Cars Driving Family

End of the driving drought

Every once in awhile, during a typical workday, I’ll come up from my basement desk and look out at my car sitting in the driveway.

Recently it was covered with a fine mist of yellow pollen, which is easy to spot from that vantage point; harder when you’re up close. Then it was small leaves blown around by early summer winds and rain until they took up residence on the windshield wipers, on the door frames and in the crevices of the side mirrors. Every other car in the neighbourhood is dealing with the same affliction. This stuff would, of course, blow off if we drove a bit.

When the pandemic first hit and we started staying home, traffic slowed to a trickle. Our street connects two east-west routes in Toronto and while it’s hardly a major thoroughfare, it’s typically busy. It was eerie to see it so silent in those first few days and weeks of lockdown.

It’s fitting though that the most recent drive I took was to bring my daughter to her first Covid-19 vaccination. A 33-minute drive away, just over 27 kilometres. Traffic was substantial on the highway but given that it was mid-day and many of us are still working from home, where are you all going?

The answer could be nowhere. Throughout the winter and last fall, and last summer for that matter, a drive became a thing to do. Let’s just drive downtown and see what’s going on, we’d say. Knowing that there’s probably not much of anything happening. The streetcar would be crawling along its tracks and people would be walking, sure, but the typical weekday and weekend crowds were non-existent.

Look, there’s my office (now closed as we await a signal that all is clear to return to work, but in a new location). Is Brandy Melville open? my daughter would ask. Yes, but with strict capacity limits and an inevitable lineup outside.

When were kids, our parents would once in a while take us for a drive. Usually on a Sunday evening and only in the summer. Sometimes we’d convince our father to take us to our favourite park in Paris, Ont. For my sister and me at the time it probably seemed exotic (it had a twisty slide. We had to make do with the regular straight slides in the parks in our neighbourhood.) But I remember the thing we seemed to do more often was drive along country roads. My father, as we would come to know, thought of himself as a farmer stuck in a stock broker’s suit and the country drives were an attempt to get back to his rural roots (and routes).

Between that long ago then and this suspended now, a drive was replaced by a commute. Which was punctuated by trips to see friends or family a few hours away. Those were in turn replaced by road trips–to New York, to Myrtle Beach, to Orlando, to Athens, Georgia. Trips that were defined by being behind the wheel, moving across the pavement putting kilometres behind us as we looked ahead to the many more to come. Stopping as strangers in some locale and greeting others who were doing the same thing.

But the aimless drive? That just didn’t happen. Until at least we were cooped up in homes/offices rarely going farther than the grocery store (which became at first an expedition in itself: Gloves? Check. Hand sanitizer? Check. Mentally prepared to stand in line? Check.) But we needed to get out. Somehow. Anyhow. The idea of a drive became both entertainment and escape. Forgotten were the hassles of traffic, aggressive drivers, construction-induced gridlock.

Now, as I come up from my basement office and look at the car in my driveway, I remind myself that automobiles are made to move. Humans are too. And once in a while we both need to exit the driveway and let the wind take the dust away.

Auto industry Cars Driving Research Safety Technology Transportation

When technology is your co-driver

Drivers and technology sometimes just don’t get along. Take this recent JD Power  study: Customer Demand for Safety Technology Threatened by Overbearing Alerts.The news release highlights the results of Power’s 2019 U.S. Tech Experience Survey. That study found that drivers want systems like lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning and blind spot detection (things that will prevent them from driving into a ditch or backing over their kids’ bikes, let’s say) but they want those systems to stop behaving like a “nagging parent.”

“No one wants to be constantly told they aren’t driving correctly,” said JD Power’s Kristin Kolodge, executive director of Driver Interaction & Human Machine Interface Research, in the release.

While those systems can sometimes be a pain, they can also prevent collisions and correct bad driving. We’d probably be better off taking the time to learn what these systems do and how to use them so we can understand what the chirps, dings and vibrations are trying to tell us.

JD Power’s study measured owners’ experience, usage and interaction with 38 driver-centric vehicle technologies at 90 days of ownership. Singling out lane-keeping and centering assist systems, the survey found that 23% of drivers complain the alerts from such systems are annoying or bothersome. But, more tellingly, 61% of those people say they often disable safety systems like lane-keeping assist.

To me, though, disabling the systems can not only put a driver’s safety at risk, it can make them less aware of how they’re driving. No one wants to be nagged but we can all stand to improve our skills. So, if a driver has a tendency to drift to the edges of their lane and their LKAS system alerts them to it, maybe they’ll begin to pay more attention. Then they can correct their own actions before the system has to remind them, yet again.

Driving a new 2020 Acura RDX has made me more aware of in-car tech. Especially after driving a, shall we say, more analog 2011 Ford Escape for eight years. I now have the AcuraWatch suite at my disposal — including Adaptive Cruise Control, lane-keeping assist, forward collision warning and a blind spot information system. Before that, I just had my own eyes and ears to rely on.

And, don’t get me wrong; I’m still relying on those senses (sometimes too much, if you ask my not-yet-a-driver daughter. She thinks I should be using the rearview camera instead of actually turning my head and looking over my shoulder.) But, I’m not ready to abandon the shoulder check. I prefer to maintain a few physical (analog?) skills that can help augment the digital and technological aids that the car provides.

But, I still appreciate a timely beep warning me that I’m approaching a concrete pillar in a parking garage, or a flashing symbol letting me know there’s another car or a bike or a human in my blind spot. I’m working on seeing them less as nags and more as necessities.

Auto industry Cars Driving Reviews

Behind the wheel of the 2019 Jaguar F Pace S

It can be tempting to dismiss the 2019 Jaguar F-Pace S as just another cushy, high-priced SUV.

It has a powerful engine (a 3.0 litre V6 with 380 horsepower), aggressive looks and a price to match (the S version’s MSRP is $69,900; the gloss black wheels on my review model alone added another $3,570 to the pricetag.)

So, yes, based on those few facts, this isn’t a vehicle for everybody. After all, no one needs a plus-$70,000 SUV. A Honda Pilot, Ford Explorer or Hyundai Santa Fe can pretty much do anything this Jaguar can do. As well, the F-Pace certainly doesn’t have an easy ride within the luxury market. Mercedes-Benz, Audi, BMW and even Maserati and Porsche are all chasing the well-heeled luxury SUV consumer. The competition is as fierce as the animal this brand is channelling.

But I can’t help but like it. What the F-Pace S does well is take many of the elements of a classic Jaguar – power, style and refinement – and recast them in the form of a five-passenger performance-oriented SUV. You ride a little taller but you still feel like you’re behind the wheel of a sports car. And therein lies its appeal.

To start with, the clean exterior lines give the F-Pace a sleek, sporty look. The design is more sport coupe than sport truck.

Inside, the bolstered leather seats remind you that you’re sitting in it, not on it, a pet peeve of mine when it comes to some other SUVs (I’m looking at you, Honda Pilot). It’s a reminder that this Jag is designed for people who appreciate the visceral side of driving. Once you’re behind the wheel, this machine that seemed so large from the outside now seems lean, muscular and nimble. The steering is precise and the handling is impressive.

Controls are laid out nicely around the driver. The 10” touchscreen is intuitive to use and the audio controls are complemented by a plain analog knob for the volume control. There’s no need to take your eyes off the road when all you want to do is raise or lower the volume. Apple and Android phones can connect to the vehicle through the InControl system.

F-Pace controls are oriented toward the driver. Everything is easily within reach and there’s even an old-fashioned analog knob to control audio volume

The dial gear selector, which rises from the console when you start the engine and disappears when you shut it off, saves some interior space but still takes some getting used to. I found that I could turn the dial faster than it could engage a gear. Most of the time that wasn’t a problem, but it did result in a sometimes awkward delay if I tried to quickly shift between forward and reverse, for example, when working into a tight parking spot.

The supercharged 380 hp V6, found only on the S version, is smooth and mostly quiet in Eco and regular Drive modes. Once you engage Sport mode and step on the throttle, though, the Jag shows its roots and the engine comes to life with a roar. There’s a slight hesitation as the horses get ready to run but the takeoff is impressive nonetheless thanks in part to the Jag’s generous helping of aluminum within its Lightweight Aluminum Architecture. Jaguar says this F-Pace can go from zero to 100 km/h in 5.5 seconds. (Switching into Sport mode also changes the interior accent lighting to red from green, which is pointless but, I admit, still kinda cool.) Keep in mind that roar comes with an increase in fuel consumption, although after a week of combined highway and city driving, the F-Pace S returned a respectable 11 litres per 100 km.

The S version has a range of high-tech driver aids available. Among others, our tester had Head-Up Display, which shows information like speed and navigation details on the windshield, directly but unobtrusively, in the driver’s eye line. Active cruise control uses the set cruising speed but adapts to keep a pre-set distance between you and the vehicle directly ahead – handy for long highway drives and a feature that adds a layer of safety without you even knowing it.

The F-Pace S has ample space your stuff and a sleek cargo cover keeps it hidden from prying eyes.

The cargo space is ample, with a capacity of 650 litres (fold the rear seats and Jaguar says you can increase that space to 1,740 litres). Of course, there’s also creature comforts like the heated steering wheel (my current favourite automotive innovation) and heated and cooling front and rear seats.

So while the Jaguar F-Pace S is not exactly for everyone, it does prove that in an era of one-size-fits-all SUVs, there’s still one out there that’s built for drivers.


Cars Driving Sports cars Subaru Technology

Driving the Subaru BRZ Sport-tech RS

If you spend any time at all fighting urban traffic, just a small dose of a car like the Subaru BRZ can remind you that driving used to be fun, and can be fun again.

This is the Sport-tech RS version of the BRZ, which means it’s a bit sportier and techy-er than just the run-of-the-mill BRZ.
Here’s how it’s described by Subaru:
“An all-new trim introduced for the 2018 model year, the Sport-tech RS builds on the fun-to-drive BRZ by adding Brembo performance brakes at all four corners, as well as SACHS performance dampers and 17-inch gunmetal alloy wheels.”
Apart from some interior upgrades like black-on-black leather and Alcantara seats with red stitching and a prominent BRZ logo that rests right between your shoulder blades, the Sport-tech RS is fitted with a six-speed manual transmission — the only transmission available.
The BRZ Sport-tech RS is, of course, equipped with a Boxer engine — this one’s a 2.0L DOHC 16-valve four-cylinder, capable of producing 205 hp at 7,000 RPM.
There’s also an easy-to-use a seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone compatibility, which is all-new and also available on all 2018 BRZs.
That’s pretty much it. And that’s OK because the BRZ is a no-frills car that is meant to be driven, meant to remind you that driving is supposed to be a fun, engaging experience.  The bolstered racing-style seats are comfortably snug and remind you how important it is to feel you’re in the car, not on it (as you can so easily feel in an SUV.)
The engine makes a pleasing roar when you start it. It doesn’t take much to get the BRZ up to speed and this is a car that loves corners, remaining fully planted but easy to handle. There’s also plenty of power in the low-end RPM range.
On the downside, the touchscreen can be overly sensitive, but that’s a minor quibble. As much as I love the interior design of the car, I don’t love the exterior. To me it could use some more rounded, muscular fenders and the grille and headlights look like they don’t fit with the rest of the exterior design. Plus, the rear visibility is hampered by the beefy C pillars but that’s partially offset by the rearview camera.
This particular Subaru is not about to compete with anything from Porsche or Ferrari, obviously. But, it is a rare small, no-nonsense sporty car that can make you feel like a real driver again.
Music springsteen

Springsteen on Broadway: One fan’s review of a ‘long and noisy prayer’

As soon as he took the stage, seemingly oblivious to the calls of “Bruuuuce” from a few of the diehards within the sold-out Walter Kerr Theatre on Broadway in New York City, Bruce Springsteen made it clear that this was no ordinary show.

The expression on his face as he stood at the microphone was solemn, serious and intense. With an acoustic guitar slung in front of him, he began with “DNA…” and listed the mixture of hopes, urges, dreams and influences that pushed him to learn to play the guitar, find his voice and rise out of his Catholic upbringing to eventually arrive on that stage a few nights ago.

He then stepped out in front of the mike and addressed the audience directly, as if taking us aside to give us the real scoop about what was going on. “I have never held a job in my life. I have never worked 9 to 5,” he bellowed at the 960-seat theatre. “Of what I have been singing about for the past 40 years I have absolutely zero practical experience.”

And that set the tone for the evening. It was, and is, a reassessment of Springsteen’s work and career through 15 songs. But it was no revisionist history. He’s not repudiating his songwriting, music and career but he is putting it all in context and adding some thematic muscle to the musical bone.

As he wrote in his book, Born to Run, he now feels he didn’t fairly portray his father in his music. The man himself was multi-layered, as we all are, and Springsteen often wrote of him as hard, distant and somber. Now he acknowledges that he was likely bipolar, certainly depressed and haunted and shaped by his own family tragedy.

His mother, on the other hand, found meaning in her job and family, loved music and dancing and, Springsteen said, could and would talk to anyone. She bought him his first guitar and as he sang in “The Wish,” was the one to drag him and his sister up to dance at family parties.

With Springsteen on Broadway, the singer has now shone the same light on the rest of his music and career. The opening song, “Growin’ Up” perfectly encapsulated his Catholic upbringing and his need to rebel from it (“I hid in the clouded wrath of the crowd but when they said sit down, I stood up.”) He lightened the mood a bit when he sat down at the piano and began talking about Freehold, New Jersey, (the name itself seems a contradiction) his hometown and near where he finds himself today. “I’m Mr. Thunder Road. Mr. Born to Run. Mister gotta get out. Death trap. Suicide rap. Gotta run, run, run, run. And now, I live 10 minutes from my hometown.”

Moments like those got some knowing laughs from the crowd and helped to cut through some of the gloom and seriousness of the early part of the show. They also illustrated how he still is able to use his own experience to give personal voice to universal feelings.

The songs are obviously central to the show but the stories give them a new framework that allows the audience to connect or reconnect to them. His stark yet energetic acoustic version of “The Promised Land” (long one of my favourites) was boosted by his story of driving to California with his band in the early 70s, hoping to find the path for them to make it big. That trip sparked a lifelong fascination with the desert and eventually sowed the seeds of that song.

He delivered a blistering version of “Born in the USA,” prefacing it by mentioning that it was, and remains, a protest song (despite being misinterpreted by one former U.S. president and probably by the current one.)

The song was borne partly out of a yet another trip west during which he read Ron Kovic’s Born on the Fourth of July and then met Kovic, by chance, at an LA hotel. Kovic introduced Springsteen to some Vietnam vets who were struggling with life at home in a country that was ambivalent to their situation. Two of Springsteen’s friends and former bandmates died in Vietnam while he was passed over for military service when he failed his army physical after being drafted. “I do sometimes think that that meant someone had to go in my place,” he said.

The evening also had its philosophical notes. Springsteen spoke of the masks we all wear and the faces we choose to show – and choose not to show – those close to us. That was illustrated and backed up by “Brilliant Disguise,” sung with wife Patti Scialfa, who also joined him on “Tougher than the Rest,” both songs from Tunnel of Love.

“Long Walk Home” allowed Springsteen to obliquely refer to current racial and social unrest in the United States and led into an unexpectedly powerful acoustic version of “The Rising.” Stripped of its pounding drums and gospel-style chorus it retained its core message of hope amidst catastrophic loss.

“Dancing in the Dark” was the song that fully made me a Springsteen fan. It cut through the classic rock FM radio landscape of my youth and grabbed me with its catchy synth intro and steady drumbeat and then hooked me with its message of discontent that spoke directly to my 17-year-old self.

From there I went back to the beginning, to Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J., and gathered everything he did until Born in the U.S.A. Then I just kept on going album after album and concert after concert (in Toronto, mostly; Hamilton Ont. once and, once also with my good friend Chris Powell, at Giants Stadium in the swamps of Jersey) winding up in New York, in a Broadway theatre, watching and listening to him perform for the 15th time. On each album I found something to connect to–whether it was a lyric like “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true/Or is it something worse?” or the raw energy of the signature 1,2,3,4 count calling for the band to crank the music up another notch.

But hearing “Dancing in the Dark” during this show reminded me that it still had its hold on me, that the message remained true without the musical window dressing that accompanied it. (As Springsteen began to play and the audience, mostly respectfully quiet until this point, began to clap along, he seemed to lose the tempo and told the crowd “I’ll take it from here” with a sly grin.)

The show ended with, of course, “Born to Run.” Springsteen led into it with a rote recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, recalling it as he did as a Catholic schoolboy. His signature song lives up to his reassessment and his own “long and noisy prayer” to his audience, his family and to himself still rings true.

Content Magazines Media Publishing

From catalogue to magazine: the power of storytelling

We all enjoy a good story—whether we’re reading it on our smartphone, tablet or laptop. Yet, some of us actually like to read on one of those cutting-edge devices that are printed on paper, the ones that are held together with staples and glue. What are they called again? Books, maybe. Magazines? Yes, that’s it. Magazines.

While the stalwart magazine format has taken its share of hits over the years and has its share of critics and doomsayers, it remains a viable medium for advertisers, readers and, near and dear to our print-loving hearts, custom content clients.

Even digital natives prefer reading in print, according to Washington Post report Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print.

Don’t believe me? Here’s what veteran editor Bob Love said about magazines at Folio’s Association Media Summit last year: “I like to tell my editors that the internet is our best friend and our worst enemy. Readers get instant information, data and news from Google, but they come to print for something extra. Let’s call it inspiration.”

And: “… that’s the power of magazines; it’s the power to tell a story in a unique way. Video tells a story; social media can tell a story, but the print story—the way pictures, words, headlines and the pacing of the magazine take you on a journey—that’s a much different kind of experience,” Liz Vaccariello, editor-in-chief of newly redesigned Parents magazine, recently told Mr. Magazine himself, Samir Husni.

That’s why it’s gratifying to read retailers such as IKEA and Canadian Tire are seeing the benefits of adding magazine-style editorial content to their catalogues. By doing so, they’re turning them into something their customers will actually make time for and display on their coffee tables instead of treating them like a flyer they flip through and discard.

The IKEA catalogue (nearly seven million copies of which are distributed in Canada) has taken a more editorial approach to the 2017 version, adding storytelling elements and using a livelier colour scheme throughout, according to the Globe and Mail.

“Everything is moving in a more editorial direction. Storytelling is something that we want to share more and more of because it’s important for people to know what kind of brand they are engaging with,” IKEA lead art director Zara Blomqvist said in a Q&A for the catalogue’s launch.

Tanja Dolphin, IKEA’s global catalogue leader, told the Globe that the print product also gets a strong social media boost once it lands on customers’ doorsteps, providing that elusive connection from print to digital that publishers and marketers so often crave. In efforts to be accessible to all, IKEA has also launched a digital experience and a new catalogue app.

Likewise for Canadian Tire, which has turned its catalogue into the Wow Guide by adding lifestyle content to help showcase its vast product array. It also added image-recognition software to the Canadian Tire app to drive customers and readers from the printed guide to the website.

Connecting interactive elements, such as virtual reality (which will replace the once popular QR code) to a print magazine will only become more popular as publishers look for ways to not only push readers online, but also give them an immersive reading experience—and help them maintain that engagement to their brands.

But, as our clients (like CAA and Acura) already know, that experience will always begin with a good story.

Photo: Breanna Rawn

Bikes Cycling Safety

To clip in or not to clip in

When I bought my Specialized Allez road bike in 2014 (after scouring bike shops, taking in bike shows, looking over and trying out more bikes than I care to disclose and, after my wife said to me, after barely listening to yet another list of bike specs, features and pros and cons said: “Just pick one and buy it!”) I made a conscious decision not to acquire more bike-related stuff than I truly needed. I was going to focus on the riding, not the accessories.

Of course, I needed a few necessities like water bottle and cage, lights, helmet and, of course, padded shorts (that need became apparent after the first ride.) Then when I picked up my new bike, the guy at the shop told me that even though the bike came with the cage-style toe clips I would probably want to replace them with clipless pedals.

I dismissed the idea as another useless accessory but at the same time wondered if I should just fully commit to the whole road bike milieu and clip in like most of the other road cyclists. They were the riders whose pedalling cadence seemed more fluid. Plus their pedals made a satisfying clack when they clipped in. It sounded to me like a type of starter’s pistol. Let’s go, they said. Take on that road.

Cycling purists will tell you that clipless pedals are the only way to ride. They’ll imply that you have to use them if you want to be considered a real roadie.

So I took the plunge.  They were easy to install (especially since I’d also bought a bike repair stand.) I practiced with them in the backyard, making sure the tension was set so I could snap in and out quickly.

Clipless pedals certainly helped on a climb when I had to get out of the saddle and stand on the pedals. My feet always felt secure and I knew they wouldn’t slip out of the pedals.

Trouble is, I had this nagging suspicion that I couldn’t get my feet out fast enough. I didn’t like the feeling of always being attached to the bike, especially in Toronto traffic when inevitably a car would stop suddenly in front of me or pull into my path from a side street or parking spot.

Everything I’d read about riding clipless mentioned that you should expect to crash at least once. That thought didn’t appeal to me — especially when I researched some of the crashes. For one, there’s this guy (granted, he was on a mountain bike but scroll down through his post and check out his x-rays.)

Still, I’d prefer not to create some x-rays of my own, so I’ve gone back to using the cage-style pedals that came with the bike, albeit with the adjustable straps removed, leaving just the centre clip for the toe of my shoe to slip under. While they allow me to slip my foot out quickly they’re still tricky to get back into when I’m pulling away from a stop.

So I’m in the market for a compromise solution. There’s these platform “pin” pedals (often used on mountain bikes) and these “Click’r” pedals that can be used with or without cleats. So, that means I’m still buying more stuff. But this stuff should let me concentrate not on my feet but on the fun of the ride.





Driving Travel

On Mulholland Drive

Visiting Los Angeles on business usually means arriving at LAX, driving to the hotel in Marina Del Rey, driving from MDR to meetings in Torrance – repeat every day or so – and then head back to LAX to return home.

Last week though was a bit different. A little extra time near the end of our second day of meetings meant we could squeeze in a trip to the Griffith Observatory, via, of course, Mulholland Drive.

Mulholland is an iconic road that I’d never had the chance to drive. I’ve driven my share of iconic roads — the Trans-Canada highway, the Amalfi Coast — but mostly for the reasons above, never Mulholland. Of course such a famous road should only be driven in a high-performance roadster, top down. That, sadly, was not to be. My ride of “choice” would be a white 2016 Chevy Suburban. A Thrifty rental no less.

Still, it was the drive that counts. My drive (three colleagues were along for the ride, with my boss, James, a car guy and race car driver in his spare time serving as navigator. James would’ve been happier in the driver’s seat but since I had never driven Mulholland before, he let me take the wheel) began in Torrance around 4 p.m. which meant we also experienced some typical LA traffic.

Traffic in LA is a thing to behold. It’s a constant. Regardless of the hour, cars are on the move. Large parts of the city — like Marina Del Rey and Torrance — with their four and six lane streets — are built to accommodate cars, not pedestrians. You can easily get around in LA — you just have to drive.

Entering Mulholland and heading east from the 405, the curves came quickly. It’s not a fast drive (at least not in a Suburban) but it is an engaging one. Being smooth on the brakes mean you don’t induce carsickness in passengers and you don’t cook the brakes on the downhill grades. The many blind curves are to be respected and only your passengers can enjoy the view. Fortunately, for me, there a several overlooks on the way that allow drivers to take a break and take in the scenery and get a blast of cool valley air.

We didn’t escape traffic on the drive but the scenery and the two-land winding road gave me a sense of both being in a city and being apart from it. I’m still learning LA but driving Mulholland Drive was a great lesson to get started with.


Auto industry Cars Driving Safety Technology

Driving without drivers

The driverless car began to turn left at an intersection just as two pedestrians stepped off the curb, ignoring the ‘don’t walk’ sign. A warning chirp sounded inside the car and it began to slow, mid-way through its turn.

“Jaywalkers aren’t in scope,” said the engineer in the passenger seat to the engineer in the driver’s seat. “You need to take the wheel.”

The two engineers were part of a Ford Motor Company autonomous vehicle team and the car was a modified Ford Fusion. Taking the wheel immediately brought the car under a driver’s control (although it was never out of control, just creeping through the intersection). I was along for the ride in the back seat with another journalist, getting a sense of how an autonomous car works.

This was a demonstration drive, so jaywalkers and other random acts of traffic spontaneity were not part of the demo. The Fusion was moving on its own, but was not left to drive at random. The maps that live at the heart of its complex software and algorithms and its array of sensors would see to that. As would the two engineers in the front seats.

During a short drive near Ford’s sprawling headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. the car often drove better than a human does. It accelerated smoothly, maintained the speed limit, and stopped at stop signs and red lights. It lingered longer at a crosswalk than an impatient urban driver typically would after a pedestrian (a Ford employee who staged his crossing to show how the car would respond) had crossed the street. But, as one of the engineers told me after our ride, the car will always err on the side of safety, during its development and after. I pressed them on the dilemma of what could happen when the car needs to make a seemingly ethical choice. When it needs to, for example, decide how to best avoid a child who has just darted out – should it save the lives of the car’s occupants or of the child?  They, being true blue Ford employees, dodged the question, saying only that the car would do what was safest.

And to be fair, they, and no one else, really knows the answer to that question or the myriad other questions that surround autonomous cars. Ford sees a future where cars navigate the streets according to downloaded maps and where we might own an autonomous car and a car that we actually drive. Other automakers have different perspectives.

From my driver’s perspective, it’s a strange experience to watch a steering wheel turn without a human’s input, to feel a car move without a human doing anything. But it might be an experience we all will have to get used to.

Auto industry Cars Driving Honda Photography Safety

Shooting Cars: How to Capture that Perfect Auto Image

Hamin & Honda
Photographer Hamin Lee shooting the 2016 Civic before our test drive

This post originally appeared on the Totem blog

Sometimes, those of us lucky enough to make magazines for a living are asked to share how we shot that image, found that story, nailed down that fascinating person for an interview.

Honestly, how we do these things is no secret, and it’s usually much less glamorous than people realize. Still, it’s often a lot of fun. Case in point: the photo shoot of the 2016 Honda Civic I was involved in awhile ago, the results of which appear in the spring issue of CAA Magazine.

Choose the right contrast to the scene

Hamin Lee, a freelance photographer and his assistant, Mark Luciani, joined me at the Civic’s launch in which journalists could try out the car in and around the Collingwood and Blue Mountain region. Mark and I each drove a car (his with a GoPro camera mounted on it) and Hamin rode shotgun with me, watching the route and scouting for places to stop and shoot. We chose white cars because they would look the best against a variety of natural backdrops, from overlooking Georgian Bay to tree-lined roads to farmer’s fields.

Keep it as safe as possible

Before we set out, we were warned (three times) to obey all traffic laws and to drive safely. It seems some of the journalists who had driven the route earlier in the week had pushed the Civic closer to the limits of its capabilities and had attracted the attention of the local police. A black and white cruiser sat conspicuously down the road from our first scheduled rest stop, visible to each of us as we pulled into the parking lot.

Don’t be shy about getting the best angle

Other than that, the most attention we received was from other drivers, many of whom slowed as they passed, watching as Hamin stood on the shoulder of the road with his camera, shooting the car on the opposite side or trying to gauge which way to place the car to catch the best light in an otherwise empty field. Shortly after, a woman in a Mercedes E-Class sedan also slowed but then pulled away abruptly in a hail of gravel, apparently unhappy that we were inadvertently blocking her entrance to the street. Later, a man in a beige Lincoln Navigator rolled passed us very slowly, eyeing us with his windows rolled down apparently wondering what three men and two white Honda Civics could possibly be doing stopped at the side of the road on such a sunny day. (The answer: trying to figure out how to place the car to shoot evergreen trees behind it, which are more appropriate for a spring magazine than the brilliant fall colours.)

Plan out your candid action shots

Then there’s the challenge of shooting a moving car. We used a few pretty simple methods. As I drove, Hamin would say, “let’s try something here.” I’d pull off the road, Hamin would get out, I’d backtrack about half a kilometre, wait for him to text me the OK and then drive past him at a consistent speed, avoiding the urge to look directly at the camera. Sometimes Hamin would point the camera from the back seat through the window and capture Mark’s car as he drove closely behind us.

But the real secret is…

The best method? The one that shows a car centred in its lane and moving at speed, appearing to come directly at the viewer, with the blacktop rushing by in a grey blur under its wheels? In the interests of maintaining good relations with the local police and not causing undue stress to my great clients, that one will need to remain a secret.

The spring issue of CAA Magazine is available now.