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The BMW ConnectedDrive system provides a connection to the cell network as well as the internet through the vehicle itself, which requires an active BMW Assist subscription ($199 per year after the first year on most new BMWs). (BMW)
The BMW ConnectedDrive system provides a connection to the cell network as well as the internet through the vehicle itself, which requires an active BMW Assist subscription ($199 per year after the first year on most new BMWs). (BMW)

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New Bimmers will take dictation Add to ...

A new generation of BMW’s ConnectedDrive infotainment system will now offer the capability for drivers to both listen to and dictate e-mails and text messages while on the road, as long as a newer Blackberry smartphone is used. It will dictate and read out texts if an Android phone with MAP technology is used. With an iPhone, well, no luck here with either kind of messages, though BMW offers integrated apps such as Facebook, Twitter and iCal.

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New 2013 BMW 7 Series, 5 Series and 3 Series ActiveHybrids will start arriving in September with the new ConnectedDrive systems, as they just started production this month, said Kian Marandi, ConnectedDrive specialist for BMW Canada. That MAP (Message Access Profile) technology is the key, said Marandi, not your carrier. You’ll also need functioning Bluetooth capability, which my Blackberry Torch hasn’t had in a while, but I digress.

It’s a rare bit of positive reinforcement for Blackberry fans, with Waterloo, Ont.-based Blackberry-maker RIM being more in the news lately for massive layoffs, missed product launch dates and unhappy investors. Plus it seems as though every new or handy app in the world these days doesn’t have a Blackberry version.

As the name implies, the BMW ConnectedDrive system provides a connection to the cell network as well as the internet through the vehicle itself, which requires an active BMW Assist subscription ($199 per year after the first year on most new BMWs). The voice-to-text functions will also require a subscription to Nuance, a cloud company that continually refines and updates speech-to-text patterns, said Marandi. The cost hasn’t been confirmed, but he estimated it $25-$45 per year.

Marandi demonstrated the system on a 2013 7 Series ActiveHybrid at the Chartright private plane hangar at Pearson International recently. As with most iDrive functions, it takes some cycling through to get to the voice-to-speech function, though there’s also a refined, more natural speech recognition software in the car that can guide you there faster, according to Marandi. Once there, he simply hit a button, spoke a short message, and the transcribed text message appeared on the 7 Series’ large centre screen. It wasn’t transcribed perfectly, but close, and it gives you the option to edit the message on screen, or try again.

We didn’t have a chance to try the system out on the road, so it may or may not lock out some of these functions while the car is moving. But it was in the editing of the text message that the grumblings began about whether this was too much of a distraction to be safe, from both older and younger, tech-savvier onlookers.

“Folks who want to access e-mail or Facebook while driving will do it anyway,” Marandi countered. BMW has simply tried to come up with the least distracting, safest way to do so.

BMW’s traffic warning function will finally work in Canada this fall as well, said Marandi, as it previously used HD Radio signals, which weren’t available here.

BMW also said a new version of iDrive is coming in 2013 called iDrive Touch, which will have a touch-sensitive controller. The new system, along with the updated ConnectedDrive system, will be the first in the automotive world to take advantage of the speed of the latest LTE (think 4G) networks, which offers 10 times the speed of 3G wireless internet connections, according to Markus Dietz, a ConnectedDrive project manager in Germany, speaking in a webinar detailing the system’s new capabilities and user refinements.

Impressive overall, but unfortunately one will need both a Blackberry and an iPhone to use all the capabilities of the system. And users should be prepared to spend some quality time with the manual to learn how to operate it.

Ford C-Max Energi to offer 32 km of electric range

The upcoming Ford C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid will travel up to 32 kilometres on electricity only, Ford of Canada officials confirmed this week, and will start at $36,999.

That’s almost 10 grand higher than the base C-Max Hybrid, which starts at $27,199, while the C-Max Hybrid SEL that’s equipped (presumably) closer to the only Energi SEL trim level will start at $30,199. So it’ll cost about $6,800 for plug-in capability, and once the engine kicks in, total range will be about 880 km, according to Ford. Keep in mind that the Energi will be eligible for the maximum provincial government rebates in Ontario, Quebec and B.C., worth $8,500, $8,000 and $5,000, respectively.

The Energi crossover will be Ford’s closest answer to the plug-in Toyota Prius and the Chevrolet Volt, and will arrive soon after both C-Max versions hits showrooms this fall, the Energi soon after the regular Hybrid. Unfortunately, like the Focus EV, the C-Max Energi will only be available at certain EV-certified dealers, unlike the regular C-Max Hybrid.

Every C-Max in North America will be a five-seat vehicle, so no luck if you were hoping for the first plug-in seven-seater. Canadian fuel efficiency ratings have not been released for the C-Max Energi, but the American overall average of 95 mpg equivalent (MPGe) converts to 2.5 litres/100 km equivalent. Ford’s 32-km electric-only range is about three times the tested EPA electron-only range of the plug-in Prius, according to Ford, though Toyota officials insist the Prius PHV range can vary up to 25 kilometres in ideal conditions.

Nürburgring track facing insolvency

Though it seems every company boasts about how its sportiest models were honed on the “Green Hell” of the speed limit-less Nürburgring, as well as a glitzy Formula One race every other year, the state-owned track has now reportedly entered bankruptcy protection.

A 2009 major redevelopment with accompanying shopping mall, entertainment complex and hotel was supposed to attract non-motorsport money, but apparently hasn’t, at least to a sufficient degree to keep the controlling public company solvent. That year, a venue sharing agreement was struck with Bernie Ecclestone to hold the German Grand Prix there every other year, alternating with the Hockenheim circuit, where the cars raced this past Sunday.

A tentative new deal between Ecclestone and the circuit has been reached, reported Autoweek magazine late last week, although the lack of details since suggests that nothing is yet final.

Whether this will mean the end of public access to the track’s legendary Nordschleife is now the question that many are wondering, but no one appears ready to answer.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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