Feature: AJAC Eco Run, Part II: The Vehicles porsche mercedes benz mazda lexus kia green scene ford auto articles chevrolet
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Preview: AJAC Brighton to London Eco Run
Feature: AJAC Eco-Run, Part I: The Events

Review by Mike Schlee, photos by Mike Schlee and AJAC

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AJAC Eco Run – The Cars
AJAC Eco Run – The Cars

Earlier this week I posted a story about my experiences and insights gained during the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada Eco-Run. During the three-day event I had the chance to drive seven different vehicles with one goal in mind: achieve the best possible mileage without excessive hypermiling.  Although I didn’t have the opportunity to drive a pure electric vehicle during this run, I was able to test a good cross-section of vehicles featuring a slew of hybrid powertrains, turbochargers, superchargers, and direct injection.  Ranging in price from $20,220 to in excess of $110,000, I sampled both ends of the automotive spectrum and found “green” technology is being applied to all forms of vehicles these days with differing degrees of success.

1st Leg: 2012 Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG

The first car I drove may seem like the most out of place vehicle in the test.  Why is there a 549-hp twin-turbocharged V8 super luxury sedan driving around with the likes of the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i-MiEV?  What could a 1,870-kg executive yacht have to do with being green?  Well, simply put, it was to demonstrate that fuel-saving technology can be applied to any car, even luxury sport sedans.

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For 2012 the AMG CLS 63 dumps the naturally aspirated 6.2L V8 and replaces it with a twin-turbocharged 5.5L unit.  Featuring direct injection and auto stop-start technology, the new CLS 63 AMG is reputed to offer improved performance and fuel economy.  Rated at an official 13.6 L/100 km city and 8.6 L/100 km city, I was able to achieve 10.8 L/100 km in my stint with it, driven exclusively with ECO mode selected.  For the record, the best mileage achieved in this brute during the Eco-Run was an impressive 9.7 L/100 km on the final day.

During my brief, slow drive with the vehicle I was still able to achieve enough g-force to activate the side bolsters that stiffen and adjust in corners to help counteract those forces.  I appreciated the very comfortable seats and the nice faux suede roof liner.  Since we were just puttering along, stereo systems began to have a greater importance to me and here the big CLS did not disappoint, with a crisp powerful sound coming from the 610-watt Harman/Kardon unit.

I do have one confession to make though.  I couldn’t resist the urge to hammer the gas down at least once.  I mean, c’mon, I was in a freakin’ AMG CLS with the AMG Performance Package.  How could I resist?  In my two-second break from the Eco-Run prudence, I found the V8 that sounds amazing at 1,000 rpm sounds downright euphoric at 5,000 rpm… and that 285-mm-wide tires are no match for wet roads.

2nd Leg: 2012 Chevrolet Cruze Eco

Of all the cars I drove, the Chevrolet Cruze Eco was the cheapest, had the only manual transmission, featured the least green technology and surprised me the most.  How did they do it?  Simple… as in keeping things simple.  Starting at just a hair over $20,000, the Cruze Eco features a 1.4L 148-hp turbocharged four-cylinder engine paired to a six-speed manual transmission.  Weighing in at 1,365 kg, the Cruze achieves an official Government of Canada fuel efficiency rating of 7.2 L/100 km city and 4.6 L/100 km highway thanks in part to tall gearing (80 km/h @ 1500 rpm in 6th gear).

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During my time behind the wheel I was able to achieve 4.7 L/100 km in a mix of city and highway driving.  With the turbocharged motor acting more like a diesel than a gasoline engine, I was able to keep the engine below 2,000 rpm and perform constant skip shifts (1st to 3rd, 4th to 6th, etc).  With a gear box as smooth and easy to use as the Cruze’s six-speed, this was easily accomplished and produced minimal engine chugging.

Having driven the Cruze previously, many of my initial observations remained true.  The front seats are comfortable, but seem to push me a bit too far forward in a slumped position.  The ride is solid and the overall feel of the vehicle is even more solid.  With the Eco wheels and tires, the Cruze gives up some of the handling prowess of the Cruze RS I drove last fall, but is still a decent handling machine.

The best the Cruze achieved during the Eco-Run was an impressive 4.4 L/100 km on the final run of the event, making many consider the question, “Is a hybrid worth the extra money?”  I’ll even go so far as to say that all factors considered, including price, for me personally this was the Eco-Champion.

3rd Leg: 2013 Ford Escape SE 4WD 1.6L EcoBoost

Discounting the two not-for-sale prototypes that were included in AJAC’s Eco-Run, the 2013 Ford Escape was the newest vehicle there.  With less than 1,000 km on its odometer, the Escape was not fully broken in yet and fuel economy suffered for it.  Not yet officially rated by the Government of Canada, the Ford Escape achieved a mediocre 7.9 L/100 km in my time with it.  In talking with a few other AJAC members that drove the Escape, none achieved much better than that figure.

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All new for 2013, the Ford Escape features two new turbocharged engines joining the carryover 2.5L naturally aspirated unit.  The vehicle driven for the Eco-Run was the SE 4WD Escape equipped with the all-new 1.6L 178-hp turbocharged four-cylinder unit.  Paired to a six-speed automatic, the 1,657 kg Escape SE sends power to all four wheels, which hurt the observed fuel economy to a degree.

Inside the new Escape, the interior is squarer then the curvaceous new exterior lets on, which is a good thing as many consumers appreciated the old Escape’s boxy shape.  The front seats are comfortable but I found the radio and HVAC controls took some getting used to.  Although a point of controversy, I quite like the two-tone interior and found it to be refreshing as opposed to infuriating.

When merging onto Highway 401 I had to get on throttle momentarily and found there to be good power.  It is noticeably more powerful than the Mazda CX-5 GS I drove even with the extra weight of the all-wheel-drive system.

4th Leg: 2012 Porsche Panamera S Hybrid

During my two-plus-hour drive in the Panamera S Hybrid, I felt like someone who had been locked in a cage and was starving to death while a nice juicy hamburger sat mere inches away from me just out of my reach.  You see, I had the Panamera S Hybrid during the dreaded East Toronto–to–Oakville run using the painfully congested Dundas Street exclusively.  When all was said and done, I obtained a pedestrian 20 km/h average speed and achieved 9.7 L/100 km in the hybrid Porsche, which on the surface may seem poor since the Panamera achieves 7.1 L/100 km in the combined European cycle.  However, on two separate runs that did not include extensive crawling through traffic, the Panamera achieved an astounding 6.8 L/100 km.  Remember, this is a 1,980-kg sport sedan that features a powertrain equipped with both a supercharger and an electric motor.

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At the heart of this behemoth Porsche lies the 3.0L supercharged V6 found in a range of Audi products like the S4 and A6. Unlike in the Audi, this engine is fused together with an electric motor that brings total output to 380 hp and a whopping 580 lb-ft of torque.  All of this power is sent to the rear wheels via an eight-speed automatic.  At one intersection I did find myself in the wrong lane and had to give a squirt of throttle to merge over in time.  The way the power comes on is more akin to thrust then throttle; in a quick whoosh I was hustling through the intersection at arrest-me speeds.

Inside, the front seats nicely hug you, but do not feature the usual luxury-car array of electric adjustments.  The gauge cluster looks great and the interior has an overall aura of feeling expensive.  It is not all good news inside the Panamera, though, as the stereo is infuriating.  To use a USB or Bluetooth audio source, you need to access the Disc (CD) screen.  But the Disc screen cannot be accessed without a CD in the CD player.  If someone disables these inputs, you are out of luck without a CD.  If I want to listen to Bluetooth audio, why would I have a CD with me?  Oh well.

The biggest surprise for me in this plus-sized Porsche though is how early and how often it will shut down the gasoline engine.  Lift off the gas and the engine will shut down immediately.  Gently reapply the gas and you can cruise on battery power for long periods of time.  In the 2 hours I was driving the vehicle I would wager I spent 30 minutes in pure EV mode and another 30 minutes with the engine off while sitting at red lights.  If you need a super sedan as much as you care for the environment, here is your ride.

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5th Leg: 2012 Lexus CT 200h

I drove my first economically oriented hybrid to end the second day of the AJAC Eco-Run: the 2012 Lexus CT 200h.  Using the same technology found in the Toyota Prius, the Lexus did not disappoint in my quest to achieve outstanding fuel economy.  With a self-set goal to achieve under 4.0 L/100 km, I came so close and ended my run at exactly that, 4.0 L/100 km.  Considering the combined rating of this hybrid is 4.6 L/100 km, I was more than satisfied.  A fellow AJAC member was able to achieve a ridiculously frugal 3.7 L/100 km on the final run from Woodstock to London.

The secret to achieving maximum fuel economy lies in the EV mode.  The CT 200h can drive in purely electric EV mode as long as you stay below 40 km/h and are gentle with the gas.  I would constantly try to keep it in EV mode as long as possible when leaving from a dead stop and would push the button to manually reenter EV mode anytime my speed dipped below 40 km/h.  I drove the final 0.8 km in EV mode as it was looping around various streets on the McMaster University campus.

Inside the CT 200h, the seating position is comfortable, but could feel a bit snug for some drivers as the center console sits high.  The radio features an old school 1990s-like display, but was still equipped with satellite radio and very good sound quality.  The dashboard is hard plastic except for one section on top of the gauge cluster.  The compact Lexus could easily seat four adults in relative comfort but that would further reduce rearward visibility out of the small rear window.

The Lexus CT 200h is all about fuel economy and with only 134 hp from its 1.8L hybrid powertrain, performance suffers for it.  Power is lacking and handling is decent at best.  However, if fuel economy and entry level luxury are the most important factors in your car purchasing decision, the CT 200h is worth a look.

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6th Leg: 2012 Kia Optima Hybrid

I began day three in what I consider to be one of the most stylish hybrids on the market, the Kia Optima Hybrid.  Of the 23 vehicles assembled for this test, I liked its looks best after the Mercedes-Benz CLS 63 AMG.  The stylish looks continue inside, where you are greeted by a gaggle of buttons.  The materials, design, and layout of the vehicle make it feel far more expensive than it really is.  On the downside, I found the driver’s seat to be a bit too high up, even in its lowest setting.

At the heart of the Kia Optima Hybrid is a 2.4L hybrid powerplant that produces a combined 206 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque.  Powering the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, the 1,583-kg Optima’s fuel economy is officially rated by the Government of Canada at 4.9 L/100 km in the city and 5.6 L/100 km on the highway.  On my drive I was able to achieve a frugal 5.4 L/100 km run from Hamilton to Woodstock, which appears to be a continuous uphill drive.  On the road it is very easy to get the Optima into EV mode by lifting off the throttle and then gently reapplying it.  I could travel in pure electric EV mode at higher speeds and over longer distances than I could in the Lexus CT 200h.  During the odd flat run in my time driving the Optima Hybrid I was able to cruise on just the battery for long, long stretches thanks to the advanced lithium-polymer battery pack.

It is amazing how advanced and how right Kia got the Optima with their first attempt at a hybrid.  Although it may not meet the fuel economy figures laid down by some of the other hybrids in this test, the trade off in power, luxury, and space is well worth it.

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7th Leg: 2013 Mazda CX-5 GS FWD

My final ride of the Eco-Run was the Mazda CX-5.  I had the Mazda CX-5 for a week early this year as part of our five compact crossover comparison test.  During my time behind the wheel I achieved an impressive 8.9 L/100 km with the vehicle in normal driving situations and that was with the all-wheel-drive version on snow tires.  Now I had the chance to try to squeak the most mileage out of the front-wheel-drive CX-5 with all-season tires.

Neither a hybrid nor electric, the CX-5 uses Mazda’s SkyActiv technology, which is a catchy word used to describe a diverse group of technologies and techniques all aimed at improving fuel efficiency while preserving driving enjoyment.  At the heart of this suite of technologies is Mazda’s new 2.0L 155-hp four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission.  When combined with the lightweight CX-5 body (1,488 kg), the results are impressive.  Officially rated at 6.1 L/100 km highway and 7.7 L/100 km city, I was able to gently pedal the Mazda CX-5 to a frugal 5.6 L/100 km on my journey from Woodstock to London.  After speaking to other journalists, it appears I may have gotten the best mileage out of this crossover, but others were not too far off.

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Of course, all of the things I appreciated during my original Test Drive of the CX-5 still remain.  It has a smooth ride, handles well for a crossover and has a smooth transmission and an airy cabin.  The FWD version feels even lighter on its feet and is easy to control.  Throw in a comfortable front seat with straightforward controls and Mazda appears to have not just an efficient crossover on their hands, but also a good one.

Every vehicle tested surprised me in some way, and most achieved better mileage than I would have ever believed possible.  It is important to note that the numbers achieved by me and my colleagues need to be taken with a grain of salt as conditions and driving styles differ from person to person.  As they say, individual results may vary.

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