
|Ford Fusion Energi||1.65||4.12||3.44||4.3||4.7||4.5|
|Honda Accord Plug-in Hybrid||2.63||4.38||3.91||4.0||4.2||4.1|
|Plug-in Hybrid Average||1.54||1.53||1.81||5.0||4.8||4.9|
|Ford C-MAX Hybrid||5.93||5.08||5.39||4.0||4.1||4.0|
|Hyundai Sonata Hybrid||6.08||6.63||6.54||5.5||4.6||5.1|
|Toyota Prius v||4.98||5.05||5.09||4.3||4.8||4.5|
|Volkswagen Jetta Turbocharged Hybrid||5.41||4.68||4.95||4.5||4.2||4.4|
|Kia Rio LX + ECO||7.16||6.04||6.44||6.8||5.4||6.2|
|Ram 1500 HFE||11.06||9.18||9.84||11.4||7.8||9.8|
|Chevrolet Cruze Diesel||7.81||4.99||5.88||7.5||4.2||6.0|
|Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC||7.43||5.92||6.44||8.3||5.9||7.2|
|Porsche Cayenne Diesel||8.90||7.95||8.32||10.8||6.7||9.0|
Correction: The figures in the chart above have been changed to reflect new information supplied by AJAC. Specifically, some of the Accord Plug-In Hybrid and Volkswagen Jetta Turbocharged Hybrid figures were wrong, which affected the averages as well.