EcoRun 2023 Proves Efficient Car Choices Exist in Every Segment

Kyle Patrick
by Kyle Patrick
Photo Credit: Blake Jennings (Drive Marketing)
Photo Credit: Blake Jennings (Drive Marketing)

Stick a bunch of auto journalists together and naturally, they'll formulate some sort of competition.

That's the point of EcoRun, after all. Now, as it has been since launching over a decade ago, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada's (AJAC) other yearly drive event gathers scribes from across the country to eke out the best economy figures from some of the most efficient new vehicles on the market. That's the excuse, anyway: the real purpose is to drive these cars and SUVs and report back to you, potential buyers, on what they're like to live with in real-world scenarios, and how much how you drive impacts those figures in the window sticker.

Only the makeup of the lineup has changed since that initial event in 2012. Nevermind the proliferation of SUVs—they made up less than 10-percent of that original event—but for the second year in a row, every single offering included some level of electrification. From the humble Corolla to the swanky Range Rover, from an electron-assisted off-roader to a sleek luxury sedan, the message was clear this year: in 2023, buyers can save gas (or charge) in just about any segment.

Full disclosure: I am an AJAC board member in charge of organizing EcoRun this year. To paraphrase Sy Sperling, I'm not only an AJAC event chair, I'm also a participant.

For our full AJAC EcoRun 2023 coverage, check out the following stories:

Frugal and Affordable: Toyota Corolla Hybrid and Hyundai Tucson Hybrid

Photo Credit: Blake Jennings (Drive Marketing)
Photo Credit: Blake Jennings (Drive Marketing)

It doesn't get much more "everyday" than the Toyota Corolla. The ubiquitous sedan was a late addition this year, but it anchored the EcoRun lineup as the most affordable vehicle of the whole event. Not by much, mind you: this is the top-level XSE AWD Hybrid, a trim unique to Canada (sorry, American readers). While that does contribute to a larger bottom line—an MSRP of $36,050 CAD including destination—it's important to note buyers can net much of the same experience in the more affordable SE model, with a more approachable price tag of $27,985 ($31,650 CAD). American buyers can even shave an additional $1,400 off that if they're good with front-drive. (All-wheel drive is standard on all but the base hybrid trim in Canada.)

And you know what? There's an argument to be made that the Corolla Hybrid is all the car most people need. It drives with an easy-going attitude, all clear sight lines and city-friendly dimensions. The interior is fool-proof, with nicely squishy, heated seats (in Canada; Americans have to go with the XLE for toasted buns). It has a superb standard safety suite in Toyota Safety Sense 3.0, offering buyers adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring. The revised hybrid system is more powerful—enough to even chirp the rear tires in AWD models—yet delivers an EcoRun-best score of just 3.9 L/100 km (60.3 mpg). Even when you're not driving like a journalist hunting for that coveted Green Jersey, the official combined fuel consumption for the SE AWD is 44 mpg (5.3 L/100 km). Compared to the regular, front-drive gas model, the hybrid pays for itself in about five years—and that time shortens with every gas price hike.

ecorun 2023 proves efficient car choices exist in every segment

Another affordable choice is the Hyundai Tucson Hybrid. Popular, too: not just as the brand's best-selling model in Canada, but with the hybrid recently making up over 40 percent of Tucson monthly sales. Another top-trim tester, netting a Limited (known as Ultimate in Canada) requires $40,445 ($44,424 CAD). A far cry from the days of four-figure Accents, but the Tucson is comfortable, spacious, and loaded with creature comforts like a 360-degree camera and ventilated seats.

While the electrified Tucson can't match the combined fuel economy figures of the RAV4 Hybrid or fellow EcoRun competitor the Honda CR-V, its turbocharged engine and traditional six-speed automatic make it a more "normal" drive than either. For folks looking to make the switch, the Tucson is an appealing first step.

Bonus mention for Mazda's CX-90, which showed up in plug-in hybrid form. Three-row plug-in hybrids are thin on the ground, and this is one of the most affordable, only losing out to the Kia Sorento and Mitsubishi Outlander. I didn't drive it in BC, because I knew I'd be reviewing it shortly after.

Stylish Sedans: Hyundai Ioniq 6 and Mercedes-Benz EQE

Photo Credit: Blake Jennings (Drive Marketing)
Photo Credit: Blake Jennings (Drive Marketing)

A funny thing happened during the market's move to SUVs: sedans became cool again. Unshackled from the demands of ever-increasing space and practicality, the humble four-door is now a deliberate choice. While some automakers have given up on the shape, Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz have not only stayed the course, but paved a new path via all-electric models.

The Hyundai Ioniq 6 kicked off the event by being crowned AJAC's last Green Car of the Year. Some handsome guy scheduled my drive legs to bookened the event, giving me plenty of time to revisit the car I enjoyed so much three months' prior—and in British Columbia again to boot. The 6 remains my pick over the 5, bringing with it the benefits of its shape: a lower center of gravity and more polished ride. I'm even starting to dig the styling, too. Hyundai has given the sedan a unique feel inside, with a bridge-like console featuring inboard window controls—just like the Jeep Wrangler 4xe that's also part of the event!

Now I didn't get to drive the Mercedes EQE. One of the pricier competitors in 2023, the German mid-sizer was the most popular car at EcoRun, with practically every journalist requesting it. Since managing editor Schlee had already done his EQE 500 4Matic review months earlier, it seemed only right to skip it. What I can tell you is that the interior is fantastic, and the whole package is a more manageable size than the EQS. With an EcoRun-best score of 13.9 kWh/100 km, the EQS could theoretically hit over 650 km (404 mi) on a charge. Dial that back a bit and we're still looking at one of the longest-range EVs out there.

The Lap of Luxury: Genesis GV70 Electrified and Land Rover Range Rover PHEV

The Mercedes was far from the only luxury model at EcoRun 2023. Even the premium brands are getting serious about saving gas these days—or in the case of the Genesis GV70 Electrified, ditching it altogether. This was another I skipped out on, if only because I'd already experienced the brand's third EV back in March. It's an ultra-appealing package, however, because it doesn't look like an EV. I'm a fan of the brand's funky-fresh GV60, but I acknowledge that car's deliberate weirdness is divisive.

Meanwhile with its larger sibling, unless onlookers clock the lack of exhausts or that cool filled-in grille, they'll just think it's the regular GV70. And that's good, because the Electrified offers the same excellent package as the gas model. The cabin is one of the most well-appointed you'll find under six figures, a uniquely Korean take on luxury that is warm and inviting.

ecorun 2023 proves efficient car choices exist in every segment

Of course, if we're talking luxury SUVs, we can't ignore the Range Rover. Land Rover's icon graced us with its presence this year in P440e form, hiding a new plug-in hybrid powertrain under that fabulously elegant sheetmetal. It's the best of both worlds: smooth, turbocharged inline-six power when you need it, and oodles of instant-access electric power when you're tootling around town. I do mean oodles, too: Land Rover has fit this beast with a huge 38.2-kWh battery pack, which gives it an estimated 82 km (50 miles) of electric-only range.

Due to the nature of EcoRun, only the first pilots of each day got to make the most of the plug-ins. Nonetheless, my time in the Range Rover gave me the opportunity to use every variation of its propulsion systems. No matter the ratio of electric to gas, the result was serenely smooth progress, the big Rangie gliding over the frost-damaged roads up in the mountains north of Penticton. With 434 combined horsepower and 406 lb-ft of torque, this latest flagship is one of the quickest vehicles here, but that's not the point, at least with the non-Sport.

Something for Everyone

In addition to all the models detailed above, and the other EcoRun content listed up top, the event covered more bases. Lexus practically invented the modern luxury crossover, and it was present in the latest RX 500h F Sport Performance trim. The Japanese brand has (finally) entered the EV realm too, bringing the similarly-sized RZ 450e along as well. Newcomer Polestar brought the 2, a compact model with a unique form factor that's mostly premium sedan, but with a hint of high-rider to it. And Toyota wasn't afraid to get weird with the hyrodgen-powered Mirai.

All this is only a sample of what you'll find at these manufacturers' dealerships, too. Even in the weeks since the event, we've seen the Kia EV9 three-row SUV, Polestar parent Volvo reveal the electric EX30 as its most affordable model, Hyundai turning the Ioniq 5 N into a wicked hot hatch, and Toyota reviving the Land Cruiser as a hybrid-only Wrangler-fighter. I can't wait to see what the EcoRun 2024 lineup looks like.

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