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BMW’s Digital Key feature with Apple.Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

A few weeks ago, when I answered a reader’s question regarding the ever-increasing complexity of vehicle control systems such as accessing heated seats through a touch screen menu. In my answer I mentioned that I thought that in the not-so-far-off future, these items might be voice controlled. Several of you have since asked for clarification on my statement as they haven’t seen any other indications of voice control in any literature they have seen.

As support of those thoughts, I offer you BMW’s Digital Key feature, which sees a major auto manufacturer joining forces with Apple. Starting in late 2020 models, many BMW owners can install an app on their iPhone that allows them to use their iPhone as a digital key. What does this have to do with voice control? Well, nothing right now, but the ramifications of BMW giving Apple limited access to its internal vehicle operating systems is huge. I can’t imagine the security measures developed in order to facilitate this joining of brands, but it is a starting point.

It also wasn’t too long ago that rumours were floating about Apple designing its own vehicle, but Apple seems to have scaled back those lofty plans and shifted focus to mating the iPhone with the automobile on a core level. Introduced a few years ago were Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which allow the driver to access radio, infotainment and GPS features from their phones. This confirms successful co-operation between automobile and tech giants as most new vehicles now feature Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard.

Referring back to BMW’s Digital Key, if the starting of a vehicle can be controlled by a smart phone, then so can any other feature. Hands free operation is the whole point of Smart phone integration, think about what this means in the long term for possible voice control.

In recent news, Volvo has seen a partnership with Google grow as many of its newer models have an available Google integrated digital Service Package built right into the infotainment systems. Not to be left behind, Apple is working on a system referred to as IronHeart, which once fully developed, would be the digital bridge between an iPhone and auto manufacturers.

Understandably, most manufactures are resistant to allow an outside company access to the operating systems. But it seems inevitable given how quickly CarPlay like features have become standard.

Despite the fact that I wish my daughters didn’t have their phones in their hands as much as they do, I also understand I am fighting a losing battle. People young and old want their phones to do more. I don’t know exactly how we will get there, but I do believe that soon you will be able to control your heated seats, internal climate controls and other non-critical features through your connected phone, hands free.


Your automotive questions, answered

Hi Lou,

My 2020 Rav 4 Hybrid came with Normal, Eco and Sport modes. Wanting to get the best mileage possible, most of the time I use the Eco mode and my foot is light on the accelerator. I’ve noticed that switching to Sport mode affects the feel of my steering wheel, but otherwise, how do these three modes affect gas mileage and how do they alter the way the CVT operates?

Doug R. Chester, Nova Scotia

Eco mode regulates and balances the demands on the engine to regulate and limit engine power output. It does so by moderating the throttle curves with respect to sudden on/off applications. In other words, it smooths out the way a driver applies the throttle. Additionally, while CVT transmissions don’t have fixed gears they still do have variable gear ratios. Accordingly, the transmission control module (TCM) can vary the gear ratios continually in order to keep the engine RPMs in the optimal range suited for best fuel economy results.

Anything else that potentially robs engine horsepower is also monitored and tightly controlled. For example, the air conditioning compressor on-time will also be modified along with any other electrical feature that causes the alternator to demand more power from the engine.

Sport mode is essentially the opposite of all of the above. The CVT transmission operates in a manner that keeps the engine revving in a range that produces the most power. Air conditioning and electrical requirements are also modified in favour of performance instead of fuel economy.


Apparently, some of you disagree with my opinion regarding paddles shifters. My assertion in the past is that they are essentially useless and designed to appease manual transmission drivers that have just converted to an automatic transmission equipped vehicle.

In regards your response to the April 3 query on paddle shifters: I wouldn’t give up the paddle shifters I use all the time on my 2018 911 C4S PDK, nor would most of my friends who own similar cars. Fuel economy is important but not everything – sometimes you just want to play with the car a bit, and so far this one hasn’t tried to out shift me when I use it in manual mode.

Thanks, Steve

Paddle shifters The kiss of death when driving in a bad snowstorm with drifting and slippery roads is to hit the brakes. Until my current car, I’ve always driven stick. Stick allowed you to drive with the accelerator and gears to control speed and avoid the brake, especially in bad weather. My automatic has paddles. I use the paddles to gear down in advance to more safely pass other cars and I definitely use the paddles to gear down in advance of snow drifting and slippery roads. It makes for a safer drive.

Geoffrey G

Hey Lou,

I have to disagree with you.

I live in Ottawa, at the bottom of a long, steep, hill. I use the paddle shifters on my 2020 Outback every day to slow down and save my brakes. I owned an earlier Outback for 5 years, 80,000 km, and the brakes still had 50 % pads left when I sold it.

Paddle shifters are also great during the winter months as a way to slow without using the brakes – a good safety move. I once asked an intercity bus driver how he managed the two-lane snow covered road to Mt. Tremblant. He said, never touch the brakes.

Michael F

I stand corrected.

Yes, if I owned a sports car that was not available with a manual transmission, I can see paddles shifters offering some sort of fun factor.

Snow braking, because I am one of the last few who still drives a manual transmission vehicle, I guess I can understand wanting more control of my vehicle in undesirable weather.

Thank you, Steve, Geoffrey and Michael, for expanding my thought processes.

Lou Trottier is owner-operator of All About Imports in Mississauga. Have a question about maintenance and repair? E-mail globedrive@globeandmail.com, placing “Lou’s Garage” in the subject line.

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