Driving downtown to the St. Lawrence Market is my commitment to the 100-mile diet.
You could accumulate hundreds of miles, certainly kilometres, scouting out farmers through southern Ontario – but every Saturday they gather in one place, the Toronto market’s north building at Jarvis and Front. A bounty of scrubbed premium produce awaits selection. Even the three little pigs are on offer.
It’s driving down there that makes my day. Downtown Toronto on a mid-summer Saturday can be as calm and open as it is crazy, congested and inhospitable through the week. City Drive usually evaluates cars in obnoxious traffic, but consider this an exception.
We’re driving a Honda Civic Touring, a $26,395 all-frills incarnation of what started in 1973 as a tin can of a car that, to its credit, did live up to its name: Civic duty was its specialty, i.e., city driving. This new car thrives on the highway, too, feeling bigger than it is.
Saturday, 10:35 a.m., westbound from Port Union Road on Highway 401, overhead signs successively proclaim “Traffic Moving Well Beyond Next Transfer.” Entering the Don Valley Parkway with absolutely no stop-and-go is as stress-free as diving into a swimming pool. Southbound, there’s time to notice how green is the valley.
To think I thought of taking the GO train. Friday’s CBC dinner-hour news had warned everyone to stay away from downtown all weekend. Road closures will be in effect. Packs of dogs and their people are converging for Woofstock outside St. Lawrence Market. A parade is in the offing. It’ll be madness, one announcer said; mayhem, said another.
I set the cruise for 108 km/h – and proceed to set a personal record for fastest drive downtown.
As a happy consequence of the absence of traffic, the Civic’s fuel consumption readout keeps falling. It reports 8.1 litres/100 km after entering the 401, falls to 5.8 by the DVP, and it’s 5.2 as I park on King Street east of Sherbourne.
Thoughts from the DVP: They’ve made Civic quieter than ever before. The view with the power seat adjusted high the way I prefer is panoramic. Love that huge windshield. Seat comfort is good (although rear passengers find themselves leaning back as Honda designers intended to maximize headroom). Right up to the point when I try voice control, I’m thinking this car speaks my language. More on this as we drive deeper into the city.
The flashy dashboard reminds me of video games my son used to play – except there are five screens and even more buttons on the steering wheel than on his controls. It’s a bit overwhelming.
But all you really need to know is your speed, prominent in the large digital readout in the upper dash. If stripes flanking these speedo numbers are green, you’re using less gasoline than if they’re blue. A light foot on the gas pedal does the trick.
I’ve engaged the Eco button, content to sacrifice some acceleration to gain some litres. Civics are not powerful to begin with – Si models being the expensive exception – but that’s the price of minimizing consumption.
The CBC fear mongers’ warnings turn out to be helpful. Eastern Avenue is down to one lane and heavily congested, as they said. I can see it as I opt for Richmond, which flows unimpeded, as does Parliament south to King.
Abundant street parking ($3) is available on King east of Sherbourne and it’s an easy eight-minute walk from there to the Market. There are indeed dogs everywhere and parking scarce with Front Street closed – but this only matters if you expected to drive right up to the strawberry counters.
The morel and chanterelle mushrooms are on offer in the basement of the south building. In the north building, green peas, carrots, potatoes prove irresistible.
Overheard: A woman says to the saxophone player who works the north end of the north building, “The traffic, it’s getting worse. I’ve got a New York daughter I visit, I know there are more cars in the streets of Toronto than in New York City.” The musician agrees, he walks everywhere as well; keeps you young, they agree. I say to myself: people are overreacting.
Next stop, Kensington Market. Richmond one-way west across the city is so close to being empty, I can’t resist photographing the car just past University, and consider sending the image to CBC News Hour’s Dwight and Anne-Marie.
Parking in Kensington, though, is no cinch. Augusta is pell-mell with cyclists. Finally the back-up camera helps me squeeze into a tight spot on Nassau. Why don’t all cars have back-up cameras? Why doesn’t this one have turn signal indicators in the mirrors that make lane changing safer? At the $25,000 price point, such features should be expected.
Another complaint turns up in the trunk. It’s huge, with handy releases for folding the back seats, but no hooks or fasteners are provided to secure groceries.
The voice control system can’t hear me. “Play Seventies,” I say, or “XM7,” and what I get back is, “Pardon, no request was heard” or the wrong channel.
(In the end, I request a demonstration from Honda Canada. The designated expert successfully finds the Seventies and even sets up the navigation system to find my house, employing voice controls. But the system struggles to understand even his instructions, they obviously need to be worded just-so as per the lengthy instructions in the manual. Other systems work better.)
Lunch at Amadeus on Augusta: Fava beans and pork, seasoned by Formula One qualifying on the television. City centre fare.
Exit north along Yonge Street straight as an arrow to the 401 and lightly travelled. Fuel consumption peaks at 7.8 litres/100 km just south of the 401.
My version of Eat Local, Port Union Road-Downtown round trip, totals 72.6 km. Filling up takes 5.3 litres, indicating by my calculations 7.3 litres/100 km for the entire drive, 6.9 by the computer readout, either way an indication that the Civic continues living up to its name, splendid as it has become.
City Drive will return to workaday Toronto traffic all too soon.
2013 Honda Civic Touring
Type: Four-door compact sedan
Base price: $24,900; as tested, $26,395 including destination charge ($1,495), excluding taxes
Engine: 1.8-litre, 16-valve four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 140 hp/128 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 7.1 city/5.0 highway (Natural Resources Canada rating); in our week of city-area driving, 6.7; regular gas
Alternatives: Hyundai Elantra, Toyota Corolla, Mazda3, Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Focus, Dodge Dart