TEST DRIVE: 2016 LEXUS IS 350 F SPORT AWD

 

96 2014 IS WP PR_G (F SPORT) 20130115Lexus’ answer to demand for a performance-oriented compact sports sedan is the IS 350 F Sport, which is around the same size as an Audi A4, Mercedes C-Class or BMW 3 Series. Fast cars in this class have always been favourites for me, especially if they offer something extra in performance and cosmetics and this Lexus delivers on that score.

The car is now available with all-wheel drive and that’s the way my tester came. AWD is a great asset in a performance car as it safely places all the power right where it belongs – straight to the road via all four wheels when needed. This is a performance sedan you could really trust for a long trip across the mountains in winter. My car was equipped with Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires, which are the best I’ve ever used on ice and snow. They do wear quickly on paved surfaces though, so it’s best to use them when you know you’re going to be encountering icy conditions as I did earlier this year.

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With the various cosmetic upgrades that come as part of the F Sport package, this is a great looking car and mine was especially eye-catching in its Ultrasonic Blue Mica, a colour that seems to be popular with Lexus buyers right now. It’s good to see some of these brighter colours coming back as we seem to have gone through years of ‘sameness’ with so many shades of silver grey chosen for vehicles. My test IS looked very spiffy with its 18-inch alloy wheels in a gunmetal colour.

IS 350 power comes from a 3.5-litre V-6 which really gets this car off the mark quickly. With 306-horsepower, it needs watching in urban areas because you’re up over the speed limit very quickly indeed. It’s exceptionally smooth and responsive and also refined and vibration-free – this is Lexus after all and that kind of silky power delivery is expected. The only transmission is a 6-speed automatic but I had no complaints at all. The transmission can be set for various levels of performance – I used ‘eco’ around town to save fuel and to take a little off the edge off the acceleration levels.

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Given the engine’s high torque levels, it makes for a very flexible driving experience and the car is just as happy around town as it is on a fast mountain road like the Coquihalla Highway. The driving position is just about perfect with optimal positioning of steering wheel, pedals and seat. The seats are very well sculpted and hold everyone in place, especially up front, with great effectiveness. The instrumentation and switchgear is ‘busy’ but an owner would soon get used to the impressive array of controls. I was happy to see one of my favourite ‘pamper the driver’ features – a heated steering wheel.

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The car is a delight to drive, thanks to the Lexus engineering team paying lots of attention to the suspension of the IS F Sport. Like all Lexus products it’s built to the highest possible standards of assembly and design. It’s a very luxurious car that’s even better thanks to the F Sport package and the numerous goodies that come with the upgraded specification.

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Four-door sports sedan

ENGINE: 3.5-litre direct-injection V-6, 306-horsepower

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx 5.6-seconds

PRICE: Base MSRP $51,900

COLLECTOR CLASSICS: B.C.’s COLLECTOR VEHICLE PROGRAM

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Former B.C. Solicitor General looks back more than 25 years to the beginning of one of North America’s most unique collector vehicle insurance program

A lifelong classic car enthusiast, Russ Fraser owned a 1939 Buick convertible sedan for 30 years, a classic which reminded him of the cars his father drove back in the day. In fact, 18-year-old Russ and his 15-year-old brother were dispatched by their father to the General Motors factory in Oshawa, Ontario, to drive the family’s new 1952 Buick sedan back to their Vancouver home.

The idea for British Columbia’s program to offer special licensing and insurance for collector vehicles came from fellow B.C. cabinet minister Claude Richmond, who was the Member of the B.C. Legislature for Kamloops.

“Claude came to me to suggest the program,” Fraser recalls. “Tommy Holmes was president of ICBC and he was dead set against it.”

The insurance corporation chief said the police didn’t want the program. But, as Solicitor General, Russ Fraser was in charge of policing in British Columbia.

“I went to the police and they had no objection,” he says.

The argument then became that the Motor Vehicle Branch was opposed to implementation of the program. But then Superintendent of Motor Vehicles Keith Jackman was a classic car enthusiast himself and supported the move to special collector vehicle licensing.

With the dual portfolio of Solicitor General and Attorney General, Fraser was in charge of ICBC. Overruling objections, he instructed CEO Holmes to implement the program which would allow owners of special interest vehicles 25 years and older or limited production vehicles to get special collector license plates, making them eligible for reduced insurance rates.

He also oversaw implementation of the Collector Multi-Vehicle licensing program, enabling those with a numerous classic vehicles to have one license plate and insurance policy for all.

Typically, the cost of insuring a collector vehicle in British Columbia is as low as $300 a year. The vehicle must be in good original condition, used for pleasure driving only and cannot be driven to work.

Modified vehicles built in the 1958 model year or prior can also qualify for vintage vehicle status.

Russ Fraser proudly displays collector plate: B00 000. It is still in its original plastic wrapper. The first collector plate – B00 001 – was issued to car collector and president of the Specialty Vehicle Association of B.C. Ron Peigl, who chaired the committee that developed the collector licensing program.

“Russ Fraser has to be given an awful lot of credit for making the collector plate happen,” says Nigel Matthews, former head of the ICBC collector vehicle program. “British Columbia has one of the best programs in North America, if not the best. The nice thing about the collector plate is that it is very unrestrictive.”

He says the government of the day had a perfect reason to bring in the program as the previous administration created outrage in the collector car hobby by auctioning off vehicles in the B.C. Car Museum.

He also credits hard work and consultation by the Vintage Car Club of Canada and the Specialty Vehicle Association of BC, of which Matthews is currently president.

ICBC reports there are more than 26,000 active and insured collector plates in use. More than 5,000 applications for collector status are received every year, with a 28 per cent rejection rate. The number of collector vehicles in the program has nearly doubled in the last decade.

The SVABC is currently working to get the cutoff for modified vehicles to qualify for vintage plate status raised from the current 1958 model year to 1974.

Ironically, Russ Fraser’s wife Jone has a vehicle that has qualified for collector vehicle status for more than a decade but it does not display a collector license plate.

In order to qualify for collector license and insurance status, owners must have a vehicle registered in British Columbia with regular insurance.

The 1980 Mercedes-Benz 380SL that Jone bought new is currently her only car.

The two-top convertible she affectionately calls “Baby” is in amazing condition. It has only traveled 68,000 kilometres, has never spent a night outside or been driven in the rain.

Jone had fallen in love with a new Mercedes-Benz convertible she had seen in Seattle and resolved to buy one. She put money down on a new 450SL but the Vancouver dealership couldn’t deliver one.

So Jone enlisted the help of a relative who owned a Ford dealership. He subsequently located her car in Montreal. She picked it up at Waterloo Ford in Edmonton and drove it home to Vancouver.

Over the 36 years she has owned the Mercedes, she drove a second car to ensure her convertible was protected from the elements.

“I kept the car because I have always liked it. I don’t like the new Mercedes cars because they do not look like anything meaningful,” she says, proudly adding, “My car has never been in an accident and has never needed repairs.”

The convertible continues to be used for top-down summer fun. Otherwise, Jone rides with husband Russ so her convertible can remain safely stored in her garage.

Russ Fraser will be honoured for his contributions to the collector car hobby by the Greater Vancouver Motorsport Pioneers Society at its induction ceremony on Saturday September 24th.

FRASER VALLEY TRACK HOSTS HISTORIC RACE CARS

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The British Columbia Historic Motor Races is a unique event in the province and an opportunity for both drivers and fans to see some fascinating older cars being driven in anger.

The event takes place on August 20th and 21st 2016 at the Mission Raceway Park Road Course. The event, which attracts entries and spectators from all over the Pacific Northwest comprises two days of action-packed racing with cars from bygone eras. Included in the closed-wheel groups are BMWs, Alfas, Sunbeam Tigers, Volvos, Camaros , Jaguars and even cars like organizer Paul Haym’s Datsun 510. Formula Fords and Formula Vees compete in the open-wheeled group. Spectators are free to roam the paddock, inspect the cars and talk to the drivers.

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Another attraction is a car corral where many spectators display “interesting” cars, and take a couple of Parade Laps during the lunch break.

The lunch break also features the event’s popular “charity rides,” where for $40 spectators get to ride in real racing cars for 3 laps, all proceeds going to the very worthy Mission Hospice Society. The Historic Races make for a fun event for the entire family where any car guy or gal can have a very enjoyable couple of days. Admission is $15 per person and children under 12 are admitted free.

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For more details, check bchmr.ca

REVIEW: 2017 ACURA NSX

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There’s a very special Acura sports car coming to the dealerships fairly soon – a new NSX, which stylishly fills a gap in the automaker’s range which has been evident since the earlier model was phased out some years ago.

Acura launched its first-generation NSX in 1989 it proved something of a sensation. For starters, it looked like no other Japanese sports that had gone before and the general view at the time was that here at last was a ‘Japanese Ferrari.’ Early in its life, Honda filmed TV commercials in Italy with a red NSX, which involved two elderly locals arguing whether or not the car was, in fact, a Ferrari.

The pioneering NSX was a great-looking car and with its mid-mounted V-6 and aluminium bodywork, it proved even more satisfying from behind the wheel. It was superbly balanced, agile and responsive in all the right ways. Before the TV commercial NSX was shipped to Italy, I managed to borrow it for some track time at Westwood under the nervous eyes of the car’s “minders.” It turned out to be one of the best road cars I’d ever driven on a track and it still lingers in my memory. The model was dropped in 2005, to the dismay of fans.

Fast forward to 2015 when Honda announced a replacement for the iconic sportster and (thankfully) retained the NSX name rather than trying to get clever with something cute.

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If the first NSX had an Italianate look about it, the 2016 version looks as though it could have come rolling off the assembly lines at Maranello, home of Ferrari. If that’s possible, it’s even more elegantly styled than its predecessor with lots of dramatic curves and the usual array of air vents and scoops. It’s a little larger all-round than it’s forebear, but not so you’d notice. As before, the engine is mid-mounted, just behind the driver and up front there’s some storage space. It’s a very ground-hugging design and I would imagine that the NSX would reveal outstanding aerodynamics in the wind tunnel. The bodywork is mostly aluminium, but this time around, Honda has also made use of composites, some of which may not have been available back in ’89. The floor, for example, is made from carbon fibre to endow the structure with a high level of stiffness.

Expectedly, there’s a lot of technology packed into this new Acura. The engine is a twin-turbo 75-degree V-6 and it makes use of a three-motor ‘sport hybrid’ system. Those electric motors should add useful torque to the engine and contribute towards some impressive performance figures. The transmission is no less fascinating. It’s a 9-speed dual clutch automatic unit with the now-common steering wheel mounted paddles for manual operation. Four drive modes are available, depending on conditions or the whims of the driver.

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The new NSX will be built exclusively at a new factory in Marysville, Ohio. According to Acura, there will only be 100 people there to produce the car, so it’s clearly hand-built in most respects (and priced accordingly). The car was also developed in the US by a global design and engineering team.

This NSX is so new; no solid performance data is available right now. The engine develops 500-horsepower and it delivers power to all four wheels. There’s not much doubt that this is a 300 km/h car with a zero to 100 km/h time of 4-seconds or less. Despite all this get-up-and-go, the car should be quite economical on fuel, given its hybrid powertrain. Brembo brakes from Italy help stop the beast and these use carbon ceramic discs for extra efficiency.

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The interior of the NSX is certainly attractive and welcoming. It is, of course, a two seater and there’s probably just enough room behind the seats to stow a couple of slim briefcases and a raincoat or extra jacket. The seats are comfortable and very supportive and they adjust in several directions. The instrument panel is mostly electronic, a move that is finally beginning to appeal to sports car fans, possibly because just about all competition cars these days feature this approach. The chunky steering wheel carries a host of controls for various functions. The usual infotainment screen is sited at the centre of the dash panel. A two-tone theme is used for the leathers and vinyls and the interior styling is enhanced by wide use of titanium-coloured trim items.

Owners who loved the earlier car have been pleading for years for a new model and now it’s set to arrive. Initial demand is bound to be high and serious buyers should get their names on the list as soon as possible. It’s been a long time coming but it looks like a car that was well worth the wait.

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Two-place sports coupe

ENGINE: 3.5-litre V-6 delivering 500-horsepower.

TRANSMISSION: 9-speed dual clutch automatic with manual override and four modes.

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in less than 4-seconds (estimated)

PRICE: $189,900 base

TEST DRIVE: 2016 NISSAN VERSA NOTE HATCHBACK

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The Versa Note is Nissan’s entry in the hotly contested and now well-populated subcompact hatchback market. Products like this are very appealing to a very wide range of buyers from young people perhaps buying their first new car to retirees who are downsizing from a larger sedan but still want something attractive and practical.

This Versa is a new design, which made its debut in 2014, so it won’t look dated for a very long time yet, if ever. Nissan’s design team went for a highly sculptured look and there are flowing curves everywhere. This design theme doesn’t always work with smaller bodystyles but the Versa is very easy on the eyes and super-contemporary from nose to tail. It also has a nice hunkered-down sporty appearance with its steeply sloped windshield – you just know it’s going to be fun to drive before you even get behind the wheel. The headlights really set this car’s styling off and the grille is black mesh with a big Nissan badge at its centre. At the rear, the lighting resembles that of the Nissan 370Z and Juke and is thus another design signature of the brand. Nissan calls the styling “energetic” and there’s not much arguing with that. To set off the nifty styling, Nissan offers an unusually wide range of colours – seven in all.

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All models are 5-door hatchbacks and no 2-door model is available. More than likely, there isn’t much demand for one with the average buyer preferring the utility values of a full set of doors. There are now four models – S, SV, SR and SL in ascending order of equipment level. It’s worth mentioning that even the least expensive S has air-conditioning and Bluetooth hands-free phone hookup. Again, these features are a matter of market demand. Just about everybody nowadays wants air and Bluetooth, even on the cheapest products. Like many vehicles sold in Canada right now, the Versa Note is assembled in Mexico.

Behind the wheel, the car feels very responsive and agile, aided by a 109-horsepower, 1.6-litre, 16-valve 4-cylinder driving the front wheels. The transmission for most variants is a Continuously Variable unit (CVT) and it functioned very satisfactorily on my test car. You can only get the 5-speed manual transmission with the base S model. The power-assisted braking system uses a disc/drum combination and all models have ABS plus electronic brake force distribution and brake assist.

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The cabin is nicely trimmed, despite the car’s low entry level price. This is a full five-passenger car, but understandably, youngsters will be happiest with the room available in the back. Buyers needing space for three adults back there would be better off looking at Nissan’s Sentra or Altima, though the Versa’s headroom is pretty good. With the rear seatback folded forward, there’s a fair amount of cargo space, something you don’t get with subcompact cars with sedan bodywork. In the floor of the cargo area, there’s a useful removable lid, which reveals a stowage compartment, handy for hiding valuables out of sight. As far as the interior goes, there’s a very long options list which is best discussed with your dealer, but even the S model seating is well-formed and comfortable and the base car spec sheet quite well filled.

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Buyers can upgrade the spec considerable by choosing items from the options list, but entry-level Versa Notes come very well fitted out. A navigation system is available, not always the case in this class. Buyers can also opt for snappy-looking cast aluminum wheels and all variants come with heated outside mirrors. There’s an AM/FM/CD player and illuminated audio controls on the steering wheel.

The Versa has always been a strong seller for Nissan and this latest version adds features which will likely make it more popular still. The little car looks good, is great fun to drive and is very fuel efficient with almost hybrid-level consumption figures. There’s lots of competition in this class, but the Versa Note stands out as one of the better examples of a thrifty hatchback that’s well suited to all kinds of owner demands.

 

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: 5-door hatchback

ENGINE: 1.6-litre 16-valve 4-cylinder

TRANSMISSION: 5-speed manual or CVT

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx 8.5-secs

PRICE: $14,230 base MSRP

REVIEW: 2016 MCLAREN 675LT SPIDER

 

6449-2016+McLaren+675LT+Spider+Media+Launch+-325If there’s anything more thrilling than a top-end McLaren coupe it has to be a McLaren with convertible bodywork. It’s always exciting drive somewhere interesting on a fine day in any open car, it could be argued, but a McLaren 675LT Spider is a lot more than just another wind-in-the-hair experience.

Obviously, the Spider is based on the limited-edition 675LT Coupe and if you fancy the open version, get your order in now because they’re only going to build 500 of the beauties. It’s said to be sold out, but like all ‘sold out’ cars, somebody will sell you one somewhere no doubt. And to get one historical point out of the way, the term ‘spider’ has its origins in horse-drawn coaches long before automobiles turned a wheel. It usually means a light, open, carriage and has been adopted by several carmakers from Germany and Italy though sometimes, the spelling is ‘spyder.’

As with all McLarens, even the lower end models, the styling is superb with sinuous, flowing lines that in recent years, have come to characterize this nameplate. The British carmaker is beginning to carve a niche for itself among established supercar makers like Ferrari, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, Lamborghini and others and the models have a definite ‘brand identity.’ The inevitably costly 675LT Spider has a carbon fibre monocell chassis and is exceptionally light and stiff as would be expected with this exotic material.

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The folding roof is a remarkable piece of work because when you look at the open car with its twin ‘head fairings’ reaching from cabin to tail, you just wonder where it all went. Even so, fold away it does and it’s a proper hardtop and not a roll-up canvas arrangement you stuff behind the seats. I suppose that in fact, it’s more of a ‘Targa’ (to use Porsche’s terminology) than a full convertible, but few owners will quibble over that. At the 326 km/h this car is capable of, you’d probably be blown right out of your seat with a more conventional roof design anyway.

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Mounted amidships is a highly potent 3.8-litre V-8 developing a whopping 666-horsepower so it’s right up there among the most powerful in its class. When I first started looking at McLaren models, I was a little surprised to find that they build their own engines, no small feat for a low-volume carmaker. Many makers with limited production runs to deal with look elsewhere for powerplants, or at least the basic design. Not so McLaren. The engine is mated to a highly sophisticated dual clutch 7-speed automatic transmission with manual override via carbon fibre paddles on the steering wheel hub. The automatic is certainly the best choice despite what manual-loving purists might say. After all, you have a lightweight car here with vast levels of torque.

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Other mechanical features include lightweight carbon ceramic brakes and ultra wide wheels, 19-inch at the front and 20-inch at the rear, shod with Pirelli P Zero Trofeo R tyres which are just about the best out there for a car like this.

The cockpit is snug for sure, but the car has the usual list of electronic high-techery wherever you look. Not too many of the goodies you’d find in a larger luxury car are missing from the 675LT Spider. Stowage space is scant, as it usually is in cars like this, but I’d guess that anyone who owns a 675LT one would figure that one out and travel light.

 

IN SUMMARY…

ENGINE: 3.8-litre twin turbo V-8

TRANSMISSION: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic

ACCELERATION: Zero to 100 km/h in 2.9-seconds

TOP SPEED: 326 km/h

PRICE: Upwards of $400,000

TEST DRIVE: 2016 HONDA FIT EX-L

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The Honda Fit is a subcompact hatchback and on a worldwide basis, one of Honda’s best-selling vehicles. It’s been around now since 2001, but it was 2006 before the car made its North American debut. It’s built in eight countries and so far, Honda has built an impressive 5-million of them. In some countries, it’s called the Honda Jazz, if ever you want to rent one while on vacation.

My most recent Fit driving experience was with an EX-L Navi model, which is the flagship of the range and with (a surprise in this class) leather seats and navigation system, comes close to being a subcompact luxury car. It’s good to be able to buy a small car that has excellent basic design in upscale guise. With many rival ranges, you have to go to the next model size up to get some of the goodies that come with the EX-L.

The current Fit is the third generation model and has been with us now for just over a couple of years. Initial Fit models I tried drove and handled very well indeed but I was never that happy with the styling which I thought a little less sleek than many competitors. Since then, the Fit has improved greatly in this respect as each generation appeared. It’s now as neat and attractive as any car in this class and probably better than most.

Its hatchback bodywork is highly practical, which I was able to confirm when I had to move a few cases of wine for a friend. The rear seats fold down flat and the rear head restraints snuggle right down flush with the top of the seatbacks, creating a large cargo floor that takes moments to set up. Incidentally, the head restraints deploy properly into position for tall rear passengers, so safety isn’t sacrificed for the handy, easy-fold design.

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Like all great small car designs, the Fit is very compact and easy to park and maneuver, but surprisingly roomy inside. I felt very comfortable driving the car and was impressed with the design of the driver’s seat and the generous headroom. It’s also very easy to get in and out of, a key factor in a car that sells widely to seniors as well as young families.

Fit power comes from an economical 1.5-litre, 4-cylinder, 16-valve i-VTEC engine, which drives, as is usually the case with this class of car, the front wheels. It produces 130-horsepower, which is fine for city work and perfectly capable on the freeway. Other tech highlights include availability of either a continuously variable automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual. My test car came with the CV, though you can get an EX-L Navi with a manual. The little car has all-round ABS disc/drum brakes. All models – DX, LX, EX and EX-L Navi – have the same mechanical specification. The two top variants come with cast alloy wheels.

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The cabin is well laid out with sensibly placed instruments and controls and plenty of knee room in the back. The navigation system is easy to set up and has a touch-screen. Similarly, it takes just a moment to hook up a mobile phone to the hands-free system that’s built in. Many controls are on the steering wheel, which makes life a little easier. The front seatbelts are adjustable for height and there’s plenty of interior stowage space for smaller items.

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Like all Hondas, The car is beautifully put together and finished and owners can look forward to a long life from a vehicle that’s durable and very intelligently designed and built. The ride is better than might be expected from a short wheelbase subcompact, but obviously doesn’t match a larger model like a Civic or an Accord. Overall, it’s one of the better subcompacts on the Canadian market right now.

 

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Four-door hatchback

ENGINE: 1.5-litre 4-cylinder

TRANSMISSION: Continuously variable automatic, as tested (6-speed manual available)

PERFORMANCE: Zero to 100 km/h in approx. 11.5-secs

FUEL ECONOMY: 7.3-litres/100 km city; 6.1-litres/100 km hwy. (Automatic)

PRICE: Price range is approximately $14,700 to $22,890

LONDON HERITAGE FARM CLASSIC & COLLECTIBLE CAR SHOW

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On Sunday, June 26th, London Heritage Farm in Richmond is planning to invite selected car clubs and owners to display their classic cars in the farm’s delightful setting.

This will be basically a show-and-shine with no judging or other formalities. There is no charge for entering a vehicle and the public is admitted free. They do a great tea at the farmhouse with cakes and sandwiches and the facility plans to have some other type of catering too – possibly a hot dog/coffee cart. Many picnic tables are available around the historic farmhouse and there are modern toilet facilities.

London Heritage Farm is located on the Fraser River on Dyke Road in Richmond, not far from Steveston Village and is operated as a non-profit attraction by the City of Richmond. The farm is located between #2 and Gilbert roads and is easy to reach from Hwy 99, the New Westminster connector and Granville Street. (londonheritagefarm.ca)

This is a relatively informal event, a great chance to spend a delightful afternoon on a beautiful section of the Fraser and enjoy the locale and (hopefully) some sunny weather. The location is popular with weddings and the setting is perfect for displaying and photographing fine cars. The organizers would like to have the cars in place by 11:00 am and the event will wind up at 3:00 pm.

Only three or four clubs will be invited and possibly several known collectors in the area. The organizers would like to have a firm idea of who will show up because space is limited, so an idea of numbers would be appreciated.

Tony Whitney

tony.whitney@me.com

REVIEW: 2016 FORD FLEX CROSSOVER

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The Ford Flex has always been something of a standout in the fullsize crossover field. For starters, it doesn’t look like anything else out there. It’s low and sleek and its stance on the road makes it appear a foot lower than most other large crossovers. It’s a very original and distinctive piece of styling and doesn’t seem to “date” the way some rivals do, even though it’s been around since 2009. There’s simply nothing on the road that can be mistaken for a Flex.

Built at the Ford plant in Oakville, Ontario, the Flex was one of the triumphs of then Ford design boss Peter Horbury. Much of the success of Ford and Lincoln in recent years can be attributed to Horbury who worked wonders in making the ranges more appealing. Before his years at Ford, he was design chief at Volvo and later, he returned to the Swedish automaker where he serves as design VP today. Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time with Horbury both in Sweden and in North America and apart from his obvious design talents, he’s also one of the nicest and most approachable people I’ve ever met in the car business.

The Flex is a large, roomy and classy crossover with three-row seating inside. Its low stance makes it very easy to get in and out of and I’d rate it very highly for access, even for people with mobility problems. Even large SUVs often need a duck of the head to climb in, but not the Flex, thanks to its large door openings.

Flex buyers have a choice of two engines – a 3.5-litre V-6 delivering 287-horsepower and a more technically sophisticated 3.5-litre twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 with 365-horsepower. Both are excellent power units, but the EcoBoost (fitted to my test Flex) was expectedly more potent. Both engines use a 6-speed automatic overdrive transmission. Suspension front and rear is fully independent, common enough these days, and the low centre of gravity of the vehicle makes for better handling than you’d expect from a large crossover. Four-wheel ventilated discs are highly effective and on my tester the spokes of the very stylish black-paint alloy wheels revealed the discs, which seemed huge. The Limited version uses 20-inch wheels if specified and other trim levels use 18-inch and 19-inch wheels.

The basic vehicle uses front-wheel drive, but all-wheel drive is available and that’s probably what most buyers will go for. My Flex was equipped with an optional pocket for a towing hitch and this is very effective, capable of hauling 4,500 lbs with all-wheel drive specified. Tow ratings like this are not common among crossovers so the Flex is a very versatile rig for people who want to haul campers, boats and the like.

It’s a great vehicle to drive – speedy on the highway and agile on winding roads. Among available goodies is active park assist, which uses sensors around the vehicle to “park itself” with the driver controlling gearshift, gas and brake pedals. Systems like this are quite remarkable when the driver gets used to it – there’s no need to steer at all.

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The interior is very nicely fitted out and is both comfortable and practical. I particularly liked the fact that the information touch screen is very close to the driver and there’s no need to stretch to reach anything. Ford’s SYNC3 communications and entertainment system is its best yet and more intuitive than most I try. Hooking up your mobile phone for hands-free calls takes a matter of moments.

The Flex deserves more attention from the market than it gets, not only for its design originality, but also for its outstanding roominess, performance and practicality. It’s certainly as good as many of the more exotic nameplates around and better than many.

IN SUMMARY…

BODY STYLE: Four door and hatch, seven-passenger crossover

ENGINE: 3.5-litre Duratec V-6 normally aspirated or EcoBoost twin turbo V-6

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic

TOWING CAPACITY: 4,500 lbs

PRICE: From $31,799 to $45,599 MSRP

LE MANS WINNING PORSCHE ON DISPLAY IN RICHMOND

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Exotic sports cars are a fairly common sight in Richmond BC, but heads were turned recently at the big Richmond Centre Mall when last year’s Le Mans winning Porsche put in an appearance. Rarely seen in this part of the world – if ever – the impressive Porsche 919 hybrid racecar was part of a travelling E-Performance display mounted in six select locations across Canada. It was all part of Porsche’s promise to offer performance-oriented, highly-efficient products to fans of the fabled marque, though don’t ask your local dealer to get you a 919!

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Also part of the display was a 2016 Cayenne S E-Hybrid and visitors were able to discover Porsche’s commitment to green performance driving via a touch-screen display. Unknown even to many Porsche enthusiasts is the fact that the company’s involvement with hybrids goes back as far as 1900, when Ferdinand Porsche built the Lohner – said to be the world’s first vehicle with battery power and a combustion engine. More recently, the Panamera S E-Hybrid set new standards as the first premium-class plug-in hybrid. Expect to see more Porsche hybrids and pure electric vehicles in the years ahead.