Since 1980, black-and-white EnerGuide fuel efficiency stickers have found their way onto every new car sold in Canada. Embossed with the federal government’s logo, these fuel consumption guides have become the standard for new vehicle buyers.
But how does the government determine these numbers?

Well, new vehicles delivered to an Ottawa test laboratory are mounted on a two-wheel chassis dynamometer that simulates on-road driving. The computer that controls the test is pre-programmed to take into account the particular characteristics of the test vehicle. These include aerodynamic efficiency, overall weight, and the rolling resistance of the vehicle (the stats are all supplied by the manufacturer).

Each vehicle is then taken for a “simulated” drive. Each test starts with the “City Course,” a simulated 12-km trip during which the average speed is 32 km/h. During the trip the vehicle is halted 18 times to represent traffic lights, and the test takes 23 minutes to complete.

The vehicle sits idle for four minutes during the test, and the highest speed it reaches on a stretch is a few moments at 81 km/h. A measurement device on the fuel line records the amount of fuel consumed. Once the trip is complete, it is repeated after the vehicle has been shut-off for eight minutes, and both results are recorded.

The second part of each test is the “Highway Course”—this highway fuel consumption calculation is made using a simulated 16-km trip with an average speed of 77 km/h. The top speed hit during this test is just 97 km/h over the 13 minutes it runs. There are no stops included and the vehicle is tested from a hot start.

Considering how many vehicles they have to test each year (and for the sake of consistency) this is probably the best method. However, in small print on the EnerGuide sticker is a disclaimer that reads “The fuel consumption you achieve with your vehicle may differ from published ratings, depending on how, where and when you drive and the optional equipment installed.”

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A U.S. Ecologic/EPA sticker is pictured

The Truck King “real-world” method is the polar opposite of this—we include all those ‘how, where and when’ EnerGuide disclaimers’ effects in our calculations. Each one of our trucks is driven on-road, is expected to tow a trailer, is made to haul a real payload and is also driven off-road. In other words, they are treated exactly how an owner treats them. For the commercial vans, we load them with payload and then drive them through tight city streets, once again replicating the exact conditions that these vehicles will spend their time in.

Not only do these real-world conditions reveal much more about the dynamics of each vehicle, they also let us capture fuel economy readings from each vehicle in each scenario.

Consumption is captured by a special data logger plugged into the OBDII port of each vehicle and left there for the duration of the challenge. Once the data is collected, it gets shipped to the experts at CrossChasm, a Waterloo, Ontario-based company that specializes in fuel analysis. They unpack the data, splitting and averaging it based on each event. That means that CTKC provides a fuel economy average while towing a trailer, hauling payload and while driving empty.

During the two days of back-to-back testing, judges are asked to keep the vehicles running for the duration of each cycle. As each judge drives each vehicle, on the same route, back-to-back, many trips are being made over the same terrain. However, because the idle time is also included between each changeover, this further adds to the real-world-type fuel usage, as does the fact that each judge drives differently.

The test loop used for the majority of on-road evaluation is 17 kilometers long. Called the Head River test loop, it’s a combination of public roads spread that start on gravel, move to secondary paved roads and finally end on a highway.

Speed limits vary from 50 km/h to 80 km/h, and the road climbs and drops off an escapement several times—at its lowest point it crosses the Head River twice, hence the name. Each judge drives each truck empty, then with payload on board, and finally towing a trailer over this same route.

The commercial vans also use the Head River test loop for their initial empty runs. However, once we load them with payload, we change the route. This is called the Minden village route. It’s an in-town loop that simulates inner-city deliveries and service calls. Lots of turns, congested parking lots and negotiating alleyways. Over the two days of testing, the nine judges drive almost 4,000 km combined.

CrossChasm uses the data from the OBDII recorders to come up with averages for each vehicle during each event. Their report is clear and well-explained, though some of the results always seem counter-intuitive, so after the raw data is scrutinized we review it. Those numbers tell a lot of interesting stories.

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In 2015, in the pickup truck segment, the Ram 1500 EcoDiesel once again had the lowest fuel consumption numbers of any truck, beating out even the smaller diesel-powered GMC Canyon. It seems that once weight is added during testing, the results can get skewed. This would seem to indicate that when “worked,” certain engines are simply more fuel-efficient than others.

Another example of this is Ford’s new aluminum-bodied F-150, of which we tested two versions. The loggers captured an interesting story from each of these truck’s engines: the smaller 2.7-liter twin-turbocharged V6 actually used more fuel than the larger 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6, presumably because it has to work harder to accomplish its tasks.

The introduction of an all-new Toyota Tacoma onto the market this year and an all-new Chevy Colorado last year created a new rivalry in the midsize truck segment. Our tests show that the gasoline-powered V6 engines in both trucks are nearly identical when it comes to fuel economy, making the choice between the two even tougher for consumers. However, it should be noted that the new Tacoma engine is far superior to the 4.0-litre version it replaces, fuel-wise.

Of note in the fuel report is the fact that some of the payload runs (of trucks with 1,000 lbs of cargo in the bed) saw slightly better fuel economy than the same vehicles run empty. That seems strange on the surface, but points directly at the effect a driver has on fuel consumption. It stands to reason that drivers tend to be a bit more cautious and smooth in their operation when they have a load on—in our opinion, this is what caused this result. What this result also points to is that how a driver operates is almost as important as what is under the hood.

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In the large van category, the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter managed to capture the best overall fuel economy (a logging error did cause us to lose the numbers on the loaded run with the Mercedes’ vehicles, though). Still, from what we could see, they did lead across the board. We were also fortunate this year to have diesel engines from Ford and Ram, so our results are more apple-to-apple than ever.

More interesting is the small van category, which saw the new Nissan NV200 capture the best overall fuel consumption numbers. However, the Ram ProMaster City managed to get the best fuel economy when transporting payload through an urban area.

With that, we put our ninth Canadian Truck King Challenge to bed, comfortable in the knowledge that our real-world statistics and information continue to help consumers across Canada make the smartest choice when it comes to buying a work vehicle.