The Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) just completed its fifth annual Eco-Run, an “event that shows off a variety of eco-friendly vehicles,” says AJAC’s website; this was my fourth. A laudable enough event, the “purpose of the Eco-Run is to help inform consumers of these alternative options.”
So AJAC’s auto-journalist members gently compete in a sort of un-rally, with everyone allegedly driving in an eco-conscious way.
This year there were 27 vehicles as different as chalk and cheese – everything from electric vehicles (EVs) to finely tuned lightweight sports cars to diesel pick-ups. Each had its own bank of reasons for claiming ecological superiority over its competitors and/or predecessor. There were also 27 auto writers driving these cars – though this group was fairly homogeneous. Each was asked their top three preferred rides, then assigned vehicles to drive and write about. Most requested time in the Porsche Carrera.
Part One: Play-by-Play
The journey began near Toronto’s Pearson Airport and finished at Ottawa’s city hall, not a great distance driving directly. But we traveled gingerly in short legs, meandering through those picturesque Victorian lakeside towns in southeastern Ontario, allowing extra time for the EVs to juice up. It took two long days and four nights with hotel stays bookending early openings and late finishes.
So Day One functionally began on Day Two. Eco-Run’s first leg started at 6:30am from a Pearson Airport hotel. The reason was to avoid the legendarily ugly Toronto rush-hour traffic. (Range anxiety in an EV is about more than distance; an unplanned extra hour in cementing 401-congestion has the same effect on your blood vessels.) Venturing just 30 km from northwest Toronto to the Evergreen Brickworks in the Don Valley, we did beat the traffic monster – arriving at 6:50am for a 9am press conference. Coffee please.
What a shame this first “leg” lasted just 20 minutes because I’d been assigned my first choice. The Fiat 500 1957 Edition features the retro look of the original, complete with hubcaps matching the paintjob and that fancifully mustachioed retro fascia. It’s the sort of looks that inspire smiles or snarls. One writer dismissed it as ‘Italian hand luggage’; another didn’t want to give it up after their leg. Without needing to test its guts, I managed to exploit the 500’s Euro-smallness to weave between the 401’s daily parade of boneheads and idiots.
The Brickworks is one of these interesting “third-way” style charity projects that gives you hope for our choking cities. Located a mere four kilometres from Yonge and Bloor (or just three kilometres as your dirty urban pigeon flies), it’s an oasis of rustic quiet and sustainability beside one of the most ecologically vile roads in the country. The press conference featured a local member of the provincial parliament quoting numbers about a supposedly imminent downtown relief subway line. Torontonians have heard it all before; I expect that the relief line is coming soon but only to another press conference near you.
The second leg covered 65km to the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in northern Oshawa (UOIT). I was assigned the Kia Optima LX ECO Turbo. It’s a lithe ride whose steering felt better and better the faster it got. Tempting as it was to push the Optima hard, the purpose of Eco-Run was to be gentle and milk the mileage: more Eco-Creep.
UOIT is where good gearheads go after they die, containing some the most robust and sophisticated vehicle-testing equipment on the continent. Imagine a Bond villain’s evil lair populated by nerdy young engineers in lab coats instead of supermodels in cocktail dresses (though if you prefer dwelling on the latter, this is a judgment-free article). The wind-and-weather tunnel blows at hundreds of kph, from sub-Arctic to Equatorial, from parched to steam-room extremes, while its floor rotates to mimic yaw. Another room, soundproofed enough to silence a jumbo jet at a Motörhead concert, contains a multi-directional shake table, which, yes, shakes. But very, very hard. It can simulate earthquakes. So you strap pieces of equipment to it and shake the shit out of them, then measure the results: aka heaven for gearheads.