Smoke-a-localypse!

Like everyone in the city with a camera, I have made a short film about the smoke from the fires in the north of the province that covered Edmonton on May 30th. Enjoy!

It certainly made for a surreal look to the city, with everything being quite yellow-tinted and dark, and the air quality was… as good as it looks. I swear, you walk around outside for a minute and you could taste it for hours afterward.

Afternoon of the Lepus

We get a lot of rabbits around here, kind of in cycles that occur every couple of years or so.

I’ve always thought they were pretty neat, and ridiculously cute as babies (which, I just learned the other day, are called kittens. Weird, right?) and this leads me into another long tale of ‘how I met my neighbours’. Check this out:

So I am sitting around my palatial mansion last Friday; because my life is such a laugh-a-minute thrill ride, and I decide to go outside for a cigarette.

(The palatial mansion is a non-smoking building, you see).

Anyway, I go out back into the alley and right away notice that a couple of neighbours are out on their balcony, yelling at something. They spot me and start yelling down, and I’m all “Sup?”

They tell me that a couple of magpies have gotten ahold of a baby rabbit (or ‘kitten’, as we have learned) in the yard of the building next door, and are fixing to croak it.

I go round a small hedge that is the only barrier to the yard, sure enough, two magpies are dragging the little animal around by his legs, getting really pecky with the terrorized critter.

Frightening the birds off with the time-tested technique of waving my arms and yelling obscenities at them, I find myself alone with the rabbit as the magpies settle on the roof of a garage and sit there watching us.

So I can’t really leave,  and the rabbit has compressed himself face-first into a curb around the house and is huddling there quaking.

It kinda reminded of that last scene in The Blair Witch Project, you know? With the guy standing in the corner?  I loved that film.

Incidentally, this is not the first time I couldn’t leave a scene because I watching out for something, and not the most unusual object.

At this point my neighbours from the balcony have come down, and now three of us stand around looking at the rabbit. One of them calls 311 and gets an opinion on what to do (and those options were: leave the animal there, as its parent may be around, or box it up and take it inside, but then you gotta whole ‘nother problem).

Of course, we then find the rest of the rabbitlings. Almost invisible, five more of them are huddled in a pile at the base of the weedy little hedge. They had probably escaped the notice of the magpies by not moving around; while the original rabbit was perhaps an ‘early hopper’.

Trouble is, the others are beginning to try to hop as well, but being as they were probably born, literally, yesterday, they weren’t very good at it and also didn’t exercise good judgement. The three of us keep gathering them up and returning them to the rabbit-pile.

Long story short: as the sun starts going down, the magpies leave and the kits become less active and remain in their huddle. And, fortunately, some adult rabbits (or maybe they’re hares, I don’t know to be honest) begin to show up on the perimeter. We all figure this is a good thing, and go back inside.

And thither, my friends, is how I met a couple of my neighbours, Josh and Sarah.

PS: I checked out the hedge the next morning and the whole group was gone, so it looks like they got on with wherever rabbits go when they aren’t hanging out with us.

2018 Honda Clarity Touring

Another Home Run from Honda

Back in the day, the guy whose job it was to use the pole with the suction cup on it to rearrange the numbers on gas station’s signs would have been frantically working overtime to keep up with the rapidly changing cost of fuel.

A good-looking PHEV sedan with family-friendly space and cargo room, designed to run on purely electric power as much as possible.

Good thing we live in the future now, and those signs are electronic and can be revised with the touch of a button, making the numbers easy to change as gas prices rocket skyward; fluctuating wildly all the way.

It is times like these that hybrids and pure-electric vehicles attract attention anew, and Honda’s Clarity has been one of my favorites this year.

The car is a plug-in electric vehicle, with the gasoline engine combined with electric motor setup everyone is by now familiar with, but the deal with PHEV vehicles is that the hybrid battery can be recharged by – yes, plugging it in.

Here’s the thing with pluggable hybrids like the Clarity, they can be charged with household current (although that takes a long time, but if you can leave it overnight that will top up the battery), or more quickly with high-voltage Level 2 or Level 3 charging stations. Not everybody has 240v available at their home, of course, but an infrastructure is beginning to develop making the fast chargers available.

These can be few and far between, though, depending on where you live. I think there are a grand total of three such stations in my area (I found one at an Ikea store, and two more at branches of the Edmonton Public Library).

And here’s the salient point: I ended up with an overall fuel economy rating of 1.9L per hundred kilometers driven after putting on about 340 km in mostly city driving, when I was able to keep the Clarity fully charged. That’s insane.

Of course, that number changes when the battery gets low and the car uses the gasoline engine more; you’ll especially notice it on the highway – although even driving from Edmonton to Calgary under mostly gas power, the vehicle still came in at just over 6L/100 km.

A Clarity featured in the recent AJAC EcoRun event won a lot of hearts and minds with this kind of economy, and kudos for remaining an all-round ‘real’ car as well.

Honda touts the model as a ‘no compromise’ vehicle, citing the reassuring presence of the gasoline engine as a counter to range anxiety (which is a real thing, btw. I have driven purely battery-operated vehicles and experienced first hand the lump in the throat that starts when the juice gets low and you still have a fair distance to go).

Wrapped around all the technology, though, is a pretty decent car regardless of the drivetrain.

The one in the photos here is a Touring trim (so, top of the Clarity line), which showed off good people- space inside (along with overall cargo volume), and a comfortable array of surfaces and supports for passengers.

Clarity doesn’t compromise the driving experience, with more-than-ample power and torque (it outdoes a number of competitors, like Hyundai’s Sonata or the Kia Optima PHEVs, and Ford’s soon-departing Fusion Energi) with the combined output from the system rated at 212 hp.

Three major drive modes are selectable, the usual Normal, Eco and Sport choices (and a driver really can feel the difference in response when put into Sport) as well as what Honda has named ‘HV Mode’ – designed for use at highway speeds when the gasoline engine can be used to recharge the hybrid battery.

The price is where potential buyers may get balky, but in areas where rebates are available for purchasing efficient cars (I’ve read that it can be up $14K in some regions, but that doesn’t apply in Alberta), that may be something people can justify. Especially with the fuel saving factored in.

The 2018 Clarity starts at $39,900 for a base model; but the Touring trim test car I used pushes that to $43,900

Pretty neat stuff any way you approach it, and I must admit it’s kind of cool living in the future. Despite the loss of those gas station sign-changer jobs.

 

2018 BMW M550i xDrive

It is 27 degrees outside, according to the car’s temperature display, and it feels a lot worse with the humidity we’re getting; but you know what? I can’t complain.

Pretty much the whole rest of the country is faring as bad (or worse) this summer, and many of the other people enduring the heat wave don’t have the advantage of ventilated seats in a luxury car, like I do this week with BMW’s M550i.

A hot car for a hot day.

There’s nothing like a seat that helps cool you down, working in conjunction with the rest of the 2018 5 Series’ climate control system; it’s a feature which is fast becoming a must-have in any car that wants to compete in the high-end market.

I consider it especially important when your interior is decked out in black-on-brown Nappa leather, sitting outside in a sun baked parking lot.

My beloved driver’s seat is part of the Premium Package option included on this test car (and I want to add, the front seat passenger is treated equally well). Boasting a full range of adjustability with tailorable leg-length extension, properly aggressive lumbar support and side bolstering, it is easy to add my setup to the seat memory and end up with a configuration I could sit behind the wheel in for hours at a time. And I did!

Check out this fantastic photo by Elliott Mah, exclusive cinematographer to the world’s finest website! Taken in beautiful downtown Edmonton outside the landmark Chez Pierre, in front of a great mural by artist Carly Ealy.

Ah, but look at me, leading with the cabin comfort when I should be talking about performance – this is a Beemer, after all.

BMW touts the M550i as being all-new for 2018, and the fastest 5 Series to date. Now, by way of explanation of the lineup, the M550 is the latest edition to a lineup of 5’s, coming in above the 530, the 530e hybrid and 540. And while the vehicle we’re looking at here wears the M badge, and gets many of the M-specific tuning and trim accoutrements, this is not the same car as the company’s M5 (which further pumps up the power to 600 ponies and  553 lb.-ft. of torque).

A twin-turbo 4.4L, eight-cylinder engine pushing 455 horses and 480 lb.-ft. of torque to the wheels (all the wheels, mind you, AWD is what xDrive stands for, though the power is biased toward the rear).

The big 8 exhibits a sweet exhaust note that gets the right kind of attention from fans of the brand, and one of the things I like about the 550i is that the engineers don’t confuse ‘performance’ with ‘stupidly loud’ – the car sounds good without ostentatious, blasting noise.

The company claims acceleration of 0-100km/h in just four frightening seconds, and while I don’t have personal stopwatch verification of that, I’ll take them at their word – the M550i is a rocket, particularly when the Sport or Sport+ drive modes are engaged.

My test car put the power to the road via an 8-speed Steptronic transmission (with wheel-mounted paddle shifters) and backed that up with the sort of enhanced stopping power a driver needs to get this monster back under control with an M Sport brake package with its big, blue calipers.

M550i also gets a tweaked suspension – branded as you might imagine as the Adaptive M Sport suspension – which lowers the ride height by 10 millimeters versus other members of the 5 Series lineup, and further enhances the handling and cornering abilities of the car.

Steering and handling is a real joy all ‘round in this package, feel –and-feedback through the wheel is engaging and tight, highly responsive without being heavy or difficult; and while that makes a driver look forward to the twists and turns, the M550i is also an excellent highway car.

I took it 300km down the QE2 to Calgary (using mostly the car’s Eco mode, for as you may imagine, fuel economy isn’t one of the car’s strongest selling points), and the cabin showed off its quiet and NVH-free environment.

The outward styling is more of the evolution of BMW. Still easily recognizable, with its stance and overall silhouette, and further sculptural refinement behind the twin-kidney grille (with its active air vents), it is, as with every generation of every model from the Bavarian brand, better looking than the last.

Detractions for the M550i are the predictable series of complaints. I won’t even dwell on the fuel economy (as I figure if you’re shopping for eight-cylinder sports/prestige vehicles, it probably won’t be a factor in your purchase, but the M550i states FE of 14.3L/100 km in the city and 9.4 on the highway).

Its also a big car with a big turning circle (at over 6 meters) and interior cargo volume is not huge, at 530 litres.

Instead, I will say, as I always do, that in order to get the car you want, when envisioning the perfect 5 Series package, is that to get it up to its fully realized potential, many an option group is required.

Here’s a breakdown of this particular test car, which came with a $6,500 Premium Package (which is how it got those seats I like so much), an Advanced Driver Assistance package ($1,500, and it includes desirable safety features like evasion assist, cross traffic alert and lane-keeping function), Smartphone package ($750) and the Nappa leather upholstery for another $1,500

I love this photo because without any context it looks like I just stumbled out of a strip bar at 11:00 on a Sunday morning and coincidentally encountered cinematographer Elliott Mah.

The car’s is at its best with those additions, but it kicks up the buy-in from a starting base of a cool $83,000 to a sticker price of $93,250 before freight ‘n’ taxes.

The price of prestige, I suppose. Here, please check out the video of the M550i on our Youtube channel!

Cafe Linnea

Here’s another of Edmonton’s A-list eateries – Cafe Linnea!

Located once again in an area I don’t normally associate with fine dining (much as we found with Range Road) they’re in a strip mall in a fairly industrial-looking district over on 119st and 109ave)

I was there with Toyota Canada a few weeks back, and Linnea brought on a great experience for roughly a dozen of us.

While not as well-known locally as some (they have only been in business a couple of years now), I wish them nothing but good things going forward!

Here’s a link to a fun blog on their website; where the restaurant’s contact info can also be found

Range Road

Okay, I admit its a bit higher end than a gentleman like myself usually patronizes (I keep to more of a Burger Baron budget), but how have I never heard of Range Road before?

Consistently rating on virtually every Edmonton foodie’s top-ten lists for years now, this establishment is a gem tucked away in an unassuming downtown neighborhood where you might not expect to find fine dining.

I went to RR with a group from Cadillac after the Edmonton Motorshow back in April, and was blown away by the food (and the staff!) as well as the concept – they use the Butchery (a room separated from the main dining area) for special event bookings.

Yes, I showed up in a Lincoln for a Cadillac dinner, don’t tell anybody 🙂

Great atmosphere and a good time, highly recommended for special occasions and gatherings. Check them out here for bookings and a more complete rundown:

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve

We are classy guys this time out, here at the Auto Section, wheeling around beautiful springtime Edmonton in a Lincoln Continental.

I’ve driven the company’s reworked classic a couple of times since it major reintroduction a couple of years back, and I never get tired of it. The fit, the finish, the materials used through the big beast and the general overall comfort – there isn’t much to dislike.

Except maybe the price, but we’ll get to that later.

A North American rival to popular richmobiles like BMWs 7 Series (or the latest generation E-Class from the dominant player in the market, Mercedes) the 2017 Continental brings every accoutrement and high-end touch that rich people like you and I be expecting when shopping for our limos.

This is the third opportunity I’ve had to experience the car, so I won’t rehash the whole schlemiel (here’s a longer piece  from the introduction of the Continental)

Suffice to say, it holds its own in terms of comfort, power and an overall fit and finish worthy of anything in the class.

The test car we used was a loaded Reserve trim sporting the optional 3.0L twin-turbo powerplant (the six-cylinder 3.0 adds $3000 to the bottom line) and the option packages that even cars playing the premium luxury game seem to require in order to truly deliver on their promise.

The truly excellent Revel Ultima audio system is a part of Luxury Package (as are premium LED headlamps), and I love it – this is top-flight audio reproduction right here; and the Technology Package is desirable for the active park assist and pre-collision safety suite.

For my money, though, it is the seats that make the Continental as desirable as it is. The driver’s perch in particular offers highly adjustable tailoring of the setup and seat bolstering (and of course a massage feature – test drive a Continental Reserve just to experience this, I tell ya).

The rear seat passengers don’t miss out on the massage feature in our test car, either, in fact the whole rear seat experience is overall mighty fine

On a more pedestrian note, I also benefitted more from the AWD system this time around, driving as I was in Alberta winter instead of the California sun.

Regardless of the conditions, the reinvigorated Continental rides well, shows off responsive and quick steering (and powerful acceleration, though there wasn’t much chance to appreciate the 400 horses of the three-litre six).

The upsides are pretty evident with the 2017 Continental: its comfort and overall roominess, the available tech and smooth drivetrain. This is just a wonderful car to drive, or be driven in. Plus, it sports the best-looking grille currently in the Lincoln lineup.

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Potential detractions are equally straightforward – this is a big car, with a big turning circle and overall footprint; and it is neither fuel-economical (the company rates it at 14.4L/100 km in the city with this engine, I got about mid-sixteens overall in winter conditions) – and while it competes, pricewise with similar vehicles from Audi, Merc and Lexus, I don’t think you’ll be shocked to learn that the final buy-in is correspondingly steep.

This one, starting from a jump-in point of $60,500 for the Reserve, rolled up to $75,050 with the addition of the aforementioned packages and engine, along with the standalone panoramic moonroof option.

Check out our Youtube video of the 2018 Continental!

2018 Crashed Ice in Edmonton

Well, that was pretty entertaining.

We took in Redbull’s Crashed Ice event on its Edmonton stop this past weekend, the last stop on a globe spanning tour that has seen this Ice Cross Downhill World Championships stop in cities from Finland to France to the US and Canada – in fact, the race was in La Sarre Quebec before bring the action to Edmonton, the final stop on the tour.

I confess I wasn’t familiar with the sport before we attended the Edmonton; but it isn’t too hard to get your brain around the concept, it’s a downhill skate race over a course that looks pretty extreme.

The skaters go off in heats of up to four, and rocket down an elaborate elevated course with a heavily iced surface, first one to the finish line wins. Sounds straightforward enough, right? But its easier said than done when you’re traveling at speeds of up to 80km/h.

No question this qualifies as an extreme sport, my friends, and I have nothing but respect for all the athletes who made it to the Edmonton final round.

(Incidentally, the overall winners were crowned here Saturday night, and American Amanda Trunzo took the honors in the women’s division, and Canada’s Scott Croxall won the men’s.

The full results can be seen here on Redbull’s Crashed Ice page

But it wasn’t just about the races themselves, this was a full-on, get-out-and-enjoy the spectacle in downtown E-town, where the streets around the Shaw center were closed off and people marched down Grierson hill to a site filled with a really decent crowd around the ice-cross track.

Adding another level of interest, this is the first year that Hyundai Motors has partnered with Redbull for the Crashed Ice show, the Korean manufacturer is using the extreme sport to showcase a couple of their more extreme vehicles – the newest generation of pumped-up Velosters.

The three door hatchbacks are being groomed for rally sport with the introductions of the 2019 Veloster Turbo and their halo hatch, the Veloster N

The Turbo was on display up at street level, showing off for the crowd with a sporty leatherclad interior and matte paint-job on it that looked pretty appealing.

This one boasts 201hp 195 lb.-ft. of torque (and I’m told it will be available with a manual transmission as well), but the monster Veloster, the N, was strictly on display at Crashed Ice.

Mirko Lahti of Finland, Alex Schrefels of the United States, Jesse Sauren of Finland and Joni Saarinen of Finland compete during the Junior Competition at the tenth and final stage of the ATSX Ice Cross Downhill World Championship at the Red Bull Crashed Ice in Edmonton, Canada on March 9, 2018.

Here it is up on a pedestal in front of one of the first drops on the ice course, looking sporty; and when it hits the streets and showrooms this car will really be bringing the performance.

A 2.0L turbocharged engine pushing 275 horses and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, riding on an electronically controlled suspension and offering a selection of driving modes tuned for track performance; with distinctive body sculpting and detailing to differentiate this top of the line model from the Turbo and other members of the Veloster lineup.

The N won’t be available until later in the year, so this is our first look at it, but we’ll be hoping to take a drive in this little monster when it arrives.

And on a less adrenalizing but perhaps more practical note, Hyundai had their newest urban-oriented utility vehicle on hand as well – here’s the 2018 Kona at their display in downtown Edmonton.

Now if you’re like me, gentle reader, you probably realize that while you may want the Veloster, the Kona is the one that makes a better case for purchase as all-round everyday vehicle for all seasons.

And that’s about it. Having seen this year’s Crashed Ice competition, I’m a fan; and having seen Edmonton’s support for the event and the good time had by everyone I met there I’d bet the event’s sponsors and promoters are fans of us too.

Check out the Youtube here:

 

 

 

Burger Baron Rules

An Edmonton Original

Okay, this here is one of my favourite places in the city for quality diner fare – Burger Baron!

This my lifelong favorite – the Double Mushroom with cheese.

It’s a chain (albeit, a small one) and you can find several locations here in town; but my go-to stop has always been the landmark 82 ave spot, just a little east of 75th street, in its iconic A-frame building.

I can remember my dad taking the family there starting back in… well, since just about as far back as I can remember (I was born in ’64, and apparently the first BB opened up in 1963). It was always a real treat, and I swear ta gawd, it still is!

So when you inevitably find yourself in Edmonton, seriously, go out of your way to get to the BB, and order the Double Mushroom with cheese. They’ve got other ones too, of course – you won’t go wrong with a Rudy’s special for example, but if you want my two bits worth, double mushroom avec cheese.

The ‘shrooms are fried on the spot, the beef is good quality and the bun is the crowning touch – a nice, fresh one toasted to perfection!

This is a proper drive-through or dine-in hamburger, right here my friends; and it isn’t overpriced and it isn’t pretentious and it isn’t cluttered.

 

Just look at this and you’ll know right away you want one.

I want another one right now; and here’s the thing: you patronize the Baron and you’re doing business with a really good, likeable hometown team that deserves your dollars and earns it, one burger at a time!

Can’t recommend them highly enough! Eat here. Check out their Yelp reviews.

Good Lovin’

Like all good, decent people, I’m a big pizza fan, and here’s place that deserves some word of mouth. Nice people, a good location with free parking in the strip-mall lot (which is a real plus the downtown area), and most importantly, very good pizza made well and with quality ingredients. Prices are reasonable as well.

Here’s a couple photos, including my go-to choice, the “Meatatarian”, but check out their full menu online here. Oh, and their FB page, too.

Customers can watch their pie being assembled at the order counter, and run through the nifty transport oven; then have it boxed up for takeaway or eat it on site – which is what I recommend. Nice ambience during the lunchtime rush, and bottles of olive oil on the table (both regular and spicy).

Relatively new to the Edmonton scene, Love Pizza now has two locations in our fine town. I’ve eaten at the downtown location a couple of times now (10196 109st in the Canterra strip plaza), and highly recommend them.