Recently, the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) held its annual Eco-Run. This year, it took place out west again—from Vancouver to Victoria and back, with some 20 auto journalists and vehicles participating.
Basically, the point of this event is to demonstrate that, with a little practice and effort, you can drive your automobile and achieve optimum fuel economy, without being a bore about it—like holding up traffic and getting in everyone’s way.
For example, avoiding jackrabbit starts and hard braking, planning your route in advance, not idling your vehicle any more than necessary, keeping your tires properly inflated, servicing your vehicle properly, removing excess weight, reducing highway speed, and using a block heater when it’s cold can result in fuel-cost savings of 10 to 20 percent, according to the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).
“One of the great things about the AJAC Eco-Run is it demonstrates that saving money on fuel—and helping save the environment—is within reach for anyone,” adds the CAA’s managing director of communications and government relations, Ian Jack. “You don’t have to buy an electric vehicle or a hybrid, although there’s nothing wrong with that—you just have to follow some simple tips.”
The vehicles at this year’s run ranged from a full-size Ford F-150 pickup to a BMW X3 xDrive to a Nissan Micra, with a smattering of alternate-fuel vehicles. This latter group included the Kia Soul EV, recently named AJAC’s green car of the year, and the Nissan Leaf, the best-selling fully electric car in Canada.
For those of us who participated, the general idea was to drive as conservatively as possible, while an onboard data gatherer monitored our driving habits, average speeds, and fuel economy. Driving conditions included an extensive wait in line at the ferry terminal, driving through torrential rainfall, climbing up and descending the Malahat Highway, enduring bumper-to-bumper city traffic, and freeway cruising. It was definitely not a race, and drivers were given plenty of time to get from one checkpoint to another.
Anyway, the vehicle that delivered the best fuel economy was, unsurprisingly, the Nissan Leaf, with an overall average of 1.46 L per 100 km. Since this is a fully electric car, this number is kind of arbitrary and reflects the vehicle’s fuel-energy consumption converted to the equivalent litres of gasoline that would be consumed over the same distance. I don’t completely understand it either.
On the other end of the scale, the thirstiest vehicle was the Ford F-150, which makes sense, but right behind it was the Porsche Cayenne e-Hybrid, a plug-in hybrid vehicle that, despite its environmentally correct engineering, still sucks down the petroleum. Cars like the Subaru Legacy, Chev Cruze diesel, and Infiniti Q50 Hybrid were in the middle of the pack, returning overall fuel economies of between 7.05 and 6.70 L per 100 km.
But of the vehicles I drove, I think the one that impressed me the most was the Ford Focus 1.0 L EcoBoost. This is a compact-sized four-door sedan powered by a turbocharged three-cylinder engine that delivers 123 horsepower. That’s right: three cylinders. But it doesn’t feel like it; if you didn’t know any better, you’d think that there was a V6 in the engine bay and power is delivered evenly, cleanly, and without drama. Too often, engines of this size and configuration are stroppy and uncoordinated, surging in and out of their power band and delivering an unsophisticated driving experience. That is definitely not the case here, and over the Eco-Run’s three-day route, the Focus returned fuel economy of 6.16 L per 100 km.
The key to the Focus’s excellent combination of thrift, drivability, and power, as far as I’m concerned, lies in the fact that it features a six-speed manual gearbox. With this arrangement, you can precisely control the vehicle’s performance and fuel consumption. Automatic transmissions, although they are more efficient than ever, still can’t match driver input when it comes to overall performance and drivability. This is why I was so impressed with this one: you could shift gears at relatively low rpms—say, 1,000 to 1,500 rpm—and not lose momentum or speed, and that with a power plant that is smaller than many motorcycle engines. The three-banger in the Focus is a remarkable piece of engineering and in real-world driving, it delivers 8.1 L per 100 km in town and 5.9 L per 100 on the highway, according to Natural Resources Canada.
But, as the Eco-Run demonstrated, you can do better than that.