Fire and Rescue Services Capt. Gabe Roder says the explosion was triggered when the car's owner, a plumber who had stored a torch with an acetylene tank in his vehicle, used a remote key fob to unlock the door.
The resulting fireball shredded the vehicle and hurled debris more than 100 metres, with the car's hood suspended high in a tree while the windshield was tossed half a block in the opposite direction.
Vancouver police Const. Brian Montague says the vehicle was parked and unoccupied at the time of the explosion.
It happened just before 7 a.m. PT, when witnesses report hearing a large boom — some from several blocks away.
"There was this earth-shattering explosion and I heard some glasses breaking that made me jump out of my bed," said Salman Kabir, who is staying in an apartment right above the blast.
"And I looked out and basically saw that car with a lot of fire. So it was an exploded car. At first I wasn't sure what was going on cause I was in shock."
The blast threw glass and debris in all directions and even shattered apartment windows up to 12 storeys above the explosion.
Debris from a Toyota Matrix littered the area at Nicola and Robson streets, and was even found in some nearby suites.
Montague says there are no reports of serious injuries on the street or in any of the many apartment buildings within metres of the explosion.
The car's owner was not injured and two men in a passing vehicle suffered only minor cuts from flying glass.
Roads in the area are closed until further notice.