BMW i3 official Canadian launch

BMW i3s parked in front of BMW Group Canada headquarters in Richmond Hill, ON. Photos by Benjamin Yong.

On June 4 at their headquarters in Richmond Hill, ON, BMW Group Canada officially unveiled to media their first mainstream production electric car: the BMW i3.

With a range of 160 kilometres on a full charge (15 hours using standard Level 1 charging, three to four hours with Level 2), the i3 isn’t breaking any distance records. However, it is designed to be for urban use and there is research showing that a majority of city-dwelling Canadians drive less than 60 km a day. For those suffering from range anxiety, there is an optional model that features an add-odd gasoline engine that pushes the total range to 300 km. Rather than powering the drive wheels in the rear, the extra engine is only for powering up the battery.

Like a yoga studio or an ethical coffee shop, BMW says that there was a holistic approach to building their electric car. For example, if you peer inside you’ll notice the use of wood on the dash. That’s made from the eucalyptus plant sourced from Europe. In fact, 25 per cent of the entire interior is made from recycled materials.

Technology plays just as big a role as sustainability in the car’s production. Rather than a traditional instrument cluster and climate control layout, there is a pair of “pads” that display all the pertinent information. One is located in front of the steering wheel, and the other is a seven-inch screen — upgradeable to 10.2 inch — in the middle of the dash. Several of the vehicle’s controls can also be monitored and actuated using BMW’s propriety iRemote app available for Apple and Android devices.

I was fortunate enough to join a small group of other journalists given access to the i3s for a quick drive around the city to test the performance and handling. The 130-kilowatt electric motor produces 170 horsepower, more than ample for getting around town. One thing immediately noticeable upon first drive is the sensation of the car abruptly slowing down when you let off the gas — that’s the regenerative braking system turning friction back into usable energy. When you put your foot back down, the 184 lb-ft of torque brings power up quickly and, coupled with the near 50/50 weight balance, the car drives like you would expect something coming out of the Leipzig, Germany factory.

The i3 starts at $44,950. Visit the BMW website for more information.

Spring into a convertible with the Roadster, MX-5 or R8 Spyder

The fine line between the end of winter and the start of spring is often blurred. It still rains more often than not, and you just can’t get yourself to pack away the jackets quite yet. And with summer approaching quickly, you start to notice the faint smell of barbecue wafting in your window, and then the first firm sign appears — convertibles of all shapes and colours begin flooding the streets.

For the 2014 model year, there is no shortage of new drop tops offered by manufacturers ranging from mild to wild. Here are a few favourite picks to hit the open road with this start of the warm season.

Mini Cooper Roadster

MINI Cooper Roadster

With great handling due to its short wheelbase, cute looks and the choice of three powerplants, there’s a lot to like about the MINI Cooper Roadster. Starting at MSRP $28,900, it’s available in standard trim with 121 horsepower, the more powerful Cooper S with 181 hp, and my personal favourite, the John Cooper Works edition with 208 hp and 192 pound-feet of torque. All models still get great gas mileage as well with the latter rated at 7.7 L/100 km in the city and 5.6 L/100 km on the highway.

2014 Audi R8 Spyder

Audi R8 Convertible

On the other end of the spectrum, the Audi R8 Spyder Convertible is made to impress. For an MSRP of $148,000, you get a 4.2-litre eight-cylinder engine producing 430 hp and 317 lb-ft of torque, 19-inch wheels and a six-speed manual transmission. Or, step up to the $182,000 V10 model for a horsepower and torque bump up to 525 and 430 lb-ft, respectively. New for 2014 is an optional S tronic seven-speed automatic gearbox that will launch the V10 from 0 to 100 km/h in under 3.5 seconds.

2013 Mazda MX-5 Miata

Mazda MX-5

Time is winding down for consumers to pick up the third generation of arguably the most popular roadster in history: the Mazda MX-5 Miata. Introduced in 1989, the first iteration alone sold over 400,000 units. The modern version retains much of that classic two-seater sports car feel with a rear-wheel drive layout, a high-revving 167-hp engine and an available six-speed transmission. Enthusiasts should be on the lookout for a new Miata based on a completely redesigned chassis coming soon.

Besides these examples, there are plenty of other open-air options available. Visit for a complete list.

Top 3 summertime driving roads in B.C.

​B.C. is often referred to as supernatural, or even God’s country, simply because of the amazing natural spectacles we have. We are lucky to have such easy access to Whistler, the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Ocean and much more. No less magnificent are the great driving roads we have leading to these destinations. Here is our top three list of the ones you need to hit this summer with your favourite vehicle.

Sea-to-Sky Highway

I recently had a chat with a well-travelled fellow from Ontario who said this long and windy stretch of Highway 99 from Horseshoe Bay leading to Pemberton is the “best road in the world.” It’s hard to argue with that statement when you see firsthand the views of Howe Sound on one side and the Coast Mountains looming in the horizon. The improvements made leading up to the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics have also made the conditions much safer. Stop by Squamish for a coffee or lunch on your way, and visit the brand new Sea-to-Sky Gondola that takes you 885 metres above sea level in 10 minutes.

Duffy Lake Road

If the drive to Pemberton wasn’t quite enough, continue eastbound on 99 towards Joffre Lakes. You’ll experience both wide open and twisty bits of highway that transition into switchbacks as you make your way on Portage Road that turns into Lillooet Lake Road and eventually Duffy Lake Road. This will take you right past the provincial park featuring great hiking trails and a choice of three lakes prime for swimming or kayaking. From there continue on a 56-kilometre journey past lush vegetation and high mountainous passes to Lillooet, B.C.

Trans-Canada Highway

Although a little longer of a route, the trip on the Trans-Canada heading to Alberta is one that everyone should take at least once. The scenic route takes you through towns big and small in B.C. that you might not have an opportunity to visit otherwise, such as Chilliwack, Hope, Merritt, Kamloops and Salmon Arm, just to name a few. These pit stops also provide the perfect place to refuel your car and your stomach. Spread the journey out over a couple of days to savour the sights, or do a cannonball run toward the jagged peaks of the Canadian Rockies in under 10 hours.

What are you waiting for? Choose a vehicle, call up a friend and make for the open road this summer.

Go green or go home: 2014 AJAC Eco-Run

2014 AJAC Eco-Run Clare Dear
AJAC Eco-Run chairman speaks at the launch of this year’s event in Vancouver. Photos by Benjamin Yong.

The annual Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) Eco-Run took place this year in Vancouver on May 6, a three-day event that showcases the latest and greatest eco-friendly vehicles available. It also aims to educate the public on how to drive in a manner that can save money at the gas station, and help the environment at the same time.

2014 AJAC Eco-Run cars

“We have everything from small sub-compacts right up to a pickup truck and a hybrid sports car. So there’s a very diverse grouping here, all of them offering consumers the best technologies available in terms of fuel efficiency and emission controls,” said AJAC Eco-Run chairman Clare Dear at the launch in downtown’s Jack Poole Plaza.

2014 AJAC Eco-Run Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid

Eighteen journalists and 18 vehicles from 12 different manufacturers gathered near Coal Harbour before taking off on a route to Whistler, then to Pemberton, and back with stops along the way to refuel and recharge. There were gasoline and diesel-powered cars, like the Nissan Altima and MINI Cooper, pure electrics such as the Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Nissan Leaf, and hybrids like the Honda Accord Hybrid and even the sporty Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid.

2014 AJAC Eco-Run Mazda3

The drivers essentially drew straws to determine which cars they would be piloting on the different sections of the trip — my first ride was the Mazda3 equipped with a manual transmission. Sadly, practicing green driving meant I spent most of the time in a high gear trying to maintain a steady rate of speed without any sudden stops. Other techniques I employed to reduce fuel consumption included avoiding jack rabbit starts and anticipating traffic so I could coast to slow down when safe. Easier said than done.

2014 AJAC Eco-Run Squamish DC Fast Charger

It was smoother sailing once the caravan hit the wide-open Sea-to-Sky highway with its gorgeous views of the surrounding Coast Mountains. Surprisingly, there were plenty of charging stations along the way, with even a DC fast charger in downtown Squamish that was able to fill-up the limited-range electrics in about 30 minutes.

2014 AJAC EcoRun FleetCarma data logger

To gauge the effectiveness of our purposeful driving style, each participating vehicle had a data-logging device installed measuring acceleration, braking, average speed and energy consumption. The goal was, as a group, to use as little gas and electricity as possible. Over the course of the tour, the drivers managed a commendable average eco-score of 91.8 out of 100, with 100 representing optimal efficiency. Some journalists, myself not included, even managed to achieve perfect scores on certain parts of the journey.

The Eco-Run ended back where it started with a consumer show where passersby brave enough to venture into a sudden rainstorm could learn more about the event, check out some of the cars and even take one out for a test drive.

Bluetooth technology – More than just hands-free calls

Only 2 decades ago, if you wanted to play your favourite tunes on the road, you were likely faced with hours of careful mixing and recording on cassette tapes. The end result would be hours of painstaking dubbing that could easily be ruined by a dirty audio head or a magnet.

Less than 5 years ago most cars were limited to CD players. If you were lucky, you had an auxiliary port or some sort of iPod connectivity interface that was at its infancy. These days, the array of media source options for playing your favourite tunes in new cars is truly astounding.

Enter the age of Bluetooth. Initially pawned off as a passing fad, even inexpensive compact cars have it these days (e.g. Mazda3Hyundai ElantraToyota CorollaHonda Civic).

Bluetooth is a wireless short-range communication technology that lets devices share data with each other — for example, your phone communicates audio data with your car’s built-in speakers and vice versa.

With the ever-increasing acceptance of smartphones into our lives, Bluetooth has made it possible for us to reliably stream high quality music over the air from our smartphones’ albums and personal playlists into our cars. Add the availability of audio streaming apps and the music selection possibilities are endless!

But not all cars with Bluetooth connectivity are created equal. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when you are researching for a new or used car with this technology.

  1. If you’re just looking for basic hands-free phone calling, look for a car that only supports the Bluetooth HFP (Hands-Free Profile). This is the Bluetooth profile that is most commonly used, and the one that most consumers are familiar with. Cars with infotainment systems that support just the HFP will only be able to support hands-free calling, not audio streaming.
  2. The next step up from HFP is Phone Book Access Profile (PBAP), which allows your car’s hands-free system access to your phone’s address book for syncing and display.
  3. If you are looking for the ability to wirelessly stream music without the need for a physical cable, ensure that the car that you are shopping for supports A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile), also sometimes referred to as Bluetooth Audio streaming.

    This profile enables the wireless transmission of digital audio from your smart device to your car’s audio system. Audio quality is typically good enough for compressed MP3s or for streaming from music apps such as Songza or Rdio.

  4. A few years ago, only higher end cars had the ability to display a song’s metadata (artist name, album song title, etc) over Bluetooth audio streaming. These days even lower priced compact cars such as the Mazda3 and Hyundai Elantra offer this feature as well.
  5. Texting while driving is not only bad but illegal in most provinces. Happily, Bluetooth’s Message Access Profile (MAP) allows a supported car’s infotainment system to display or even read aloud a text message by a text-to-speed system. BMW’s iDrive system is one of the examples of a system that has the ability to perform such as feat. Just make sure to check off “Enhanced Bluetooth connectivity” on the options list.

Hopefully this article provides you with a few tips about what Bluetooth is, how useful it is, and what to look for in your next car.

Best in Canada: OpenRoad Audi staff headed to Twin Cup world championship

Open Road Audi service advisor Dragos Paduraru
Service Advisor Dragos Paduraru is part of the OpenRoad Audi team vying for the 2014 Twin Cup championship. Photos by Benjamin Yong.

Like the Olympic Games of the automotive world, the Audi Twin Cup world championship is the ultimate destination for service and technician staff of the other well-known brand symbolized by rings. Held this year in Munich, Germany, teams of six — three from each department — will be competing from 40 nations for the recognition of being the best in their field.

Dragos Paduraru has been a Service Advisor with OpenRoad Audi in Vancouver for seven years, and knows a thing or two about the topic having been part of the Canadian team that finished fifth overall at the 2013 event. He will be reprising his role as ambassador, along with technician and fellow co-worker Aaron Berghoffer, following victories in their respective categories at the nationals in early April. Staff technician Peter Cheung also competed making it to the semi-finals.

Paduraru says he originally joined the competition to challenge himself.

“I wanted to see how well I’m prepared. I know I can do very well in terms of service processes, and also I’m familiar with the parts as well and also the shop a little bit,” he says.

OpenRoad_Audi service entrance

To qualify, anyone working in the appropriate areas within the Audi dealer network can throw their names in the hat. The first hurdle is at the local level where entrants must undergo two rounds of general knowledge testing on the computer.

“The questions vary from very technical ones that are car related, to extremely customer-oriented ones that have nothing to do with the car itself,” says Paduraru, originally from Romania.

The next step is the national stage at the Audi Canada corporate headquarters in Ajax, Ontario where the testing is split into customer or mechanical expertise, such as identifying a car part by blindly putting your hand into a box of items. From there, the top six get the honour of representing Canada at the Audi Twin Cup. Whereas previously entrants competed as individuals, at the worlds they must learn to function as a team.

OpenRoad Audi service department

“Why it’s named the Twin Cup is basically because the service consultants and technicians should work together like a team, like twins. Even the Sedins in hockey, they know all their moves and all their processes. It’s exactly what they want to see at the world stage, a really good performance from both sides.”

As a technician at OpenRoad Audi since 2010, Cheung says the competition offers a unique chance to network with others in his field, and also see how he measures up to them.

“I had the opportunity to see how I stand up against other Audi technicians in Canada and possibly the world.”

Two OpenRoad Audi techs at work: Peter Cheung (left) and Aaron Berghoffer


Berghoffer joined the company over a year ago and while he is “very excited,” acknowledges that it won’t be easy to dethrone the current champions from South Korea.

The 2014 Audi Twin cup takes place in Munich from July 16 to 19.

BMW's Rallying Days

Rallying is cool. It’s a bunch of lunatics going very sideways on the world’s most gruelling and extreme roads. A little known fact about BMW is that they didn’t just stick to road racing when it came to motorsports, they also entered the occasional rally car. In 1982, BMW decided to enter a tuned version of their supercar – the legendary BMW M1. While the BMW M1’s roots in race car history are well documented, very little is known about the M1’s brief stint in the world of rally sport. And not just any rally sport, we’re  talking about legendary “Group B” – an unrestricted class of motorsport in the 1980’s in which the BMW M1 stood out as its most powerful entrant. 

For those of you not in the know on arguably the most interesting few years in rally sport history; Group B rallying happened in a four-year span when the world briefly went mad. In 1982, all manufacturers were in a race to build the most powerful rally cars in the hopes of catching up to the dominant Audi Quattros. The results were twitchy turbo charged rally cars with virtual suicidal drivers sprinting through rally stages at time travel speeds. In eerie similarity to the killer 50’s when F1 racing was discontinued for a number of years, the unrestricted Group B class was banned in 1986 due to too many fatalities. In its darkest days the sport was said to cause more deaths than finishers.

The BMW M1 was modestly described as “hard to handle” by driver Bernard Beguin, who wrestled the godly sounding beast around Europe’s dirt clad hairpins. The footage below shows the 430 bhp M1 terrorizing “the Tour de Corse” on the usually quiet and quaint island of Corsica. Nicknamed ‘The Rally of 1000 Corners,’ spectators would often shovel gravel onto the road to cause an even greater – sideways –  spectacle.

I guess it is safe to say that BMW learnt some valuable lessons with their stint in Group B rallying, as only a few years later they managed to produce one of the most victorious race cars in motorsport history – the BMW E30 M3. It was the summer of 1985 in Germany when the journalists first got their hands on the M3, and for the next six years, their pens waxed lyrically about the M3’s 50/50 weight distribution, driving feel, and endless string of victories on the road, on the track, and on Europe’s most challenging dusty mountain roads.

The fact that it originally started out as a “Group A” race car project, of which BMW was forced to make a (now legendary) homologiation production series for the road, helped make it an extraordinary machine for use on the road. It was light at a mere 1,200 kilograms dry weight, and it featured the 1983 F1 Championship winning engine block from the Brahbham BMW race car. Its crankshaft could withstand up to 10,000 rpm and its exhaust system was tested for over 150,000 kms at full throttle on Italy’s Nardo test track. All these bits of specific information reveal why the E30 M3 road car was granted such high praise as it was a mere race car in disguise. How BMW managed to sell them at a halfway affordable price is beyond my comprehension.

Similar to the BMW M1, another legend had entered the books, albeit with a dramatically different end result. The M1 was a legend because it was a short lived monster, the E30 M3 because it was an absolute peach that led a long dominant life as Bavaria’s most prized export. 

Today, let’s enjoy the footage for what it was and silently pay our respects to the drivers and spectators who paid the ultimate price in the name of motorsport.

Visit BMW Langley for more info on the BMW brand.

From Toyota Prii to Mazda2s: A look at available fuel-efficient vehicles


With gas prices approaching $1.50/litre in Metro Vancouver this summer, the topic of fuel-efficient transportation is on a lot of people’s minds. Fortunately, with modern technology many manufacturers are able to squeeze more performance out of small engines, like Mazda with their subcompact Mazda2, or offer gas-sipping hybrids such as Toyota and their extensive lineup of legendary Prii (yes, that is the official Prius plural term).  For the consumer, that means there is something to suit virtually every taste and budget. Below is a look at what’s currently available on the market.


Fuel consumption*: 8.0 L/100 km city, 6.7 highway (manual)

Estimated annual fuel cost*: $1,625

The 100 horsepower produced by the Mazda2’s 1.5-litre engine might not seem like much, but with an impressive power-to-weight ratio and a manual transmission option, expect a lot of fun in the corners as you row through the gears. It’s quite well equipped for its class as well, with standard power door mirrors, locks and windows, MP3-capable head unit, USB inputs and 15-inch wheels. The car will undergo a complete change for the 2015 model year.

Honda Fit

Fuel consumption: 8.3 L/100km city, 6.4 highway (automatic)

Estimated annual fuel cost: $1,638

In its second generation and about to enter a third, the Honda Fit has been a popular choice for a wide demographic from budget-conscious students to families looking for an additional car. Like the Mazda2, the engine is also a 1.5-litre but makes slightly more power at 117 hp and 106 lb-ft of torque. Despite its sub-compact form factor, the Fit can still carry plenty of stuff with 585 litres of storage space behind the rear seats. Fold them down and the hatch will swallow up 1,622 L of cargo.

Lexus CT 200H

Fuel consumption: 5.5 L/100 km city, 5.8 highway (CVT)

Estimated annual fuel cost: $1,196

Paving the way for entry-level luxury hybrid vehicles to come, Lexus launched the CT 200H a few years back giving consumers the option of being eco-friendly while enjoying upscale features. Refreshed for this year, the front fascia gets the “Spindle Grille” as found on other models across the lineup, the rear spoiler has been redesigned, and the speakers now include bamboo-fibre components. The hatchback is powered by a 1.8 L Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder engine coupled with an electric motor making 134 net hp.

Toyota Prius

Fuel consumption: 4.7 L/100 km city, 4.9 highway (CVT)

Estimated annual fuel cost: $968

There can be no discussion of fuel-friendly vehicles without the mention of the Toyota Prius. Available in Canada since 2000, it now comes in four configurations (standardplug-in hybridthe smaller “c” and the “v” station wagon) and tops the Natural Resources Canada list for best in-class fuel efficiency year after year. Utilizing Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive technology, it has the same powerplant as the CT 200H that shifts smoothly between gasonline engine and electric motor.

There are just some examples of what you can expect when you walk into any OpenRoad Auto Group dealership in the Lower Mainland, with more on the way! For a full list of vehicles, visit

* Based on the 2014 Natural Resources Canada Fuel Consumption Guide with revised federal testing methodology.