With over three months of hard work modifying our Honda Civic VX, the fruits of our labor had finally come down to a test on how the car will fare on our five-day "Ecorun Trip". The gist of our test consists of thrusting our 21-year-old Honda with weight reduction, engine, suspension, Falken Ziex-914 Ecorun tires, and aero modifications through a grueling drive-a-thon to see if our upgrades had been successful in increasing the vehicle's overall mpg. Keep in mind, the goal of this project wasn't to break any world record in fuel economy, but rather increase fuel efficiency by our projection of 20 percent with a target goal of 50 to 60 mpg without having to drive like your typical "eco driver".
Planning a cross-country road trip can be quite a challenge, especially when your travels take place during the dead of summer. Unfortunately, the world of journalism waits for no one, including us magazine guys. Mother Nature decided to liven up our road trip by throwing a variety of challenging driving scenarios including thunderstorms, hail, severe windstorms, and even a statewide fire warning advisory. These were just a few of the dangerous weather conditions we encountered throughout the trip that began at Falken Tire's tire facility located in Fontana, CA.
To make our trip more interesting, we let the power of social media determine our daily destinations chosen by Falken Tire Facebook fans. For the next five days a final poll was tabulated to determine our next location prior to jumping into our cars and driving through the South and Northwest region. Fans from both Import Tuner and Falken were able to follow along "live" throughout our adventure though Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (#ecoruntrip) and even joined in at local areas to check out the car and talk about the trip.
Prior to making our trip, we stopped by the local electronics store to pick up some gadgets, which included a portable MP3 radio, charger for our phones, and navigation system to bring some much needed creature comforts back into our minimalist Civic. Other important items we decidedly replaced prior to making the trip were the carbon doors back to the original factory units for crash safety reasons.
Day 1: NorCal
We teamed up with the dynamic duo of James Yim and Cale Bunker of Falken Tire along with Import Tuner Editor Charles Trieu sitting in as my copilot. We drove our way along the coastal shores of the Highway 101 toward NorCal. We made it a priority along the way to document our drive by visiting a number of sightseeing destinations and tuner shops.
As luck would have it, we found ourselves caught in two hours of bumper-to-bumper traffic before the roads opened up, but not before we encountered some mountain roads. Come to find out, the 1.5L engine coupled to a long-geared transmission doesn't make for an easy uphill climb. All the necessary downshifting and uphill battles put a dent in our fuel economy with a day ending 54 mpg. Not bad, but not the number we had hoped to achieve.
Cow . . . cow . . . cow . . . horse! We encountered numerous grazing cattle and pastures while making a number of off-the-beaten-path excursions in the middle of nowhere for a photo op before we throttled into San Jose around 6 p.m. for a stop at Speed Element Tuning. We spent some time checking out a few of their project cars as well as chatting with their customers before we crossed over the Golden Gate Bridge into the heart of San Francisco.
If you've ever driven downtown you're well aware of the treacherous hills that make driving a manual transmission car a living nightmare. We decided to take a few photo opportunities in and around Chinatown before we quickly retreated back onto the highway roads and made our way into Fairfield around 1 a.m. under one tank of fuel. Day 1 was a success, but there were four more days to go!
Day 2: Springfield, OR
A 9 a.m. wake-up call gathered up the group for a quick breakfast, where we checked the final voting tabulations. A close battle ensued between traveling eastward to Utah and north into Oregon, the latter proving victorious.
We were delayed a few minutes due to a mysterious non-power issue with the MPGuino gauge that required some troubleshooting inside the hotel parking lot. The problem was quickly addressed and we continued north, past Medford and into Springfield for day two.
While driving though the college town of Oregon State, we pulled up in front of a group of car enthusiasts gathered in front of a Dairy Queen. A few people within the group immediately noticed the Civic, as they too were following our progress on the web. We handed out some Ecorun T-shirts and snapped a group photo before once again rolling down the road.
Physically and mentally exhausted, we challenged ourselves to drive late into the night, as strong winds tossed the lightweight Civic around the highway. A combination of heavy headwinds and treacherous mountain roads were killing our fuel economy. But the worst came at approximately midnight—about 200 miles from our destination it began raining followed by a spectacular lightning show. If you haven't noticed in the photos, we are driving without windshield wipers, all in the name of minimizing drag. Luckily, the showers were light and we were able to make it into Springfield at 1 a.m., nearly 13 hours total on the road. We're talking some serious truck driver hours here!
Did you know it is illegal to pump your own gas in Oregon? We had no idea until the attendant nearly crapped in his pants when he saw us attempting to fill our Civic.
Day 3: Portland to Klamath Falls, OR
Our 8 a.m. wake-up call was greeted by heavy rainfall. We filled up fuel and made a trip to the local auto parts store to pick up some Rain-X before we were once again back on the road. No trip into Portland is complete without a trip to Voodoo Doughnuts. As first timers visiting this establishment, we were recommended by a former colleague to order the "Cock-N- Ball" doughnut. After a few bites of the phallus-shaped delight, it was decided that this Bavarian creme-filled monstrosity was overwhelming—even for Charles.
We made a trip to tuner shop Portland Speed Industries (PSI) and were thoroughly impressed by the sheer size of the facility as well as custom project cars currently under the knife. Portland marked the summit of our drive as we made a U-turn and headed southwest toward Klamath Falls to end the third day of travel.
Day 4: Reno, NV to Bishop, CA
While driving though the forest roads of Oregon, we found ourselves caught in the middle of a fierce forest fire that had been burning for more than a week. There was little we could do to wean off the thick smoke and pungent odor. We hightailed it out of there, but not before taking the opportunity to snap some scenic views alongside the Civic. A drive though Reno, NV, was on the agenda as requested by the polls before we decided to push ourselves and make the long drive back into California territory to save us time for the last and final day. Traveling for more than 500 miles, we finally arrived at 2 a.m. in Bishop, CA.
Day 5: Home Sweet Home
On the last leg of our trip we found ourselves sweltering in the desert heat as we made our way past Death Valley and through Victorville, CA, toward our final destination back to Fontana. From extreme cold a few days prior to current 100-plus degree temps, we drove though the dry wastelands without using our A/C to stretch our mpg, knowing the topography of the land was the flattest we had encountered since we first began our trip. Sweating buckets and downing water, we coasted along the Sierra Mountains before relenting to use the A/C. Driving in this type of weather was the main reason we kept the system intact.
Here's a grim reminder why you should always pay attention while driving. This Mitsubishi was one of two vehicles caught in a head-on collision.
Oh, what's that you see? That's correct. We accomplished what we set out to do and averaged 60 mpg on the last leg of our trip. More importantly, we didn't turn a wrench underhood. A true testament to Honda and the engine tuning performed by Doug Macmillan of Hondata. The Civic drove over 2,500 miles in a five-day span, running like a champ day after day without any issues. We met our goal and look forward to transforming our fuel sipper into a pure street machine. Stay tuned!