2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid
2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid. Click image to enlarge




Story and photos by the editors of Autos

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Photo Galleries:
2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid;
2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel

It wasn’t too long ago that Canadian consumers were complaining that the price of gasoline had reached 60 cents per litre (that was in 2000). Now it doesn’t look like we’ll ever see a sub one-dollar litre again. As far as gasoline is concerned, the “good old days” are right behind us, with the price at the pump probably doubling over the decade between 2000 and 2010.

On the bright side (sort of), gasoline is still cheaper than the bottled water at your local variety store, which seems bizarre indeed.

Not surprisingly, over the past few years fuel efficiency has increased in significance as a factor when purchasing a new vehicle. There are now several resources available to help fuel-conscious consumers, with Canada’s “Energuide” program (from Natural Resources Canada) offering comprehensive efficiency listings on its website that cover all the vehicles sold in our market. Utilities on the site can also compare vehicles, and estimate your annual fuel costs if you buy one vehicle over another.

The program has been criticized, however, for not accurately representing the real life, on-the-road driving experiences of Canadian consumers (indeed, in the U.S. a similar program run by the Environmental Protection Agency was recently revised to due to the same criticisms). Manufacturers have been criticized, too, especially makers of hybrid vehicles, for apparently optimistic projections of fuel economy.

Nonetheless, the Energuide program gives consumers a good starting place to consider information on fuel consumption, and is useful when comparing vehicles and vehicle types. And many manufacturers are investing heavily and seriously in the development of fuel efficient and low emissions engines. We are seeing the outcome in increased fuel efficiency and a broader range of fuel efficient technologies.


How does Energuide test the vehicles?

But beyond the technology, consumers have at their disposal a powerful weapon to improve fuel economy in any vehicle, new or used. That weapon is your driving style, and confident that we can prove our point, Autos is beginning a series that will compare Energuide ratings with “fuel efficient” and “fuel inefficient” driving styles.

Here’s what we mean by a “fuel efficient driving style:”

A key factor in reducing fuel consumption is to reduce the load on your vehicle’s engine. In practice, this means adopting a smooth and even driving style. Rapid acceleration uses considerably more fuel; moderate acceleration uses less fuel. So-called “jackrabbit” starts from one stoplight to the next equate to a 2-4 percent time saving in an hour, and a 37-percent increase in fuel consumption, according to a study referenced by Natural Resouces Canada. In short: accelerate smoothly, brake in good time, try to maintain an even speed en route.

You can also reduce engine load by reducing unnecessary weight in or on the vehicle. Clean off the snow and ice in the winter, for example (it can be very heavy; why transport it?). Remove unnecessary items from the trunk and passenger cabin. A 50 kilogram reduction in weight equates to another 1-2 percent fuel savings.

2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel
2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel. Click image to enlarge

Avoid unnecessary idling. Except when driving in traffic, turn off your vehicle when waiting for extended periods of time.

Drive at moderate speeds on the highway. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates that an increase in speed from 110 to 125 km/h burns 15-percent more fuel; a decrease in speed from 110 to 90 km/h uses 15-percent less fuel. To achieve the latter, try using an alternative, two-lane highway, route on longer trips. Two-lane highways are often less traveled, more scenic, and can be more fun to drive than superhighways.

Use a block heater in the winter. Set it to turn on two hours before you plan to use the car. You’ll find the interior of your car will warm up very quickly after you start the engine, eliminating the need for an auto-starter and saving fuel.

Check your tire pressure. Under inflated tires can add another one-to-three percent to your fuel costs.

Keep your vehicle’s engine in good condition. A key component is the air filter, an inexpensive part that can increase fuel consumption by up to 10-percent if clogged. It’s a simple fix.


The Autos plan

We’ll be driving four vehicles over a four-month period, representing four vehicle types: a Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel (midsize SUV), Toyota Camry Hybrid (“green” family car), Mazda6 sedan (midsize car) and Honda CR-V (compact SUV).

2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel
2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid
2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel (top); 2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

Note the inclusion of two “alternative” powered vehicles, which will enable us to get a good sense of their real-world fuel consumption in comparison with Energuide projections for conventionally powered examples of the same vehicles.

We’ll be tracking fuel consumption throughout a two-month driving period for each vehicle, keeping in mind their Energuide ratings. Our first fortnight in each vehicle will be used as a benchmark for “fuel inefficient” driving. That is, we’ll be accelerating fairly rapidly, pushing speed limits, driving as if in a hurry, and not driving particularly smoothly. In other words, we’ll be conforming to the driving style of many motorists on the road. We’ll track our fuel consumption as we go.

Subsequently, we’ll change to a fuel-efficient driving style, and keep a detailed log of vehicle use, litres consumed and distances driven. We expect the numbers to change; we are interested to see by how much.

Check our reports every two weeks.


2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee Diesel

Introduced in 2007, the 2008 Grand Cherokee Diesel is powered with a Mercedes-Benz V6 common-rail turbo diesel that makes 215 horsepower and a substantial 376 foot-pounds of torque. A four-speed automatic transmission is the only one available. At 2235 kilograms (4927 pounds), this is a heavy vehicle (the heaviest in the Grand Cherokee line-up) whose aerodynamics are not particularly conducive to slipping discreetly through the air. The weight and bulk is justified, however, as this is a vehicle that can tow 3266 kg (7200 pounds), which is equivalent to the same vehicle powered with a V8 HEMI engine.

2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel
2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel
2008 Jeep Grand Cherokee diesel. Click image to enlarge

It’s also a serious off-road contender, able to claw its way through extremely rugged terrain when required. Furthermore (and surprisingly) this heavy hitter sprints off the line, reaching 100 km/h in 9.0 seconds.

At $51,495, our Laredo “North” Edition arrives with an impressive list of standard equipment, including Quadra-Trak II four-wheel drive with low range and hill descent control, 17-inch alloy wheels with Goodyear Fortera 245/65-17-inch tires, anti-lock brakes (four-wheel disc), vehicle stability control and traction control, perforated leather seating surfaces (heated in the front), power adjustable pedals, and MyGig (satellite radio, six-disc CD changer, U-Connect Bluetooth communications).

If you want the same towing capacity as the HEMI-powered Grand Cherokee, it seems reasonable to compare the expected fuel economy of the HEMI and the Diesel: 16.5/11.2 litres/100 km, city highway (15/20 imperial miles per gallon), and 12/9 L/100 km, city highway (24/31 imp. mpg): quite a difference.

Can the Grand Cherokee Diesel really achieve these very impressive numbers? Can it exceed them? Stay tuned.

2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid

Introduced as an all-new model in 2007, this generation of Camry is a sleek four-door sedan with styling cues that borrow freely from Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand. Swoopy and modern, this Camry was designed to show that Toyota has passion as well as grey matter.

The Camry Hybrid is powered by a 2.4-litre four-cylinder with hybrid electric system and continuously variable transmission (CVT). In case you are unfamiliar with the operation of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, rest assured that it is effective, reliable and requires nothing more from the driver than would a conventional powertrain.

2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid
2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid
2008 Toyota Camry Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

The Toyota system uses batteries located behind the rear seat to supplement and sometimes replace power from the gasoline engine. In practice, the gasoline engine will shut down when stopped (at stoplights, for instance), and the car will start on battery power alone. Depending on the load, the gasoline engine and electric motor may work in tandem. The batteries that power the electric motor are recharged when decelerating. Sound simple? It’s taken about 100 years to get to this, but hybrid power is proving to be a genuine alternative in the hunt for fuel economy and ultra low emissions.

Our test car has a base price of $32,000, although several government programs to support hybrid vehicles will bring that price down.

Standard equipment includes multiple airbags, antilock brakes, 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, power driver’s seat, tilt/telescoping steering column, power windows and locks, Smart Key system with pushbutton start, cruise control, garage door opener, driver’s knee airbag, heated mirrors, LED taillights, and variable intermittent wipers.

Expected fuel economy according to the Energuide rating is 5.7/5.7 L/100 km, city/highway (50 mpg imp.). In other words, the Camry can return the same fuel economy in the city as it does on the highway.

More Fuel Economy Challenge articles:
December 11 update | January 7 update | Conclusion, Part One

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