Cars

Honda HR-V rules urban routes

Almost everyone wants to get into a crossover these days, from drivers to the companies that make them. You can’t blame them. Low oil prices and urban versatility make CUVs a wise choice.

With that in mind, Honda is taking aim at the entry level crossover market with its new HR-V.

Honda's HR-V crossover sits on a small footprint, which makes it ideal for city life. Photo: Maurice Cacho

Honda’s HR-V crossover sits on a small footprint, which makes it ideal for city life. Photo: Maurice Cacho

The HR-V is small for a crossover, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t feel that way. Even though it’s based on the small Honda Fit, you’d be hard-pressed to say the HR-V is much smaller than its big brother, the CR-V. Beside a traffic light, the Fit-based crossover appears almost a foot shorter.

Starting at the back, the trunk is big enough to swallow enough groceries from a big supermarket run, or a stroller and an array of bags for a weekend jaunt.

The back isn’t cramped, and I fit my 5-foot-11 frame behind the driver’s seat with knee room to spare but with my head just shy of the roof. No space constraints up front.

Cabin quality is typically Honda-solid. There’s a no-nonsense aspect to the layout and everything is where you’d expect it to be.

The USB ports, stashed at the bottom of the centre console behind the shifter, aren’t the easiest to get to. In a way, you may be less likely to be distracted by your phone with this placement.

Speaking of connectivity, the infotainment system features a screen that’s well-placed and easy to read. Pre-set text message replies are handy, and overall phone integration works well. The voice recognition picks up commands with ease.

One complaint with the infotainment system, however, is that it is really all-encompassing. With its electrostatic screen, you’ll need to ditch your winter gloves to change simple things like the volume. Granted, the steering wheel-mounted audio controls provide another way to adjust your soundtrack.

Despite all the outdoorsy hype that comes with crossovers, the HR-V is most at home on city streets. It handles tight parking spots with the precision of an experienced cakemaker writing a birthday greeting.

Under the hood, however, is where things could use improvement.

The 1.8-litre four cylinder engine, the only available unit, is noisy and feels underpowered in the HR-V when coupled with the continuously variable transmission.

Pairing it with the CVT is perhaps not the best option, but it’s the only way to go if you want the HR-V with all-wheel drive.

If you can drive stick, get the manual transmission. Honda makes great shifters and it should work well in the HR-V.

Opting for the manual ‘box, the buzzing CVT gives way to a six-speed manual that the driver can thrash around, pulling a better response from the engine.

But back to the CVT. Putting the ‘ute into Sport mode improves throttle response. With the HR-V shifter set to “S,” the HR-V feels better on the road.

There’s also Econ mode, activated by pressing a green leaf button, to save you visits to the pumps.

Rock-solid Honda build quality is only available from, well, Honda, and that trait shines through after spending time with this CUV.

Drivers looking for a spacious, compact crossover might find their right vehicle in the HR-V.

 

144 abandoned exotic cars collecting dust in Vietnam

Recently released images show an incredible stash of high-end cars collecting dust in a Vietnam warehouse.

The vehicles were seized by police back in 2013 when investigators busted a car smuggling ring, GTSpirit.com reports.

At the time, authorities caught suspects driving 15 luxury and high-performance vehicles across the border to China.

Since the seizure, 144 vehicles have been dormant in a warehouse.

The selection of vehicles is astonishing. There’s a Ferrari 430 Scuderia, a Maybach 62S…the list goes on.

Check out more images over at GTSpirit.com.

New technology will tell drivers when traffic lights change

EnLighten_App_Green_HiRes

Should you slow down with urgency or coast with caution to a red light?

A new feature set to be available on certain BMWs will tell drivers when traffic lights will change, and whether they’ll be seeing red or green.

The Bavarian automaker is rolling out a new feature that taps into the traffic signal network of certain cities in the U.S. and Australia in order to tell drivers what’s about happen on the lights ahead.

Powered by Connected Signals, a cloud-based system that receives red or green light data from various cities, drivers will receive a relevant chime or visual notification  based on the anticipated behaviour of upcoming lights. The app also uses data from the car, such as its location and speed.

If the light is about to turn red, they will see a red light notification on the dashboard display accompanied with a countdown. Likewise, the same will happen for a green light.

What if the driver is about to turn left or right rather than drive straight through? If the turning signal is activated, the driver won’t receive a traffic light notification.

In a statement released late last week, BMW USA said any BMW with the BMW Apps feature will be compatible with Connected Signals’ Enlighten App.

This screenshot of the BMW EnLighten app shows when a left turn signal will expire.

This screenshot of the BMW EnLighten app shows when a left turn signal will expire.

Drivers without a BMW can still get the app, but it won’t integrate with their dashboard displays.

It’s not known if the feature will be available to Canadian BMW customers at the same time as U.S. availability.

Why know the lights?

One obvious benefit is that drivers may be able to arrive at their destination more quickly if they’re able to “beat” the lights.

However, BMW highlights the potential for this feature to increase safety and save fuel because the predictions will help drivers avoid unnecessary acceleration or sudden breaking.

The actual savings might not be as remarkable, however.

Other features available from a handful of automakers are also designed to save fuel, without having to keep an eye on the traffic signals.

Many vehicles are available with start-stop systems which turn off the engine at stop lights, or in stop-and-go traffic. The fuel savings, however, may not be considerable. 

Some cars with large engines can also turn off cylinders when the extra oomph isn’t needed.

How to make your old car smart

Today’s new cars are available with enough technology to keep you travelling at the right speed, in your lane and awake for the journey.

However, your 2002 Audi or GM might look sleek but seem long in the tooth without the ability topark autonomously and create Wi-Fi hotspots.

Fortunately, there are ways to make your old car smart without having to get dirty under the hood.

Dash uses a car's on-board diagnostics port to communicate vital vehicle information back to a driver's smartphone

Dash uses a car’s on-board diagnostics port to communicate vital vehicle information back to a driver’s smartphone

Almost all cars built since 1996 have something called an on-board diagnostic port, or more technically speaking, an OBD-II port.

It’s this portal that lets you turn your old ride into a more modern, Internet-connected machine.

Most drivers probably don’t even know what an OBD-II port is, much less know where it is. Hint: look at the bottom of your dashboard, probably in the bottom-left corner by your hood release lever.

When dealerships say they’re going to “scan your car” for problems after you report seeing a dreaded “Check Engine” light, they plug their garage’s computer or tablet to the OBD-II to see what’s wrong with your car.

It’s this port that gives you a window to your vehicle’s soul. All drivers need is an OBD-II port reader and a smartphone.

Get connected

Lemur’s BlueDriver is a simple, basic option that costs about $100.

The dongle, about the size of your key fob, plugs into the OBD-II port and then links up with your phone over a Bluetooth connection.

Drivers and passengers are able to see real-time data from the car, including engine load, emissions information, fuel consumption, etc.

The BlueDriver can also identify and decipher error codes, suggesting possible solutions to a variety of problems. Perhaps that pesky “Check Engine” light is due to a bad oxygen sensor.

While most dealerships may still want to perform their own diagnostics, drivers can still head to the shop with a good idea of what’s wrong under the hood.

Get smarter

Mojio is a niftier OBD-II gadget from a Vancouver-based company. But unlike BlueDriver (and similar competitors), this one is more advanced.

It relies on an always-active 3G Internet connection to transmit your vehicle and driving information back to the cloud — and the driver.

mojio

From hard acceleration to unnecessary breaking, Moijo is designed to provide drivers with more than just raw numbers.

Error codes will prompt mobile alerts, while the analytics platform will help drivers see why their fuel-sipping car is blowing through tanks of gas.

However, the steady Internet connection requires a subscription ($4.99/month) so the Mojio won’t be constantly communicating with the driver’s cellphone over a battery-draining Bluetooth connection.

Drivers not wanting to pay a monthly subscription can also consider the Dash or Automatic OBD-II port devices.

Recipes for automation

Ok, you can’t program your old jalopy to drive itself just yet. But the cloud can help make your time behind the wheel more efficient.

Recipes available on IFTT (If This, Then That) can trigger events in your digital ecosystem based on where you drive, how you drive, or what you need to do while driving.

For example, Mojio drivers can receive a mobile alert if their battery runs low. Automatic drivers can prompt their car to turn on their house lights when they get home. Dash can send a tweet to let your followers know you’re on the road and not reading their 140-character posts.

And should your dashboard’s error display light up like a Christmas tree, Automatic can send those error codes to your mechanic via email before you’ve even had a chance to open the owner’s manual.

Three years later, traditional cab companies ready to compete with Uber

Days before lawyers from the City of Toronto and Uber appeared in court to deal with an injunction against the ride-hailing service, two local taxi companies released new mobile apps.

The apps would give customers the power to book a ride, track their cab and pay through the app itself. Sound familiar?

Uber first disrupted the Toronto cab industry more than three years ago, launching on March 15, 2012. It’s since expanded in Canada to Halifax, Quebec City, Montreal, Ottawa and Edmonton.

Uber customers could check the location of nearby drivers, see a fare estimate, track the location of their cab and pay through the app.

In May 2015, Toronto’s Beck and Co-op Cabs were ready to compete.

Beck’s app, released on May 20, is billed as “Canada’s first taxi-company app with in-app payment, map views and many more features…”

Testing out the app, it doesn’t seem to compare as well. The Beck app doesn’t show the location of nearby cabs (until a booking was made), and an attempt to change a booking prompted an error message that read “Order Not Editable.”

During one of my attempts to book a cab, I received a call back from a friendly Beck agent because I didn’t specify an address, I had just dropped the “Pick Me Up” pin at an intersection (and the app didn’t detect a nearby address). The agent on the phone did tell me that humans dispatch the cab drivers, not the app — much like the Beck app in 2012.

The app, however, did provide a fare estimate.

Co-op’s ‘GATA Hub’ app (get a taxi anywhere) wasannounced Friday and is a better solution. It provides fare estimates, advanced cab tracking and in-app payments. Reviews left in the App Store are favourable.

Legality vs. convenience

With the case in court, Uber launched a social media campaign Monday to build support for its ride-hailing service in Toronto.

Early Monday afternoon, the hashtag #uber4to was trending on Twitter in Canada.

Only Caitlyn Jenner’s Vanity Fair photos were trending higher.

Most tweets marked with #uber4to praised the convenience and affordability of Uber rides.

Some posts, however, raised concerns over safety and pricing.

Also Monday, traditional taxi drivers gathered outside Toronto City Hall, staging a protest against the digital disrupter.

In an ironic twist captured by one Twitter user, several cab drivers appeared to be protesting the very service they may be active on

When asked how many “normal” taxi drivers use Uber, company spokesperson Susie Heath told CTVNews.ca that “thousands of drivers in Toronto have partnered on the platform as a new way to earn.”

So much support for a service tangled in legal and policy proceedings may be a testament to its convenience, but Uber isn’t in top gear just yet.

Cross-Canada conundrum

Despite customer praise shared on social media, Uber continues to run into trouble with policymakers.

In Ottawa, some UberX drivers have been fined by bylaw officers while Montreal’s mayor said he believes UberX is illegal.

In a statement issued last October, the City of Toronto said UberX – a version of the app that allows everyday drivers to pick up fare-paying passengersin their own vehicles — violates municipal bylaws and “may post a serious safety risk.”

Uber continues to claim it is a technology company, connecting riders with drivers, while city regulators across Canada say it is an unregulated taxi service.

2015 Canadian International Auto Show in Toronto: 10 cars to see

The Toronto car show can be overwhelming. Many people spend too much time waiting to slide behind the wheel of a BMW M3, only to realize they’ve missed out on checking out a supercar in a different building.

Save yourself the hassle, just worry about checking out these ten must-see vehicles at the show.

1. Acura NSX

Acura NSX

Acura NSX

Gearheads have been drooling over this car since it made its official debut at the Detroit auto show. Well, prepare to pull your jaw off the ground after seeing this gem in Toronto.

Sharp, angular edges hint at the NSX’s powerful, yet modern cabin. The supercar’s rear wheels are powered primarily by a twin-turbo V6 coupled to a nine-speed DCT transmission. Two electric motors, meanwhile, power the front wheels – effectively providing four-wheel drive for the NSX.

2. Maserati Alfieri Concept

Maserati Alfieri Concept

Maserati Alfieri Concept

 

Making its Canadian debut at the show, the Maserati Alfieri Concept is sure to stun showgoers with its graceful body contours and Italian flair. It’s only fitting that a car designed to celebrate Maserati’s 100th anniversary is this gorgeous.

Exactly what’s powering this thing, and how much will it cost? As is the case with many concept cars, nothing is confirmed. But – this luxury model is an indication of what the next Maserati could look like.

3. 2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

 

 

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

2015 Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell

Ok, I’ll admit this Hyundai won’t be turning heads. There’s no Italian design or Germanic power here, but pay attention to this car. Why? It’s the first production fuel cell electric vehicle that will be available in Canada.

Sure, you have a better chance of finding snow in Mexico than finding a hydrogen station to fill ‘er up, but on the positive side, this Hyundai has a range of 425 km on one tank. Also, nothing but water comes out of the exhaust.

4. Infiniti Q80

Infiniti Q80

Infiniti Q80

 

The Q80 isn’t a car you’ll find in a dealership anytime soon. Rather, the Q80 is Infiniti’s hint at what’s to come from the Japanese automaker. It’s not just a concept car based on bold, stretched curves, but on smart and connected technology too.

Infiniti says the Q80 is an autonomous car, meaning that it can drive itself. There’s also a hybrid powertrain under the hood to keep things green.

5. Jaguar Project 7

 

Jaguar Project 7

Jaguar Project 7

 

The Project 7 is an F-Type on steroids, borrowing some design inspiration from the classic D-Type that won Le Mans three times.

The high-performance sports car from Jaguar has a lightweight all-aluminum body that wraps around a 5-litre supercharged V8. It’ll hit 100 km/h in 3.9 seconds before topping out at 300 km/h.

Don’t get too attached, all seven Canadian models have been sold.

6. 2016 Audi TTS Coupe, Roadster

2016 Audi TTS Coupe, Roadster

2016 Audi TTS Coupe, Roadster

 

Audi’s small sports car has been redesigned for the next model year. The new look blends styling cues from modern Audi design language with the TT’s original lines.

For the third-generation model, Audi is equipping these two-door cars with an all-digital instrument cluster in a move that’s designed to reduce driver distraction.

7. MINI Superleggera Vision

MINI Superleggera Vision

MINI Superleggera Vision

This is car is the most extreme MINI at the show. It’s as if a British car went to get a suit from an Italian tailor, and walked out of the shop looking like this.

It’s a hand-made concept, a collaboration with Italian design and tuning shop Touring Superleggera.

The swooping hood and wide-mouthed rear are uncharacteristic of Mini cars, but this model offers a drastic look at what happens when the British and Italians team up.

8. 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat

If straight-line speed is what gets you excited, check out this Charger, which Dodge claims is the fastest and most powerful production sedan in the world.

All that oomph comes from a 6.2-litre supercharged HEMI V8 that pumps out an intense 707 hp for a top speed of 328 km/h.

The big front grille and hood scoop isn’t just for show. Those body modifications are necessary to properly cool such a big engine, and to feed the superchargers enough air.

Did I mention it’s made in Canada?

9. 2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S

2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S

2016 Mercedes-Benz AMG GT S

This is the car that little kids will want as a poster hanging on their bedroom walls, and the car that grown adults will want on their driveways.

Its wide, gracefully curved body makes the GT S one of the most elegant yet athletic vehicles at the show. Power comes from a beefy 4-litre V8 biturbo engine tuned by AMG, which is the performance arm of Mercedes. The 510 hp engine will get the GT S up to legal highway speed in 3.8 seconds.

Possible deal breaker? No back seats.

10. 2017 Ford GT

2017 Ford GT

2017 Ford GT

The GT dropped jaws when Ford unveiled it to the world in Detroit last month, and now we’ve learned that there’s a Canadian connection.

The 2017 GT will be built in Markham, Ont. beginning later next year, but you can check it out now at the Toronto show’s Ford booth.

The mid-engine car features a twin-turbo V6 engine that’s designed to pump at least 600 hp to the rear wheels. Carbon fibre construction means the weight is kept low, so this car should deliver dramatic results on the road.

 

Self-driving cars – the best part of CES

Look ma, no hands required. A modified Audi A7 drives on its own.

Look ma, no hands required. A modified Audi A7 drives on its own.

The International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas used to be all about…consumer technology. From sleek new 4K TVs to next-generation connected home devices to wearable fitness trackers, most analysts and journalists appeared to ignore the automotive side of the show, until now.

This year, several keynotes were delivered by auto industry bigwigs as they flaunted the latest features their cars will ship with next year, or next decade.

From better connectivity to cars that drive themselves, CES is now one of the biggest shows to show what’s next for the auto industry.

Volkswagen at CES: Golf R Touch virtual dashboard

Volkswagen, for example, showed off the Golf R Touch. Its dashboard is comprised of several touchscreens. There’s no traditional tachometer or speedo, just a display you can customize to show exactly that.

Although the dash can be controlled with touch, controls can also be managed with motion from the driver or other occupants.

No longer will drivers be distracted by searching for the rear defroster button, buried at the bottom of their dash centre stack. It’ll be just a matter of waving your hand over a certain part of the cabin, with a twist of the finger to control the intensity of the heat.

Audi shows off self-driving cars

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Last year, Audi unveiled a self-driving car which contained a computer that was significantly smaller than the self-driving A7 they brought to CES in 2013. This year, the Germans sent their cars driving around Vegas on their own.

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Video: Top Gear Christmas Patagonia special

TG_patagonia_special

Just a few more days until Top Gear’s Christmas special airs. It’s a big favourite for any car fan – and especially TG fans.

The Top Gear Christmas special airs in two parts. The first half of the episode airs Saturday December 27 at night at 8:30 p.m. The second half airs Sunday December 28 at 8 p.m.

Top Gear released a video trailer of the special, and it looks as epic as any TG special would.

In this episode, James May, Richard Hammond and Jeremy Clarkson attempt to drive three older sports cars on an epic 1,600-mile trek through Patagonia to the most southern city in the world.

Anyways, watch the Top Gear Patagonia Christmas special trailer here:

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Toyota Mirai: Fuel cell vs hybrid has only one winner

The 2015 Toyota Mirai runs on hydrogen.

The 2015 Toyota Mirai runs on hydrogen.

Deciding between a hybrid gas-electric car and a hydrogen fuel cell car is like deciding whether you should floss on a daily basis, or whether you should get a root canal.

Such is the issue that many drivers will soon face as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles come on the market.

And the Toyota Mirai is the first of a possible onslaught of fuel cell cars, part of a new trend that will shape the future of our roads.

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Review: BMW i3 hints at our future of electric cars – and it’s fun

20140615_164247_HDRThe boy in the Subaru behind me was sleeping when his father, in the driver’s seat, must’ve woken him up.

The pointing, and then the sun-shielding hand above his eyes as he gawked at the car in front couldn’t be missed from my vantage point, glancing in the rear-view mirror while stuck in traffic.

I was driving what was arguably the most noticeable car on Highway 401 that day. More noticeable than a Ferrari, a Smart or a Tesla.

It was the BMW i3.

It’s the Bavarian company’s first foray into a production all-electric car, and it’s a good one.

The i3 is more of a family car or a daily commuter, appearing shorter than a 3 Series and with a much higher roofline.

Lithium Ion batteries along the bottom of the car store enough electricity to power the i3 for 160 km of driving, BMW says, depending on driving style. The particular i3 I tested also has a range extender, which is essentially a gas generator, to provide additional range (via electrical charge) for up to an additional 300 kms.

Important to note here, is that range really depends on your driving style. Considering the i3 can accelerate to 60 km/h in just under 4 seconds, it’s very easy to shrink your range with each standing start from a red light, especially since you can beat most other cars on the roads, all the time.

Acceleration with the i3 is unbelievable. Unlike traditional gasoline engines, torque from the electric motor is available right from the start.

With the “gas” pedal, you have to be so vigilant to avoid speeding since this electric car gets up to speed so quickly. It’s as if you’re pouring paint from one can to another over freshly finished floor – overdo it, and you could be in a bit of a mess.

The brakes are just as reactive, quickly bringing this carbon fibre-framed car to a stop.

Because the batteries are low along the bottom, the i3 carries a low centre of gravity so despite weighing, it’s actually fairly nimble.

The ride, meanwhile, can seem hard and jarring over potholed roads, such as stretches of Lawrence Avenue or Dufferin Street in Toronto.

Other than the eerie absence of engine noise, the i3 drives like a normal car. It has air conditioning, seat heaters , and a fancy I ConnectedDrive infotainment system – which connects to the Internet and makes everything, well, connected.

I was able to see my vehicle’s energy consumption – 15.9 kWh / 100 km. Using Toronto Hydro’s mid-peak electricity rate of 11.2 cents / kWh, it would cost about $1.78 for every 100 km I drove. And it wasn’t like I babied the accelerator to achieve the highest level of efficiency.

By comparison, BMW says its 320i consumes fuel at a rate of 7.1 litres / 100 km. Depending on the price of a litre of gas…you can see which one is more cost efficient.

Charging can be done at home by plugging the car into your typical wall outlet (with a provided adaptor) and it takes about 12-15 hours to fully recharge the i3.

The i3 charging at a Tim Hortons in MiltonThe better option is to find a ChargePort charging station and get topped up in about three hours (for 80% charge). They can be found at several malls, parking garages, and even at a coffee shop on the outskirts of suburbia in Milton.

If you neglect to charge the car entirely – and you ticked the option box for the range extender – the tank is less than $5 to fill.

I was able to go a full weekend without ever stressing out about my range, and I could imagine drivers going up to the cottage driving models equipped with the range extender.

How do people respond to the BMW i3’s looks?

These cars feature a two-tone paint scheme – my loaner was grey and black, along with blue accents. To be honest, it appears to be as sexy looking as a vacuum cleaner, but it still manages to turn heads everywhere.

One day, while trying to go out for a run, I was stopped by neighbours and spent more than 20 minutes explaining how the i3 works and what it’s like to drive.

There was also a family at the Tim Hortons, a cyclist on his bike, and that boy and his father I mentioned at the start of this piece.

From sustainable manufacturing to zero emissions, I could go on about how this car is as good for the environment as it is to spend a summer planting trees, but I think this is just the hint of what most of our cars will be like in the years to come.

And it’s fun.

Price: From $44,950

 

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