Leg Three took us to a colon-jamming BBQ lunch. We tootled 70 km east to Cobourg, Ontario where we needed to kill over two hours exposed on a pier in unseasonably intense heat while the EVs re-charged.
For this third drive of the day, I was assigned the Lexus RX 450 hybrid. I’m normally not much of an SUV lover but the 2010 once saved my family’s life. During a Vermont blizzard, about 90 percent of the vehicles spun off the road, colliding in ditches. The RX 450h gripped and navigated us safely. So the opportunity to drive its later iteration in opposite conditions offered good distraction and contrast.
The RX 450h’s dark brown paint did little for energy preservation in summer but the fan – intentionally unaided by A/C to preserve juice – circulated air throughout this large vehicle well. The controls are easy to understand. The switch from hybrid to gas power wasn’t detectable. The improvement of green-ish tech is a theme we’ll explore later in our journey. Right now, it’s time for ice cream to beat the Cobourg heat and sluggish clock.
The last stage of the day, from Cobourg to Belleville, Ontario, began in frustration because I misread directions and was lost for five minutes: more than enough time to blow my numbers and not qualify for Eco-Run’s vaunted ‘Green Jersey’. (If you’re able to find one on eBay, it’ll go for several dollars.) Luckily, I was driving my second choice from the list of 27: the Smart Fortwo cabriolet. Tiny and bright, it utterly contrasted with the Lexus SUV, demonstrating the flexibility of eco-friendly definitions. The route avoided the 401 mostly, so I could enjoy the open roof and windows. The upgraded drivetrain of the new Smart is a huge improvement. There’s no longer any judder between shifting gears. I also like its charmingly pugnacious new face. The effect is like seeing a baby in a football uniform.
[That night we all went to the Mustang Drive-in for some diversion, about a 30-minute drive away. However the clocks were off and, untethered, most of the competitive auto journalists made the journey in nearly half the time: Eco-Sprint.]
Day two began in the Ford C-MAX Energi Plug-In Hybrid. What’s interesting about this technology is that you can choose not to plug it in – but if you do keep it charged, you can stay in electric mode permanently. This funky hatchback provides an excellent, grippy ride and was roomier than I’d expected.
The route took us through more rural towns on Highway 2 to blue-collar Kingston. (You’re thinking of The Tragically Hip and Don Cherry right now, aren’t you?) Remember the day before, how our stops were thematically appropriate green space and high-tech labs for innovating auto tech? In Kingston, we toured a decommissioned prison.
Leg Six, in the re-engineered Chevrolet Volt, was an 80 km jaunt from Kingston to Brockville, another picture-perfect Victorian town on Lake Ontario. The only time I ever won a Green Jersey on an Eco-Run I’d been driving an earlier version of the Volt; the 2016 has evolved significantly. The regenerative braking makes coast-stopping not only a good idea, but almost impossible not to do. I rarely employed the brake at all throughout this stage.
The second-last leg got tacked onto the last due to logistical snafus. The drive took us from the Brockville waterfront to downtown Ottawa, where the city’s deputy mayor toasted us with free churros. Then it took us another 13 km out to the Ottawa airport. Not switching cars one last time was OK with me because I was in the Toyota Prius, the car that launched all this green-line fever nearly two decades ago. Once an anomaly, the Prius has become diluted amid an ever-growing number of choices. Its latest design is sleeker and sportier looking than its earlier generations – and the drive is too. Manufacturers continue to influence each other.