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test drives

The Day I Put A Christmas Tree in a Honda Odyssey

auto, GEAR By December 15, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , No Comments

If you ask what the biggest obstacle is for just about any Mom, keeping the car clean will be near the top of her list. We’ve sent people to the moon, can photograph a cheque to deposit it into a bank account and yet no car company had ever made a vehicle with a built-in vacuum.  Until now.  I have been test driving the Touring version of the 2014 Honda Odyssey and quite possibly may never give it back. I shoved a Christmas Tree in a Honda Odyssey and vacuumed up all the needles.

Roomy and luxurious, the favourite feature of the minivan is a vacuum that extends right from the rear all the way to the front windshield.  With a cord that won’t tangle. To truly test the functionality, I got permission from Honda to use the vehicle to carry not one, but two Christmas trees from the lot to my home. Pulling a cord and flipping the seats down was easy, and the 11-foot tree slid into the car with ease.  The 12-footer was strapped to the roof with twine.  After removing and decorating the stunners, the car was pine scented and fresh, but there were needles everywhere.

The Honda Odyssey Vacuum

I pressed the start button on the vehicle once to put the Odyssey into accessory mode. Pupping the trunk using the smart key, I only had to touch the ‘on’ button and grab the hose from the stowage area.  There are 2 attachments and it will run for 8 minutes before it shuts off on its own.  Not to worry if your car looks like mine – shutting car off and turning cit back on gives you another eight minutes of Cheerio-sucking bliss. 

The Odyssey Cool box

Cool box as in ‘keeps drinks, leftovers or pumped breastmilk nice and chilly. You just press a button to put air conditioning in the box.  The great thisg is that unlike other auto manufacturers, Honda does not simply use the vents to cool the box but has a seperate A/C cooling system.  So you can be warm while the juiceboxes stay cold.

The Odyssey Back Seat

You know when you try to squeeze three carseats across a back seat and the kids can’t access the seatbelt buckles so you have to get out of the car and buckle everyone in yourself? That doesn’t happen here.  You can move the back seats wider apart to make more carseat room.  There are window shutters that slide up and down that proved very durable as my kids played with them. ‘Daytime. Nighttime. Daytime. Nighttime.’ What a fun game.

The Miraculous Odyssey A/V System

Have you ever had a toddler and a teen fight over tv selection? Dora or Twilight and NO compromise.  This vehicle solve the issue. (Yes, you may want to move into it).  The wider drop-down video screen can split into two sides so each can watch their preferred programming. Switch seats after a rest stop? No worries.  The flick of a button on the remote will allow you to swap the screen. Cordless headphones can be assigned to either side, and the third row seating boasts hdmi or rca jacks for your secondary source dvd.  Or maybe an ipod. Or the Xbox or ps3.  Guitar hero anyone?

Odyssey Tech

The touchscreen is new to this Odyssey and when used with the Aha system, makes your life easy. Hondalink is a free app from iTunes or google play. It allows you to stream internet radio. You can pick any station in North America, type of music using hardly any data. You could, for instance, use it two hours per day for a month and use only 1 gig of data on your smartphone. Swipe to play the next song if you don’t like the current one, and set up to 16 stations as favourites..

Voice command functionality allows you to talk to the car.  With 2 presses of the voice command button you can say things like:
‘Find nearest gas station’, ‘Passenger temperature 25’, ‘Fan speed 5’ or ‘Rear defrost on’ and the car will do your bidding. No you cannot marry your car.

The clock is set via satellite so you never have to change the time again (or remember to add an hour).

Curious about the Christmas Tree test? Check out my video.  Spoiler alert: It will make you want a 2014 Honda Odyssey.


This article was generously sponsored by Honda Canada. All opinions, images and ideas are my own.  For more information, visit

Veggie Sloppy Joes

Veggie Sloppy Joes

EAT, family meals By October 5, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , No Comments

Veggie sloppy Joes are like childhood on a plate. Growing up in the ’70s, you just couldn’t escape this meaty dish. Since it’s such a comfort food, Ceri and I decided to go retro and bring back the sloppy. We’ve updated it, of course, for a more health-conscious family, substituting all that ground beef with a flavor-rich black bean sauce.  This recipe was excerpted from the great new cookbook entitled How to Feed a Family: The Sweet Potatoes Chronicles Cookbook, by Ceri Marsh and Laura Keogh.  As two urban, working moms, Ceri and Laura learned quickly how challenging healthy meal-times can be. So they joined forces to create the Sweet Potato Chronicles a website written for, and by, non-judgmental moms, packed full of nutritious recipes for families.


Ford Fusion Hybrid Electric Vehicle

auto, GEAR By September 17, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , 3 Comments

The boys are getting used to our ‘borrowed cars’ and they even humour me by describing what they like as we drive.  The big hit will always be the ‘tracking device’ (GPS) but with the Ford Fusion Hybrid, they added another item to their top 10.  The sleek lines of the Fusion made us think that the car would sound like a souped-up sports car when the ignition was engaged.  But no.  Silence.  The only sound was from the back seat.  “Mommy, is it going?  We’re not going to make it to school!  The car doesn’t work!”  Like something Q would have designed for James Bond, we could sneak up on the least suspecting person. He he.


50 Years: The Ford Mustang Convertible

auto, GEAR By July 30, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , , , , No Comments

It was my tenth wedding anniversary and I was fully surprised as I got whisked off to Los Angeles.  The tenth seems to carry more weight than it used to.  We were upgraded and treated like royalty everywhere we went and it began with the car rental agency.  Noting the special occasion we were given a Ford Mustang convertible.  And I happened to have a scarf to tie around my head a la Grace Kelly. (But of course).

The Ford Mustang

The Ford Mustang has always held allure for me.  Rugged and manly yet powerful with crisp lines, it produces a visceral reaction.  I have to stop writing auto reviews.  They always sound racy to me. (But to be fair you should read their slogans).  Even as an automatic the car is easy to handle and the turning radius was impressive in tiny LA parking garages.  Delivering up to 662 HP (V8 Manual Supercharged), I can’t think of a better vehicle in which to see the southern California coast.  No longer intimidated by the sunroof, it was fully automated with 2 manual levers that were easily operated.

I happened to be attending the Ford Trends Conference in Detroit for the 50th anniversary of the Mustang.  Unlike the image in my mind of the vehicle of 50 years ago (my close friend was given one by his dad), I was taken with the modern design and extras.  Trends discussed at the conference about environmental responsibility, technology and the notion of cars making life easier for their drivers were evident in the vehicle.  The SYNC® with MyFord Touch® systems allow you to use the RCA connectors to plug in all kinds of video players such as gaming consoles and iPods. You can even turn your smartphone into a wireless router, so your passengers — big and small — can surf the Web! Hold me back – I’m trying to unplug this summer.

It’s in the Detailing

The steering wheel was stitched beautifully through leather and ergonomic to the hands.  The square detailing on the dash juxtaposed against the curves of the outside shell made for a ying-yang experience.  Our music blared clearly from huge speakers and as we drove through Malibu and Hollywood I played with the dials styled like old-school radio accessories.  I may have been singing a bit too.. Capitol Records, are you listening?  More a ‘date-night’ vehicle, there were of course carseat latches but you’d be hard-pressed to fit a third person between two carseats.  That, of course, isn’t the purpose of this machine.  As a date vehicle for fair weather?  Perfect.

See also:

Ford Fusion

Ford Edge


Acura 2103 ILX Hybrid and ILX Technology

auto, GEAR By June 4, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , , No Comments

There’s a joke now about me as I test drive vehicles.  Unlike other auto journalists, it takes about an hour for me to take all of the kid stuff out of my own car and transfer it to the tester.  Car seats, sporting equipment, groceries, garbage, dried cheerios and dirty coffee mugs make their way into the clean new car as everyone around me chuckles.  Luckily whenever I drive an Acura, I feel so much like a princess that I don’t mind the extra work.  I drove the Acura ILX Hybrid (MSRP $35,050) and ILX Technology (MSRP$32,350) back to back and was delighted by what I found.

Though they are different to drive (and a tad distracting if you watch the dials as much as I do), hybrids are winning my love at the moment.  Typically it’s all about the environment and the time and money you save at the gas pumps, but as an under-appreciated mom, I have other reasons.  I feel like I’m in control; of how I use the fuel, how I drive, and the noise level within the car. I also feel good about myself for simply driving a hybrid (and am able to park in hybrid-only parking spots).  That’s nice too.

That aside, here’s what I loved about both vehicles:

1.  The Valet key is genius. The removable key portion ensures that the valet or a burglar can’t get into trunk if the ‘valet’ option is switched off.  For this reason there is no passthru on the trunk on hybrid.  (Skiiers beware).
2.  Flat tire seal repair kit for the hybrid ensures you have no need to change a tire on the side of road.  Perfect safety for women!
3.  There’s a hard drive in the vehicle so that when you insert a cd it will copy your music and store it on the hard drive (150 cd capacity).
4.  Like in Hondas, there is a flat back floor which gives backseat passengers more room – especially if someone is sitting between two carseats.
5.  Pant protector and the double seal on doors ensures that you don’t get oil and grease on your new designer jeans.
6.  Seat warmers remember last setting so nobody can play a joke on you by making your backside too hot..  Ditto for the navigation system with voice recognition.
7.  The push button start, while leaving the key in your purse is a must for moms.
8.  The look is super sporty with a low profile and great viz.
9.  Rear windows are nice and low so that the kids can see out (hopefully avoiding some car screaming time).
10.  The SMS text message function reads you texts as you drive, and you are also able to respond with a few stock responses such as ‘I’ll text later, I’m driving’.  Much fun can be had with passengers in the back seat depending on the propriety of incoming text messages.
11.  There is a “feedback” system in the Hybrid that lets a driver know how well they are performing.  A big green ball grows larger if you drive sensibly and shrinks if you don’t.  So try to limit the shrinkage.

1.  I thought the trunk of the hybrid was small, as the battery is behind the back seat (or perhaps I carry around too much junk…)
2.  Totally not a drawback with the vehicles but either with my kids or my ineptitude as a Mom.  Where does all of the kid-dirt come from?  I am SO glad I don’t have to clean the car after a week of driving. What’s with the blue playdoh?

The Verdict?

Loved both of these vehicles and for the extra couple of thousand dollars, I’d choose the Acura ILX Hybrid.  The savings in fuel, the rear spoiler and the self-love you’ll receive make it a slam dunk.

Check out the Ford Fusion Hybrid and the Acura RDX too.


A Snowy Ski Vacation With the BMW X3

auto, Canada, GEAR, ROAM By January 22, 2013 Tags: , , , , , , No Comments

Picking up and dropping off media vehicles with kids in tow is always an adventure.  Especially at the incredibly spotless and organized Brian Jessel BMW.  Thank goodness the staff are wonderful – and so are the snacks at the café..  Thankfully the kids also quieted down completely once I initiated the ‘tracking device’ in the BMW X3 (aka. navigation).  They felt like spies.  And the backup cameras tell you when you are close to an obstacle in the front or back, which kept them watching the dashboard throughout the drive.

My first test for the X3 was to Big White Resort for a media familiarization trip.  Despite not having snow tires on the icy Coquihalla highway, we hugged the road.  The AWD and XDrive gave us so much piece of mind!  Reaching Kelowna and heading up the steep hill to Big White, the outdoor temperature was frigid.  Seat warmers, amazing defogging technology and a bit of Gamgam-style seat-dancing kept us happy and warm.

The next day I met our guide and ran (skiied) right into a sign outside the main building.  It was an ad for an X3 on a ski vacation!  Can I ever pick my stories, huh?  Unlike the photo, I didn’t test it on the ski runs both for fear of getting in trouble from our Big White hosts, but I also didn’t want the vehicle to take all of my fresh powder.

In the city, the X3 handled equally as beautifully and the kids became quite addicted to driving in the spacious back seats.  From their perspective?  The tray tables.  The cup holders.  The huge sunroof, low windows that allow them to see out and of course the ‘tracking device’ make it a favourite.  Giving back our ‘borrowed car’ made them quite grumpy (until the Jedi sword fight in the dealership parking lot broke out and then I was more concerned for the vehicles than the kids).

What I liked:

1.  E-mails, calendar entries, tasks and SMS messages will appear wirelessly on the Control Display so you can pretend you are in ‘your office’ when you’re doing something fun like, well, heading out on a ski vacation..
2. BMW xDrive is able to recognize difficult road surfaces through sensors in the chassis and reacts within a fraction of a second.
3.  Plug in a USB cable to the audio system and you can even see cover art from your albums projected on the screen.
4. Bluetooth Sync with phone address book and stream audio from your smartphone
5.  The circular dial for switching radio, navigation and media is easy to use and safe, as it’s where your hand naturally reaches.
5.  The extra long sunroof thrilled the whole family
6.  Rear and forward sensors provided so much safety while parking (you never have to do a ‘Kramer’, bumping cars on either end).
7.  Sleek extrerior lines make you feel like a rock star.
8.  Great visibility
9.  Lane Departure Warning helps you avoid dangerous situations.
10.  And most important: Storage.  Even 1.5 litre water bottles and ANY sized coffee cup.  We know moms don’t go for the tiny ones…

The only ‘drawback’ for me to this vehicle would be a huge plus for most.  The eco mode turned the car off at stop lights to save fuel.  It was so quiet I kept thinking the car had turned off and wanted to re-start the engine.  The pickup when you press the gas took a while to get used to.  You can turn it off, though, so it really is a mut point.  On the Control Display you can read how ECO PRO Mode is actively lowering energy consumption and following the tips can enable you to achieve a reduction in fuel consumption of up to 20 %. Cool.

In all?  Along with my new Ride snowboard gear, perfect lipgloss and twin-tipped skis, the BMW X3 is the only other equipment I’ll need for my next ski vacation.


The 2013 Honda Accord Unveiling in Santa Barbara

auto, GEAR, ROAM, USA By October 9, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , No Comments

At the 2013 Honda Accord Unveiling in Santa Barbara, I realized that I am really not an auto writer.  I know.  Our readers have known that for ages.  But as I was grilled on social media by die-hard car journalists from the LA Times and highly technical publications, I realized that as a mom, my perspective is very unique and valid.  I admit, though, that I dropped a few comments like “What is torque again?” (With a valleygirl accent and a hair twirl) just to get their shocked reactions.  Snicker.

As a mom I look for vehicles with style and family-friendliness.  The 2013 Accord comes in a plug-in hybrid, coupe or sedan versions.  I drove them all, and also the manual transmission model.   Wow.  These things purred.  Peppy, spirited and fun to drive, I think I may have to take a look at investing in Honda stock.  Here’s what I loved about the new Accord.

Honda Link 2013 Accord1.  Honda Link.  I could go on and on.  Honda Link is a cloud-based system that connects you (safely) to the web.  Voice recognition, text messaging, audiobooks, digital music content, hand-picked radio stations, restaurant searches and Facebook audio feeds without having to mess with your mobile phone… perfect for kids and passengers.  You really shouldn’t tweet and drive, BTW.  And Honda is so safe they won’t even let you set up your Bluetooth or wireless texting sync when the car is moving.

2.  The plug-in hybrid.  Talk about quiet.  And fast.  It reminded me of driving my husband’s Jaguar.  Seriously.  (Except I kept forgetting the car was on and trying to restart).  When it comes to recharging, Honda says the Accord plug-in can get a full recharge in an hour from a 240-volt charger.

3.  Quiet.  The interior is so quiet that you have to blast music so you don’t lull off to sleep.  Great for babies.  There are lots of reasons for the lack of interior noise – one is that the dashboard is only one piece so not as much wind gets in.  The engine is coated in a sound-deafening shield-thingy too.

4.  Similarly, there is little drag.  The ‘sideburns’ of the car and exterior styling make it look fabulously sporty, but also improve the performance.  The coupe is sportiest of all, of course, and offers parents with teens going off to University enough room in the back for visits home while helping them combat the empty-nest state with a huge amount of cool factor.

Accord 2013 LED Lights5.  I can honestly say that I have never driven a car with a more responsive steering system.  It made me a little dizzy, as I like to ‘bop to the music’ and tend to ‘steer’ to the beat.   Another reason the auto writers were gaping at me. (And I was the only one driving in stilettos, of course).

6.  Holy trunk room.  We were joking that you could fit a couple of bodies in there.  The trunk was easy to close with one hand if you had groceries, an infant or multiple Vuitton sachels in the other.

7.  Lots of attention was paid to details such as where the stitching on the steering wheel falls as you grip it.  The luxury-lover in me was pretty happy with the design elements.

Lane Watch Honda8.  The side mirrors could be on the space shuttle they are so technical.  Not that a shuttle has side mirrors, but whatever..  To eliminate blind spots, Honda has developed a camera called LaneWatch™ that ‘sees’ into the next lane.  The image flashes onto your 8 inch dashboard LCD screen so you are never blind.  They’ve kind of fixed every frustration about driving, allowing you to have confidence in your ability and thereby be a safer driver.  Pretty smart.  If only Honda could make my hair look good when I don’t blowdry.  And make all of the mirrors in the world make me look skinny.  Ok.  I digress.

9.  There is an option to turn the Accord’s Lane Departure Warning sensor on or off.  Once I figured it out, I was really impressed.  And realized that I’m not a very good driver. Driving along I couldn’t figure out what was beeping at me.  Every time I got too close to a line on either side without putting on my indicator signal, I thought there were birds in the car.  Back to driving school for me. (Or maybe fewer riveting conversations with my drive partner Tanya Gordon).

10.  The forward collision warning was incredible.  And there is also a turbo-break thing that happens.  When the car senses you breaking suddenly, it will put even more force into the brakes, ensuring you stop on a dime.  (Which was incredibly fortunate when a distracted mom pulled over in a dangerous spot on the side of a  vineyard road and her toddler ran into the street.)  My heart is still racing.

11.  Talking to the car was a blast.  “XM Channel 72” and the sounds of Broadway filled the vehicle.  Better still – it only recognizes one voice at a time so my kids wouldn’t be able to change the tunes to the Disney Channel every five minutes!

Technical Stuff:

The 2.4-liter, 185 horsepower four-cylinder engine is rated at 27 MPG in city driving and 36 on the highway.  For the V-6 engine, the highway rating is 34 MPG and city rating is 21 MPG.  Pretty great – especially for a vehicle that handles beautifully and can go from zero to 60 MPH in a quick 5.6 seconds (Motor Trend).

Our take?  Honda enthusiasts, Moms, kids and tech-lovers will snap it up.  Fast.  And we’d certainly want it as a push present.

Honda Accord



The 2013 Chevy Malibu hits the Cabot Trail

auto, GEAR By September 19, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , No Comments

I grew up in Halifax, Nova Scotia and am embarrassed that I’d never been to Cape Breton.  I have been yearning to drive the Cabot Trail.  My chance finally came when the 2013 Chevy Malibu hits the Cabot Trail with spectacular September weather, lobsters and whales.

Those of you who follow my auto stories know that I’m not too technical.  I know what a Mom needs, what it means to be family-friendly, and how important style is to exhausted parents who always considered themselves cool.  I’ve never even written about gas mileage.  You do what you have to do as a Mom.  Space, sightlines, safety and cargo seem to trump everything else.  So I was SHOCKED that not only did this 4-cyllindar peppy Malibu have what it took to be a family vehicle, but I drove around the entire Cabot Trail (501 kilometers) on just under ¾ of a tank.  Wow.  For the people who understand these things, it gets 8.1 L/100km city 5.3 L/100km hwy.

I tend to have fun on these trips.  I’ll save you from stories about Celtic step dancing, lobster cracking and singing with the fiddler… and will go straight to off-roading.

Drive Partner: Let’s take the quick route to the Normaway Inn in the Margaree River.

Me: Hmmm. Looking at the map, I think we can bypass the paved road and get there even faster if we follow this one-lane dirt path.  There’s a fork somewhere that we have to find though….unless it is grown over.

Drive Partner: OK but if we get murdered/lost it’s your fault.  I wonder if Onstar can track us here.  (it could)

40 minutes later, after picking apples out the window of the car while giggling incessantly, we realized that it wasn’t much shorter.  But we gave the car quite the run! I can honestly say that the shocks are great after going over potholes and puddles the size of apple barrels.  You should have seen the caked-on dirt when we arrived.  Now that’s driving!  And we took the road less traveled. Walt would be proud.

What I liked about the 2013 Malibu:

  1. The touch screen allowed you to select options, sync your phone, change the XM station and was very easy to use.  Unfortunately there was no twitter on the screen.  (With a lack of Rogers cellular service in northern Cape Breton, all of us social media geeks could not text, phone or use the MiFi units in the cars.  It was amusing to see us slowly crumble as the stress of ‘going dark’ set in.  I admit – I was the worst of all of us and met many a bed and breakfast owner as I begged for wifi passwords.)
  2. So thank GOODNESS for OnStar Hands Free Calling.  Because it is phone via satellite, it had our backs.  In a humourous way, we all kept ducking out to ‘sit in the car’ so that we could call our children.  The owner at Cheticamp’s great Horseback riding excursion – Little Pond Stables – screamed “One of your Malibu’s is ringing!!”
  3. The Driver’s window touch feature allowed for straight up and down with one push or pull– convienient at drive-thrus and toll booths.
  4. A button on the trunk allows it to open by pushing from the outside if car is unlocked.
  5. James Bond alert.  There’s a hiding spot and sync feature for your phone in the dash – right behind the flip-up Mylink screen.
  6. The remote start on the key fob would be great on the cold winter days. This feature is standard on 1LT and up.
  7.  It’s super roomy (ie you can breastfeed easily in the front or back seat).
  8. The rear backup camera is standard – even on the base models.  My own car only beeps when I get close to something while reversing and I was so used to the beep I almost crashed while forgetting to look at the rearview camera.  Laugh.  Blush.  Just kidding.  The rear camera is available in the Power Convenience or Entertainment Packages on the 1LT, 2LT and LTZ models.
  9. USB connectivity allows you to upload a favourite photo onto the screen – perfect for a family road trip.
  10.  The sunroof was quiet when opened and didn’t distract the driver as some noisy sunroofs do.
  11. There are 10 standard airbags.
  12. There are blockers in the grille and specially shaped side mirrors to help reduce drag.  Unless you’re on a one-lane dirt road, in which case you probably won’t notice. Both Malibu Eco models have aerodynamic shutters that open and close depending on the speed of the vehicle for aerodynamic reasons.
  13.  The LTZ offers a lane departure warning and forward collision alert that are available in the Advanced Safety Package.  Oh.  That’s what those beeps were for.  Usually these features only exist on much higher-end vehicles.
  14. The Cabot Trail isn’t the easiest drive.  If you’re not completely distracted by the beauty, way too full from the poutine covered in chesse/gravy/onions/peas/ground beef, or staring at the piles of empty roadside lobster traps, you are jigging down hills with windy curves and hairpin turns.  And here’s me forgetting my Grace Kelly hair scarf.  But I do know that the Malibu hugs the road.  Tight.

The All-New Chevy Malibu

Disclosure: UrbanMommies was hosted on a drive trip through the Cabot Trail in Nova Scotia.  As always, our opinions are our own.

Other Chevrolet Articles:



Chevrolet Spark Test Drive

auto, GEAR By August 28, 2012 Tags: , , , , , , No Comments

I couldn’t possibly test a vehicle without the kids in tow.  I thought this Chevrolet Spark Test Drive would be a tough one for the boys, as the car was so compact (awesome for squeezing into city parking spots). But for the urban driver?  Amazing.

Safety-wise, the 10 airbags, great sight lines and Onstar phone services provide the driver with a ton of confidence.  You can’t really beat Onstar (and not just to ask a live person to send directions to the vehicle for the nearest Starbucks).  My kids know that if Mommy is ever in trouble, they press the red button and wait for emergency response crews who will track the car via GPS.  The peace of mind is priceless.

With USB connectivity for his tunes combined with great maneuverability and talent, my husband was able to back up within 1.5 inches of a pylon and became the proud recipient of the award for this feat (as opposed to the actual pylon award he received in recreational hockey).  I was thrilled to be able to tweet that my dear husband ‘won with an inch and a half!’.

The verdict?  A great economical and compact choice for big-city driving.  It may not be the best option for schlepping gear and multiple kiddos on playdates if you need more than 31.2 cubic feet of volume, but did I mention it comes in pink?