When looking for winter tires, there are always plenty of choices at any tire shop. Within minutes you will easily notice a three-tier pricing system, but the question remains which ones right for you?
If you’re a loyal Bridgestone or Michelin customer – this article will probably not change your mind. But if you’re one of the 59 per cent of Canadians that buy winter tires from brands outside of the top 5 – you might want to read on.
Customers are always looking for the best tire for the best price. That range usually boils down to third-tier tire choices. This is a competitive group that doesn’t seem to have one company take the bulk of sales. Part of this group is the little known company out of China called Sailun that have been making small strides in getting noticed in the Canadian market.
Sailun’s bread-and-butter has been winter tires that formerly comprised of 80 per cent of their sales. Since, Sailun has made a small, but effective marketing push of their all-season tires – they’ve shifted those sales figures to more of a 50/50 split between winter and all-seasons, which is healthier for the company as a whole allowing them to showcase their versatility. That versatility they hope will increase their global sales numbers from roughly 10 million tires to 30 million in the next two years.
A big part of Sailun’s marketing efforts has been wisely focused at the dealership level, where 80 per cent of decisions are made. Sailun has showcased their brand to dealers not just by talk and numbers, but have invited them out to events pitting their tires against a more expensive competitor. It’s a way for dealers to be more familiar with the Sailun brand and come away impressed wanting to tell their customer base.
Sailun wanted to extend those marketing efforts to us media folks, so they set-up a blind test involving their best-selling winter tire, the Ice Blazer WSL2 against a second-tier competitor. It’s always a risk to have a blind test where the competitor could blow up their entire plan, but Sailun has enough confidence in their brand to risk this venture.
The day consisted of a slalom course with an emergency stop and an accident avoidance/emergency lane change challenge, as well a street route to fully test out the two different tires. The slalom course was our group’s first challenge and awaiting us were both tires fitted on identical 2013 Ford Fusions in Titanium trim for there to be no bias whatsoever. The names on the tires were rubbed off, so it was a complete blind test without any ability to cheat. For the sake of the reader – the competitor was revealed afterwards and ended up being the second-tier Hankook i-Pike winter tire.
On the slalom course, I found it truly tough to decipher which tire was better and it really took three runs per car to be able to make a decision. In the end, I felt that the Hankook’s made it slightly easier to control where I wanted the Fusion to go and more consistent throughout the three runs. Both tires performed the emergency stop within two-to-three seconds stopping in-between the pylons during each run. The WSL2’s might have been quicker to accelerate at times, but I personally rather know where the car’s going than be faster to accelerate. I have to stress and this isn’t for Sailun’s sake either that the first test was close and for the first two runs I flip-flopped which one I preferred.
A regular driver isn’t going to perform many slalom tracks and emergency lane changes when testing out their tires, so the last grouping truly is the most important – a regular driving test on regular snowy road conditions. It consisted of a 10-minute loop with the addition of some curvy roads and some hill accent and descents. It was a real-life test!
This run resulted in a different result than the first as I felt the Sailun Ice Blazer WSL2’s provided me more control on turns and the during initial acceleration those Sailun’s bit down on the snowy road and got me going slightly quicker than the Hankooks. Once again, this test was close, but the key in any winter tire test is being confident and comfortable with your tires and Sailun won the day. Another key factor that made Sailun the best street choice was the lack of road noise that led to a more relaxing drive.
At the end of the day, Sailun proved the point they wanted to make. When our votes were tabulated Sailun were dead even to the Hankooks on the slalom challenge (I told you it was too close to call), but where they won was on the real-life road test, as well as destroying the Hankooks when it came to road noise. Talk is cheap and Sailun realized that, so they let their actions speak instead.
I saved the best part for last as the kicker to this event was the fact that Sailun Ice Blazer WSL2’s are 40 per cent cheaper than the Hankook i-Pike’s. Just to give you an exact price, Sailun provided us with Tire World Brampton’s prices and those Hankooks could be fetched for $184/per tire, while the Sailun’s were listed at the low price of $109/per tire and none of those tires were on sale.
Price is a big factor when making a decision on tires. When you factor in the point that these Sailun’s are equal at some aspects and better in others – there’s really only one decision to make. Everyone will have a different experience with these tires and it could be based on the way you drive, but I can only speak for myself and I will take the better street driving tires for 40 per cent less every time.
While many cars in the market offer a hybrid variant, the value of a hybrid still isn’t convincing enough to get most people to make the switch. With laggy performance and a 25-40 per cent price premium on most hybrids, most people are better off using the extra money towards gas over the next few years.
So where does the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid fit into all this? We had a chance to drive it recently, and while consumers can still expect to pay that price premium, the performance behind this machine is much better than its non-hybrid counterparts. Let’s go over the specs of the base model:
• 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine
• 184 lb.-ft. of torque
• 27-horsepower electric motor
• seven-speed automatic DSG with Tiptronic
• 15-inch wheels
• six airbags
• Dual-zone climate control
• Aerodynamic body kit
• Priced at $27,895
The vehicle we drove was the Highline version, and came with additional features such as:
• 17-inch alloy wheels
• Bi-xenon headlights with LED daytime running lights and Adaptive Front Lighting System
• Leather seats
• Keyless access with start-stop button
• LED taillights
• Fender audio system
• Touchscreen navigation
• Priced at $34,025
Like: Audi-esque styling
The Highline model we test drove was equipped with stylish LED-enriched headlamps with the LED bulbs flowing through the outer halves of each headlight cluster. Assuming the car shares its LED components with those of Audi, expect the same level of quality out of these headlamps. In fact, in the dark, one could easily mistake the Jetta Hybrid for an Audi. At the back, the tail lamps flow with LEDs, but the lighting isn’t as sharp or striking as the Audi.
As mentioned, most Hybrids tend to struggle in the performance department. The Jetta Hybrid defies that logic with its powerful turbocharged engine, capable of producing 170-hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque.
The driver has a choice between performance and efficiency with the E-Mode button. With E-Mode button turned on, the car makes an effort to reduce engine use by making the best use of the electric motor. On E-Mode, the 27-hp electric motor was powerful enough to rev up to 30km/h independently, although the acceleration had to be done gently. Pushing the accelerator too hard while accelerating engages the gas motor in order to deliver the level of performance needed.
Although it was efficient, the turbocharged engine and seven-speed DSG transmission were both great at pulling the car along when performance was needed. Expect good acceleration and a 0-100 km/h rating of 7.9 seconds.
Dislike: Base model features
Most hybrids try to justify their high price tag with a good amount of additional features and design cues specific to the vehicle. While this strategy not only helps the price tag make a bit more sense, it also makes the car look more premium in the public eye. The aforementioned LED headlights and taillights unfortunately are only available in the higher trims, making the base model look undesirably similar to the non-hybrid Jetta. On the plus side, the hybrid-exclusive aerodynamic body kit does a good job at making the car look unique.
There’s a popular trending joke about the BMW brand that goes something like this. What’s the difference between a BMW owner and a porcupine? Porcupines have pricks on the outside. As an ex-BMW owner (well, lessee), I would like to think that these jokes are the brainchildren of jealous middle-agers who have at some point or another got confronted by a bad BMW driver on the road.
The fact is that both, BMW owners and BMW haters have different issues. The BMW hater has most likely never experienced the pleasure and confidence that one gets behind the wheel of one. The BMW owner doesn’t realize that his/her overzealous driving habits on busy streets can be perceived as dangerous by other drivers. The owner is simply enjoying their performance-tuned BMW as they were intended.
The 3-series is the most influential culprit in all this. Often driven by 20 to 30-something single men with decent jobs and equivalent egos, the 3-series provides the brand reputation and performance that very few luxury brands provide at that price point.
For the 2014 model year, BMW redesigned the 3-series line-up. The most interesting news to come out of this was the addition of a new 4-cylinder engine. BMW claims that the output from this engine rivals the base engines of its other German competitors. While we highly doubt that is true, we wanted to see what it was truly able to achieve.
First off, here are some of the specifications of the press vehicle we were given:
-2.0L, 4-cylinder engine
-181 hp @ 5000 rpm
-200 ft.-lb. of torque @1250 rpm
-8-speed automatic transmission option
The four-cylinder engine has been well-mated to the eight-speed transmission delivering decent power and quick shifts. Like previous 3-series models, a light tap on the accelerator delivers equally low increases in RPMs – resulting in equally light thrusts. In order to get stronger performance, you would need to push the accelerator about half way to generate higher RPM increases and instant thrust. This is great because it allows better control over the car’s speed from a standstill – especially in dense traffic. That being said, don’t expect the four-cylinder engine to get you much burnout action from the rear wheels.
The 181 horsepower engine is no V-6 equivalent, but it wasn’t designed to be. However, for a price tag of $36,000 it makes performance junkies question the poor dollar-to-horsepower ratio. But this car wasn’t designed for them anyway. This car is for people who prioritize brand value and fuel efficiency over performance. For those looking for more performance, the 3-series offers other variants including the 328i and the 335i – both generating 241 hp and 300 hp respectively. There’s also a 300 hp hybrid variant offered for a $22,000 premium over the base model.
The car has 3 modes, Comfort, Sport, and Eco Pro mode. When performance is needed, Sport mode delivers instant acceleration and quick shifts at close to 4,500 RPMs. In comparison, Eco Pro mode limits the RPMs to 2,500 and controls some of the climate control features to deliver better fuel efficiency. Eco Pro mode won’t be the most thrilling drive, as the pick-up can be quite slow. For a balance between the two, Comfort mode offers better acceleration, while still achieving acceptable fuel efficiency.
The redesign of the 3-series is exceptional. It’s a welcome replacement for the previous generation – which has been on the market since 2004. This generation looks sporty and aggressive with a good balance of lines and curves. In fact, don’t blame yourself if you accidentally mistake it for one of the bigger 5-series.
The lighting system on the 320i we drove looks pretty cool, especially at dusk. Equipped with adaptive projection beam headlights and bright white halo rings, the headlights can scream BMW from a mile away. We were disappointed to find out however, that these headlights are an optional upgrade at a $1,200 premium.
The standard headlights on the 320i are just an awful sight. While the shape remains consistent, the lights feature two lighting clusters on each side and blurry daytime running lights on the lower half of each cluster. There are no projection beam headlights or halo lights on the base model. As mentioned above, you would have to pay a premium to get the upgraded lights.
Unlike its outgoing generation, the new version comes standard with keyless start-stop – even on the base 320i. What this means is you can start the car without having to stick your key in the ignition. That being said, you still need to remove the key from your pocket to unlock it, which seems to defeat the purpose of a true keyless system. Additionally, the 3-series seems to have a poor key range. In many instances, I wasn’t able to lock/unlock the doors if I was more than 25 metres away from the car.
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When you think of luxury automotive, no one does it better than the Germans. When it comes to power and performance under 50k, you can’t go wrong turning towards the 3-Series, A4, or C-Class. These cars are preferred status symbols among young 30-something business professionals who most likely favour power over practicality.
However, size wise, these cars are small and match up to the likes of the Mazda3 and Toyota Corolla. If you wanted a German mid-size, be prepared to spend up to $60,000 for an E-Class, 5-Series, or A6. But what if you wanted to pay a compact luxury price for a mid-size luxury sedan?
Turn to Japan and USA to provide you with luxury alternatives like the Lexus ES, Acura TL, and the Lincoln MKZ. We recently had a chance to test drive the MKZ Hybrid and decided to write about what we liked and disliked.
Most people can’t justify buying a hybrid, because the price doesn’t justify the long term savings – especially during a four-year lease term. For instance, the Accord Hybrid has a $5,500 price premium over the standard Accord. To justify the premium, the buyer would have to save over $1,400 every year (over a four-year term) in fuel expenses for the purchase to make sense.
Lincoln makes the purchase decision a bit easier by eliminating the premium. It’s the only Hybrid in the market that is the same price as the standard model. For $38,460, you can pick between the MKZ and the MKZ Hybrid. If you were to factor in the monthly lease payment and fuel expenses, this hybrid’s operating costs would be much lower than its non-hybrid counterpart.
Outstanding Fuel Economy
The MKZ delivered a combined fuel economy rating of 6.7L/100km. Although this number is not exactly close to the 4.0L/100km figure that Lincoln claims, it’s still pretty impressive for a luxury mid-size sedan. Throughout our test, we didn’t use any climate control features aside from the heated seats.
The MKZ performed extremely well in stop-and-go traffic, as we were able to drive two kilometres on just the battery before the engine turned back on. Like most Hybrids, the Lincoln uses regenerative braking to charge the battery whenever the brakes are applied. Compared to many hybrids on the market however, the MKZ seems to provide better driver feedback that encourages fuel efficient driving. For instance, there are two LCD screens on the dash that show how much charge returned to the battery upon braking.
The screen can also show Ford’s trademarked “Efficiency Leaves” – animated leaves that spread and grow as fuel efficiency increases. Want to hear the best part? While most luxury sedans rely on premium fuel, the Lincoln is able to power its Ford-derived engine simply using regular gasoline.
Is this really a Lincoln? I’ve been asking that since its initial debut last year. The MKZ looks like a concept car that you are most likely to crowd around at the auto show. The headlights seamlessly transition into the kidney-shaped grill – surrounded by a chrome outline on each side. The rear window stretches further into the trunk, giving it a coupe-like appearance. While we’re not crazy about the unibrow taillights, they are still unique in their own way.
World’s First Modern 4-Door Convertible
The MKZ has a distinctive feature that distinguishes it from the competition – its optional panoramic roof. Touch the sunroof button and wave goodbye to your roof as it moves to the back of the cabin. This gives you 15 square-feet of open sky that covers most of the front and rear seats. Sure, many cars have panoramic sunroofs, but the MKZ offers the largest opening of all of them. What truly sets it apart is the fact that the roof doesn’t retract, but rather shifts all the way to the back – like a convertible. Cruise around in the MKZ over the summer with the roof open and bask in the glory of jealous onlookers. The roof comes at a premium of $3,450.
While the battery does a great job at delivering performance at idle or very low speeds, the engine kicks in when you need more power. Unfortunately, the engine feels like its lacking the power needed for a car of this size. While a 2.0L sounds like it should be delivering sufficient power to complement the battery, it can be quite slow to deliver the level of acceleration demanded from the throttle. Moreover, it seems a bit noisier than the average car engine. If you need something more powerful, the non-hybrid MKZ offers a turbo engine at the same price point.
While the headlights look impressive, they’re less impressive at night. With a basic xenon lamp and 2 amber LEDs, the lights are a bit too simple to make a statement. Other luxury brands like Audi and BMW have done a phenomenal job at this, using a combination of LEDs that create distinct shapes within the headlight. Unfortunately, the MKZ’s LEDs are placed on the front bumper and act as daytime running lights.
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The Chevrolet Cruze made headlines when it was re-designed and offered to North America in mid-2010 as a 2011 model. General Motors hyped the new compact and the media responded in Canada by naming it AJAC’s 2011 Canadian Car of the Year.
It’s been close to three years since that announcement and Chevrolet has started to add to its Cruze roster. Not only is the Chevy Cruze available in LS, LT and LTZ trim – you can also get one in Eco trim and in the all-new Clean Turbo Diesel. Not to be forgotten, you can add an RS package to any LT and LTZ model.
I’ve been hearing about the Cruze for a long time, but I was amazed that I’ve never actually driven one. When I got the invite to head down to General Motors headquarters in Oshawa, Ontario to drive the entire Cruze lineup – I was delighted to see what all this talk was about.
It was a chance for Chevrolet to show us that the Cruze stays true to Chevy’s slogan that they “have a Cruze for every compact car buyer.”
Let’s start out with the engine choices, there’s a 1.8-litre four-cylinder, a 1.4-litre turbocharged four-cylinder and a 2.0-litre clean turbo diesel four-cylinder. The base 1.8-litre engine gets respectable fuel economy numbers with 5.6L/100 km on the highway and 9.2L/100 km in the city in the automatic. Fuel efficiency improves in the Eco trim that has the 1.4-litre turbo engine achieving 5.0L/100 km on the highway and 7.8L/100 km in the city in the automatic. The numbers dip to 4.6L and 7.2L with the six-speed manual, but in reality most sales will come from the automatic gearbox.
My main focus was on the Cruze Diesel, as I wanted to see if it was a true challenger for the Jetta TDI, but I still wanted to try out the rest of the roster. Chevrolet boasted about their industry best 4.2L/100 kms on the highway and proved a similar number in their cross-country drive where the Cruze Diesel achieved 4.3L at an average speed of 80km/h.
Chevy didn’t take on the “we are better” approach, but focused more towards being able to offer alternative forms of fuel to their customers and educating them on it. This approach makes sense as Chevy wants to showcase what they’re capable of achieving; while Volkswagen is applauding and encouraging this competition. Both of these companies need each other to spread the word about diesel, so the cheerleading is fun to see.
In terms of the Cruze Diesel car itself, I instantly felt that it had more of a styling appeal both in the interior and exterior than the Jetta TDI. The sculpting of the body created more of an emotional appeal, while the interior was modernized, upscale and more eye-catching. There were plenty of controls to fiddle around with on the Chevrolet’s MyLink Infotainment system, but at times it was difficult to figure out where to find what you wanted.
It’s a bonus that the Diesel receives 17-inch aluminum wheels to separate itself from the other Cruzes. It also takes on a few aerodynamic improvements found in the Eco trim mainly in its air shutters that improves the vehicle’s drag coefficient.
When it comes to performance, the Cruze Diesel’s horsepower is at 151 (140 hp in the Jetta TDI) and torque is at 264 lb.-ft. of torque (236 lb.-ft. of torque in the Jetta TDI). There’s not much separating the two in the performance department and let’s be honest – you’re not buying a diesel for its speed. However, I did notice a lag in initial acceleration that annoyed me. It’s the type of lag that you might find in a CVT transmission or hybrid.
Where the Cruze seems to thrive is in the handling department. In all four of the models, I found the handling to be firm and direct. I’m very much against a loose steer and you won’t get that in any of these models. I felt comfortable driving the Cruze and making sharp turns, and for me, that’s a big plus with any vehicle.
As I mentioned previously, there’s a Cruze for every compact buyer and the 2.0-litre Clean Turbo Diesel was mine. Many others preferred the Eco trim that was represented by the manual mode option, but it really didn’t do much for me. I found a lack of power in second and third gear – where most of the fun is had. Once you zap the fun from a manual gearbox, it’s hard to see the point. It can’t be all about fuel economy? The Eco trim starts at $21,095 and the diesel option can be had for just for a little more at $24,945. (Get Better Price.)
The RS package (an additional charge of $1,575 on the 2LT starting at $19,495) (Get Better Price.) had a little more pep in its step through its Z-link upgraded rear suspension. The thing you’ll notice the most here is its unique design in its front and rear fascia. Chrome-trimmed fog lamps, 18-inch split five-spoke aluminum wheels and RS badging provide an added boost of sportiness. It was fun to drive, but there’s still a bit of a letdown when it comes to how fast it can go. I understand making the Cruze unique and cooler for some makes sense and for those people the RS package works brilliantly.
After testing out the various Cruze options, it all comes down to personal preference. While asking my colleagues which one they preferred – most had a different response. I still go back to the Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel as my choice. It might not be making the most sales of the bunch, but it will have the most impact and will take a bigger piece of the Cruze roster pie. Chevrolet is already planning to put a diesel engine in their new Colorado truck coming out next year, so that just might be the start of a shift towards more diesel cars for the GM brand. At $24,945, (Get Better Price.) the Cruze Diesel has the most expensive starting price, but it will be a wise fuel savings investment that you will get back over time.
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The words luxury full-size family sedan are typically not associated with the Kia brand. If I tried preaching that Kia’s a luxury brand – I might get some strange looks. After a few moments those strange glares might turn to curiosity and intrigue, as the Kia Motors Corporation has rebranded itself into a serious contender that could do no wrong.
Kia makes quality vehicles. A statement I couldn’t say seven-to-ten years ago is now a reality. And not only do they make quality vehicles, they make them at a price that’s affordable and filled with the latest technology.
In Kia’s latest venture, they aim to prove that they’re not just a small compact or SUV contender, but one that can make a statement at the full-size flagship sedan level. That brings us to the brand-new 2014 Kia Cadenza.
Kia intends to bring in a new set of customers by giving them everything they would want in a full-size sedan priced right around the $40K threshold. Its cutting edge design, quality touches, latest technology and performance offers tremendous value that’s hard to beat.
Kia could be foolish to enter this market and stick to areas they’ve excelled at in the past few years, but this segment of vehicles that include the Acura TL, Buick LaCrosse, Nissan Maxima and Toyota Avalon have gotten a bit stale over time. Leading to possibly the perfect time to jump in and impress.
The Cadenza is the brainchild of Kia’s Chief Design Officer and newly appointed co-President, Peter Schreyer. Schreyer is well-known for his signature “tiger nose” grille and that’s front-and-center when looking at the new Cadenza.
Its LED headlights form the rest of the tiger’s face providing a hint of aggressiveness, but Schreyer made sure it’s not too overwhelming. The Cadenza is a family car that leans on the conservative side with its focus on luxury and refinement.
The side of the vehicle continues this hint away from a full-on conventional featuring sporty lines that run across the body of the car in-line with the door handles until it reaches the front wheels, where the line that a nosedive plunge. A little more style is found with its large, panoramic sunroof that’s found in the premium package. These touches of style add a little substance to what would otherwise be a typical full-size snooze fest.
A Look Inside
I was amazed by the upscale look of the Cadenza’s interior. It’s clean, polished and sophisticated inside – a look that’s mostly found in your premium BMWs, Mercedes-Benz, etc. The premium package also comes with a seven-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) LCD screen for its speedometer and tachometer. This LCD screen is a full-colour display that delivers plenty of driving information, but from its look it instantly kicks the Cadenza up a class resembling the instrument panel looks of the new Jaguars.
You might be impressed so far, but there’s so much more. I tested the Cadenza with the luxury trim, so I was treated with grey perforated Nappa leather seats that go well with its soft-leather dashboard and wood touches throughout the cabin. You will also be pleased to find a heated steering wheel, as well as heated or cool seats.
Two things that seemed to be out of place in the interior were the wood trim and the analogue clock. It just appeared like Kia was forcing its luxury on the Cadenza rather than it exuding luxury on its own.
As much as I talked about the special upgrades you can get, the base model provides you a load of typical extras. Without paying anything more, you get voice-activated navigation, Sirius satellite radio, a back-up rear view camera and rear parking sensors, and an Infinity 12-speaker premium sound system.
In terms of space, there’s plenty to go around in the new Cadenza. It holds true to its full-size with plenty of room in the back for three adults and ample head and leg room in the front. The trunk space can fit at least three bodies or four golf bags – whichever reference you prefer.
Under the Hood
The Cadenza is powered by a 3.3-litre, direct-injected V-6 engine that produces 293 hp and 255 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine is the same one on the 2014 Sorento and it up there equalling or exceeding its competitors in the power department.
The Cadenza only comes in a six-speed automatic transmission with the addition of some paddle shifters for your pleasure. There’s no all-wheel drive available for those Canadian winters, as the front wheels steer the Cadenza forward. The front-wheel drive helps save some weight on the Cadenza and frees up plenty of interior space for its passengers.
On the Road
The Cadenza has all the speed you want and more than you’ll ever need for a premium luxury sedan. One the road, the engine jets off smoothly with seamless shifting from its six-speed transmission. You rarely feel the brunt of the road allowing you to enjoy your quite ride. Upon acceleration, the Cadenza gets up to 100 km/h in just under 8 seconds and turns into a nice cruise once you level off in the 80-120 km/h range.
The real problem seems to come in the handling and steering department. I found the steering to be pretty loose and it had a bit of oversteer leading me to constantly have to correct myself.
The steering disconnect has to do with the electric-power steering and I have to admit, it bothered me throughout the week. You want a vehicle to turn where you direct it, but at times, it takes time to get used to a different type of steering feel. Keep in mind, I change cars every week, so I would eventually get used to it – the loose steering is just not a preference. I enjoy a tighter ride for full control.
When it comes to fuel economy, I mostly drove in the city during the first part of the week and mustered a lofty 16.0L/100 km. When I re-set those numbers and drove mostly on the highway I cracked the 10.0L/100 km barrier with a 9.9. Combined you will most likely see 11-13L/100 km numbers which aren’t earth shattering, but not close to the worst either. The Cadenza ends up falling somewhere in the middle in the fuel economy category.
There’s a lot that comes with the base Cadenza, more than many other base cars. However, if safety technology is your thing – you’ll have to bump up to the premium edition. We’ve already mentioned some optional features you would get (panoramic sunroof, TFT LCD screen), and in addition to those you will receive Advanced Smart Cruise Control (ASCC), Lane Departure Warning System (LDWS), Blind Spot Detection System (BSD), Electronic Parking Brake (EPB) with auto hold, and finally, Adaptive HID headlights.
The ASCC is radar-based automatically maintaining your distance from the car ahead. Both LDWS and BSD use cameras and radar to denote if you’re veering out of the lane or have a vehicle that you don’t see in your blind spot. This technology can be very helpful, especially when you’re signalling to change lanes. The Cadenza will make a beep to warn you if there’s a car in the way of that lane change. Adaptive lightning is a nice perk to have on those dark drives without street lighting. As you make turns on your drive, the headlamps steer with you around each corner providing some visibility for that area.
The Kia Cadenza has a lot to offer and it has entered this full-size luxury sedan segment in a big way, offering customers a lot for a reasonable price. It has a bit of everything which can be a good thing, but it also feels disjointed at the same time. The Cadenza comes off as a jack of all trades, but not a master of any.
For an initial creation, the Cadenza is impressive and shows off to the world what Kia can accomplish. The days of Kia being the brunt of jokes are long gone and I would say that it’s worth venturing into a dealership to check out their products.
The loose steering can make the drive with the Cadenza less enjoyable, but the combination of power, technology, refinement and luxury are hard to resist. The base price goes for $37,995 and if you need to upgrade to the premium package, it will cost an even $7K more. If you’ve always wanted those options and refinement in a car, but couldn’t afford the BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi prices – the Cadenza might be the perfect fit and the best bang for your buck.
For a while now, Acura has been trying to redefine its full-size automotive offering. Known originally as the Acura Legend back in the 80’s and 90’s, the company renamed its vehicle to the RL, because suddenly it became cool to name cars using random letters and numbers. For 2014, the car has been renamed RLX – named appropriately to match the other vehicles in its family (the TL will be renamed TLX in 2014).
So we know where it fits in the Acura family, but how does it compare to its competitors? The RLX fits in a weird segment of B-market full-size luxury cars that don’t necessarily compete with the BMW 7-series, S-Class, or A8. Rather, it’s priced to compete with the Lincoln MKS and Cadillac XTS.
WHAT WE LIKE
At $49,990, the vehicle is priced slightly higher than its direct competitors mentioned above. However, if size matters to you most, then its dimensions rival the S-class and the 7-series for only half the price tag. Of course, it won’t carry the same features, performance, or brand value as the Germans, but expect it to last long enough to be your kid’s first car. If you take good care of it, these cars can last up to 300,000 kilometres. So what you’re getting is size and reliability at an affordable price tag.
Powered by a 3.5-litre V-6 i-VTEC engine, the RLX outputs 310 horses and 272 lb.-ft. of torque. Initially we doubted whether this engine was powerful enough to dart a sedan of this size, especially considering the engine’s specs are similar to the smaller TL’s engine. We are happy to report that the power delivery and throttle response was instantaneous and the gear shifts are seamless. There is also a “Sport” mode button, which enhances throttle response and the overall excitement of your ride. At most speeds, depressing your foot on the gas pedal in Sport mode will jolt the vehicle forward instantaneously.
The multimedia interface on Acura’s 2014 models has come a long way. We tested the systems on some 2013 models, only to be disappointed by the single screen that required input using a rotary dial. The 2014 RLX and MDX however feature a dual-screen layout consisting of a touch screen and a non-touch screen. The touch-screen, strategically placed closer to the driver, is used to input information using a keyboard and user-friendly buttons. The non-touch screen displays the information relayed by the touch screen. Both screens work very well together. The only thing we would have liked to see improve is the system’s speed, as the processor used to power these systems took a while to load.
Lane-Keeping Assist System
We first tested Acura’s Lane-Keeping Assist System on the 2014 MDX and were pleasantly surprised with what it could do. The system uses sensors to detect the white lines within a lane. It then tries its best to keep you within the lane. This feature helps reduce driver strain and provides an easier steering experience. Now couple this with the vehicle’s built-in adaptive cruise control and the vehicle is very close to being able to drive itself!
On a two-kilometre stretch, we activated the Lane-Keeping Assist System and the Adaptive Cruise Control and the car was able to follow and match the speed of the vehicle ahead. If the car ahead would slow down, the RLX would react and slow down as well. No acceleration or steering input was needed for this two-kilometre test. Don’t expect these systems to drive you home any time soon.
WHAT WE DISLIKE
The RLX, like many luxury cars, has touch-sensitive door handles. The way these work is you touch them and they unlock. Unfortunately upon many instances, touching the door handles didn’t always unlock the car. After further attempts, the door still didn’t unlock. So I had to go “traditional” and use the keyless remote to unlock the door. We’re not sure if it’s just an issue with the specific vehicle we got, but be sure to test it out if you happen to take one for a test drive.
This is by far the best full-size Acura we have seen to date. Throughout the body, you will notice sharp lines and smooth curves that set it apart from its predecessor. The problem however is that the body itself seems a bit outdated. Mind you, the headlights and taillights have been drastically redesigned, but they just feel like they are sitting on an older body that has gone through some nips and tucks. Ideally, we would have loved to see Acura design something sleek – something like the CLS or the A7. That being said, we could be totally wrong as many full-size car buyers are slightly older and prefer conservative designs. We’ll have to wait and see how well the RLX does in the long run.
Markham, ON – The ninth generation Honda Accord sedan made a big splash last September to positive reviews and it was reasserted when they took home the 2013 AJAC Canadian Car of the Year award. Just over a year later, Honda is primed for the launch of the Accord’s hybrid version. The Accord Hybrid provides Honda with a cleaner, more efficient product and positions themselves squarely against the Toyota Camry Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and the Ford Fusion Hybrid.
The mid-size sedan segment can be crowded at times and the Honda Accord has held its own as one of the ring leaders, so it’s of no surprise that they want the same for its hybrid version against the other middleweights. The Accord Hybrid takes on the same shape of the gasoline-version, but the Hybrid does come with some unique touches.
For this first drive, Honda Canada gave us a suburb and rural route throughout York Region that had us go from their headquarters in Markham to King Township and back. They also added a fuel economy challenge to showcase the outstanding savings that could be had in their latest model. We will get to the results later, but put it this way, according to Natural Resources Canada – the Accord Hybrid delivers the lowest fuel economy rating of any four-door mid-size sedan.
The Accord Hybrid is basically the same shape and size as the regular version. It’s a tad longer and lower, but you would never notice the difference. However, when it comes to the other exterior treatments, you can begin to decipher the variances.
It all starts with the colour blue. To emphasize the cleaner vehicle – Honda has given the Accord Hybrid blue tinted headlights, a blue accented grille and just in case you couldn’t guess, blue accented LED taillights. The blue touches make the Accord Hybrid stand out, give it a cool vibe and would be loved by any member of the Blue Man Group.
Outside of the blue touches, the Accord Hybrid gets 17-inch alloy wheels, hybrid badging on the side and rear, as well as a trunk lid spoiler and a unique rear air diffuser that helps to reduce aerodynamic drag.
A Look Inside
If space and comfort is what you desire – the Accord Hybrid won’t disappoint. It has a roomy cabin that’s actually best-in-class for interior volume that’s surrounded by black soft leather on the seats, the dash and the steering wheel.
You will find the front row to be neat and refined except for the double-screen infotainment system. That’s where you start seeing that blue colour re-emerge continuing onto the instrument panel. Many buttons and statistics can be found on the entertainment console and instrument panel making the driving experience a tad overwhelming. Nonetheless, looking at your Battery Charge Meter can be helpful towards saving that precious fuel. Monitoring your statistics might help you tone down your aggressive driving habits when you realize that you’re running on fuel alone.
I understand the need for more information and technology, but Honda makes it more distracting and at times frustrating rather than improved. They utilize the 8-inch Multi-information Display that serves as the main control centre. This is the second-level screen that allows you to change the radio, climate, navigation and check out your energy flow. If that’s not enough for you – it’s also where you can activate technology features such as LaneWatch (that assists drivers with wide-angle views of the road) or Lane Departure Warning (that provides warnings when you veer out of your lane). In this case more is not necessarily better and my preference would rather be to avoid a multiple-step process.
The round out the interior, the back seats are comfortable and identical to the regular Accord sedan. The difference can be found in the trunk that sees it shrink from 15.8 cubic feet (in the regular model) down to 12.7 to make room for the 1.3-kWh battery pack.
Under the Hood
The Accord Hybrid uses the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine that runs on the Atkinson cycle. It’s a complicated system that has a gasoline motor, plus two electric motors. I won’t go into too much detail that would most likely bore you, but all you need to know is that the gas engine generates electricity in order to power the electric motor and continuously recharge the 1.3-kW lithium-ion battery pack with help from regenerative braking.
The Accord Hybrid has a driving system called i-MMD (Intelligent Multi-Mode Drive) with three modes of operation that it seamlessly shifts into while driving – EV, Hybrid and Engine. When driving, you will first accelerate in EV mode up to 30-40 kms. At this pace, the engine runs solely on battery, but when you climb above the 40 km threshold, it will switch into hybrid mode. This is where the electricity powers the wheels and the gas engine starts to kick-in generating power for the electric motor. Engine mode is only used during higher speeds around 100 km/h at high RPMs. Once you reach a cruising speed on the highway, the Accord Hybrid will station itself in between EV and hybrid mode.
Honda’s i-MMD system creates the perfect driving scenario – a simultaneous fuel-efficient and performance ride. When you put the two-motor hybrid system together, the maximum output you can get is 196 horsepower and 226 lb.-ft. of torque.
On the Road
As much as we talk about the advancements in hybrid technology, there always seems to be some lag in-between mode transitions. That lag is noticeable along with a slight disconnect during regenerative braking, but that’s expected and I guarantee you that it’s so much more subtle and developed than most of the hybrids out there. This is especially noted in the feel during regenerative braking. The Accord Hybrid uses an electric-servo brake system that acts based on your braking patterns leading to lighter stops minus any jolt.
What’s most impressive is that you can cruise around 60 km/h and hardly use any of your fuel. At that speed you will mostly be in EV mode. For further assistance in the fuel economy department, there is an EV button in the back of the gear shift that can improve on your fuel economy. When pressed a green EV box pops up on the instrument panel and you’re locked into pure EV mode. This can last up to a maximum of two minutes until the battery is depleted.
Our drive saw us go through some quiet rural areas and the Accord Hybrid contributed to that peacefulness drive. Handling is responsive and the steering is smooth without any loose feel, similar to the regular Honda Accord sedan. You could hardly hear a peep and that was due partially to the active noise control, but probably mostly due to us staying off the accelerator in order to win the fuel efficiency challenge.
And if you were wondering if this was all leading to victory in the challenge – you would be wrong. However, Honda Canada boasted about its combined 3.8L/100 km before the event began and we finished the challenge at an extraordinary 3.7L/100 km. Even more remarkable was that fuel economy posting finished third in the challenge. Can you believe that?
There was a team that got 3.6L/100 km and another that astonishingly got 3.5L/100 km. These tests proved to me that the Accord Hybrid is a true leader when it comes to saving money at the pump for its consumers.
There are two trim levels for the Accord Hybrid and they are the base Hybrid package or the Touring. The Hybrid version starts at $29,590 (Get Better Price) and if you want to jump into the top Touring that will pump up your starting price to $35,690 (Get Better Price). With the Touring package you get the juicy additions that include leather seats and steering wheel, navigation, satellite radio and a superior audio system, LED headlights and a power moonroof. Not too shabby of a list for only $6K more.
The fuel efficiency challenge can make it more difficult to fully test the Accord Hybrid out, but it looks like Honda Canada got the attention they wanted when it comes to fuel efficiency. Reaching levels of 3.5L/100 km in the city and on the highway clearly place the Accord Hybrid ahead of the hybrid versions of the Ford Fusion, Toyota Camry and the Hyundai Sonata.
Adding the hybrid version to their existing roster of the Accord allows Honda to show off their Earth Dreams Technology powertrain and become more in-line with consumer demand and certainly the future of the auto industry.
Cadillac has been reinventing itself over the last couple of years to reach out to a new, younger generation. The transformation has taken form with its luxury sports sedan, the ATS and now with the middle-tier flagship sedan, the CTS. It always takes a while for consumers to make that transition over, but the third-generation CTS is hoping to lay the groundwork for that.
The CTS has plenty of competition including the Jaguar XF, the Infiniti Q70, the Lexus GS and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class E350. However, the one car that Cadillac has its sights set-on is the BMW 5-Series. It’s always good to aim high and if the CTS can take a chunk of sales away from those vehicles listed above – they would be doing well to better their status.
To achieve this goal, Cadillac has focused their attention on improving the CTS’ exterior and interior looks as well as its performance. An emphasis on making it more luxurious and technologically sound was imperative.
The event was held at the beautiful Shangri-La hotel in downtown Toronto. It was a perfect setting for the CTS launch, as they both share similarities when it comes to sophistication, style and elegance. Now let’s break down the new CTS for you.
The Cadillac CTS has gone through a much needed dieting regiment. It’s now a lightweight in its class after shedding 200 kilograms from the previous model. When sized up against the BMW 5-Series –it weighs in at 90 kilograms lighter. This weight loss is mainly due to the use of aluminum in its door structure and throughout the new CTS creating a 50/50 weight balance. Lots of attention was placed in every component to save on weight and to result in better handling, acceleration, braking and of course in the fuel economy department. With all of this weight loss, the CTS still managed to increase its wheelbase by 1.2-inches, stretching it out to add some more leg room for the comfort of its passengers.
The roofline and hood were lowered 19mm and 30mm, respectively, to create a lower and sportier appearance. While, the new grille is noticeably wider with the Cadillac badge centered in the middle. A standout feature of the exterior are the CTS’ headlamps and LED lights flowing vertically upward on each side of the car. It’s a striking pattern that sets the tone for the new image of Cadillac.
A Look Inside
Similar to Cadillac’s rival company, Lincoln, it has tried to re-invent its brand with a radical change to its interior. Cadillac has designed the inside to be more driver-centric. Every nook and cranny has been analyzed to create the most unique, complementary finish to enhance your experience. One of the more eye-catching features of the cockpit are the magnesium paddle shifters that erect from the back of the soft-leather wrapped steering wheel.
There are seven distinct interiors to choose from that range from leather to carbon fibre to suede and come with authentic wood finishes and hand-sewn stitching. It’s not something that would be the deciding factor in choosing the CTS, but it’s nice to see the time and attention-to-detail they pay for the comfort of their consumers.
Situated front and centre in the instrument panel is CUE, Cadillac’s infotainment system. A lot of people dislike the CUE system, but I tend to favour it over Ford’s version, My Ford Touch. It’s less complicated and I seem to like the way it’s organized making it easy to navigate around without having to swear or pound the steering wheel. It’s an eight-inch screen that helps you adjust your climate, radio, navigation, as well as a number of other things.
The longer wheelbase provides more room for the driver and their passengers creating a more relaxing and luxurious ride. The added touches to the CTS really elevate it to the level it so desires.
Under the Hood
The new Cadillac CTS comes with three engine choices. The base CTS engine is a 2.0-litre (L), 4-cylinder engine that puts out 272 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and can be had in either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
The next step up is the 3.6-litre (L), six-cylinder engine that puts out 321 horsepower and 275 lb.-ft. of torque. You can opt for either the eight-speed transmission in rear-wheel drive or the six-speed transmission in all-wheel drive.
The final engine choice is the most exciting and that’s the all-new 3.6-litre (L) twin-turbo V-6 engine that powers up to 420 horsepower and 430 lb.-ft. of torque. This only comes in an eight-speed transmission in rear-wheel drive. This new engine called the “Vsport” is the first twin-turbocharged engine ever offered by Cadillac. The turbochargers provide an instant boost in power allowing the CTS Vsport to be launched from 0-100 km/h in approximately 4.4 seconds.
It’s nice to see the capabilities of the new Vsport, but according to Cadillac Canada, it will only account for 10 percent of its sales. The sales should be spread evenly amongst all the other options, so that is where we will focus our drive review.
On the Road
For the drive from Toronto to London and back, I took out the 3.6L regular V-6 to start followed by the base 2.0L. The route map took me and my driving partner onto the highway, some regular street driving and some picturesque country roads.
First up was the 3.6L and acceleration was quick yet smooth. As we had to pass a vehicle on the highway to make our exit stop – the engine revved a little and smoothly blasted past the car ahead and casually veered into the right lane without much of a whimper. We had the eight-speed transmission that comes in the rear-wheel drive set-up and it effortlessly upshifted and downshifted without any lag.
The CTS does feel lighter on the road and gives more of a smaller-size feel opposed to how it should feel as a mid-size sedan. It’s light and nimble on the road, but has the exterior size and roominess as its competitors. The handling was most surprising as it was did exactly what I wanted it to do around those country bends.
When switching to the 2.0L, the lack of acceleration and speed is felt, but it’s not major. The 2.0L can run with the base models of its class – it just doesn’t possess that extra boost when needed. The handling seems about the same, however, you will feel a bit more of the cracks on the road which can be a nuisance at times.
To set-up the CTS how you like it, Cadillac provides you their Magnetic Ride Control as an option. You might be familiar with this as it’s available in the ATS. If you’re in the mood for a quiet and comfortable ride – the touring option is best for you. If you’re looking for to drive with a little edge – sport mode is your option. In sport mode, the suspension tightens allowing you to take on certain corners harshly. However you want to drive that day, the Magnetic Ride Control allows you to transform your CTS with a push of a button.
To add to all of this excitement, Brembo front brakes come standard in all of the CTS models. The high-end performance brakes add to the sophistication of the CTS and its overall quality.
There’s also plenty of technology that’s offered in the CTS including a Driver Awareness and Driver Assist packages that use pulses, vibrations and warnings to keep you alert when you’re moving outside of your lane or coming up to close to a vehicle. Additionally, you can get an Automatic Parallel Parking Assist that can come in handy when dealing with those small parking spots in downtown Toronto.
As with many new launches recently including the Infiniti Q50, the Cadillac CTS can come with Front and Rear Automatic Braking. This (luckily) wasn’t put to the test during our drive, but apparently the vehicle uses sensors, radar and cameras to avoid collisions and if you’re still not paying attention the CTS will brake for you before impact. Very cool, but I would love to see a demonstration before commenting on it.
Cadillac has provided a bevy of engine choices for its customers, but one of the most important aspects outside of the improved power is the fact that their lightweight materials used in building the CTS has helped in lowering the CTS’ fuel economy numbers. The 2.0L in rear-wheel drive is rated at 10.5L/100 km in the city and 6.6L/100 km on the highway; while the 3.6L is rated at 11.4L/100 km in the city and 6.9L/100 km on the highway. As per the all-wheel drive options, you can bump up those numbers by 0.3-0.7L/100 km in each area.
It’s always difficult for a North American company to compete with the big boys from Germany in regards to mid-size luxury sedans. In the past BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Audi have dominated this segment, but Cadillac has bolstered its new CTS to a point that it has to be part of the discussion. Consumers might still hold an inferior perception towards Cadillac, but I would advise those to at least take it out on a test drive and compare it with those same German vehicles.
The price for the 2.0L starts at $50,895 (Get Better Price), which is less than the BMW 528i at $54,600 and the Mercedes-Benz E300 at $58,800. If you add the luxury, performance or premium package the price does go up all the way to $66,665 (Get Better Price), but that’s up for you to decide. With the performance package you do receive navigation, 18-inch wheels and the Magnetic Ride Control; while in the premium package you get upgraded to a full-leather interior and get treated to the Driver Assist packages.
The CTS has gone through major improvements and is far better than its outgoing model. The new cars arrived this past month in October and its longer, leaner and lower stature will definitely make some indents into the sales of their German friends.
Even after the company’s long running history and decades of off-roading experience, it’s not uncommon to find people who are confused by the brand’s naming strategy. Regardless, this British luxury sport-utility vehicle needs no words to describe what it truly is – an expensive over-performing jewel that you’ll be too afraid to take off-road.
But that’s okay, because this vehicle is much more appreciated on city streets. You will see many eyeballs peering through your windshield while you ride past business executives in suits. Why? Aside from envy, there’s an element of intrigue as well.
For decades, Range Rover has managed to maintain its portfolio of boxy off-road vehicles that preferred lines over curves. The 2014 Range Rover Sport however combines design elements from its siblings, the Evoque and the Range Rover Supercharged. In fact, this has to be the most drastically redesigned Range Rover since the turn of the century.
Here are some specifications:
Engine: 3-litre supercharged V-6 / 5-litre supercharged V-8
Horsepower: 340 hp (V-6) / 510 hp (V-8)
Torque: 332 lb.-ft. (V-6) / 661 lb.-ft. (V-8)
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 12.6L/100 km city, 8.6L/100 km highway (V-6) / 15.5L/100 km city, 10.4L/100 km highway (V-8)
Like: Highly Customizable
When you have this kind of money, you have the right to be choosy. That’s why the Sport comes in a choice of 19 exterior colours, 11 interior colours, 4 aluminum interior finishes, 3 real wood veneers, 3 headliner colours, 9 wheel options and 3 roof colours. Can you imagine the amount of combinations! Don’t ask me to figure that out, I’m a fan of cars – not math.
Like: Bespoke Interiors
The interior has been modernized significantly starting with the center console. It has been raised making the controls easier to access for the driver.
The seats are comfortably accommodating and give you the choice of how firm or soft you would like them to be – at least for the front row. Rear passengers are provided with individually controllable heated seats and air vents.
The model that I was provided was draped in soft touch material throughout the dash, especially noticeable surrounding the touchscreen. Most of the car’s interior features can be controlled through the touchscreen’s interface. Although there are physical buttons and knobs to control the climate settings, most of the audio settings are to be controlled using the touchscreen or the buttons on the steering wheel. If that doesn’t matter and you love screens, you can consider replacing your analog gauges with a large digital gauge that magically appears as you start the car.
Like: Auto Start/Stop
Of course, no one buys one of these for its fuel economy or eco-friendliness, but it’s good to know that that there’s some thought when it comes to that department. How? It features an auto start/stop that shuts down the engine as you come to a complete stop. This feature works best at a red light or in a traffic jam. This feature can be enabled or disabled using the “Eco” button located near the armrest.
Like: Fuel Economy
Thanks to a new V-6 Supercharged 3.0-litre engine – the same one found in the Jaguar XF – the Sport is able to achieve better fuel economy than its predecessor. Expect to get around 12.6L/100 km in the city and 8.6L/100 km on the highway. If you opt for the 5.0-litre V-8 Supercharged engine, you can expect 15.5L/100 km in the city and 10.4L/100 km on the highway.
Dislike: Gear Shifter
To go with the amount of technology in the car, Land Rover decided to upgrade the shifter as well. For 2014, the Sport features a traditional lever-based shifter that allow you to shift between 3 gears – Drive, Neutral, and Reverse. To shift to Park however, you will have to press a button located on the shifter. In most cars, pushing the lever all the way to the top shifts it to Park, but doing the same in the Sport puts you in Reverse gear. Expect to spend around two weeks before you getting the hang of this. For a final word of caution, I would avoid reverse parking too close to other cars – just to be safe.
Road trips are great, but they are made even better with a vehicle that gets great fuel economy. One of our readers recently gave us a challenge – she wanted us to find her a family-oriented SUV that seated her family of four comfortably, while delivering great fuel economy. Furthermore, she wanted a vehicle that could bring about a good resale value a few years down the road.
The vehicle will be used to drive her to work during the weekdays, while her husband would be taking it to visit his parents in St. Catharines, Ontario – approximately 115 kilometers each way.
Based on her need for something that could stand time, we looked at what was recently redesigned. New to the market were the 2012 Honda CR-V, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe and the 2013 Toyota RAV4. Assuming she would be selling it in five years, we compared the resale value of all three of those vehicles from its 2008 model year using Auto Trader. The 2009 Toyota RAV4 had the highest resale value, so we gave it a closer look.
Testing the RAV4 Fuel Economy
So I decided to put the vehicle to the test. In the one week we had the vehicle, I did five short trips each day to simulate her eight kilometer drive from home to work. On the last day, I simulated a 115 kilometer drive from Toronto to St. Catharines as per the families’ general visit. To offset the family’s weight, I took 3 other people along for the ride to increase accuracy.
Most of this trip was done on the Queen Elizabeth Way, one of Ontario’s most used highways, at a speed of approximately 110 kilometers with virtually no traffic both ways.
At the end of the trip, including the city and highway driving, we were able to get a fuel economy of 11.3 L/100 km (20.8 MPG). This was fairly average in this segment, and we weren’t expecting it to be much different from its competitors. Carrying over a similar 2.5-litre engine from its outgoing model, we assumed the fuel economy would be the same, but the new six-speed transmission provides more shifting activity than the outgoing four-speed – allowing for slightly better fuel economy.
Cadillac recently launched a redesign of its flagship SUV, the Escalade. Expected to go on sale next year as a 2015 model, Cadillac has still remained quiet about the Escalade’s features and specs. Currently, all we have to help us fantasize about it are some rather tasty images. While it would’ve been nice of them to wait for the Detroit Auto Show to release it, perhaps they couldn’t find a rotating display large enough to spin this long wheelbase monster.
So going by what we have, let’s break down its design.
The grill on the 2015 Escalade is huge! While most SUVs have horizontally stacked headlights that lead into the grill, these headlights want nothing to do with that chrome-rich centerpiece that occupies most of the front end leaving a large amount of space between the grill and the headlights. Instead, Cadillac has their headlights vertically stacked to go with their design language. There are also five projector lamps inside each headlight – similar to the currently selling Platinum model. There is also an LED strip running vertically down the edge of the headlights – similar to the brand’s ATS model.
Cadillac has got rid of its wood-rich dash for a more technology-centric look. While there’s still quite a bit of wood accents around the interiors, it’s quite a bit less compared to the outgoing model. Gone also are physical buttons – now replaced by touch buttons similar to the Cadillac ATS’ dash.
Tall taillights and boxy rear
The rear of the Escalade has gone through a significant update – especially the taillights. These LED-rich lights stretch from the bumper to the roof and feature Cadillac’s LED stripe. This is probably the longest stripe we have seen so far from any auto maker. The rear spoiler pops outward quite a bit, making the rear window look smaller. Overall, the rear further emphasizes the boxiness of the vehicle.
Expected release time: 2014
Expected price: $80,000 CAD ($68,000 USD)
To see a bit more of the Escalade, here’s a great video that we found:
Vancouver, BC – A few weeks back, I responded to an invitation to attend a ride and drive for the 2014 Mazda3 in Vancouver – a 10th anniversary and introduction of the vehicle’s 3rd generation.
At the presentation for the vehicle to say that there was a definite air of arrogance, way beyond unbridled enthusiasm exhibited by the team responsible for R&D and the group program manager, would be an understatement.
Only Mazda Canada, Inc. President, Kory Koreeda seemed to express the now expected dialogue of respect generally associated with Asian automotive manufacturers.
Has the Mazda3 been successful? Yes, by well-accepted automotive business practices and bench marks. In fact, 3.5 million cars with the Mazda3 marque have been sold to date. And, the 1st and 2nd generation iterations won a combined 136 awards worldwide and garnered respect and admiration from buyers and auto aficionados alike. It is the manufacturer’s best selling vehicle since its introduction to the compact segment 10 years ago for the 2004 model year. The Mazda3 is an incredibly important car for this Japanese manufacturer; it represents 35 percent of the company’s global sales, 40 percent of its U.S. sales and over 50 percent of its sales here in Canada.
So why this apparent attitude? The Mazda3 has consistently proven to be a popular choice in the compact class due to clean styling, eager performance and responsive handling combined with well-accepted interiors which were perceived as being above and even slightly beyond most of the manufacturers in the competitive compact class.
Mazda, corporately senses an opportunity. Not only here, in Canada, but worldwide.
Let’s address the Canadian marketplace, “owned” in the compact class by the Honda Civic for 15 straight years (with the likelihood of a 16th not far from its grasp) as the best selling compact vehicle in this country.
To Mazda, there are seven meaningful contenders, by volume in this category.
Here’s how those auto makers stack up at time of writing by market share:
Honda Civic 15%
Hyundai Elantra 15%
Toyota Corolla 11%
Chevrolet Cruze 8%
Volkswagen Jetta 8%
Ford Focus 7%
As you can see, the “race” for third and fourth position is tight. Mazda once held the number 3 spot, and Toyota number 2 – before Hyundai came along. The Toyota Corolla in Canada knocked the Mazda3 out of third place in 2012.
So let’s be quite clear; Mazda’s confidence is not that they see an opportunity to knock off the two leading contenders. No – at least, not yet.. Their sights are set, for now, firmly on regaining third place.
Is this a reasonable expectation? The buying public will make that final determination.
Step back for a second and look at some global numbers. Volume. Since it’s introduction, the Corolla has sold more that 40 million vehicles, and the Civic more than 20 million. The Mazda3 practically pales by comparison.
Have they, historically built a good enough car? Again, the answer is a strong affirmative. Can they take on Toyota and climb the ladder?
In a classroom-like environment, we were presented with figures, charts, graphs and exhortations. Looking at the actual vehicle specs it would appear that the Mazda3′s redesign should indeed help its cause. Mazda’s designers and engineers have trimmed the new car’s weight and given it more “oomph” and, bang for the buck, further enhancing its reputation in the compact category. Depending on the model the new car weighs in at between 25 and 45 kg less than the previous generation. The new SKYACTIV 2.5L engine develops 184 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque (17 more horsepower than the outgoing 2.5), while the SKYACTIV 2.0L develops 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque (five more horsepower and 15 lb-ft more torque than the old 2.0L). Further, the 2014 SKYACTIV 2.0L also bests the performance of the 2013 SKYACTIV 2.0L thanks to a big bump of torque in the mid-range (it has 14 lb-ft more torque at 3,000 rpm).
Visually, the car reinforces the notion that Mazda has a potential winner on its hands. Mazda’s “Kodo” (soul of motion) design philosophy has been previously very well received in the new CX-5 and Mazda6, and the new Mazda3 takes cues from both of them. Step back and admire gracefully flowing lines and a sense of motion. These days, all Mazda’s are designed in the more traditional manner out of Mazda’s California Design Centre, sculpted from clay, before computers and number-crunchers can tear out the heart and soul of the vehicle. The 3rd generation Mazda3s achieve lower height, greater width, and shorter overall length on a longer wheelbase than before, creating a stronger, more assertive stance.
During the morning session, we soon learned that Mazda had indeed looked beyond and determined that this generation needed to create a feeling of being in a class above; aspirations aside, Mazda took inspiration, they said, from BMW in so many areas – interior trim, handling and available features and technology normally reserved for more expensive automobiles.
But how did it drive?
Unlike two previous groups that same week, a new drive route was created just for us: Highway 99 or the Sea to Sky Highway from Vancouver north to Whistler, BC, a terrific route guaranteed to put just about any vehicle to the test.
Suffice to say, the Mazda3 came through with flying colours. We drove the Sport GT hatchback mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission that was naturally, set in Sport mode, northbound. An agile performer that made love to the curves of the blacktop as it negotiated twists and turns with ease, holding revs and road position with eager confidence, this car was a willing and responsive runner.
The drive back to Vancouver was in the GS trim – this time with a 6-speed manual transmission. Initially the main comment was that the car’s power plant was a little lacking – but reality set in when you quickly realize that most driver’s commute would never occur on a road such as this. Another positive grade.
Mazda is putting more of its eggs in the SKYACTIV basket, these days. And remember, SKYACTIV is not just about an engine. SKYACTIV is a series of technologies developed by Mazda which increase fuel efficiency and engine output. This technology covers engines, transmissions, body and chassis.
Canada will see three different trims for 2014: GX, GS and GT. The suggested MSRP for entry level of each model is as follows: $15,995; $19,695; and, $26,855. Each model provides standard features that will please most. Additional packages may, of course be added to make any of these cars best suited for your needs.
If you are in the market for a compact car with an upscale interior, efficient and dare we say peppy engines and available features in a good-looking package, then the new Mazda3 will likely fulfil most personal wish lists.
And, in our opinion, this highly-likeable car should have Honda and Hyundai glancing nervously over their shoulders.
All in all, the new Mazda3 gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “Keep right – except to pass.”
We know the Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X, commonly just known as the Lancer Evo, is out there, we hear about, but we rarely see it.
It’s the rally car turned production car back in 2003 that earned a cult-like following. The Lancer Evo has a turbocharged engine that powers its way around any terrain in all-wheel drive. It has the looks of an expensive sports car, but the ticket price that’s affordable. Perhaps, that’s due to the least electrifying interior in the automotive industry, but that’s a different story altogether.
The Lancer Evo comes in two trims, the GSR (starting at $41,998) and the MR (starting at $51,998). Both come with the 2.0-litre MIVEC engine that puts out 291 horsepower and 300 lb.-ft. of torque. If you choose the MR, you will get the Twin Clutch Sportronic Shift Transmission instead of the five-speed manual transmission plus other additional features.
The precision handling, tight cornering and sheer power in the Lancer Evo is exciting to watch, so we will treat you with a video from our friends at Auto Emotionen. Sit back and enjoy!
The 2014 Lexus IS has long been a popular choice in the compact executive sedan market. With its sporty looks and class-leading reliability – it always made for a great buy and delivered good value for money when trading it in.
So why did Lexus change it for 2014? The previous generation IS was getting a bit outdated, having been in the market since 2006. It was time to revamp the design to be more competitive with its European rivals.
See a video of its exterior:
Recently, we had the opportunity to drive the 2014 Lexus IS F-Sport (IS250). While the IS F-Sport isn’t a replacement for the IS-F, it certainly looks like one. The F-Sport package features visual touches and interior enhancements that provide a race-inspired look – from its body kit to its silver F-Sport badging inside and out. The current F-Sport package can be added to both, the IS250 and IS350 models. We are still waiting to hear whether a 2014 Lexus IS-F will be announced later this year.
Muscular design accentuated by a deep grille and flared fenders
The car’s design has gone through a significant number of changes for the 2014 model year. The new IS looks sharp with a deep grille that stretches from the hood to the bumper, making it look more like its newer siblings. The flared fenders accentuate the car’s muscular appearance, giving it a wider stance. A sharp line runs from the car’s front bumper through the side, before moving diagonally across the rear of the car touching the tail lamps – a unique feature that makes the car appear as if it’s in constant motion.
Dual-cluster headlights and stretched taillights
Each headlight cluster features two separate elements – one for the projection beam headlamps and a separate strip of LED lights that line-up along the bottom. The fierce taillights have been stretched past the back of the car and now feature LED elements that follow an “L” shape.
While the outgoing IS was too small to directly rival similar German competitors, the new IS has been made three inches longer than its predecessor, making its dimensions similar to the competition. The rear seat on the IS features 1.6-inches more legroom than its outgoing model.
The 2014 IS delivers an engaging driving experience with sharp steering and accurate throttle. Under any level of acceleration, one is able to experience seamless gear shifting and on-demand power. The suspension has been re-engineered to deliver a dynamic driving experience with very little body tilt. The car features three drive modes – Eco, Normal, and Sport. Eco delivers the car’s best fuel efficiency through controlled RPMs while a green “Eco” light encourages positive driving habits among drivers. Shifting the knob to Sport mode reveals a performance machine that dares to be tested. Gently pushing on the throttle in Sport mode exposes an engine that’s eagerly looking to deliver instant response. Push it hard from a standstill position and the RPMs soar upward as the car shoots forward in an attempt to satisfy the engine’s demands.
Enhanced concept-style interior
The interior has been completely renovated and the driver and front passenger are in for a treat. The angled and elongated dashboard looks like something out of an concept car, providing an almost-flat surface that stretches from the armrest to the dashboard. The downfall to this is there is less space inside the storage compartment. Regardless, this is perhaps the best dashboard I have seen in this segment.
The Volkswagen that was too good to be a Volkswagen
Sometime last decade, Volkswagen decided they were going to stop making premium cars. They realized in order to be the world’s number one car company they would have to make cars that were going to appeal to the mainstream market.
This sounded like great news to North American consumers who were excited to get their hands on a German automobile at an affordable price. The current Jetta and Passat were the first products to fall under this new plan. But where does its most recent product, the CC, fit into all of this?
The 2014 Volkswagen CC is a sign that the brand hasn’t strayed completely away from its premium image. Launched as the Passat CC concept in 2009, this swooping VW was designed to compete with the likes of the Toyota Avalon, Nissan Maxima, and Chrysler 300 in the full-size car market. Its design, however, made it look like it was competing with the Mercedes CLS or Audi A7. Having gone through a substantial mid-cycle refresh last year, I was curious whether the car performed as well as it looked.
The model we drove was the base model, priced at $35,125 and came with the following standard features:
•2.0-litre, 4-cylinder turbocharged engine outputting 200-horsepower
•17” alloy wheels
•Bi-xenon headlights with adaptive lighting
•LED daytime running lights and taillights
•Heated front seats (leatherette)
•8-inch multimedia/phone touchscreen
It must also be noted that the tested vehicle had an automatic transmission, for an added premium of $1,400.
Being a full-size people mover, we were quite impressed by the performance of the engine. The 2.0-litre turbocharged TSI engine delivered instant performance on demand. Designed to deliver the performance of a V-6, it was quite fuel efficient as well. The DSG transmission (available on the automatic) delivers shifts that are comparable to its manual transmission counterpart. In our tests, we were able to use all 200 horsepower and 207 lb.-ft. of torque to our advantage, taking the car from a standstill to 100 km/h in a class-leading 6.2 seconds.
Although the mid-cycle refresh resulted in the headlights looking more like the mid-size Passat model, it’s still an improvement over the outgoing model. For 2013, the Passat comes standard with LED daytime running lights and taillights. In the dark, the Audi-derived LED daytime running lights show a family resemblance, looking more like its GTI and GLI siblings. Upon first impression in the dark, the CC’s taillights instantly remind me of the Fisker Karma. The arched design, all the way from the front grille to the rear bumper is comparable to Audi’s A7, and is a distinct feature that sets it apart from other cars in this class.
Like: Trunk Space
Initially, I thought the sloping rear quarter would end up eating up my trunk space. While the trunk lid isn’t as boxed and space-efficient as most sedans, the long wheelbase offers a deep cargo area, enough to load four small suitcases and a handbag.
Entering the vehicle, one is instantly in soft-touch heaven. The door panels are loaded with two-tone soft-touch material made from leatherette. The CC comes standard with leatherette sport seats that offer good support – especially on long road trips.
Dislike: Extra cost for an automatic
Surprisingly, the CC doesn’t come standard with an automatic transmission. This was quite surprising as buyers in this segment are usually 40-50 year olds who most-likely share a car within their family. Its competitors, the Maxima and Avalon, both offer automatic transmissions as standard equipment; although they’re base models are priced higher. The $1,400 premium for the DSG automatic transmission on the CC might still make sense, as its final price is only slightly higher than the Avalon and almost $1,000 lower than the Maxima.
Muskoka, ON – Earlier this year, Infiniti made a bold move to change their nomenclature from G’s and M’s to a simple letter “Q” that will be the prefix to all of their models. All of Infiniti’s cars will start with Q; while all of its crossovers and SUVs will start with QX. It’s a global strategy that Infiniti hopes to lift the brand into a better position in the luxury/performance division. It also is a trip back to its history, as their first vehicle was the 1989 Q45 luxury sedan.
The first model to be released under the new “Q” branding strategy is their popular entry-level luxury sedan, the Q50, the artist formerly known as the G37. If you can believe it, it’s already in its fifth generation, which Infiniti is hoping will be its best.
The G37 has always been known for its low-to-the-ground sporty look that catches the attention of any driving enthusiast. This Q50 ups its game by adding premium styling and an abundance of driving technology coupled with driver connectivity. Strong V-6 power aside, Infiniti has tried to connect to the young driving enthusiast who has a craving for technology. Oh, and if you haven’t heard, they’ve added a hybrid version as well.
The Q50 is inspired by the Infiniti Essence that debuted back in 2009. At that time, Infiniti showed off a glimpse of the future with the Essence’s high-powered sexy frame and I would say that they’ve stayed true to form with the Infiniti Q50. The Q50 gives out a Lindsey Vonn look, as it’s tight and athletic with some fine curves. Don’t get upset now, I could have said the proverbial Anna Kournikova reference!
The lines throughout the Q50 start from Infiniti’s signature double arch grille and flow through the body straight to the back. It’s truly a piece of art woven by the likes of Vincent Van Gogh setting the mood and energy for a spirited drive. Brought in to refine the ride are distinctive LED headlights and LED rear combination lamps.
You can tell immediately that the Q50 is lower and wider than its predecessor which adds to its sporty touch. However, it’s more subdued overall with a quiet confidence representing a possible change to mesh with an early-thirties kind of customer. It comes standard with 17-inch wheels, but you can upgrade to the sportier 19-inch aluminum-alloy wheels that come in the S (sport) models.
A Look Inside
Infiniti interiors always provide a touch of class and luxury and the Q50 is even a step-up with its added technology and design catered for the driver. Maple wood trim found on the centre console complements the soft black leather that cover the rest of the interior on the dash, doors and seats of every Q50 minus the base model.
However, the most notable addition to the centre stack in the Q50 is the twin high-resolution touch-screen system featuring Infiniti’s new infotainment system, called InTouch. The two-tier screen has an eight-inch upper screen that’s used for navigation and a seven-inch lower screen that services the rest of the vehicles functions including radio, climate control, phone and the rest of your driver and car-assist settings. The lower screens’ buttons seem to be more advanced than many other models and the touch and feel for these buttons are reminiscent to an iPhone or iPad.
The dual system does allow for multi-tasking and being able to switch your radio and navigation at the same time, but the amount of technology can get overwhelming at times. Infiniti wants to be a leader in this department, but is there a point when it gets to be too much?
If you’re not tech savvy or wish to use knobs as opposed to touch screens while in motion, Infiniti kept radio seek and volume function buttons and scrolls below the lower touchscreen. Furthermore, climate control can also be changed from both sides of the centre console for the driver and passenger to make easy adjustments.
Interior room isn’t sacrificed even though its height has been lowered. Believe it or not there’s more headroom and shoulder room, which previous G37 owners will be happy to hear, but simultaneously jealous. There’s plenty of room in the front and the seats were more than comfortable, but for some reason I couldn’t find a perfect sitting position. My knees kept on tapping the side of the door and console, but I guess everything can’t be perfect.
Not to be forgotten, the Q50 can store up to four different driver settings. I know, more technology, but this one’s pretty cool. When I’m talking about driving setting, I’m not just talking seating position – to Infiniti that’s just common courtesy. The Q50 programs different entertainment functions, preferred climate and of course your own driving style. For your radio needs, the Q50 has a 14-speaker BOSE system with five speakers on the dash that can heighten any anthem. The 14-speaker system comes standard on the hybrid and the upgraded regular Q50’s, so keep that in mind when making your decision.
Under the Hood & Technology Galore
The Q50 comes with two engine options - the carryover 3.7-litre V-6 or new hybrid model that are available with your choice of rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The V-6 engine produces 328 horsepower and 269 lb.-ft. of torque, which is very impressive for an entry-level performance sedan. Those numbers aren’t surprising as they were the same in the outgoing model, but what will surprise you most is that the hybrid is the more powerful of the two with 360 horsepower. Well that turns out to be the case when you combine both the 3.5-litre aluminum-alloy V-6 found in the hybrid alongside the 50kW electric motor. But it doesn’t matter how you get to the figure, if the hybrid can be stronger in acceleration and save you money in the process – where can you go wrong?
You won’t find a manual transmission in any of the Q50’s offerings, as all are fitted with a new seven-speed automatic transmission that provides a lot of control over the transmission. If you’re in the mood for some shift changes, you will be happy to know that most of the premium models come with magnesium paddle shifters.
There are five drive modes to choose from when you press the Infiniti Drive Mode button – standard, sport, eco, snow and a personal setting where you can choose your own driving style with any combination. The personal settings are all part of the Q50s technological brilliance that adds that personal touch – it’s called the Infiniti InTuition System. You can save your personal preferences from throttle response to adjusting your steering feel and it will be set-up for you every time you take the driver’s seat.
A lot of the excitement of the new Q50 centres on its new technologies. During the initial briefing of the Infiniti Q50, Tim Franklin, senior manager of product planning for Infiniti Canada, spoke about its new Direct Adaptive Steering. “It’s the first of its kind in the world that makes the driver input completely electronic,” explains Franklin.
It’s an all-electric steering system that has no physical connection between your hands on the steering wheel and the front wheels. What happens instead is that a transducer is used to relay your steering input to a pair of electric motors that turn the wheels for you. There’s a lot of trust in the system, but if there were to be a communication breakdown – Infiniti has set-up a mechanical back-up system that changes to manual steering instantaneously.
At this point, you might be asking why is this all-electronic system more exciting? And what are the advantages to it.
What it does allow for are quicker responses and a better steering feel. It has sensors that read angle changes and calculates the required movement needed at a faster rate than any other system. The system is a look into the future and has four different steering combinations to adapt to what you like. This is a perfect for the type of person that has a few different driving styles depending on the day. So, whether you’re in the mood for a quiet Sunday drive or if you’re feeling a bit friskier and want to go on an exhilarating ride – the system can adapt.
Two other brand-new systems that you will find in the Infiniti Q50 are Active Lane Control and Predictive Forward Collision Warning. The Active Lane Control was something that we had a little fun with. Through the vehicle’s sensors it steers the car for you making minor adjustments as the road changes in front of you. This is not to be used for a full autonomous drive, but more to assist you when you’re feeling fatigue or just need to stretch your arms.
What you need to do is turn on the “Green Shield,” yes, it sounds like a super-hero cape that covers the car and it also looks that way as a green force shows up on the Q50’s control panel surrounding a picture of the vehicle. The Active Lane Control was fun to use, but can’t fully correct itself on certain corners. It was an impressive tool and bettered the system on the Acura MDX and RLX, but I would still place a “Use with Caution” sticker on it.
The Predictive Forward Collision Warning system has been a big feature on the Q50’s commercials. It warns the driver of risks beyond their field of view. So not only will it detect what’s happening in front of you, it can provide you with a warning of what’s happening two cars ahead. In my opinion, any added safety works for me, so kudos to Infiniti for creating this impressive system. I was unable to test out this new system, so I can’t exactly tell you if it works, but that will have to wait for another test drive.
On the Road
When you’re not driving with the Active Lane Control on, the steering does react quickly and takes you instantly where you want to go. Remember, you can program you’re steering feel to your liking. I prefer a heavy feel typically found in any Volkswagen model for better control, so it was refreshing to drive the Q50 that way. I was finally allowed to have my cake and eat it too!
We first took out the 3.7 V-6 AWD from the Toronto (Etobicoke) airport into the cottage county of Muskoka. The drive route went through local streets, on the highway and onto country roads to experience everything the Q50 had to offer. The Q50 is not going to blast off with much shriek as would a Ford Mustang, but it has enough of a giddyup to work its way up from 0-100 km/h in 5.5 seconds.
On the other hand, the hybrid version had more power, but it seemed to take longer to get up to speed. It’s actually quicker from 0-100 km/h than the gas model, just not between 0-30 km/h. I didn’t expect that lag, because of the talk of it being more powerful, but once it gets going – the hybrid can pedal.
Like any hybrid, the Q50 uses regenerative braking to re-capture its lost energy during periods of braking. It will take time to adjust and get used to the regenerative braking as well as the initial acceleration lag, but will become second nature soon enough. Outside of those two noticeable annoyances, the hybrid was one of the smoothest rides I’ve driven during the year. Road vibrations are almost non-existent, allowing you to enjoy a smooth and calm luxurious drive.
Infiniti estimates the 3.7-litre’s fuel economy at 6.7L/100 km on the highway, 10.6L/100 km in the city and a combined 8.8L/100 km. While, the hybrid is rated at 5.6L/100 km; 7.0L/100 km; and 6.4L/100 km. For my two drives, I will provide some real-life numbers as I averaged 9.8L/100 km in the 3.7-litre AWD and 6.6L/100 km in the hybrid.
Infiniti has worked long and hard to re-brand itself as a premier automotive competitor. The Q50 is the first of many new launches that represent the new exciting look and feel of Infiniti under the Q-based nomenclature. They’ve gone so far as to say that the Q50 is “without question, the best sedan we’ve ever built.”
Through two days of driving, I can tell you that the mix of styling, technology and ride quality in the Q50 does surpass any vehicle they’ve made and places it as a strong contender in its class. It compares well to the Cadillac ATS, Acura TL, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the BMW 3-series. Its base price starts at $37,500, which is lower than all of those rivals listed except for the ATS, but sports a hybrid option (starting at $47,000) that only BMW can be on par with, but not in terms of price where the 3-Series jumps above $60,000. And for a further bonus, many of the premium options in the 3.7-litre comes standard in the hybrid.
When you break down the Q50, what stands out the most is its breakthrough advanced technology that clearly separates itself from its competitors. The technology triple threat of Direct Adaptive Steering, Active Lane Control and Predictive Forward Collision Warning is unique to Infiniti and many steps up from what they were producing. Throw in the mind-blowing fact that its hybrid is quicker than the gas version and saves you more money at the pump – it’s clear that Infiniti is heading in the right direction. Premium quality and technology at a reasonable price is always hard to pass up and well suited for the young professional looking for a fun ride. If you’re looking for an entry-level performance sedan, it won’t hurt for you to give the Infiniti Q50 the time and respect it deserves. And by the way, it's available right now!
When one visualizes Volkswagen’s history, images of their semi-circle shaped Beetle or the curvaceous Microbus often come up. While both possess a significant amount of style, the concept of “Leistung” (German for performance) only entered VW’s dictionary until the launch of its Golf’s athletic twin.
Recently, we got to take the Volkswagen GTI for a spin, and here’s a list of what we liked and didn’t like about it. Let’s start off with the specs.
• 3-door, 5-seater
• 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged TSI engine
• 200 horsepower
• Manual transmission with available DSG automatic transmission
• Bi-xenon headlights with adaptive lighting system
• LED daytime running lights
• Dual-zone climate control
• 6 airbags
• 17” alloy wheels
• Priced at $29,375
The vehicle we drove was the Wolfsburg Edition, and comes with some tasteful upgrades.
• 5-door, 5-seater
• 18” Watkins Glen alloy wheels
• Premium audio system
• Keyless access
• Priced at $32,775
When one spends a lot of money getting the performance version of a stock car, they most-likely would like to be recognized for having done so. In many cases, automotive manufacturers make dramatic visual upgrades to the vehicle’s interior and exterior so the car looks fast even at a standstill. The GTI achieves just that. Although the GTI’s design shares similarities with the regular Golf, it looks like a completely different car altogether. The GTI resembles a crossbreed between the Golf and the Scirocco, a popular VW hatchback sold outside North America.
Like: DSG Transmission
One thing that determines a car’s speed off the line is its ability to rapidly shift gears. In fact, this is exactly why people consider manual transmissions to be faster than their automatic counterparts. Our GTI featured a Direct-Shift Gearbox (DSG), which is commonplace at Volkswagen.
DSG gearboxes have two separate manual gearboxes and clutches that shift electronically, working in harmony to deliver fast shift times. In many cases, because it’s electronically controlled, the shifting can be better than a standard manual transmission. DSG systems are normally found on high-end and performance cars, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to find it in the GTI.
The navigation system on the GTI, although dependable, is not the most user-friendly. First, it is possibly one of the slowest systems we have used in 2013. Also, for some reason, it gives you the option to pick between three different routes, even though in some cases the routes are exactly the same. Oh, and it doesn’t care to speak street names. On the plus side, the system has one of the best natural voices we have heard on a GPS system. If you turn to your GPS to get you from point-to-point, I would recommend using a TomTom or Garmin device.
Okay…so you spend $10,000 extra to get the GTI landing you one of the fastest hatchbacks in the world. As you zip past others, shouldn’t they know they’re getting passed by a GTI?
Unless they spot the small GTI letters or chrome exhaust tips, they are likely to mistake your car for a regular Golf. VW should have done something to add more drama to the taillights – maybe gone with an LED array? Unfortunately, the GTI shares the same taillights as the Golf, and the back of the car in general doesn’t have too many distinct features to distinguish it from just a regular Golf.
Ottawa, ON - The “One Ford” concept of operating as one unit around the world has reinvigorated the Ford brand. One of those cars that have found their way back into the North American market was the Fiesta. It’s been gone for three decades, but it has made major strides in the subcompact segment since its re-emergence in 2010.
Now in the five-door hatch’s sixth-generation, Ford is launching the sporty ST version. This Fiesta that dawns the Sport Technologies badge will be available in the fall at dealerships throughout Canada.
Ford wanted to separate the Fiesta ST from the regular Fiesta and they started with the grille. The regular Fiesta has a wide-mouthed grille made up of horizontal bars, but the ST gets a nice honeycomb treatment as seen on its big brother, the Focus ST, that betters its appearance.
The Fiesta also receives a lower front spoiler, a larger rear spoiler with a dual exhaust system, and 17-inch alloy wheels that are paired with Bridgestone Potenza tires.
To see what colour options are available all you need to do is think of a rainbow with the addition of the optional Molten Orange paint. The colours might make you ready for a Fiesta, but the ST version also gets you pumped to hit the open roads.
A Look Inside
OK so the Fiesta is not from Switzerland and doesn’t sell cough drops, but the two-tone leather Recaro front seats come standard in Canada and get you instantly excited. You know you’re in a sporty car when you see those seats and the ST badge near the head rest.
They might not be the most comfortable seats, but they strap you in for what hopefully is an exciting ride. Ford set-up a handling course for us to test the Fiesta ST, so I witnessed the benefits of the Recaro seats, as my body didn’t shift throughout my sharp cornering runs.
Outside of the Recaro seats and ST badging found on the seats and steering wheel, there’s not much else that separates the ST from its regular model. The pedals are made of alloy creating a shiny touch, but the rest of the dash and entertainment console is underwhelming.
A 6.5-inch touchscreen is given to the ST with the latest version of MyFord Touch coming standard. MyFord Touch has been improved with simplified voice commands, upgraded voice recognition and a redesigned navigation screen.
Under the Hood
The Fiesta ST is powered by a 1.6-litre EcoBoost engine that provides a power boost of 198 hp and 201 lb.-ft. of torque. When compared to its competitors the MINI Cooper S (181 hp & 178 lb.-ft. of torque), the Sonic RS (138 & 148) and the Fiat 500 Abarth (160 & 170), the Fiesta ST stands well-above in both horsepower and torque production.
The ST is a front-wheel drive vehicle that’s mated to a six-speed manual transmission. It’s a fun little motor that get you from 0-100 km/h in close to 6.9 seconds and has a new torque vectoring system to control wheel spin.
It might appear small, but it packs a lot of punch in its small frame. And if you’re thinking of testing it out on track or just having some fun, the ST has three stability control modes to fit your driving style: full-on, partial-on, or full-off.
On the Road
If you’re thinking about buying the Fiesta ST (available in the fall) – the look and feel is nice to hear about, but the true measure of this rally car is how it drives on the road and especially on the track.
The Fiesta ST naturally receives an upgraded suspension that has stiffer springs compared to its regular version. The stiffer suspension along with the torque vectoring system and stability control system mentioned earlier, are all set-up for less body roll and cornering action.
What surprised me the most on the handling course was its steering. The steering was instant and directed the Fiesta exactly where I wanted it to go avoiding all of the pylons in the process. The curves were no challenge at all and it stayed flat and on course without any bumps along the way. Even though, the Fiesta is a front-wheel drive car, understeer is not something you have to worry about in this ride. The ST was light and nimble, but felt controlled throughout leading to a thrilling ride.
Little small hatches that can really motor are some of my favourite types of cars. The added grunts you get from the sound symposer make you feel like you’re driving something three times its price and two-times its engine. Accelerate down and you will hear the crackling engine noise that the symposer sends into the cabin.
Just a quick note of what you should already know – similar to the Focus ST, the Fiesta ST only comes with the six-speed manual transmission. Ford has placed a gearbox that’s easy to manoeuvre and can accommodate those novice gear shifters who want the ST, but are worried about buying a car with a manual transmission.
I didn’t take it off the handling course, but Ford boasts that the Fiesta ST delivers 5.6L/100 km on the highway and 7.8L/100 km in the city. Fuel economy won’t be a reason for purchase, but it sure helps to know that it’s not bad on gas. Just remember these numbers are tested during sensible drives, not ones that have you driving at 5,000 rpms.
I’m glad to see that Ford is bringing these small hatches to Canada, so we don’t have to be jealous any more of our European friends. For as small as the Fiesta is – it’s an adrenaline rush waiting to happen. It seems to suffer from a short man’s syndrome, where it feels the need to show off in an attempt to gain recognition and that’s a good thing when it comes to cars.
The Fiesta ST will be available this fall and will start at $24,999. It might seem like a big jump considering the base Fiesta S starts at $14,999, but you’re getting a totally different car with the ST. When you look deeper into price, you will notice that the Fiat 500 Abarth and Chevy Sonic RS are roughly the same price at $23,495 and $23,560, respectively. While, the MINI Cooper S starts at a much higher price of $31,150. When you consider the horsepower, torque and of course those Recaro Seats – the Fiesta St looks like a better deal than the other options out there.
If you’re a fan of speedy hatches – you need to test out the Fiesta ST before any decision. It has a superb combination of good looks, speed and handles like a pro.
Forget everything you know about the modern SUV. Now try to remember what an SUV used to stand for – rugged reliability across any series of terrains.
These days, car companies will pass any tall-standing station wagon as an SUV – adding an all-wheel-drive option just to make you believe so. Heck, even the brand I write this very story about is guilty of it.
In many countries outside North America, ask anyone what the word “SUV” stands for – they will have no idea. Point at one and they will tell you that’s a “Jeep”. That’s because the word “Jeep” is almost synonymous with any rugged vehicle with off-roading capability – even if the Jeep brand isn’t actually sold there.
Enough rambling, let’s get to it.
We recently tested the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Although the Grand Cherokee was just redesigned less than 3 years ago, this has to be one of the quickest mid-cycle refreshes we have seen for an American brand.
First, let’s go over the specs of the base model:
-3.6-litre V-6 VVT engine outputting 290 horsepower
-260 lb.-ft. of torque
-8-speed automatic transmission
-4-wheel drive system (QuadraTrac)
-Hill Start Assist
-5-inch Uconnect touch screen
-5 passenger seating
-Premium cloth seats
-Dual-zone climate control
-Base model starting price: $39,995
The vehicle we tested was the Summit edition and adds the following:
-Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Forward Collision Warning
-8.4” Uconnect touch screen
-Lots of chrome
-Quadra-Lift Air Suspension System
-Select-Terrain with Snow, Sand, Mud, and Rock mode
-Harman/Kardon 19-speaker audio system
-Front and rear parking sensors
-Blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert
-Ventilated front seats
-546-watt Premium Audio System with 12 speakers
-Summit edition starting price: $59,995
Like: Headlight & Taillight Design
As I mentioned, this vehicle has gone through a mid-cycle refresh for 2014 – and without a doubt, this has to be one of the most significant mid-cycle refreshes so far this decade. The Grand Cherokee encompasses everything that was hailed about the outgoing model and adds a few refreshing new touches increasing its visual appeal. These changes are more apparent in the upper trim levels – with LED headlamps and chrome body inserts. Upon closer examination, the redesigned headlamps are reminiscent of the Chrysler 300. With flowing LEDs surrounding every edge of the headlight cluster, this vehicle is not going unnoticed and in low daylight is where the Grand Cherokee truly shines.
Like: Uconnect system
While most in-car multimedia and navigation systems continue to be terrible, the Uconnect system – also found in Dodge and Chrysler vehicles – adds simplicity and ease-of-use. The system’s interface allows you to perform and control various multimedia, navigation, temperature, and phone functions, and thankfully also provides enough buttons and knobs to allow you to control the climate and audio with an old-fashioned twist or push. What’s also neat is the ability to have a picture-in-picture view of the navigation and audio functions on one screen.
Like: Eight-speed transmission
For 2014, the Grand Cherokee gets a ZF-engineered eight-speed automatic. Paddle shifters are now standard equipment adding another dimension of fun, both on and off-road. A new Eco button has been added, and after testing it, the vehicle becomes two litres more efficient over the 12.4 litre EnerGuide rating. Throughout our city driving with Eco mode on, we were able to achieve an average fuel economy of 14.4L/100kms.
I have had the opportunity to drive a number of luxury vehicles recently, and many luxury brands are trying to reinvent the gear shifter. A Jaguar XF I drove earlier this year offers a pop-up rotary dial pulled straight out of a high-end washing machine, while a Lincoln I drove recently offers a push-button gear shifter. The Grand Cherokee’s rendition is unique as well – offering a shorter lever for seamless shifting. Personally, I found it slightly confusing, causing me to put it in neutral a few times while intending to put it in reverse. On the plus side, it’s something that one can get accustomed to over a short period of time.
Dislike: Storage console
Do you listen to music using CDs? If you had to choose between a CD player and a decently-sized center storage console, what would you choose? If you’re a CD person, then you wouldn’t mind that the car’s compact disc player takes up half the space in the center storage console. But if you’re like me however, I would trade that space for an adequately sized storage compartment. After all, who uses a CD anymore?
I must disclose that the vehicle we tested had the bigger Uconnect system, possibly requiring the CD player to be relocated to the center console. That being said, there are a few other storage spaces in the car, so finding storage space wasn’t a big issue.
Just a few months back, the Cadillac ATS made a big splash at the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) by winning the North American car of the year. Cadillac claims that the ATS' development cycle was one of the most intricate and detail-oriented processes the company has done in a while. While the design is unmistakably Cadillac, engineers spent a significant amount of time bench-marking the driving experience against the BMW 3-series and the Audi A4. With such a strong story of determination, it's no wonder journalists fell for the ATS - giving it a well-deserved win at NAIAS. So what do we like (and dislike) about the North American Car of the Year? Find out below.
1. CUE Interface
The Cadillac User Experience interface is used to control several aspects of the in-car features – including the climate, audio, and navigation systems. Unlike most car interfaces, the CUE system features both multi-touch and gesture input, allowing seamless operation with the use of one or two fingers. As mentioned in the video, using the system is similar to using an iPad or tablet device.
2. Audio System
We were quite impressed with the sound quality of the seven-speaker Bose sound system. The satellite radio was great too, although like most in-car satellite radios, it tends to lose reception in heavy weather or in areas with densely packed buildings. The system is controlled through the CUE interface.
When it comes to design, very few car companies dare to pull off sharp lines and edges – especially in the luxury segment. The ATS challenges that ideology, incorporating crisp lines and stark edges into its design that differentiates it from the competition – all without making the car look too boxy.
4. Rear Legroom
While the front of the cabin offers enough room and comfort to accommodate both passengers, the back of the cabin doesn’t do the same. Rear passengers might find the legroom a bit disappointing, and the rear passenger stuck in the middle seat has another reason to complain – the massive floor hump.
When Tesla was first developing their vehicles in Silicon Valley, California – there were many doubters that an electric supercar was possible. After years of development behind the leadership of Elon Musk, the co-founder, CEO and Product Architect, the Tesla Model S is by far the most advanced electric luxury sport car.
The Model S has received many great reviews including being named the 2013 Motor Trend Car of the Year and after being in its Performance model for a few days it definitely deserves that praise. From the outside in – the Model S blows my mind. There’s no vehicle that exemplifies the future of the automotive industry more than this electric creation and you can buy one today.
As many onlookers throughout my time with the Tesla Model S – I was initially a gawker as well. It’s assertively sculpted lines and black reflective oval grille give the Model S a look unlike any other vehicle. For some that have never heard of Tesla – their gawking probably mostly consists of figuring out, “What the hell just drove by them?”
The theme of the exterior is chrome. At the top-center of the grille is the sharp “T” Tesla logo in chrome that resembles the symbol of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. The chrome continues on the side mirrors, door handles, outside layer of the windows, bottom panel on the doors and a solid bar with the Tesla name in the rear. It certainly made it tough to take pictures without a reflection or myself getting in the shot.
I feel that there’s more that can be done with the grille. I like the simplicity of it, but it actually gives off a basic electric look, which the Model S is anything but. It does get saved by its Falcon-eye LED running lights giving it some character and it’s finished off by LED taillights in the back.
A Look Inside
If you can’t figure out how to get into the Model S – don’t fret! The door handles shoot out when you touch the handle as long as you’re holding the key. It will sense the key after the touch and allow you entry. Is there another word to describe this, but cool? I don’t think so.
The inside deserves an article of its own, but in this case I can summarize it by saying – the Tesla Model S has the most exciting interior of any vehicle I’ve been in. Soon enough this review will turn into a script for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure as the Model S makes you dumbfounded…sorry Keanu.
The interior is organized, clean and easy to figure out as long as you know how to use a computer. Situated smack in the middle is a 17-inch full-colour touchscreen panel that resembles a massive iPad. You can open and expand screens as well as zoom in by using your own fingers. The amount of controls at your fingertips is unprecedented and almost everything can be activated by voice controls. From car dynamics to climate to internet-based radio to managing the massive all-glass sunroof – it’s all there. The best part of the sunroof is you can control it by percentages. You want it open only 46% - you got it!
Space in the front and rear are a non-issue as the interior spaciousness comes close to a BMW 7-Series. Three passengers (and I’m sure there will be a lot of them who will beg for a ride) can comfortably sit back in the rear and enjoy the quiet ride, while the driver and co-pilot in the front are treated to comfortable front leather seats with a touch of felt surround. If you need to fit more than five in the car, the trunk can transform with a few flips and folds to a new seating area for two small children. They can enjoy the ride while facing the traffic behind you. I’m sure they will think that’s so cool…there goes those words again!
Outside of the big touchscreen and seating, there’s not much else going on. It’s a minimalist upscale design that seems to work for the Model S. Everything you need is in that entertainment panel making the Model S an open concept without much fussiness.
A little more chrome is featured with some funky v-shaped door opener handles found close to the glove box and a similar v-shaped chrome closing handle to match.
There are some missing pieces that can be added to the better the Model S, but I must admit I’m being nitpicky to only better a great product. I found the sun reflector to be too small and oddly crafted. It’s so thin that you wonder why it’s even there. I also found the cup holders to be in an awkward position that made me accidentally bump my coffee with my elbow on more than one occasion.
Lastly, I felt there was a big need for air conditioned seats. The Model S can be customized for heated seats, but in the summer months, a cool breeze feature for those leather seats are needed. Plus, air conditioned seats go well with the whole futuristic theme anyways.
Under the Hood
Lift the hood open and there’s nothing. Absolutely nothing!
Ok, ok…so there’s no engine and appears to have nothing under the 6.6 cu.-ft. of storage space above, but underneath there’s something happening.
Everything is situated low to the ground for a low centre of gravity, but you will find an electric air conditioning system, electric power steering and an electric vacuum pump. You will also find some heat exchangers including a radiator that cools off the battery.
This performance model had the 85 kilowatt-hours (kWh) battery pack that lies flat underneath the floor of the car providing the most weight towards the centre of the car. For a tour of the shell of the car, you can always check it out at the Tesla showroom at the Yorkdale Shopping Mall.
When I picked up the Model S Performance edition it was fully charged and showed that I could go for 450 kms. In reality, how far you go will depend on your speed, driving style, your air conditioning and driving set-up, as well as a host of different attributes. Regardless of that, any full electric range between 400-450 kms is incredibly impressive. The fear of running out of juice in traffic is erased, now you only have to worry about mapping out road trips if you so dare.
In the rear, the Model S Performance model has a 416 hp (310 kW) and 443 ft.-lb. (600 Nm) rear-mounted electric motor. The motor package also sits low to the ground and can accelerate from 0-60 mph or 0-97 km/h in a remarkable 4.4 seconds without the feel of any gear shifting thanks to its single-speed transaxle.
On the Road
Just how you might have had issues with finding the door opener outside the car, finding how to start it might puzzle you as well. The Model S will sense your key and once your foot presses down on the brakes you’ve engaged the gears and set it in “Drive” – you’re ready to go. It’s a little awkward, but heck it’s quite the futuristic car and has to be different.
The Model S Performance is a fun car to drive. It’s a smooth ride when you’re in cruise mode and a smooth ride when you want to go lightning fast. When it takes off, it’s hard to believe you’re going that fast and that has a lot to do with that rear single-speed transaxle.
You can customize your driving style on the touchscreen panel. As in some latest model cars, steering and suspension can be personalized. Steering has three options being comfort, standard, or sport mode; while the suspension can be tuned to very high, high, standard, or low.
What makes the Model S stand out is the control you have over the vehicles regenerating braking. In regeneration braking standard mode, your ride can give you a jerky push once you ease your foot off of the brake. It takes a little while to get used to and assists in preserving your battery, but if you’re not into that, just adjust to a low level of regenerative braking and presto – your entire driving experience has changed.
For most of the time, I placed the steering in sport mode which provided a firm steering feel coupled with precise handling. The road feel is subtle and the drive can become cathartic. The gentle rocket ship encompasses all the great qualities you would ask for if you were customizing a car.
Road noise is almost non-existent as you effortlessly breeze past various onlookers. The silence in the Tesla is a constant reminder of the electric engine and the money you’re saving. And if you weren’t sure how much money you’re saving with an EV – Tesla was nice enough to remind me with some paperwork in the glove box stating an average gas savings of $8,100 in the first five years.
The Tesla Model S Performance was a thrilling vehicle to drive and unlike any other out there. The combination of power, style, technology and fuel-efficiency is rivalled by none. It finds itself in a unique setting of having no competition, but Tesla isn’t sitting on their accomplishments, but always looking to improve.
The performance model can be had starting at $94,900 that comes included with the 85 kWh battery pack. My tester had some additions such as 21-inch silver wheels with wider Michelin Pilot Sport SP2 tires, the all glass panoramic roof, the two rear-facing seats and the tech package that brought the price up to $111,770. The price is steep, but what do you expect from something that has a combination so rare.
As with every electric car there’s always the issue of charging. Tesla has various options and comes with a public charging station adapter and mobile connector adapters for 120 and 240-volt outlets. In a regular home this could be a bit of an issue as the normal 120-volt charges slowly, but if you buy the Model S, I’m sure you will make arrangements to install a new circuit and breaker.
Power stations for Tesla can be found in the Yorkdale garage and can be used in regular EV power stations. And soon we will be seeing Tesla supercharge stations popping up as they claim by 2014 they will secure networks in 80 percent of both the United States and Canada.
Tesla has made waves across the automotive industry and their cutting edge team have developed a Model S car that is nothing short of brilliant. The icing on the cake for Tesla owners is that if there’s any new feature or function that Tesla develops for their entertainment panel – it can be downloaded into your model at no extra cost making your Model S feel brand new again.
There are very few times that a car can blow us away, but Tesla has found the potion to do it. This might be just the start as Elon Musk and the team develop future vehicles such as the Model X, an SUV coming out next year. Technology prices will come down and make these electric flyers easier to own and when that time comes – the automotive world might have to watch out.
While I’m partially sick of Japanese car companies trying to turn standard family cars into “luxury” vehicles, I’m optimistic that a lot of automotive companies are trying to draw a bolder line between the two segments. One company that has been trying slightly harder than its competitors is Acura.
We had a chance to test out the 2014 Acura MDX, and have come up with a list of what we like and dislike about the vehicle.
First, let’s go over the specs:
-3.5-litre V6 Direct Injection V-TEC engine outputting 290 horsepower
-267 lb. ft. of torque
-6-speed automatic transmission
-Super Handling All-Wheel Drive
-Hill Start Assist
-Lots of airbags
-7 seats with third and second row fold-flat seats
-Tri-zone climate control
The vehicle had the Elite Package, and includes pretty much every gadget you have heard about, and thought “I wish my car had that!” Some of these features include:
-Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low-Speed Follow††
-16” ultra-wide rear display to keep the kids entertained
-Collision Mitigation Braking System™ (CMBS®)
-Front and rear parking sensors
-Lane Keeping Assist
-Ventilated front seats
-546-watt Premium Audio System with 12 speakers
As I sit at a Starbucks and write this article, I’m listening in on a couple’s conversation. The wife asks her husband, “What SUV is that?” to which he responds, “Acura.” The woman then asks her husband, “Is it German?”
While the designers at Acura may take this as a compliment, it looks more like a fact. The design on this new MDX is very German-inspired. The back of the car looks very Audi-esque – perhaps stealing styling cues from the more expensive Audi Q7. Regardless, it’s tastefully executed – and looks even better in the dark.
The front of the MDX stands out. While some may argue that the shape of the lights remain quite similar to the outgoing model, that isn’t the case. The headlights on the new MDX are thinner and longer than the previous generation. Oh, and did I mention how amazing the Jewel Eye headlights look?
Like: Power seatbelts?
I understand seatbelts are a necessity and are capable of saving lives, but they can annoy and impede my driving. After driving the MDX, I have to say that its seatbelts have to be the most comfortable to have ever groped my chest. When changing the gear from “Park” to “Drive”, the seatbelts have a built-in mechanism that adjusts itself to conform to your body. Heck, there were times when I worried whether my seatbelt was actually on!
Like: Elite Package
I usually tell people to avoid upgrading their car systems because they’re just pouring money down the drain. But when you have a family and need the conveniences, having gadgets and gizmos somewhat makes sense – especially on a big vehicle like this.
The Elite Package on the 2014 MDX comes at a cost of $16,000. By no means is that pocket change. You seriously have to think about whether you want to spend that kind of money as $16,000 can probably buy you a Honda Civic!
However, you do get a lot for the money. We really liked the 360-degree bird’s-eye camera which made it feel like there was a helicopter hovering above us as we parked. This feature gives you four downward-facing wide angle cameras providing you a tour around the car as you park. We were surprised how sharp it was especially at night. The Elite Package also includes an ultra-wide 16-inch screen for rear passengers, adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist.
Dislike: Third row legroom
Legroom in the first two rows is exceptional. You could easily fit five adults comfortably and go on a cross-country road trip without much trouble. But the third row of seats, like most seven-passenger SUVs, is meant for small kids. If you find yourself in the rare situation of having seven grown adults in one household and need a vehicle like this to move them around – look elsewhere. To be honest, look at a minibus. On the other hand, if your high-maintenance dog constantly whines about how he hates being put in the boot on every trip, give him the entire third row. And maybe show him how nice he has it – play him those movies (on the 16-inch ultra-wide screen) where celebrities walk around Hollywood with their pint-sized dogs stuffed in their purse.
Dislike: Acronyms on buttons
LKAS? ACC? CMBS? It took me a few days to understand what these things meant. Now yes, I was too lazy to pick up the manual and too scared to experiment with the buttons without knowing what they meant. Anyway, when you get a high-tech vehicle like this, you will eventually be using the Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), Collision Mitigation Brake System (CMBS) and the Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) quite often – heck you spent $16,000 to get these upgrades! That being said, I think Acura could have used icons to explain these functions better. But once you know what these acronyms are, getting used to them won’t be an issue.
There are many vehicles on the road that have been around for a while, but outside of a few automotive manufacturers like a Porsche, a Mercedes-Benz, a Ferrari and possibly a Land Rover – everyone can spot a Jeep.
Literally and figuratively, a Jeep stands out among the crowd. It symbolizes patriotism and respect as its history dates back to World War II. The original Jeep known as the Willys-Overland MB was commissioned for the U.S. military in 1941 as a compact and light utility vehicle that could provide recon and be transported by plane or via river.
Keeping with Jeep’s history of rugged off-road capabilities, they created the Wrangler Rubicon in 2003. The Rubicon was the ultimate off-road truck with all the bells and whistles. Ten years, later the Wrangler Rubicon still holds strong as the most preferred off-road vehicle and to commemorate its decade of dominance, Jeep has created a 10th anniversary special edition Wrangler Rubicon.
The 10th anniversary Jeep Wrangler Rubicon I received came in a cool and sharp Anvil Clear Coat that is exclusive only to this special edition. Its legendary round headlights and vertical-slat grill stayed consistent reminding me of war time videos from years gone by. As you look beyond the grille, a dual-intake Power Dome hood rests above the engine. It not only aids in the cooling of the engine, but provides the special edition Wrangler Rubicon with a menacing look.
If the front of the Wrangler doesn’t intimidate you, the special edition 17-inch aluminum wheels might. They come standard with 32-inch tall BF Goodrich KM2 Mud-Terrain tires that battle large rocks and rugged terrain with ease.
Rounding out the exterior are black all-steel front and rear bumpers that have removable end caps and come with red tow hooks, two in the front and one in the rear. They assist in obstacle climbs and combined with the rock rails on the sides of the vehicle they provide damage protection while off-roading.
A Look Inside
When you enter the Jeep after a large step-up and push you’re greeted by a special red leather trim. And if you weren’t sure that it was the 10th anniversary Wrangler Rubicon, there are badges on the outside front-passenger door, on the red leather seats and on the interior passenger grab handle.
It’s a striking interior inside the cab and one you wouldn’t expect from a Jeep. You are provided with a half-inch higher headroom from the 2012 model and a leather steering wheel with audio and cruise control functions.
To the left of the steering wheel you will find a few buttons that easily control the axle lock and sway bar functions, while the gauge cluster above the steering wheel can digitally display oil and tire pressures when needed.
For all of the exciting additions to the special edition version, the entertainment console I found to be lacking in creativity. It’s a basic 6.4-inch touchscreen square box with tab buttons surrounding it to select whether you want to use the phone, navigation, or audio. I like the organization of it and the fact that it has premium features like navigation, satellite radio and a reverse camera, but the big thick touch screen buttons scream out-dated.
Under the Hood and On the Road
For the 10th anniversary edition, the Wrangler Rubicon comes in your choice of a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission matched to the 3.6-litre Pentastar VVT V-6 that produces 285 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque.
I was given the six-speed manual version and I must say it was smoother to drive than I thought it would be on the highway and on clear city roads, but a nightmare in stop-and-go traffic. Then again most manuals are horrible to drive in traffic, but most of the time the Wrangler gear shift wobbled around like a battered piñata. Now I need to hold back a bit, because it’s natural for a Jeep to be loud and have its gear shift shake – would it be a Jeep if it didn’t?
Unfortunately, I was unable to do any off-roading in my week, so my driving consisted of regular highway and city roads throughout Toronto. A bit of blame should fall on yours truly for not planning ahead on an off-road adventure.
If I went through some trails, I would’ve experienced its electronic-locking front and rear Dana 44 axles. And when matched with the six-speed manual, the 4.10 axle ratio comes standard and has an impressive crawl ratio of 73.1:1. The 4.10 axle ratio would provide greater torque for pulling, but will lack in high top end speed.
I appreciated the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon for what it was – a hard-working, no-nonsense beast that could take on any adventure. For Jeep fans, this special edition is worth holding out for as it provides you all those extra additions that any Jeep fanatic wants and won’t have to add in themselves.
Away from its rugged off-roading style, it was comfortable to drive in the city as long as you stay away from rush hour. So don’t think of it as just a heavy-duty trail seeker – it can deliver a smooth ride in real world conditions. My tester ended up being $46,985, but you can get it starting at $34,840 after a consumer cash discount online. Not a bad price considering that the regular FJ Cruiser starts at $33,440 and the cheapest Land Rover, the LR2 starts at $39,990.
LUNDBRECK, AB – The GMC Sierra has been a staple in the GMC lineup accounting for close to 50 percent of its sales in Canada. With the modernization of the truck game upon us, it was time for the Sierra to receive its upgrade after seven years without any major changes. General Motors went to task on both their leading haulers, the GMC Sierra and the Chevy Silverado.
It’s nice to see and hear about the new technology and modern twists that the all-new third generation Sierra gets, but the people at General Motors felt that we would appreciate the new Sierra by experiencing the trucker lifestyle. The place was conveniently named the Sierra West Ranch near Lundbreck, but it was a beautiful choice to experience the Alberta hills and farmland. That would be our resting stop for the next day where we would be camping, horseback riding, driving up rolling hills and driving through creeks. Ah the trucker lifestyle!
While driving closer to the ranch all we saw were trucks with fewer and fewer sedans and SUVs in sight. Whether we saw the Chevy Silverado, Ford F-150, Dodge Ram or this very own Sierra – it seemed like we were heading to the truck homeland. The perfect scene was set to see why GMC was calling the Sierra the most advanced truck in their 111-year history.
There are four trims available for the GMC Sierra (Sierra, SLE, SLT and Denali), but we were only able to test out the 5.3L V-8 SLT Crew Cab.
The GMC has stayed true to its origins by keeping its blocky truck look. Its shape predominantly stays the same, but accents are felt everywhere else. Major standouts are the chrome grille surrounds and black wheel arch moldings that make that front GMC logo pop. Right beside the grille are large projector headlamps with available LED signature lighting that complete the eye-catching Sierra look and distance it from their lower-tiered brother in the Chevrolet Silverado.
Heading to the backside, the addition of flared fenders gives the Sierra a more rugged and menacing look. In some of the Sierra’s that were available, the bumper had steps shaped into the corners creating a step-stool allowing for easier access to the truck bed.
A Look Inside
Almost all the top truck competitors are paying plenty of attention to the interior and the GMC Sierra is no different. This is where you see the upscale refinements made to the Sierra that separates it from the Silverado.
The interior is large to say the least. The front seats are broad and comfy with plenty of headroom and legroom. Surrounding the interior cabin are premium materials including soft-touch plastics and aluminum finishes.
Front and center on the Sierra SLT is a nicely organized entertainment console featuring a standard eight-inch colour touch screen with IntelliLink connectivity. I found it easy to navigate through the various radio stations, phone options, and GPS. The touch screen was large, organized and in my opinion fit the style of the average truck driver. I liked the fact that the Sierra offered sizeable knobs and buttons directly below the touchscreen, which are easier to use while in transit and stays consistent with most of the trucks in the market today.
And if that’s not enough connectivity for you – the Sierra has a centrally located 4.2-inch colour Driver Information Center located above the steering wheel. You can access a lot of data such as vehicle status information, a trip computer, radio information and navigational directions.
There are plenty of storage compartments throughout the cabin and the people at General Motors showed them off by placing a number of small and large water bottles in the cup holders and side door panels. In addition to the convenient cup positions, the Sierra had two glove boxes on top of each other, as well as one of the deepest centre consoles that could easily fit an Ipad and much more.
It’s clear that the new Sierra wasn’t going to be shy on connectivity. Inside you will find a 110-volt outlet, five USB ports, four 12-volt outlets and an SD card slot.
Under the Hood and On the Road
General Motors offer three all-new engines for both the Sierra and Silverado that as a whole attend to the needs of any truck driver. As mentioned, all of the Sierra’s on this trip were the all-new 5.3-litre EcoTec3 V-8 SLTs that whip up 355 hp and 383 lb.-ft. of torque. Later this year, you can opt for the 6.2-litre V-8 that ups the ante with 420 hp and 450 lb.-ft. of torque. The other new option is a 4.3L V-6 EcoTec3 engine with 285 hp and an impressive 305 lb.-ft. of torque – the most of any standard V-6 in its segment.
The 5.3 SLT is fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission that can be used in rear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive. Our drive from downtown Calgary to the Sierra West Ranch was a lengthy three-hour journey. However, it was very relaxing and comfortable throughout the highway-concentrated drive. It felt like we were in a premium SUV as the cabin was so quiet. This might have been helped by the Sierra’s noise reduction updates from the mirrors to the triple-sealed inlaid doors to the roof and tailgate design all aimed for a quiet ride.
All of the trim levels are equipped with electric power steering that made turning predictable and easy to handle around some curvy roads. The weight of the truck wasn’t felt and we were able to manoeuvre it around effortlessly.
What makes the Sierra stand out is its cylinder deactivation, direct injection and continuously variable valve timing that keeps it both powerful and decent on gas. Under light loads conditions, the cylinder deactivation system uses oil pressure to disable four of the cylinders on the V-8 engine – turning it into a V-4. This helps out fuel economy in a big way as we combined for 11.4 L/ 100 km. The breakdown of fuel economy numbers provided were 13.0 L/ 100 km in city and 8.7L/ 100 km on the highway, which is considered the best in their class.
Forward Collision Alert, Lane Departure Warning and front and rear parking sensors are all offered as options in a package called the Driver Alert package. The main draw in this package is GMC’s Driver Attention Alert where vibrating pulses are activated on your lower seat cushion to alert you of upcoming potential dangers that are occurring based on your driving actions or vehicles around you.
After camping for the night, our next mission was to tow our camping trailers back to Calgary. This was going to be a good test for me since my towing experience starts and stops after a full 25 minutes in a Ford F-150. I put it in tow/haul mode and I was ready for the challenge.
The Sierra 5.3L SLT offers a towing capacity of up to 11,500 pounds, which is class-leading and more than enough to move our 5,000-pound trailer. The trailer was 28-ft wide, so it filled up almost the entire lane I was driving in, so I needed to be careful.
With all trucks, towing capability is high on the list and the Sierra didn’t disappoint. When driving down flat roads or highway, you couldn’t feel all that weight behind you. Yes, the acceleration was a little slower, but it didn’t worry me or change my driving style.
On hill climbs, it was a bit different, but expected. Our speed dropped about 15-20 km going up the hill, so you really needed some more throttle and at times I hit 4,000 rpms to get back up to speed.
Braking was no sweat thanks to the four-wheel disc brakes with Duralife brake rotors on the Sierra. Concern over having to sharply brake is always present, especially in the pouring rain we were in, but I felt no push or sway from the backside and stopped at a reasonable pace and distance. The GM-exclusive Duralife rotors provided quiet braking with minimal vibration.
While towing, I noticed the cylinder deactivation kick in at times, but only by seeing the green V-4 on my dash. You can’t feel the physical transition at all – a big bonus for those that have to do some long distance towing. We were able to achieve a reasonable 25.5L/ 100 km on the drive back to Calgary with one stopover.
The GMC Sierra 1500 has been refreshed to take on the trucking community with a strong package of power, connectivity, fuel economy and towing capability. In order to keep up with the Ford F-150s and Dodge Rams, GMC knew they had to elevate the Sierra’s interior into a more noticeable premium brand and they achieved that while simultaneously creating further separation and distinction from the Chevy Silverado.
The Sierra’s trio of engines are vastly improved from the outgoing model and provide a nice choice for the various truck drivers in the automotive community that can range from the heavy towers to the fuel-conscious.
The base Sierra starts at $31,615 and the SLT we tested starts at $44,155. Prices are higher than both the Dodge Ram and Ford F-150, so that might sway your decision. I understand that the GMC brand is considered a luxury brand, but in order to attract a bigger consumer base they might have to shave off some of that price tag. To rationalize it, General Motors should equate it to the way the food industry is going. There’s been a transitional shift to casual moderately-priced scratch cooking restaurants and away from the stuffy higher-end type place. That’s no different from the automotive industry and I think GMC models would be much more successful with that business model.
Outside of the price, there’s nothing really bad I can say about the GMC Sierra. Test it for yourself and see if it suits your lifestyle. It stood tall in all of the challenges that came its way and showed off a good mix of power and luxury with a big boost of technology. I’m not a trucker by any means, but living that lifestyle for two days – it seems that mix worked just fine for me.
Dearborn, MI – For the past few years, Ford has been focused on fuel efficiency and providing a nice roster of vehicles for every type of person or family. Ford’s hard work shows its presence in the new 2014 Ford Fiesta revealed at their Year End Model Preview in Dearborn, Michigan.
The subcompact market sales have been on the rise and competition has been growing. Ford has paid plenty of attention to this market and they believe their smallest car, the Fiesta, can provide consumers with the best package for the best value.
We were able to take the new Fiestas out for a spin around Dearborn and it was a fun little car to drive around. Part of Ford’s global platform called One Ford focuses on designing vehicles that have an emotional appeal and the Fiesta refresh for 2014 is no different.
Initial Glance and a Look Inside
To the naked eye there isn’t much change to the exterior. It looks very similar to the 2013 model, except for a small change to a wide-mouthed front grill and some colours additions including Blue Candy and Green Envy to add the flamboyance and party vibe the Fiesta gives off.
A lot of the restyling of the 2014 Fiesta was focused on the interior and especially the instrument panel. Coming standard in the Titanium model and optional in the other trims is MyFord Touch. MyFord Touch has been improved with simplified voice commands, upgraded voice recognition, a redesigned navigation screen and a simplified phone pairing process.
A soft-touch upper dash grabs your attention, as well as a new meaty steering wheel that has a tilt/telescoping feature. Ford has taken the time and effort to refine and aesthetically update the Fiesta making it a top-of-the-line product in its segment.
The interior upscale design efforts by Ford are easily noticeable, but simultaneously noticeable is the limited space the Fiesta provides, especially in the back seats. I guess it’s rare to see some nice styling in a subcompact which might lead to a little confusion. I think that was a compliment to Ford? Yup, it was.
To keep with the Fiesta fun, Ford has created 90,000-plus feature combinations to ensure that any Fiesta can be unique for any lifestyle. Further to this point, each Fiesta owner can customize their own exterior graphics to show off the vehicle or your own flair. Not sure if you can show off 37 pieces of flair, but in the very least you will be able to express yourself.
Under the Hood and On the Road
It might only have a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder engine that churns a whopping 120 hp and 112 lb.-ft. of torque, but it surprisingly has some pep in its step. If you’re peddling hard – it definitely feels faster and its light handling performs well on curvy roads and turns.
The Fiesta is front-wheel drive and with the base 1.6-litre engine you get the choice of a five-speed manual transmission or the optional six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.
There are other engine options available for the Fiesta starting with the 1.0-litre, three-cylinder EcoBoost engine available in late 2013. This diminutive engine has grabbed a lot of attention in the automotive world as it just might be a glance into the future. As small as it is, it’s able to have plenty of power (123 hp and an eye-popping 148 lb.-ft. of torque) and provide much better fuel consumption at the same time. Its trick is the combination of lightweight materials, direct fuel injection, a turbo charge and variable valve timing. Once released, Ford assures us that the 1.0-litre Fiesta will be considered the most fuel-efficient non-hybrid vehicle in North America.
The other engine choice is found in the Fiesta ST, geared to the sporty-type of driver who enjoys more of an action drive. The Fiesta ST gets a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine delivering 197 hp at 6000 rpm and 202 lb.-ft. of torque at 3500 rpm. It’s geared solely for the car enthusiast as it’s only mated to a six-speed manual transmission.
The Fiesta ST will get a lot of stylish cues similar to its older brother, the Focus ST. It will have a meshed honeycomb grill, a lowered sport-tuned suspension and comfy bucket seats with the option of sporty Recaro seats.
In terms of driving, I can only talk about the regular 1.6-litre engine as that was the only one available to drive. The Fiesta feels fast, but isn’t that quick overall – a good recipe for any economical car geared to the youth. I had the five-speed automatic that was in desperate need of a sixth gear on the Dearborn highways. The clutch is light and easy to manoeuvre, but I seemed to bang my elbow into the vehicle console box when putting it into second gear several times. Outside of my own issues, the steering is respectable with assistance coming from the electric power steering system allowing for a nice driving feel.
A drawback I found with the new Fiesta was its bumpy ride on the streets. Nowadays, many new vehicles place noise and bump resistance as a key feature and unfortunately I felt plenty of the cracks and potholes along my short route. On the flip side, highway driving did seem quiet and smooth.
In terms of fuel economy, the Fiesta is rated at 6.9L/100 km in the city and 5.1L/100 km on the highway. We only went for a short drive, so I don’t have the numbers to show you for the drive. I will have to test it out when it becomes available in the Ford press fleet and see if the Fiesta achieves Ford’s goal of being a fuel economy leader in its segment.
The base Fiesta Hatch S starts at $17,682, there is a second-tier model called the SE that starts at $19,466, while the Titanium that I tested starts at $22,885. The titanium is a sizeable jump in price, but it does come with some nice added features mentioned such as MyFord Touch, heated leather seats, heated side mirrors, a Sony premium audio, and much more. Whether that’s worth it to you – only you can decide. Just be warned that the base model has manual windows, so most might fall into the SE category.
Ford has come a long way to build-up their smaller vehicles and have one of the freshest showrooms in the industry. The Fiesta is a star in the subcompact sector and easily competes if not surpasses the competition that includes the Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio, Chevy Sonic, and many others. The Fiesta will only be made more exciting when the 1.0-litre EcoBoost engine and ST model become available. Ford continues to develop and improve the Fiesta that should provide a fun, fuel-efficient and emotional connection with its young audience.
Newberg, Oregon – There’s no doubt about it – the Acura MDX is an important vehicle for the Acura brand. For the past six years, the MDX has been the best-selling vehicle for Acura accounting for a third of their total sales.
However, over the past few years, Acura’s brand as a whole has seen their sales numbers decrease in North America. With the onset of the third-generation seven-seat performance MDX, they were going to attempt to make no mistakes with this one. So what could Acura do to the MDX for a refresh?
Well the answer is a lot.
Acura is calling the MDX – The Driver’s SUV for its superb handling, sportier feel, luxurious interior and enhanced connectivity. It’s built on a larger, but lighter platform with an all-new body, chassis, and engine.
For this first drive, Acura brought us Canadian journalists to the greener pastures of Newberg, Oregon just 25 minutes from Portland. This area was surrounded by forests and farmland, but the best part about it was that it was filled with windy roads. A perfect location to test out Acura’s new and improved MDX and its Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD).
The first thing that stares at you are the MDX’s new LED exterior signature headlight design called “Jewel Eye”. It’s always nice to have a signature look that helps identify your brand to others and the Jewel Eye design definitely does that. The Jewel Eye LEDs showcase five circular LED bulbs horizontally displayed giving the MDX a sleek and modern look. While driving in the dark, these LEDs provide 25-metres more of down road visibility.
Outside of the LEDs, I noticed a few body lines and typical sculpted shape, but there’s not much detail to go into it. Acura has stuck with a conservative approach with their seven-seater to hopefully appeal to a broader segment.
It’s hard to tell, but the MDX is 50mm longer after extending its wheelbase and adding more cargo space – a much needed improvement for those large families actually seating seven. Even though the MDX is longer, Acura looked into narrowing it to allow for easier parking and for it to look less like a van.
A Look Inside
First thing I can say is what a big all-around improvement! Acura listened to other’s comments and made the MDX more technologically functional and simplistic at the same time.
Inside you will find a new touchscreen, new steering controls and a new instrument cluster that’s shaped like a wristwatch if you’re not a fan of touch. It might seem confusing by looking at two screens at times, but it beats looking at 41 buttons in the outgoing model. That number has been reduced to nine – a welcomed improvement.
There’s definitely more functionality with the new MDX, but they could have done a better job in the way it looks. It almost seems as if they were catering to an older generation with large icons and boxy and boring fonts. Not sure why they would invest all this time in modernizing their system without looking at it from a style perspective.
A stand-out feature in the front is its versatile centre console. It has many different compartments as you can open several and shift others. The main feature is a very convenient and safe deep storage that can fit an iPad or purse. It also has a slide out wood tray with rubberized strips to hold and keep objects from sliding off during travel. While driving, we tested an iPhone on the tray and it impressively didn’t shift at all. Now at least somebody is thinking practically, I couldn’t tell you how many times my iPhone has been flung to the ground while driving.
A major attraction for families is interior space and roominess. Overall, passenger volume has decreased, but with the help of a second-row slide and fold function (similar to the one its rival the Infiniti JX35 showed off last year), access to the third-row seating only takes a few touches. The second row can slide up 100mm and can slide back 50mm if no one is seated back there. I tested out the third row seating which was easy enough to get into, but truly not meant for adults. The headroom is there, but the legroom can be challenging and good luck getting out. The slide and fold function on the MDX is not as remarkable as the JX35, but at least it’s a step in the right direction.
On the bright side, the MDX shows off its luxurious appeal with an automatic side step that greets you when you enter and exit the vehicle.
As you sit back in the third row, you can treat yourself to a movie or the kids can play some video games on the 16.2” rear display screen only found with the top-of-the-line Elite model. The cool part about the screen is that it can split into two screens to appease most kids and avoid many of those National Lampoon’s Vacation arguments in the back seat.
Under the Hood
The 2014 Acura MDX has an all-new 3.5L i-VTEC V-6 engine with direct injection that produces 290 hp and 267 lb.-ft. of torque. All MDX’s are fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and with their SH-AWD drivetrain.
The engine is smaller and it produces less hp than its outgoing model (3.7L and 300 hp in previous 2013 model), but it’s part of their new Earth Dreams technology that features a smaller engine, a direct injection system and a weight loss of 131 kgs that delivers low-end torque along with a faster ride and better fuel economy.
Acura’s goal was to make the new MDX a sportier SUV and calm their potential customer fears of lower horsepower, so they took it to the Nürburgring race track in Germany to test out their new engine. After several laps of testing, the 2014 MDX averaged eight seconds quicker than the 2013 model – an accomplishment that can silence even their best critics.
As for fuel economy, Acura’s figures of 9.6L/100km combined and 11.2L and 7.7L in the city and on the highway respectively are class leaders. This is a large improvement from 2013 that saw a reduction of 2.0L/100 km in the city and 1.9L/100 km on the highway. Focus on fuel economy is paramount and the MDX really struts its stuff over the JX35, the Audi Q7 and the BMW X5.
On The Road
Many complaints in the outgoing model centered on engine noise, vibration and steering. Acura aimed at correcting those concerns with an all-new rear and front suspensions. Jim Keller, the MDX Large Project Leader pointed out that the new multi-link and damper technology cut noise transmission from reducing five input valves to three. Furthermore, the damper loads now pass through the side frame as opposed to the wheelhouse. The front suspension has amplitude reactive dampers allowing damping force to be reduced and other technologies that try their best to cancel vibration.
I’m not too big on exact details, but Keller really took his time at explaining this, so Acura was very proud of these accomplishments. All that you need to know is that whatever they did – they did it well! In my four hours behind the wheel, I hardly noticed any road noise and it was a smooth ride throughout. In a luxury SUV, the most important features outside of luxury are comfort and quietness and Acura exceeded their goals with the new MDX.
When driving the 2014 Acura MDX you can really tell that it’s not your typical three-row SUV. Its SH-AWD allows for greater traction, while its Agile Handling Assist (AHA) minimizes response delay by providing smooth vehicle action through turns. As you accelerate, the MDX power stays consistent throughout for a smooth ride even when you want to be a bit more aggressive.
Steering is direct and can turn into corners quicker and with accuracy. That might be from the AWD system’s torque vectoring that takes over and makes cornering smoother. This system can be very useful in Canada especially during Canadian winters.
The MDX has three different driving modes (comfort, normal and sport) that are catered to your driving style or preference for that day. In most cases, family members have different driving styles which can be annoying to change the settings on a constant basis. No need to worry though, Acura’s Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) eliminates all that fuss by allowing you to program your individual settings to the key fob. In the Elite trim, your key fob gets even more exciting as it can remote start from 100 metres away. It also customizes the restart based on the current climate. If the temperature dips below 7 Celsius the heated features within the vehicle start functioning such as the heated steering wheel and seats, as well as defrosting the outside mirrors and rear windshield. A great service to have on those cold winter days.
If you’re into that technology, you will love the other techy driving features found in the MDX Elite trim. You will be provided with a Surround View Camera System that offers six different camera views for help with parking, as well as an exclusive to Canada camera button for instant access to the system whenever you need it. In addition, you will receive Adaptive Cruise Control with low-speed follow, Lane Keeping Assist system, as well as Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning that are both found starting in the second-level Navi trim.
I tested out the Lane Keeping Assist system for a bit and the MDX steers itself on the highway when you need that extra stretch during a long drive. Just a few notes on this one, in order for this to be activated you need to press the menu steering switch found on the steering wheel plus the lane keep assist button below it and be driving over 70 km/h. This took a little practice, but after some instruction I figured it out and it steered the ship for me for at least a kilometer. I wouldn’t recommend doing this, as it’s more of a safety feature, but you never know when you might need it during some tiring long drives.
The true test of a driver SUV is to not feel like you’re driving an SUV - it’s as simple as that. With its quicker acceleration and better steering feel, the 2014 MDX at times makes you forget about the kids in the back. Not that you want that to happen, but at least if you want to take a break from the kids – you have that option.
The MDX starts at a reasonable $49,990 and works its way up three other trim levels to the Elite which can be had for $65,990. Acura is estimating their 2014 model to sell 6,000 units per year with the second-level Navi package at $54,690 selling the most. The Navi trim comes with 19” wheels, navigation, a 10-speaker ELS premium audio system, blind spot information system, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning and AcuraLink (a digital service offering a broad range of convenience, media and emergency services including an optional premium concierge service).
Acura is taking no chances on improving their MDX, which they call, the pride of their fleet. They have listened to many concerns and upgraded their engine, body, chassis and suspension and loaded it with technology.
The MDX will appeal to many for its sporty and smooth drive with added comfort for the family. Throw in a luxurious cabin, safety technology and class-leading fuel economy numbers and you’re going to have a winner. That combination is hard to find in a vehicle with three rows. There is stiff competition in this segment with the Infiniti JX35, Audi Q7, BMW X5 and many more, but I believe Acura has done enough for the MDX to stand tall and reach its goals amongst its rivals.
The 2014 Acura MDX will be produced at its manufacturing plant in Lincoln, Alabama and will go on sale to Canadians in mid-July.
Drumheller, AB – When you think trucks and throw Alberta in the mix I wanted to arrive to the Ford F-150 event with a mesh trucker hat and belt buckle for my first ever truck review. But the reality is this trip wasn’t about going cross country in a heavy tractor trailer, but learning and experiencing what the Ford F-150 can do.
The Ford F-150 customer is not that made-up trucker you see in the movies. The F-150 caters to everyone and can be customized to your liking – a big reason why it’s the best-selling truck in Canada for 47 years strong. Ford’s F-Series is their line of full pick-up trucks that sold over 100,000 units in Canada last year and the F-150 is by far their most popular.
The key test for me was to see whether I would enjoy driving the F-150 and whether I can picture myself owning one of these bad boys one day. You have to understand, I’m a type of guy that enjoys a compact car like the Volkswagen Golf much more than a Range Rover SuperCharged. OK maybe it would have to be the GTI version. This truck thing was a new venture, but you can always take some positives out of any new experience.
The people at Ford Canada set us up with a great roster of F-150 vehicles ranging from the XLT to the Platinum version with a top-of-the-line Limited on display. It’s tough to keep track of all the variations, as there are so many – 10 trim levels in total and that doesn’t include all the customizations that can be done. All of the F-150s that we saw were at an FX2 level or higher, so for this review I will only be covering those trucks.
Drumheller, Alberta was a perfect setting for this event as it just represents country life in the heart of the badlands of east-central Alberta just 110 kilometres north of Calgary. It’s also known as Dinosaur Valley from its history of dinosaur fossil findings and home to the Royal Tyrell Museum of Palaeontology, a museum that we were lucky enough to visit that holds Canada’s largest collection of dinosaur fossils. There isn’t a major intersection you pass in Drumheller where you don’t see a friendly sculptured dinosaur. The town is a scene right out of a movie between the Red Deer River, mountains, hoodoos and the non-operational and current tourist attraction – the Atlas Coal Mine.
Back to the F-150 we go…
Most of the F-150s have a similar shape except for the SVT Raptor. When it comes to a feeling each F-150 provides – well there’s many to choose from that can range from a western-style King Ranch to a luxurious Limited version for the posh clientele. Yes posh! There’s not many, but apparently some are lurking around.
One thing each F-150 received is a new grille that provides a muscular feel featuring three chrome horizontal slabs with a perforated mesh inside in the Platinum, King Ranch and Limited versions; while the XLT gets a two-bar chrome version without the mesh. The SVT Raptor can easily be identified from its large black block lettering of Ford centered in the middle of the grille instead of the their typical blue oval logo and surrounded by a perforated brick wall emphasizing its toughness.
Starting at the FX2 level and above, the F-150s are given new HID headlight pods that put out two-and-a-half times more light than the standard halogen bulbs. In terms of styling, these headlights stand out with an F-150 badge situated inside of the cluster. A striking finishing touch!
As for that Limited version mentioned above – it’s for those few who are looking for luxury and have the money to pay for it. Just think luxury and it’s in there including sharp red leather interior, 22-inch aluminum wheels and a sportier suspension.
A Look Inside
As you enter the F-150 you’re greeted by a tailgate step that’s very handy for all especially if you’re vertically challenged. Once you’ve taken your step and hopped right in – you definitely don’t feel like you’re in a truck. Wow have we come along way! I was looking for the steel bench.
The bench is a complete exaggeration, but all of the F-150s tested came with leather seat and dash interiors, chrome or wooden accent options and an abundance of technology. Ford has modernized the F-150 at par with many of their touches found in their SUVs like the Edge and Explorer. Each model has their own interior touch and feel with the Lariat having a Steel grey interior and the King Ranch having a black interior, but as in all F-150s you can tailor your interior how you like it as if you were ordering takeout at Harvey’s.
Front and center you will find the MyFord Touch entertainment console with a 4.2-inch LCD productivity screen coming standard on the dash or choose the upgraded 8-inch screen that includes navigation. Don’t worry about those precious knobs and buttons – Ford has made sure to keep them positioned below the MyFord Touch with all of its capabilities.
The system is geared for truck drivers as the touch sensitive buttons can still be used with work gloves on. The technology is so advanced that you can set your trailer tow settings and brake settings with ease through the press of a few buttons found next to the speedometer.
Under the Hood
There are four different engine choices all fitted to a six-speed automatic transmission starting with the 3.7L V-6 that produces 302 hp and 278 lb.-ft. of torque; 5.0L V-8 producing 360 hp and 380 lb.-ft. of torque; a 3.5L 4-valve EcoBoost producing 365 hp and 420 lb.-ft. of torque; and finally the 6.2L V-8 producing 411 hp and 434 lb.-ft. of torque.
As in the truck style choices, each engine choice can cater to what you’re looking for. If fuel economy is important to you – you might veer to the 3.7L V-6; if you’re in the hunt for truck payload, you would shift towards the 5.0L V-8; and if you do a lot of towing the 6.2L V-8 would be the answer. The variances are not large, so keep in mind your decision shouldn’t be as basic as I just pointed out. According to Darren Halabisky, Marketing Plans Manager for Trucks for Ford Canada, all dealerships are trained to thoroughly explain and customize the perfect F-150 to your needs. Just keep in mind that all engine choices are not offered for every trim level, so the dealership negotiation can be a complicated affair. I’m getting a headache just thinking about it, so I would make sure you do your research beforehand.
On The Road
We had the pleasure to drive these F-150s in a number of scenarios including towing, payload, fuel economy test and off-roading to show off its versatility. It was well planned as on most cases there’s a designated driving loop that we follow, but in the end we just might not experience the vehicles full potential. But I guess we’re talking trucks here, so really figuring out what it can do becomes a necessity.
We will get to all the exciting activities later, but I first wanted to go through some regular driving under normal conditions. As we arrived to the Calgary airport, we we’re greeted by a number of F-150s. We chose the F-150 Platinum version and were ready to roll to Drumheller. The Platinum trim can be found at the top of the food chain, just below the Limited and Raptor versions starting at $51,849. For a truck, I was amazed by the smoothness of the ride. We travelled on the highway and through local traffic with just a little engine noise. The quick and direct steering was effortless and at no time did it feel like driving a truck. That’s what blew my mind the most.
Our first task was to take the 3.7L V-6 XLT (starts at $22,449) on a fuel economy test through the badlands. This drive was presented as a challenge between groups featuring a drive through some valley dips, the old Atlas coal mine and back up a steep hill. I took the first leg and reached an amazing 8.9L/100 km, but once we reached the mine and got distracted by the coal miner as well as plenty of photo opportunities – our numbers climbed to 9.8L/ 100 km, eventually ending at 9.6L/100 km. Impressive numbers to say the least for a 4X4 that weighs a smidge under 5,000 lbs.
Off-Road, Towing and Payload Capabilities
Now to the fun stuff – towing, payload and off-roading.
We were back in the 3.7L V-6 XLT for some towing. It provided us with 10,800 lb. of towing capacity, so to test it out we loaded it with a trailer holding a Bobcat. This would be another first for me, but once again the driving route was a breeze. I utilized Ford’s advanced technology by setting the tow/haul transmission settings and was on my way. The weight was felt behind me, but it wasn’t too overwhelming. The XLT climbed those steep hills and directed the trailing Bobcat wherever I was going. The all-new power scope tow mirrors were a necessity in guiding the trailer and I got used to it immediately and more importantly became comfortable in the process.
The next test was payload and our tester was the F-150 King Ranch (starts at $51,249) with its cowboy feel and rattlesnake touches throughout the truck. We hauled 1,000 lb. in the back and cruised throughout the town. It was incredible how easy it was going up these hills which isn’t a small feet for any vehicle that isn’t even carrying anything with them. These challenges showed off the F-150s talents and it showed the security and comfort it provides to truck drivers on a daily basis.
The pièce de résistance was saved for last – the off-road course with the SVT Raptor (starts at $56,599). It wasn’t the most challenging off-road course, but had various climbs, dips and some tricky tight corners. Once again technology was utilized with Ford’s hill descent control system that does most of the work on those wild descents. All of the work is basically done for you by the technology – you’re just a passenger with only maneuvering abilities.
After a few rounds of hill descent control in four-wheel drive amateur hour was over and it was time for some fun. The hill descent control was deactivated and two-wheel drive was employed. The Raptor came to life in dinosaur country and tackled every obstacle in its sight. A big assist when climbing those hills is the new forward-looking camera that allows you to see what’s happening in front – an extremely useful tool as you’re driving blind.
Ford did a nice job in showing off their F-150 lineup and its various capabilities. There were only a few changes made to the exterior and interior, but it was a nice refresher of why the F-150 is the best-selling truck in Canada for the past 47 years. Competition is on the rise from the Chevrolet Silverado, Dodge Ram, Toyota Tundra and GMC Sierra, so Ford has to keep one eye on the prize and the other eye on behind them.
For my first truck test, I was amazed at how many different things a truck can accomplish while keeping great fuel efficiency numbers. If you’re thinking about getting a truck, but can’t see yourself as a truck driver, I would go to your local dealership and try it out. It’s amazing how far the trucking business has come and how much the ride feels like an SUV.
If you make your decision to purchase an F-150 be prepared for which version you want, because that could be another hassle in itself, but I trust the sales people are very knowledgeable in their products. Starting prices vary considerably from the base XL at $17,499 all the way up to the SVT Raptor at $56,599. Keep in mind that the average customer falls in the XLT range that starts at $22,449 and the goodies like MyFord Touch and the HID headlamps among many other additions become standard at the FX2 level that starts at $30,649. The best part is you can customize it any way you like, so if you’re that unique individual that wants to stand out – you can have your F-150 your way!
Back in 2011 at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, I amongst many others was witness to the unveiling of Ford’s smaller, but environmentally friendly C-Max to the North American market. Ford presented the C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid and the C-Max Hybrid indicating their vision of bringing a little bit of Europe across the pond.
The C-Max might be new to North America, but it’s been selling in Europe since 2003, commonly known as the Ford Focus C-Max. The C-Max is a subcompact hatch that seems to be the fuel efficient norm in Europe unlike the North American SUV craze. However, with no sight of a decline on gas prices, fuel efficiency has become the number one talking point amongst manufacturers. In bringing the C-Max duo to North America, Ford has initiated a plan to become a leader in the hybrid department and a competitor for the Toyota Prius.
The C-Max is offered in two trims, the base SE that starts at $27,199 and the SEL that finds itself a smidge over $30K at $30,199. This review will focus only on the C-Max Hybrid SE, as I took it for a week-long test around the city of Toronto.
When first looking at the C-Max Hybrid, it’s hard to tell whether it’s a hatch or minivan from its unique in-between shape. Its quirkiness grows on you throughout the week and it’s distinguished as a Ford immediately with its Aston Martin-type trapezoid grille found on many of the latest Ford vehicles. The stimulating grille is accompanied by sleek halogen headlamps and for the SEL trim fog lights creating a striking sculpted look.
The C-Max is close to the same size as the Ford Focus that it’s based on, but you will see some differences in height and length. It’s a foot taller than the Focus, which is really noticeable in the headroom you have in the front and rear seats. In its length, it’s slightly smaller than the Focus hatch as it spans 173.6 inches.
A Look Inside
The cabin is exceptional for a green vehicle. The one thing I can’t stand about the Prius is the interior. It’s almost as if Toyota purposely planned their green machine to be dull and boring for their customers to only focus on the mileage and money saved while driving. The C-Max is modern and filled with technology and has reminiscent touches from Ford’s Escape, Fusion and Focus vehicles. The front seats are comfortable as you nestle in for your drive with seat heaters at your disposal, if you so choose. Call me crazy, but one of the best features I enjoyed were the interior chrome door handles. They really allow you to pull and grip, which seem to be lacking in most vehicle. For some reason, the door handles intrigued me – maybe I like to slam doors shut, who knows?
Naturally with all Ford products, the C-Max has the MyFord Touch entertainment screen with two LCD screens on each side of the speedometer to easily adjust whatever you like while driving eliminating any distraction. And for all you people like me who enjoy the feel of knobs and buttons – the C-Max has audio and climate adjustments below the MyFord Touch system. The perfect combination of touchscreens and knobs that will appease most customers.
The C-Max Hybrid might seem small, but if need be, it has 52.6 cu. ft. of cargo space when you fold the rear seats flat. Even with the rear seats up right, you still get 24.5 cu. ft. of room.
Under the Hood
The C-Max Hybrid SE is fitted with a 2-litre Atkinson-cycle four-cylinder engine paired with an AC-synchronous 88-kW electric traction motor. This combination along with a lithium-ion battery pack produces 188 horsepower and 129 lb.-ft. of gas engine torque. The numbers might seem low, but the C-Max definitely has some pep in its step.
The Atkinson technology used by the C-Max allows it to run on pure battery for a longer time similar to the Prius. You really don’t notice much of a change at all as it transitions from pure EV mode to gas. The smooth transitions seem to really highlight the C-Max’s capabilities.
On the Road
When you start up the C-Max it feels like you’re saving money and the environment instantly with no engine sound whatsoever. It’s a nice little package to drive as well, as I flung it around throughout the week. The C-Max isn’t the vehicle you go full throttle with, but if you want to get adventurous it corners quite well. The steering feel is perfect and has a nice fat part at the nine and three points of the steering wheel to help you direct the C-Max all over the place. It just turns on a dime with no oversteer or understeer at all, as well as very little body roll. I didn’t expect this much responsiveness with the C-Max heading into this test, so I was very impressed with the way it moved and cornered.
If you want to drive normally, as the C-Max was intended, it drives effortlessly as you cruise the city or go run some errands while saving you money at the pump. And if you’re a driver, with parallel parking issues – the C-Max can fit easily into many spaces. If you’re still nervous about parking, the upper-tier SEL trim offers Ford’s Active Park Assist at an additional $2,500 charge.
Now to the most important feature of the C-Max – the fuel economy numbers. There has been many reports that Ford’s numbers of 4.0L/100 km in the city and 4.1L/100 km on the highway are out of whack with reality. I can tell you that out of whack is a stretch, but the numbers are indeed higher. In the week of mostly city driving, I combined to reach 6.0L/100 km – a solid number, but not at the level of the Toyota Prius v (their hatch version).
It’s nice to see that Ford is tackling the environment effort between their C-Max duo, as well as the Ford Fusion Hybrid and EcoBoost engines throughout their lineup. There’s definitely a place for the C-Max Hybrid in Canada and it’s a nice rival for the Toyota Prius v. The Prius does do a better a job in the fuel economy department, but the C-Max makes up for it in both interior and exterior style, space, power and most importantly to some, price. It looks like Ford might have to adjust their fuel economy numbers, but to me 6.0L/100 km is still respectable and will most likely improve next year. Keep an eye out for the C-Max Hybrid, because it’s a nice alternative to the banal-looking Prius.
Looking back at the history and tradition of the North American automotive industry, the Chevrolet Impala has definitely left its mark since its inception in 1958. In 1965, its longer, lower and wider shape along with its three taillight trademark catapulted the Impala to an all-time annual sales record of more than one million units in the United States – a record that still stands today.
Over the past decade, the Impala has taken on a non-enthusiastic large sedan persona focused more towards its fleet business. Similar to the Ford Taurus, many Impalas are seen out on their day jobs as taxi cabs or police vehicles, but the new editions will no longer have that on their resume. General Motors wanted to change that culture and mindset and bring the passion back that existed in its heyday in the late 1950s and 60s.
Currently 70 percent of vehicles in the large sedan car market are fleet vehicles compared to 30 percent going to retail. General Motors feel confident that their new 2014 Impala will reverse that trend with 70 percent of Impalas sold going to retail buyers.
You might skeptically ask how’s that possible?
Having no taxi or police packages are a start, but a complete overhaul from the outgoing model is hoping to do the trick.
After a brief presentation it was time to venture out and test out the tenth generation 2014 Chevrolet Impala. Let’s start to breakdown the 2014 Impala with its new styling – seems like a good starting point.
There were LTs and LTZs (base level is the LS) available for this first drive and of course I had to have the top-of-the-line LTZ. The only external difference between the two is in the grille where you will find a solid black bowtie surrounding the customary bowtie centered on the grille. Surprisingly that extra bowtie is actually for the adaptive cruise control function, an option on the LTZ version, so you will find some LTZ’s without this sharp-looking addition.
The exterior grabs your attention and makes you question whether this 2014 model is really an Impala. The new sculpted body lines stand out the most and smacks of speed and aggression emulating the smooth but quick running and leaping ability of the Antelope where its name derived. If the body lines set the tone for the Impala – the low profile projector-beam HID headlights and LED daytime lights standard on LTZ models set the mood.
Just when you think the overhaul is done the LTZ is fitted with 19-inch wheels (18-inch wheels are standard an upgrade from the 16-inch wheels in the outgoing model) that seem to fit the re-incarnation just well. To cap it off, Chevy added a little historical touch by crafting arched rear fenders resembling the old Impalas we used to love.
The exterior warms you up for the interior design and comfort as you take your seat. You’re greeted with comfortable soft-leather seats along with space, space, and more space. Well I guess that’s how it should be in a full-size sedan. Spaciousness has increased all-around with 45.8-inches of front legroom (an increase of 3.5-inches) and 39.8-inches of rear legroom (an increase of 2.2-inches). If you have a taller frame you might find headroom in the back seat to be slightly challenging, otherwise, just sit back, spread your legs out and enjoy the smooth ride.
Not that it needed any more trunk space, but the Impala has increased its truck space from 18.6 cu-ft. to 18.8 cu.-ft. to edge a bit closer to its main rival, the Ford Taurus, the only competitor with more junk in its trunk.
Another thing that Chevrolet was excited to talk about was its MyLink interface that’s set to make its debut in the new Impala. This latest version of MyLink is an eight-inch upgraded touchscreen version of the Cadillac Cue that includes mainstream features such as navigation, Bluetooth, SIRIUS satellite radio, and a rear-view camera. What makes it more interesting is that it also provides you natural voice recognition, 3-D mapping, gesture recognition where you can swipe, click and drag the touchscreen similar to an iPad, and a valet mode to secure your contacts and information.
MyLink is a nice addition that modernizes the Impala and adds some much needed connectivity and excitement. I did find it to be a bit slow in comparison to other interfaces, especially with its navigation, but at least it’s easy to understand. The knobs and buttons below the touchscreen help to simplify and quicken any request from audio to climate control.
Just like in any James Bond car there’s a secret storage compartment behind the MyLink touchscreen. All you have to do is press a button and the touchscreen lifts for you to store any precious items. It even has an additional USB port if needed. A little strange to find that in an Impala, but if you can add it – why not?
The Impala comes with three engine choices (2.5L 4-cylinder engine with intake valve lift control, a 2.4L 4-cylinder eAssist and a 3.6L V-6 with direct injection) and in three trim levels (LS, LT and LTZ). The 3.6L engine was the only one off the production line so I can only comment on that one. The 2.5L engine will be the only option for the base LS, but you will have a choice in both the other trim levels.
The 3.6L V-6 LTZ tester provides you all the power you need with 305 hp and 264 lb.-ft. of torque. Power is not a typical standout feature in a full-size sedan, but it’s nice to see that Chevy gave its top trim a boost surpassing the numbers of both the Ford Taurus (290 hp and 255 lb.-ft. of torque) and the Dodge Charger (292 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque). The Impala only comes in front-wheel drive and has a six-speed automatic transmission with manual shifting modes.
The Impala has a smooth confidence to it while driving on regular suburban roads all the way to the country roads of Haliburton, Ontario. The engine is so quiet I could hardly tell how fast I was going and that’s a tribute to not only the quietest Impala ever, but the quietest Chevrolet ever assembled. Statements like that are hard to measure, but along the drive route there were several railroad tracks crossed and I can tell you first hand that noise and vibration were at a minimum. Acceleration was quick and seamless and the steering was precise – a true joy to drive.
Fuel efficiency numbers have slightly improved from the outgoing model. The Impala was rated at 11.1 L/100 km in the city and 6.9L/100 km on the highway for a combined 9.2L/100 km. My country road drive surprisingly came in at 8.1L/100km – not bad and in line with the Ford Taurus, but inferior to the Toyota Avalon.
The 2014 Impala are scheduled to go on sale very shortly starting at a price of $28,445 for the LS (cheapest in its segment) all the way up to the 3.6L LTZ I tested at $39,645. Just be wary of other options such as navigation and adaptive cruise control. They might be a tempting addition, but that will get you quickly up there in price and you don’t want to be spending $45,000 on an Impala.
The middle LT model with the 2.5L 4-cylinder engine looks to be the go-to choice by many starting at a reasonable price of $31,445 and comes standard with 18-inch aluminum wheels, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, as well as the MyLink infotainment system.
After plenty of city, highway and country road driving – it’s pretty clear that General Motors has accomplished their goals with the tenth generation 2014 Chevrolet Impala. It’s transformation from a lacklustre fleet vehicle to a stimulatingly sculpted vehicle rekindled memories of days gone by. Chevrolet has done a remarkable job in providing the perfect balance of power, driving smoothness and comfort. Add in the modernization of the interior and the Impala is re-born. It will take some time for some consumers to change their pre-existing notions, but a complete overhaul was the proper start.
When you go to the Land Rover webpage you come across a slogan for the company: “Why get a car when you can own a Land Rover?” It’s an alluring slogan and depending on the consumer’s needs and desires – it could really hit its target.
Land Rover has always been about off-roading, but over the past decade they’ve been successful in attracting a wealthy urban population that love the luxury and sophistication that comes with owning one. All Land Rover and upper-tier Range Rover models still come equipped with their four modes ready to tackle any terrain through water, sand, mountain or valley. Unfortunately, many of their new clientele never attempt to see what these off-roading boxes can do, but does it matter to them? Not at all – they’re driving a Landy and really that’s all that matters.
For this review we look at the 2013 Land Rover LR2. The LR2 made its first appearance on the market in 1997 labelled the Freelander, which it still is called today in Europe. It’s still in its second-generation that began in 2006, but Land Rover felt it was in need of a refresh.
In late 2011, Land Rover launched the Range Rover Evoque that adopted a modern and sleek style coupled with a cheaper price tag that could bring in more consumers at that entry-level. The question was going to be what would become of the LR2 – Land Rover’s entry-level vehicle?
The LR2 was given the Evoque’s 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine from Ford that cranks 240 horsepower and 250 lb.-ft. of torque. The decision to go with the 2.0-litre engine was easy as it gained 10 more horsepower and 16 more lb.-ft. of torque from the outgoing 3.2-litre six-cylinder engine. The LR2 is fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission and comes in all-wheel drive allowing for driving flexibility depending on the terrain.
I decided to test the refreshed LR2 HSE out similar to the typical Land Rover driver. It went through the streets of Toronto and on some minor excursions to Oakville and Burlington – as I wanted it to feel at home. I chose to start in the optional Sport Mode and the LR2 really showed some pep in its step as it jetted off quickly utilizing its turbo engine. After an initial boost you settle into a quiet and smooth comfortable ride with only a little body roll which is expected.
The LR2’s steering was impressive. Just grab on to its thick black steering wheel and the LR2 will precisely place you in the direction you wish. The steering feel and weight seemed perfect which allowed for total handling control around tight corners without any oversteer or understeer.
The LR2 and the Range Rover Evoque might share the same engine and chassis (the EUCD chassis produced by Volvo and Ford), but they absolutely differ in appearance. As the Evoque has a sleek and curvaceous look, the LR2 stays traditional with its tall, boxy and rugged appearance. While sitting in the LR2, the elevation of your seat allows for great visibility, but still the comforting driving feel of a typical SUV. A two-piece panoramic moonroof invites in some sunlight and satisfyingly boosts the driving experience.
A lot of the more noticeable refreshed tweaks can be found in the exterior. Similar to most luxury manufacturers, Land Rover has added LEDs to their headlights and taillights. The headlights have been improved with the latest Xenon headlamps and LED technology; while the taillights are very striking as dual lights take the very cool shape of the number eight. These enhancements work well with the famous grille that’s always the showpiece for Land Rover and Range Rover models.
More improvements can be seen in the interior starting with a modernized push start/stop button, an electronic parking brake and a Meridian Sound System that features a 380-watt amplifier with 11 loudspeakers. One of the nicer additions is a standard 7-inch colour touchscreen for all of your radio, phone, and navigational needs (navigation is optional). It also doubles as a rear-view camera, which can be found in most luxury vehicles nowadays – another option, but I had it in this HSE model. An interesting addition to the backup camera called “Hitch Assist” might confuse you off the bat. As the LR2 reverses you see an imaginary hitch in the middle of the vehicle that assists in the process of guiding the vehicle to the trailer tow hitch. If you’re interested in towing, the LR2 can tow up to 3,500 pounds – no change from the outgoing model.
Even with all the updates made to the interior – the LR2 still had the feel of an entry-level vehicle. I understand that the feeling is accurate, but it shouldn’t convey that. The simple knobs and buttons below the touchscreen made it easy to manage, but simultaneously provided a non-luxury feel. All-in-all the interior lacked interesting technology for the non-towing Land Rover drivers that could be found in its BMW and Audi competitors.
The LR2’s biggest change is clearly in the new engine, but another attention grabber is the new price. You can now purchase a LR2 for the paltry starting price of $41,885 compared to the $46,220 price tag in 2012. The HSE version with its bells and whistles comes in at $48.885. If you always wanted a Land Rover, but couldn’t justify the price – now might be the time to jump on board.
The LR2’s fuel economy is rated at 12.0 L/100 km in the city and 8.4 L/100 km on the highway compared to 14.1 L/100 km and 9.1 L/100 km respective ratings from the previous year’s model. Now these numbers you always have to take with a grain of salt as they’re tested under controlled conditions in a laboratory simulating the driving environment. I was able to achieve a combined 15.0L/100 km mostly through city driving. Perhaps if I drove the 2012 model it would have been closer to 17.0? Who knows?
The combination of a better price and better fuel economy for a refreshed model is always a good start for any new vehicle buyer. Land Rover has addressed many shortcomings in the LR2 and enhanced its look inside and out. The question is whether that’s enough for buyers to choose it over the Mercedes-Benz GLK, the BMW X3, the Volvo XC60, or the Audi Q5? Yes the LR2 has off-road capabilities and if you’re into that – the LR2 is the best in its class. Between the towing capability, terrain choices and 8.3 inches of ground clearance you would get the full Range Rover experience in the LR2 for a much cheaper price.
However, if you’re choosing based on style and fuel economy – it might be hard to push the LR2. With plenty of emphasis on fuel economy nowadays almost all of the LR2’s competitors except the Volvo XC60 rate better in fuel economy. Furthermore, all of them have seven or eight-speed transmissions, as well as possessing more power with the exception of the Q5. What it comes down to, which it usually does is personal preference. Find out what characteristics you like best and if elevation, prestige and off-road capabilities are important to you than that would be enough to sway some to the Land Rover side.
Recently, colleagues were invited to the Lone Star State of Texas to experience the all new 2014 Mazda6. Here drivers would experience first hand the tautness of the vehicle and how it handles twisting roads and sun-drenched straightaways, but also the get-up-and-go of the all new SKYACTIV powerful, high compression 2.5L four-cylinder engine.
A couple of weeks back I had the GT version of this vehicle for a week, not just a few hours – seven, fun-filled days and nights on all manner of blacktop from highways to rural side roads – some with snow and ice – or frozen and dry in central Ontario.
In other words, a worthy test of a car that is, as a good friend described it, a more than willing runner.
I’m not going to get into the technical side of Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology – I’m certainly not qualified. But I am here to tell you that this vehicle is a marvel of modern engineering and in a reasonably affordable package.
The model I had was the GT with a 6-speed Sport mode automatic transmission and many of the toys now deemed desirable by consumers, including Smart City Brake Support – not sure I experienced this; Radar Cruise Control; Forward Obstruction Warning and High Beam Control system – again, I rarely use any vehicle’s high-beams so I cannot comment. As tested, including the Technology package, the MSRP for this model is $34,495.
Transport Canada specs state that fuel economy ratings (L/100km) are 7.6 city and 5.1 highway. I’m here to tell you that my overall fuel economy in around 600 kilometres of spirited driving with lovely biting Blizzak rubber on the aluminum alloys yielded 6.5. Not too bad at all for a winter drive. I would expect the vehicle will show further improvement in the fuel economy department once a few more clicks are on the odometer; I suspect I was, perhaps the second or third driver this red beauty had welcomed.
The SKYACTIV 2.5L inline 4cylinder engine has an output of 184hp – but it never felt lacking, in spite of this seemingly low number. Merging onto highways from on ramps was done without fear or trepidation that the engine would plonk out at precisely the wrong time and passing was done with ease. This car felt like it had a heart that would run until exhausted.
I mentioned the engineering on this car earlier. Yes, it has SKYACTIV technology – which is way more than just the engine – but the car is now more than 400lbs lighter than the 2013 model – thus yielding better performance and better fuel economy.
It seems as if the Mazda6 has been around forever – in car terms, at least as long as category leaders, the Honda Accord, Toyota. Camry and the up-and-coming Hyundai Sonata.
Truth is, MY14 is the third generation Mazda6 since its introduction to these shores in 2002. Its pedigree is based upon the Mazda 626 which started selling in Canada in 1979, and there were a total of 5 generations of the 626.
Unlike its competition, neither the 626 or Mazda6 has ever set the world on fire with sales. The best sales year ever for the 626 was in 1985 when it sold 12,459 units in Canada. The Mazda6 has never managed to beat that number. It came the closest in 2005 when it sold 11,738 cars.
And since the ‘economic depression’ of 2008, numbers are slowly climbing out of the doldrums; in 2011, 3,676 units were sold in Canada and 5,128 in 2012.
And for 2013? Well, time will tell but with great fuel economy, sporty response and a surprising high-quality interior, Mazda Canada should have a winner on their hands.
But wait, there’s more. Later this summer, a Mazda6 SKYACTIV-D powered by a diesel engine is expected. This even more clean-burning fuel-efficient vehicle is currently available in Europe and promises to challenge German manufacturers with another option. Of course, it will continue to be front wheel drive and will have more torque than the gas-fuelled Mazda 6. With its two-stage turbocharger and no need for fuel additives, it will also burn much cleaner than gasoline-powered internal combustion engines.
Expect this Japanese version to challenge the VW Passat as it offers a choice to diesel-minded consumers. This version is a vehicle I look forward to a lengthy road test; by all accounts, it may well be a category changer.
Further, in a couple of weeks I’ll be taking out the popular CX-5 – Mazda’s number 2 seller, behind the Mazda3.
Having driven a CX-5 late last year, I was disappointed with the power and overall responsiveness of this crossover. However, I am told that this is no longer an issue with the 2014 model – with the same SKYACTIV package as the Mazda6.
Bring it on. Mazda may be ready to assert itself within automotive culture generally, Canada specifically.
And that, in today’s automotive environment, is a very good thing.
Every year many adjustments, tweaks, refreshes (whatever you want to call it) are made to certain vehicles to boost its awareness. In most occasions the news circulates around, but not much else happens.
This scenario doesn’t hold true for the Lexus RX 350 F Sport. Lexus has successfully integrated its sexy L-finesse design taken from their showpiece the LF-LC concept into five of their model lines including the popular RX 350 and called that version the F Sport. The F Sport might seem like it comes with more power, but it’s powered by the same 3.5L V-6 that’s found in the base RX 350 model. that has 270 horsepower and 248 lb.-ft. of torque. It’s important to note that the F Sport only comes in all-wheel drive as opposed to the option in the base model of front or all-wheel drive.
So why the sport tag?
Let’s start with its unique suspension tuning. Lexus has been bold and equipped this version with firmer springs and a new lateral performance damper system that connects the left and right front suspension towers and a rear damper connecting the left and right sides of the rear lower back panel. This system allows the F Sport to absorb any body vibrations and noise. The results are clearly evident in the smoothness of the ride, steering response and ride comfort. I can honestly tell you that it was one of the more comfortable and smooth driving weeks I’ve had in a while – so kudos to Lexus.
The F Sport is fitted with an advanced eight-speed automatic transmission (six-speed found in the regular version) with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. I have to admit that the new tranny doesn’t do much to the overall experience and the paddle shifters are more of a novelty, but the eight-speed helps out when it comes to fuel efficiency. I drove mostly around the city with a little bit of highway action and got 13.3 L/ 100 km combined. This is not a great number and would sit in the middle of its competitors, so it’s something worth improving on in the future.
Believe it or not, the F Sport version shines and becomes a star when it comes to the look. What a difference it makes compared to the regular 350 version! The most noticeable feature of the L-finesse design is the spindle-shaped grille that oozes sportiness. The excitement doesn’t stop there with arrowhead LED running lamps and tail lights, redesigned fog lamps, black leather trimmed seats, aluminum sport pedals, a more confident front bumper and 19” wheels. If anyone’s still questioning the sporty look – the F Sport badging on the sides of the car and on the steering wheel seals the deal.
The exterior and interior both stand out and complement each other very well. Walking towards the vehicle – the sleek and curvy lines give this crossover a lot of emotional appeal. It’s aggressive and modern styling is symbolized by the hourglass shaped spindle grille mentioned above. As crazy as it sounds the spindles really talk to you, giving subtle hints to strap in and test what it can do.
As you enter you’re greeted by soft black leather-trimmed seats with white piping accents and white perforation holes. Comfort is maximized with heated and ventilated seats along with 10-way power front seats and three seat memory settings. The soft black leather is further found on the door handles allowing for a comfy arm rest. The luxury continues as you find an Ebony Bird’s-eye Maple Wood trim on the door handles, arm rest and surrounding the cup holders adding a nice touch. More standard options that come with the F Sport are the engine start/stop push button, a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel and an integrated backup camera. The front interior combines comfort, luxury and sportiness which is what the RX 350 F Sport is all about.
The biggest negative I find with the interior is their toggle infotainment system that’s called the Remote Touch Interface (RTI). It’s situated close to the gear shift and cup holders and works like a joystick with an arm rest allowing you to operate the audio, climate, phone, navigation system, etc. I understand the concept and location as it allows the driver to focus on the road (which I might add is safer than constantly leaning in on a touch screen), but the joystick is much too sensitive. It takes a lot of time to get used to and I can only imagine the older-generation trying to use this device. I at least grew up with some video games, so I can somewhat manoeuvre around, but after working with this RTI system – I feel like an old man. Lexus is on the right path, it just needs to be less sensitive and fine-tuned to meet their range of customers. Right now it might work for the 17-25 demographic, but that surely isn’t Lexus customer base.
It might be a five-seat crossover, but when you drive it surely doesn’t feel like one. As mentioned previously its lateral performance damper system makes the drive a smooth sail. Power delivery is instant, so it takes a little while to get used to it. Just beware of the quick acceleration, as you have to be cautious between all the tentative drivers out there as well as those pesky coppers.
The steering and handling of the F Sport can be described in one word – incredible. Hands-down one of the best handling Crossover/SUVs out there and I can’t stress that enough. Cornering is tight and it centers itself perfectly on every turn. You really notice the control the driver has when sweeping around sharp and curvy roads – it’s worth the test.
The RX 350 is not too shabby when it comes to roominess. There’s an ample amount of leg and head room in both the front and back seats, as well as in the trunk. When you fold down the rear seats you get 2,273 litres or 80.3 cubic feet of space. Half that amount and that’s your trunk space.
Additionally, Lexus seemed to place a lot of attention and effort into convenience. I’ve never seen so many cup holders – it almost seemed that anything I touched revealed one. What I really liked beside the two front seats were expandable folder-size door pockets to store anything you need and yes it also has a cupholder. Another standout item is the middle-seat flap in the rear. When pushed down, it’s nice and heavy with two cup holders and a nice storage section. It’s strange to even look at the flap, but it really stood out and probably a very useful tool for the kids or other passengers traveling in the back seat, especially for a long road trip.
The Lexus RX 350 has always done well in the sales category and is Lexus’ best-selling model, so why all the changes? Well it’s safe to say that Lexus are still not content and want to improve. After listening to the many complaints about the RX 350’s blandness they sure are aiming to silence their critics by creating an option for everyone. If you want that added sportiness appeal and still possess the ride comfort and luxury – you can’t complain any more. The price of the F Sport could be challenging at $57,900 considering the base RX starts at $44,950, but for what the F Sport provides it might be worth the extra price. If you’re looking for something that excites you in a crossover and you have a little extra cash to spare, the F Sport will fulfill all your desires.
Elegance. Size. Sophistication. Luxury.
If you like any of those above adjectives you will be impressed by the new BMW 740Li xDrive.
The 7 Series is BMW’s flagship car that undeniably grabs a lot of attention as you cruise through your neighbourhood. It can be a status symbol and some might spend its six-figure price tag for that very reason.
Let’s break down the vehicle starting with the Li attached to its name. The Li denotes that it’s the long-wheel base version of the 740 allowing for more legroom in the rear seating area. The car is stretched out between the door pillars and the trunk creating a limousine-type look without exactly looking like one. I must admit that it’s one of the only vehicles that I’ve wanted at times to sit more in the back seat than the front. As a regular road tester that’s hard to say, but it’s so comfortable and you are provided with your own climate control and foot rests, yes foot rests! All I needed was a television and some snacks and I was ready to go for a long and relaxing road trip.
Don’t get me wrong there’s plenty of room in the front seat, but the 740Li isn’t something you buy to commute and drive solo in. It’s meant as a passenger vehicle built for transport whether it’s from a business or personal end.
As for the front seats – there’s also ample amount of headroom and legroom and the dashboard complements the roominess as it’s shaped like an airplane cockpit. You’re greeted with a beige leather interior throughout with hints of brown wood that accent the door handles and surround the gear shift. On both doors you can set yourself up with your ideal sitting position utilizing its 16-way power seat and power tilt/telescoping steering wheel adjustments. The front seats are bigger than any in the BMW line-up complemented by heaters and ventilation. Comfort achieves off-the-chart high marks regardless if you’re in the front or back seats of the 740Li and is a massive factor in choosing this vehicle.
The entertainment push buttons below the control panel are a touch basic and in need of some refinement to go more with the modern styling of the rest of the vehicle. However, the electronic system controls placed near the gear shift makes it easy for the driver to navigate while still staying focused on the road. Those controls are for the redesigned LCD panel known as iDrive that’s situated on the dashboard. It takes a little time to get used to, but once you get the hang of it – it becomes a nice addition to the driving experience.
Getting away from its luxury and comfort that sure seemed to maintain my focus – the BMW 740Li is powered by a twin turbocharged, 3.0L inline six-cylinder engine. It’s not the most powerful engine that BMW has to offer producing 315 horsepower and 332 lb.-ft. of torque, but it suits this luxury sedan. The 3.0L engine works well with the eight-speed Steptronic automatic transmission that it comes fitted with as the only option. Keep in mind that the 740 is a luxury car meant for a smooth ride without much noise which it effortlessly achieved. Its quiet-running drivetrain allows for a rare calm ride which is needed from time to time and exactly what your passengers are looking for. And if you’re in the mood to showcase its speed and power you will be instantly gratified as BMW boasts that it goes from 0-100 km’s in 5.9 seconds – so you get the best of both worlds.
Not only is the 740 smooth and powerful – there’s been significant upgrades made in fuel consumption and emissions. With assistance from the auto start-stop system and brake energy regeneration, I averaged 13.1 L/100 km in my week of testing that combined city and highway driving. This may not seem like a great number, but compared to other long-wheelbase vehicles – it’s not too shabby.
Handling isn’t the 740’s strong-suit and shouldn’t be compared to your typical four-door sedans. For the 1,973 kilograms that it carries it surprisingly handles well. BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system steps in and manages the drive well by splitting the power evenly to all four-wheels creating mostly fluid steering. Steering can be a little slow, but precise. The all-wheel drive system can also be very useful when it comes to the Canadian snowfall – a nice added bonus.
The 740 also has five different driving modes for whatever driving style you feel like. You can choose from Eco Pro, Comfort, Comfort-plus, Sport and Sport-plus. After testing out all-five you can really tell the differences instantly. While cruising in comfort mode go into Sport mode and see an instant jolt of speed that wakes you up and jerks you back with its power boost. If you’re more environmentally conscious – Eco Pro would be the drive mode of choice and works well with the 740Li as it cruises comfortably to your next destination in style. In Eco Pro mode fuel consumption can be reduced by 20 percent, so why not have it save you more money at the pump?
That’s about the only savings you will get as the base 740Li starts at $106,600 and that doesn’t even include the executive package, technology package and the vision package that my tester had bringing the final price to $121,850. I was surprised that the executive package wasn’t standard as most manufacturers at this level would have a rear view camera, automatic trunk, sunshades, seat ventilation and SIRIUS satellite radio included. I would think an inclusion would only be fair.
The technology package adds active blind spot detection, driving assistant plus and head-up display. While the vision package provides you with active LED headlights and fog lights, high-beam assistance, surround view and night vision with pedestrian detection. Some of these should fall as options, but it’s almost assumed by BMW that whoever is buying a 7 Series won’t have a problem throwing in a few more shekels for these features.
The BMW 740Li xDrive has the look and feel of a limousine, but what makes it special is that it drives like a lighter luxury sedan. This Li version is geared more for transportation, so if you’re thinking about a luxurious vehicle to own for an everyday commute – the 740Li isn’t for you. Now if you transport people, conduct business or you like to be driven around I suggest you give it a test as I don’t think you can go wrong. The price tag can get up there especially when you start to add up those options which you know you will want, so be cautious of that. If comfortable luxury is what you desire – the 740Li has that covered and then some and the different drive modes can create a different experience each time. When grouping together luxury, comfort and BMW’s safe and smooth xDrive system what’s not to enjoy? The 740Li makes you want to set off and leave your worries behind – I call back seat!
Mecaglisse, QC – When it becomes freezing cold outside, we tend to stay indoors as much as possible. Who wants to deal with the wind, snow, and icy roads? At times it doesn’t seem worth it, but when Subaru called to test out their Subaru Legacy in -30C weather, I got excited to attack these conditions head-on.
There are a couple of reasons for my excitement. First of all, I love the opportunity to do a winter test drive on a race track. Believe it or not, it’s something that I’ve rarely done. Secondly, the test was with Subaru, a company built-on safety winning the Top Safety Pick award for its Legacy and all of its other vehicles from the IIHS (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety). While the safety features are impressive, Subaru’s other main attraction is their symmetrical all-wheel drive system (AWD) that makes the Legacy a perfectly fun and safe winter driving specimen.
For those who might not know about Subaru’s AWD system – get ready to be excited about the next large snowfall. Its symmetrical all-wheel drive systemprovides optimum traction, balance and control by sending power simultaneously to all the wheels. It instantly gives the driver the most traction available allowing your drive to be as smooth as possible along your desired path. A dream to some who struggle on their commutes in a snowstorm is an actual reality for Subaru owners.
As for the Subaru Legacy itself, it is fitted with a 2.5L 4-cylinder DOHC engine that cranks out 173 horsepower and 174 lb.-ft. of torque. It also possesses an all-new second-generation continuously variable transmission (CVT) that produces a respectable 8.4 L/100 km in the city and 6.0 L/100 km on the highway.
At the beautiful Mecaglisse ice track found 50 minutes from Mont-Tremblant, the Legacy was pitted against their biggest rivals the Toyota Camry and the Honda Accord – two front-wheel drive cars (FWD). This test would be on equal grounds as all the vehicles were fitted with Bridgestone Blizzak tires. Going into this test – it was apparent that the Legacy would handle much better given their all-wheel drive system, but what would be interesting to see was how much better?
The first test was a snow slalom around some pylons with an emergency lane change at the end. All three vehicles seemed to handle the course well, but the Legacy responded to my steering direction throughout the slalom at a touch quicker pace. After a few runs, I felt more confident to increase my speed in the Legacy, while the Camry and Accord made it without incident at a slower, more comfortable pace. The pylon drill would turn out to be just a little appetizer for things to come.
The next test was a circular skid pad with a mix of ice and snow to test out the Legacy versus the Accord. The object of the test was to drive around the circle and keep going counter-clockwise. Safe to say – not an easy task especially with the Vehicle Dynamic Control (VDC) and Stability turned off!
My first stab at it was in the Accord with another driver taking the Legacy out starting at the opposite end of the circle. The Accord was smooth at the start, but when some light acceleration was applied going around the icy bend it lost all traction and my foot had to be lifted to prevent a 360 degree spin. You really had to lay off the throttle and only use a little acceleration to avoid understeering and an eventual spin.
On the other hand, the Legacy performed more admirably around the circle. It found at least some traction on the icy surface, albeit not much, and with just a little reverse steering I was in complete control and eyeing the Accord directly ahead of me. A little secret also with the Legacy is that the VDC and Stability doesn’t fully turn off, but still assists you slightly when in need. It’s nice to know that technology can kick in when it feels that the driver is in need of more assistance.
At the end of the second round, the Legacy showed itself as a champion of the skid pad tackling the icy and snow conditions and never once dealing with severe oversteer or understeer – showing off the Legacy’s AWD balancing act. I was even able to drift with the Legacy while maintaining control throughout – fun on a closed race track, but not to be tried on the open roads.
The final test of the day involved a short race track that would test an incline start, tight cornering and emergency braking – an all-around true test that can all occur on everyday roads. All three cars were involved in this test and I started out in the Camry.
I was ready to go, but unfortunately the Camry wasn’t as it tried to make its way up a small incline. After some initial front wheel spinning and backwards sliding it eventually moved forward to the first right corner. The Camry had a little oversteer on the next two rights, but made those turns without any trouble leading into the emergency braking test at 50 km/h where it stopped within reason.
Next up was the Accord, which had the same initial lack of forward motion on the inclined hill. The Accord seemed a touch more balanced around the turns and broke in the same vicinity as the Camry. Not much difference between the two.
Finally the Legacy was off and running after only a momentary spin of its tires, it found some traction and gingerly glided up the hill – AWD at its best! The Legacy maintained great balance throughout the turns without any concern in sight and ended with a similar emergency brake distance as the Camry and Accord.
Going into this test, it was pretty evident that an all-wheel drive car could handle snow and ice much better than the two front-wheel drive cars. In the end to no one’s surprise, the Legacy was a master at tackling these winter conditions. When losing traction, the Legacy regained it the fastest and put me at ease, which is what every driver wants. Even though we might know which vehicle will perform better in certain conditions before they begin, we must understand how important these tests are as not all drivers understand the difference between AWD and FWD. At every stage of this test, both FWD vehicles didn’t offer as much control and safety as the AWD equipped Legacy. Many choose their vehicles out of popularity and price, but as we brace ourselves for another winter snowfall – it’s always good to know that the Legacy is a nice alternative to the more popular Camrys and Accords for just about the same price (actually the Subaru Legacy’s starting price is the cheapest at $23,495).
Vancouver, BC – When you think about the Nissan Sentra – the words affordable and reliable come to mind. The Sentra is definitely not an emotional purchase, but Nissan feels this seventh-generation version will change people’s perceptions and expand its appeal to younger business professionals.
The Sentra can no longer be labelled boring with its upgrade in style, sophistication and refinement which resembles more of its elder siblings, the Altima and Maxima. This is a big move for a car that seems to have been built in the past for someone who’s not a driving enthusiast, but in the highly competitive compact sedan segment – it’s essential.
Given all the misgivings about the 2012 Honda Civic, there was quite a backlog of requests from auto writers wanting to take a 2013 model for a longer stretch than the 20-minute drive experienced a couple of weeks back.
Somehow, the planets aligned and instead of getting a car in mid-spring for a longer period of time, I was in the right place at the right time, asked the right question of the right individual and a Civic Touring Sedan with a 5-speed automatic transmission was mine.
This vehicle will have a net price of $24,840 plus, plus. This was the same model I had driven before so there was a little familiarity – no surprises.
Cutting right to the chase, Honda will, I predict add further accolades, awards and most important of all, sales numbers for 2013 – the Civic will be Canada’s top selling vehicle – again – barring natural disasters that might lead to supply chain issues.
This is a car that may not turn heads with sexy, curved lines but it will impress the driver and any passenger – including from the back seat. Comfort and sightlines are improved and while this car may not amaze – it will not disappoint. The Honda design and engineering teams have made extensive yet not radical changes inside and out with content upgrades in the cabin and frame safety features that when taken into account puts the Civic in the front row of compact car contenders – in pole position.
Last time I spoke of my uncertainty with the vehicle’s EPS – electronic power steering but over the course of the week, it bothered me less each drive.
Frankly the Civic began to feel like a favourite, comfortable sweater – something you look forward to driving knowing that you are in a safe, secure vehicle that exceeds category expectations. The Civic is expected to earn an impressive score from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) in the new small overlap frontal crash test; especially with the addition of the all new Advanced Compatibility Engineering II (ACE II) body structure and SmartVent front seat side airbag technology, a feature that debuted in the recent MY2013 9th generation Accord.
People commented in parking lots – favourably, I might add and a couple of line workers from Alliston at shift-end asked for an opinion. That question is as bad as friends or acquaintances asking what car they should buy. However I did provide a response, saying that overall, Honda seemed to be “getting it” and that complacency did not appear to be on their immediate horizon.
In fact, from a value-added standpoint, we’re now seeing more standard features in Hondas generally thanks to the aggressive feature-laden cars coming from other parts of Asia: Bluetooth; rear-view camera; USB/iPod interface, colour i-MID display and on this model, the Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation System – with voice recognition.
Honda obviously paid attention and got things right. The number one requested feature from customers and dealers in Canada? Heated front seats. Of course, Honda obliged.
As mentioned earlier, the ride and handling was comfortable – not astounding, but after all, we’re talking about the category leader so no unpleasant surprises. The car handled well on roads under all conditions – dry pavement, rain, ice and even snow – central Ontario in December! The Civic acquitted itself well and came through with flying colours. Entering a highway from a ramp was no challenge – while no neck-snapping force was employed, you always knew that merging onto the highway would occur in a smooth, efficient and expedient manner.
Now if all that sounds a little business like, well, perhaps that’s the point. This is a family-oriented means of transport. Want a little more excitement? Consider the Si sedan or coupe with 201-hp and 170 lb-ft of torque from an i-VTEC 2.4 litre DOHC 16-valve engine paired to a 6-speed manual transmission. But that’s another story – for another day.
And did I mention the 17” alloys wheels on this model? Very nice!
MARKHAM, ON – When the September 2011 edition of ‘Consumer Reports’ hit the streets last year, few expected such a fall out from the venerable magazine’s position that the MY12 Honda Civic would not be on their annual recommended buy list.
“YONKERS, NY —The highly anticipated redesigned Honda Civic LX, whose predecessors have often been Consumer Reports’ highest rated small sedans as well as Top Picks in five of the last 10 years, now scores too low to be recommended by the leading automotive testing organization.
The redesigned Civic LX’s score dropped a whopping 17 points to a mediocre 61 from the previous generation’s very good 78. It scored second-to-last in CR’s ratings of 12 small sedans, followed only by the recently redesigned Volkwagen Jetta. Consumer Reports’ testers found the 2012 Civic to be less agile and with lower interior quality than its predecessor. It also suffers from a choppy ride, long stopping distances, and pronounced road noise. On the positive side, the Civic provides decent rear-seat room, and it achieved 30 mpg overall, which gives it the second-best fuel economy in its class—behind only the Toyota Corolla’s 32 mpg.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Now I did attend the 2012 Civic launch in Washington DC earlier in the spring of 2011. Personally, I did not get myself as worked up as some; after all, this was a Civic. Not a luxury family sedan, but a compact vehicle intended to be used as an above average mode of every day transport. At that time the wave of enthusiasm (no pun intended) for other Asian-built autos had yet to crest. True, the interior was a little ‘lacking’ and the overall value-added proposition a little lacklustre (comparatively), but again, it was a Civic – a car that had, up to that point in time, for 13 consecutive years been the number one selling car in Canada.
In fact, in spite of a trifecta of natural disasters in 2011 – an earthquake and tsunami last March and by the floods last autumn in Thailand, which disrupted assembly plants and supplies of components, the Civic finished on top in sales for Canada for the14th year.
Regardless, judging by a brief introduction to the MY13 Honda Civic at their Canadian headquarters a few weeks back, complacency is a word that does not appear in this manufacturer’s lexicon.
Honda has obviously listened to customers, dealers – even automotive journalists and made significant improvements to the Civic. In the most competitive category in the car segment, compacts, this radical move occurred during a model year. Honda could have easily rested on their collective laurels and done next to nothing until the next scheduled make over. But no, they chose to invest additional time, resources and of course money to bring the Civic up to – and perhaps beyond its competitors – and all in one year – not a full model cycle.
Interesting enough, at time of writing, the Civic was leading the number two best selling car in Canada at the end of October 2012 by a significant and likely insurmountable number. 15 years as the top selling car in Canada is a virtual certainty.
Initial impressions? The exterior appears a little more aggressive, perhaps even sportier. Length is the same as MY12, but certain features present a car that seems to sit a little lower – and confidently too. On the Touring Sedan model driven that day, larger and sportier alloys were quite apparent.
Inside the cabin the differences were immediately obvious; not as cheap-looking or heavy plastics. Softer, contoured edges with the instrument panel and controls being angled/curved slightly towards the driver, making for a more pleasant experience while driving. Peripherally, all could be seen clearly. And when driving, things were quieter. I was not overly enthusiastic about the electronic power steering (EPS), but again, being in the car for a scant 20 minutes is hardly enough time to warrant a more clear opinion. Seats too were improved with better fabric than before – and of course, for our climate, ubiquitous heated front seats were present.
Overall, things did seem to be hitting the familiar Honda benchmarks. A longer road test is in the works and we will report on that in the near future.
It would appear that given the tremendous loyalty to the brand and improved design and engineering, Honda will continue to lead the category for a few more years. The gap will, however likely diminish – unless Honda produces a category-leading game changer. We shall see.
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The first time I saw the Dodge Dart was at its unveiling at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It made quite the splash, as the Chrysler Group was going all-in to be competitive in the compact car segment. Giving the presentation was Reid Bigland, the president and CEO of the Dodge Brand and Chrysler Canada. “Price, fuel economy, reliability are only basics now – we need to do more,” preached Bigland – and after those words the Dart was revealed.
It’s been a long journey for the Chrysler Group as it’s now known after being forced into federal bankruptcy protection during the 2009 economic crisis. But there are high hopes for the Dart, as it’s the first vehicle launched under the new Fiat ownership and architecture. After a seven-year hiatus from the compact sedan segment – the Chrysler Group were focused to not be just another option, but an influential player in a segment that has a 23 percent market share in all automotive sales.
Fast-forward 10 months and I finally got my chance to test out this ground-breaking vehicle. In total the Dart has five trim levels: SE, SXT, Rallye, Limited, and the R/T. I tested the 6-speed automatic Dart SXT at AJAC’s (Automotive Journalist’s Association of Canada) “TestFest” and just recently drove the 6-speed manual Rallye for a week around the streets and highways of Toronto. The Dart’s prices can range from $15,995 all the way to $23,995 with the R/T. The SXT starts at $18,595 ($21,590 for the automatic version tested); while the Rallye starts at $19,495. They’re not too many differences, but the Rallye adds cruise control, steering-wheel audio controls, leather/metal steering wheel, chrome tailpipe, and 17-inch aluminum wheels.
Rarely do you see the combination of Italian style and American muscle – but that’s the beauty of it when you first glance at the racing red-coloured Dart. It doesn’t look like a typical Dodge with its inspiration coming from the Alfa Romeo Giulietta with added dynamic lines, curves and a coupe-like look. But to make it more North American its platform was lengthened and widened creating a unique blend of the two cultures. The Dart is fitted with dual exhausts and Charger-inspired wrap-around tail lamps with 152 LEDs.
The youth of today was definitely at the forefront of the minds of the Chrysler engineers. From the curvaceously-sculpted body to a more subtle version of Dodge’s trademark split crosshair themed grille – the Dart oozes excitement. As you take your seat inside the connectivity takes over. It has all the toys you would want with SIRIUS Satellite radio, navigation, Bluetooth, and multiple USB ports. Furthermore, you are treated to a premium 7-inch Thin Film Transistor (TFT) reconfigurable cluster display. It can display real-time performance information, navigation, and vehicle status that can be configured in various colours and graphics.
The part I loved about the interior the most is the Dart’s signature “driver-centric” layout. For me it’s important to be able to quickly locate certain dials and knobs and I find that many of the new vehicle structures have made it more complicated and challenging over the years. Trust me – I don’t want anything that looks basic, but I want to have all of the latest gadgets placed in a console that just makes sense. The Dart puts all my worries at ease with an entertainment console that’s right in your face and easy to operate with a large touch screen that has structure and order coupled with soft-touch leather and striking colours.
As for the interior space – the Dart looks like and costs like a compact car, but when you sit in the front or back seats it sure doesn’t seem like one. It’s structured more like a sedan than a compact as you sit back in couchy and perhaps too comfortable front-seats. It almost feels like you have been placed in a movie theatre seat getting ready to see the new Bond movie before you realize you actually have to drive. The back seats are no different with ample amount of rear seat leg room. Accompanying this spacious interior is a soft-leather dash and steering wheel with a nice red and black colour scheme throughout. But like most cars in the compact segment there are always cheap parts to the interior which are most noticeable in some of their knob dials and the plastic that surround the interior of the doors. I also disliked the gear shift as it looked like it took a few too many performance-enhancing drugs as it covers your entire palm as you shift gears.
It’s true that a few additional exciting gadgets can mask how the car performs. I’m here to tell you that the Dart is bringing some punch to the party to face-off against the usual suspects who have dominated this category over the years: the Ford Focus, Mazda 3, Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra and Hyundai Elantra. Powering my Rallye Dart is a 1.4-litre turbocharged inline-four providing 160 hp and 184 lb.-ft. of torque, but that’s the higher end of two engine options. You can also choose the standard 2.0L, 16-valve, Tigershark I-4 that distributes 160 hp and 148 lb.-ft. of torque. Considering the Dart is geared for the youth, they will love the fact that those base power numbers beat all of its competitors.
The Dart might seem small, but it’s the little engine that could. You give it some throttle and it responds quickly and without much effort. The steering is tight and cornered well with minimal body roll after a few extreme corner tests. The Dart didn’t seem to have much cabin noise as well that seems to be a thorn to many compact cars.
Dodge made sure that the Dart would be at par with some of the less thirsty gas sippers as well. While driving mostly throughout the city and a few highways in Toronto – the Rallye combined for 8.8L/100 km, which is quite respectable amongst its peers.
The compact market is a tough one to crack, especially after many failings by Dodge in the past, so a lot is hinging on the success of the Dart. The Dart should see a share of the pie and appease the Fiat and Chrysler Groups, as they’ve finally built a compact car that has a lot of personality and pep and can make their mark amongst their rival veterans. It didn’t win its AJAC category for small car under $21K after all the 80-plus journalists voted, so I guess it didn’t hit a bull’s-eye, but it had my vote for that group and we should be seeing more of the Dart for many years to come. The Dart possesses a powerful combination of flair, options, connectivity, and fuel efficiency which is a perfect package for today’s modern youth.
For over 20 years, the Camry has been a staple in the Toyota line-up and one of its most successful vehicles. When it comes to mid-size sedans, the Camry has been at the top of the charts based on its affordability and reliability.
To many Camry fans delight, the 2012 version is completely redesigned and overall much improved. Canadian sales figures for the year prove that theory, as the Camry has shown a 116 percent jump in sales, the biggest increase of any Toyota vehicle.
The Camry has never been known for its flair and style and by looking at the new exterior – it still won’t! The outside has not changed much, but a lot of the improvements can be seen in the interior and under the hood.
Toyota offers the Camry in three different models – the LE, SE, and top-of-the-line XLE; while the Camry Hybrid comes in two models – the LE and XLE. The hybrid accounts for 20 percent of Camry sales and inevitably that number will rise in the years to come.
Toyota is one of the fuel efficient pioneers of the auto industry, so I wanted to test out the Hybrid XLE built on their Hybrid Synergy Drive technology in which you can choose to be in EV mode, ECO mode, or just normal mode. It was no surprise that the Camry Hybrid compared very well to its other hybrid sedan competitors – most notably the Ford Fusion Hybrid, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid.
Let’s first go through the interior. The minute you sit down and gaze around – you question whether you’re really in a Camry? The dash and steering wheel are made out of soft-touch plastic that looks just like leather with hints of chrome matching the grey metal and silver plated gear shift. With the added moonroof package you get XM Satellite radio, navigation system, and a backup camera along with the moonroof. For a Camry it’s rather luxurious, but the seats do bring you a little back into reality with a mix of leather and felt material that does reduce the overall excitement. There can be no complaints about the rear seat room, there’s ample room for 2 adults and a child and a big benefit to the larger family.
It’s refreshing that the console is a simple touch screen and self-explanatory. Every button from radio to navigation to climate change was easy to find and use. The three different driving modes (EV, ECO, and normal) are also located right in front of the gear shift for easy adjustments while driving.
Under the hood you will find a 2.5L, 4-cylinder DOHC gas engine that uses the Atkinson cycle, an improvement from the outgoing 2.4L engine. The improvements can also be found in the 156 horsepower and 156 lb.-ft. of torque it produces. It won’t be turning heads as you drive by, but in normal mode it can surprisingly takeoff quickly. Most impressive was the seamless transition between the electric and gas motors.
Handling doesn’t seem to be the Camry’s strongest feature, as I felt most of the bumps on patchy road conditions. Additionally, the nose doesn’t straighten itself out that smoothly on sharp corners, but at the same time that’s not why you buy a Camry.
Charleston, SC - Infiniti is going full steam ahead with the launch of the JX35 Crossover, gearing up for an all-out blitz that will consume 60% of their marketing budget in an effort to cut themselves a big slice of the crossover market. This is Infiniti's first foray into the seven-passenger market, and it's largely by popular demand. The JX will be the fourth SUV in their roster, taking its place alongside the EX, FX, and the Herculean QX56.
In order to be part of the JX launch I travelled to the beautiful city of Charleston, South Carolina, known not only for its southern charm and hospitality but equally for its rich history and tradition. After driving around the cobblestone streets of downtown Charleston and later through the quiet gated community that surrounds the Kiawah Island golf resort, I quickly came to see why Infiniti had chosen this location: itís the natural habitat for a vehicle that exudes luxury in a quiet, restrained way, not unlike many of the high-priced homes that surround the resort (whose ocean course will host the 94th PGA Championship later this year).
To judge from all the commercials and promotional info I absorbed throughout my stay, innovative technology for the purpose of comfort and safety was one of the guiding principles behind the JX's design. Witness the Backup Collision Intervention (BCI) system, a technology pioneered by Infiniti to automatically apply the brakes when you're reversing if it detects anything in your path (including golf carts, as testing confirmed). The system is designed to work at speeds between 0 and 5 km/h (i.e., for standard driveway and parking-lot reverses); if you start backing up at 10 to 15 km/h, as some journalists did, you may get different results. Nevertheless, the BCI system is a promising addition, and will no doubt be adopted by many other manufacturers.
Besides BCI, the JX is equipped with an array of radar and sonar sensors that monitor the vehicle's surroundings and register any threats. For instance, it periodically sounds advance warnings as pedestrians walk in front, beside, or behind the vehicle. It also issues lane-departure warnings if it detects any inadvertent drift, but while this feature has tremendous potential for transport trucks, it can be a nuisance on a routine drive.
Safety may be first, but the technology doesn't end there. There's plenty of connectivity as well, and I'm not just talking Bluetooth: the JX comes with your own personal assistant. It's not quite as resourceful as KITT on Knight Rider, but the computer uses Google Calendar to access your schedule and help you reach your destination with the aid of Google Maps. It can also provide you with valet alerts and be configured to limit your drive zone and driving speed, which can be useful when your kids want to borrow the vehicle.
Comfort and flexibility are the other hallmarks of the JX. The front-row seating has ample room for passengers to relax and enjoy the drive, but even more impressive is the amount of space in the second- and third-row seating: I've been in plenty of seven-passenger vehicles and typically never volunteer to sit in the third-row, which is often suited only to small kids. But after easing into the third row in the JX, I was pleasantly surprised by the leg and head room, which is head and shoulders above any third row I've sat in thus far. Tri-zone climate control also allows all passengers to be comfortable, including those banished to the third row.
As for flexibility, the JX's second row can slide forward so as to adjust the amount of leg room you need for perfect comfort. The manoeuvrability of the second row also allows passengers to get in and out with ease. The second row can even slide all the way aft without having to remove a child seat, which can save a lot of hard work. Finally, if you fold the second- and third-row seats flat, presto change-o: you now have best-in-class volume.
The JX is powered by a 3.5-litre DOHC V6 that churns a respectable 265 horsepower and 248 lb-ft. of torque, all tapped by Infiniti's first continuously variable transmission. These specs aren't quite up to par with those of competitors like the Acura MDX and Audi Q7, but the JX bests them both when it comes to safety, technology, and style. The JX has been built with families in mind, and the power should satisfy the responsible parentís limited need for speed while also allowing the vehicle to excel in the fuel-economy department. Throughout my day with the tester, in the city and on the highway, the JX combined for an impressive 11.6 L/100 km.
The JX has four drive modes to choose from: standard, sport, snow, and eco. Overall it was a smooth drive with silky handling, but the eco mode doesn't have much pop. Looks have never been an issue for Infiniti, and the JX bears the stamp of its creator. For a seven-seater, it's pretty stylish, with Infiniti's signature double-arch grille and double-wave hood. It stands out without being ostentatious, and if you're looking to make any waves with something flashier, chances are you're not in the market for a seven-passenger crossover.
Given the luxury brand and technology on board, it's hard to believe the JX starts at $44,900, considerably more affordable than the MDX and the Q7, which come in at $52,690 and $59,200, respectively. Five trim levels are available, with the most popular expected to be the premium package, which includes navigation, the so-called "Around View Monitor" system with moving-object detection, and, for an extra $5,000, a BoseÆ 13-speaker premium sound system with an acoustic waveguide subwoofer. The BCI system is available in the Driver Assistance Package for an additional $2,200.
It looks like Infiniti may have scored a winner in the JX, which goes on sale in showrooms this May. At the very least, it promises to hold its own in the seven-passenger crossover market. It may not have the same power as the MDX or Q7, but itís perfectly suited to the needs of the family-oriented buyer.
Hyundai has been riding high for the last couple of years as they keep rolling out success after success. The South Korean automaker sold 9,266 vehicles in February, their 38th consecutive month of year-over-year sales growth in Canada. The icing on the cake came when the Elantra won the North American Car of the Year in Detroit and then, more recently, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) Car of the Year in Toronto. What's most impressive about Hyundai's run is that the Elantra is just one of their many vehicles to win AJAC honours: in the past three years, the Sonata, Accent, Tuscon, and Genesis have all cleaned up in their respective categories.
In 2011, Ford transformed the Explorer (together with many of their other vehicles) from a truck-structured design into a more car-like SUV. This transformation brought the Explorer to the attention of new customers who wouldn't buy a truck but who were partial to larger-than-life, up-town vehicles like the Land Rover.
If you happen to believe that size matters, then the new 2012 Ford Explorer was built for you. Getting up close to this beast can be a little unnerving, but once you adjust you'll notice the sleek and sporty influence of its SUV genes. The three-bar, perforated horizontal grille gives the Explorer a sturdy, almost imposing aspect, but the headlights and design lines show off its modern, sporty physique. If this is what the new breed of crossover looks like, there's no doubt many buyers will be breaking through to the other side and getting behind the wheel of one.
The Explorer has evolved beyond the old V8 and performs admirably on either a V6 or a brand-new, turbocharged, four-cylinder 2.0L EcoBoost engine. It can churn 290 horses and 255 lb-ft of torque, easily going toe to toe with its competitors. The drive is very smooth and the steering is quick and easy, which is surprising given the Explorer's size. Throughout my week with the tester I didn't feel like I was driving a vehicle that weighs in excess of 4,700 pounds; the true dimensions don't fully register until you're on the outside.
And to be sure, the Explorer is truly a monster truck of an SUV. But whereas in Land Rovers and Range Rovers it's hard to overlook the fact that you're elevated above everyone on the road, in the Explorer the impression is less pronounced. Still, as you hoist yourself into this behemoth, you'll feel like Jonah in the whale: the spaciousness of the interior is striking, spanning three rows of comfy grey leather seating. The grey leather theme, which is consistent across the Explorer's dash, doors, and steering wheel, creates a look that is elegant without being indulgent. The Explorer is also equipped with MyFord Touch, and the options for temperature and tuning are much easier to find and manipulate than in previous Ford vehicles.
During the week, the Explorer's fuel economy registered at 13.6 L/ 100km, better than the LR4 and in line with the GMC Acadia, Toyota Highlander, and Honda Pilot. A perfect complement to any road trip, the Explorer's dual sunroof can tilt, slide, and be covered whenever you like. Stowing is also a cinch, with three push-button-operated stow, normal, and fold options to choose from. The stow button automatically transforms the third-row seats into an enormous trunk with over 80 cubic feet of cargo space.
The Explorer has long been known for its off-roading capabilities, but this latest incarnation has been built for those who tend to stay in the city limits. However, it does offer four distinct driving modes for mud, snow, sand, and hill descent if you should find yourself overcome by the urge to leave the beaten path.
Overall, the Explorer is an impressive entry in the crossover category. It has plenty of competition, but it starts cheaper, looks better, and is more powerful than the Acadia or the Highlander. In its size, shape, and tech capabilities it resembles the Range Rover, so if you're an admirer of that vehicle but looking for a cheaper, more fuel-efficient alternative, you won't find much to complain about here.
There was a lot of anticipation surrounding the all-new 2012 Ford Focus. It's been a long time in the works, and an opportunity for Ford to rejuvenate a vehicle that has seen better days.
Ford's new approach to the subcompact segment started with the launch of the Fiesta in early 2011, which was shortly followed by the Focus. Previous generations of the Focus were "North Americanized" and differed from their European counterparts, which were spoiled with a superior interior, more size, and a sleeker design. Not so this time around: the 2012 conforms to an international design, with just a few tweaks for regional preferences (such as MyFord Touch).
My tester for the week was the Focus Titanium hatchback, which came in a vibrantly yellow, blaze-metallic colour. The five-door-hatchback iteration of the Focus was last seen in 2007, but it clearly never should have been retired since the hatch adds character and appeals to the younger demographic.
When I first put eyes on the Focus Titanium hatchback, I felt like I was looking at a contestant on one of those makeover shows – I've only heard about them – where a European designer has carte blanche to go to town on middle-aged housewives that have let themselves go. The new Focus is no housewife, but it's also nothing like its predecessor. The new look, feel, and design makes this vehicle a hot commodity in the subcompact segment. Ford's emphasis was on design, and it's paid off in the Focus's sportier lines, curvaceous body, and overall appeal.
And the Focus's good looks are not just skin deep: the interior is also sensational. The two-tone front leather seats are comfortable and have power height and recline functions. A plush, soft-touch plastic surrounds the front cabin and centre console, which houses the MyFord Touch screen. The gadgets read like a laundry list, including an engine start-up button, a rear-view camera for reversing, side mirrors with blind-spot-indicator lights, heated seats, a sunroof, XM radio, and navigation. But the most interesting gadget of all has to be the Active Park Assist, which – lo and behold – allows you to manoeuvre the Focus into a parking spot at the push of a button.
The Focus has also been transformed beneath the hood, with a 2.0-litre, direct-injected, four-cylinder engine. This baby commands 160 horses, 20 more than its predecessor, and 146 lb-ft of torque. Granted, these numbers aren't exactly earth shattering, but they are a marked improvement. The Focus provides two transmission options: a five-speed manual or a six-speed automatic with a manual shift option, the latter of which was in the tester. In automatic mode, the Focus is a little slow out of the gate, but acceleration is smooth once you start to cruise above 40 km/h. I wasn't impressed with the manual shift option, and I'm not sure how many people will have any use for it. It took a while simply to figure out how to get into manual mode, and, once there, switching gears feels awkward on account of the shifter's being too low.
The steering is light and easy and seems to buff out the bumps on the road. The Focus may not have the upper hand on the Mazda 3 and Volkswagen Golf when it comes to power, but it does offset this imbalance with its fuel economy. After driving it throughout the city and on the highway for a week, the Focus averaged a combined 7.2 L/100 km, better than most of its rivals.
The Focus Titanium hatchback was in desperate need of a makeover, and it's now a real contender in the subcompact segment. It's a bit pricier than other cars in its segment, with the sedan starting at a base of $15,999 and the hatch at $19,899, but Ford has finally struck the right balance between design, gadgetry, and fuel economy to help it succeed.
In the minds of some owners and industry observers, Kia has developed a reputation as a cheap, unreliable automaker. But since 2010, the Korean manufacturer has worked hard to rehabilitate their image and become a contender, redesigning the Forte, the Sportage, and the Sorento and offering all three at an affordable price. While continuing to produce low-priced vehicles, Kia also gives buyers as much value for their investment as their competitors in each segment, and maybe more.
Another of Kia's key redesigns has been the Optima, which has been around for a decade but gone largely ignored by auto enthusiasts. I recently tested the SX version, which is the sportiest of the six Optima choices on offer (not including the hybrids). Starting at $33,695, the SX is pricey in comparison to the base LX (which starts at $21,995), but it's a bona fide thrill to drive.
Throughout my week with the tester, several people approached me to ask what I was driving, and some of them couldn't believe the answer when I told them. I didn't blame them: it's hard to believe that Kia has come so far in such a short time, but, like Hyundai, they have made every effort to tap into what consumers really want: affordability, sleek and sporty design, and fuel efficiency. It's no fluke that Kia and Hyundai vehicles are all over the 2012 AJAC awards and up for best cars of the year.
The exterior styling of the Optima SX radiates sportiness. Its black honeycomb sports grille, which is only available on the SX, and stretched headlamps seem to grin playfully and ask whether you're ready for an exciting ride. Walking around the car, you'll notice its smooth-flowing lines, lower roofline, as well as its 18" sport alloy wheels, rear lip spoiler, and LED taillights. All these sporty features help explain why the SX turns so many heads.
And the party doesn't stop with the exterior: the Optima's interior is just as exciting. Inside is a striking, soft-leather-wrapped steering wheel and bright aluminum pedals that are just begging to be pressed. The soft leather extends to the dash, creating an elegant look throughout the cockpit. The leather seats may be a little flashy for some, but their outer layer of silver mesh stitching complemented the racing-tone of the vehicle.
Under the hood, the SX has a 2.4-litre four-cylinder with direct injection that cranks out 274 horsepower and 269 lb-ft of torque. This is a significant improvement over the EX and LX models, which are powered by a 2.0-litre generating 200 horsepower. Of course, the EX and LX numbers are solid in their own right, but the SX is really the pick of the Optima litter. For example, it's also fitted with a six-speed automatic transmission and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for those of us who love manual.
The Optima has an impressive handling balance that really comes into play on curvy roads. The steering is a little tight but does an adequate job. The SX was a blast to drive because you can really crank it and feel the turbo action on acceleration. Cabin noise was minimal, as was any sensation of bumps along the way. In terms of fuel economy, the Optima performs well, averaging 5.8 L/100 km on the highway and 9.2 L/100 km in the city.
Kia's standard features, which include USB ports, Bluetooth, cruise control, and Sirius satellite radio, add even more value for the consumer. The SX is also outfitted with a push-button ignition, dual-zone and fully automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an eight-speaker Infinity audio system, a reversing camera, a panoramic sunroof, and touch-screen navigation.
The Optima faces a lot of tough competition in the Hyundai Sonata, Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima, and Honda Accord, all of them veteran stalwarts. But they all should be worried about the Optima, which has taken major strides forward. The Optima is suited to young and mature drivers who desire a little added rush in their ride. Overall, the SX has everything you need: power, performance, and fuel economy. Given the price and all the fixins', the Optima SX is definitely worth a close look if you're in the market.
For the past few years, gas prices have risen so steadily that, for all the outrage we may feel, we’re no longer particularly surprised by the next hike. The days of paying less than a dollar for a litre of gas are gone. But for a family to be able to travel in comfort, the roominess of an SUV or CUV is necessary, which means that, short of investing in an electric vehicle, we as consumers must demand more compact, light-weight, fuel-efficient vehicles.
A case in point: the Mitsubishi RVR, a crossover modelled on the larger Outlander, whose platform and wheelbase it shares. It’s shorter and trimmer than its cousin, with a slender, sleeker look. Mitsubishi designed the RVR (or Recreational Vehicle Runner) for the city driver who is looking for a lighter, more compact vehicle with the roominess of a typical CUV. One of its most notable accomplishments is its excellent fuel efficiency, which is sure to strike a chord with consumers sick of being gouged at the pumps.
At first glance, the RVR is a head-turner, especially in the tester’s Kingfisher blue. The trapezoid grille with the Mitsubishi badge front and center stands out the most, giving the RVR a sporty look. The front of the vehicle is nicely complemented by a sporty exterior and a beautiful panoramic sunroof.
Unfortunately, the RVR’s beauty is only skin deep. Inside the CUV, space is ample and seating plush and comfortable, but all the plastic in the dash will make you feel like you’re at a Tupperware party. I’m all for elegant simplicity of design, but the RVR’s drabness is almost oppressive. The interior of such a modern vehicle should be in keeping with the fun and excitement that its exterior conveys. Of course it’s not all bad: the steering wheel, sheathed in strong black leather that you can really grip down on, gives you the sense that you’re in complete control of the vehicle at all times. Similarly, the handling is silky smooth on turns, and overall traction and stability are excellent.
Powering the vehicle is a 148 hp, 2.0 L four-cylinder engine, with a Mitsubishi Innovative Valve-timing Electronic Control (MIVEC) system. But, these numbers notwithstanding, both the all-wheel-drive, five-speed automatic that comes with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and paddle shifters and the front-wheel-drive, five-speed manual, fell short of the mark. Manual mode was better as the initial acceleration in the CVT, which is programmed to get optimal fuel economy, was a little slow. The paddle shifters helped avoid this slow giddy-up, but I doubt drivers of automatics will want to use them daily. On the flip side, a constant grunting noise can be heard in manual mode when you switch gears or speed up, but, once you get it in fifth gear, the RVR accelerates as quickly and smoothly as any other CUV in its price range.
In spite of its drab interior, the RVR is not a car to avoid: it’s a smooth, comfortable ride that will get you reliably around town; it just didn’t overwhelm me in any way. Mitsubishi’s hope is that the RVR will be the compact, fuel-efficient CUV families have been waiting for. They’ve claimed the CVT RVR to have the best in-class fuel economy at 7.6 L/100 km, but I averaged 9.6 L/100 km with some paddle shifting.
The manual RVR I tested was the second-level SE 2WD, which starts at $21.998, but the top-of-the-line GT 4WD starts at $28,498 and comes with an array of gadgets, including Bluetooth, USB ports, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel, rear privacy glass, cruise control, 18” aluminum alloy wheels, and a 710-watt Rockford Fosgate Punch premium sound system.
Overall, I appreciate what Mitsubishi has attempted to do in making the RVR a vehicle that can address consumers’ fuel-efficiency needs. It’s an economical and dependable vehicle with many standard safety features, including active stability control, traction control, seven airbags, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. But for me, the grunting noises it makes upon acceleration and the utilitarian interior design weigh heavily against it. Then again, if you’re just looking for an economical, outwardly stylish vehicle for casual city and driving and transporting the kids to and fro, you could do worse than the RVR, which at least will keep you from going to the pumps too often.
Like most auto makers, BMW is constantly pursuing new customers, but lately they seem particularly interested in going after buyers of brands they don’t ordinarily compete with. How? By making an affordable vehicle that will persuade customers to abandon the notion they can’t afford anything from a luxury maker.
The 2012 BMW X1 xDrive28i is the vehicle in question, and can be had for a starting price of $38,500. It’s a compact vehicle at a compact price, not unlike European-type SUVs that offer luxury features in a smaller package. There’s a lot of pressure on the X1, but, after putting it through its paces, I can say that it definitely fits the bill of a potential game-changer.
The X1 is difficult to pigeonhole, part SUV, part crossover, part wagon, part car, all spliced together. But inside it’s pure of heart: the 2.0 L inline four-cylinder engine boasts a twin-scroll turbocharger that churns out 241 hp and 258 lb-ft of torque. Its eight-speed automatic transmission gets the X1 up to 100 km in 6.6 seconds. The four-cylinder doesn’t give you the same grunt or as smooth a ride as the BMW inline-six does, but what you get in exchange is stellar fuel economy. The stats speak for themselves: 6.5 L/100 km on the highway, 10.2 L/100 km in the city.
In terms of driving, the X1 exhibited much the same brilliant handling that distinguishes virtually all BMW cars and that has made the phrase “German engineering” into a marketing cliché. It was moderately slower upon initial acceleration, but, once it started to rev, it quickly justified its BMW badge. At 2,500 rpm, the power is immediate and gratifying. Power delivery is so linear that you might be closing on 140 km before you know it.
The all-wheel drive system, which is called “xDrive,” includes direct stability control (DSC) and an engine-management system. What really amazed me was how the system can distribute 100% of the engine power to either the front or back axles. For any car junkie, this is an exciting tool to have, since its sensors will let you know where to move some torque if needed. The XI also features a tire-pressure monitoring system and hill-descent control, so you’ll be apprised of everything that’s going on.
The eight-speed automatic transmission is the only option for the X1, but it does come with a manual shift mode, which allows you to really see what all eight-gears provide. Gear changes up or down were seamless, but while the serpentine gear shift is cool to look at, as in most BMWs it was a little tricky to use. In order to reverse, for instance, you need to push upward as opposed to down, which could get you into trouble if someone were to borrow your car.
The interior is cozy, though it lacks the plush design one might expect in a BMW. Unfortunately, sacrifices have also been made with the dash materials, where there was plenty of plastic to go around. However, the panorama sunroof is stunning and instantly stands out, creating the impression that you’re in a more spacious vehicle. Because the vehicle is uncharacteristically compact, back-seat passengers don’t have too much leg room. On the plus side, the rear seats can be folded down almost flat for more trunk space.
In almost every way, the X1 defies categorization. It really has no peers or direct competitors, and its compact size and price tag under $40,000 are sure to appeal to many prospective buyers who might previously have never considered BMW. For someone who’s looking for a powerful and luxurious compact vehicle, the revolutionary X1 could be the perfect fit.
Over the past two years, the North American subcompact segment has heated up, with many manufacturers joining the fray. A lot of advertising dollars have been spent to boost sales, and experts are predicting that the segment will grow 30% over the next four years. Never content to watch from the sidelines, General Motors has been hard at work creating something worthwhile after repeated missteps over the years, most recently with the Aveo. With the new Chevy Sonic, they’ve finally achieved their goal.
As the Aveo’s successor, the Sonic aims to create a thunderous boom in the subcompact segment, and it already has some of the other manufacturers squirming. Using a different design team, GM completely transformed the Aveo, not merely into another affordable car with legs but into one that combines an aggressive, youthful design with turbocharged performance.
My tester, the LTZ, boasted all that the Sonic has to offer and came in a blinding inferno-orange metallic colour. The Sonic has two incarnations, a four-door sedan and a five-door hatch – my LTZ was a hatch. The LTZ is available only with a six-speed manual transmission, but it seems likely that an automatic is in the works.
The snubness of the LTZ’s snout and the distinct scowl of its headlights give it a rebellious, aggressive air that almost seems to say “I may look small, but don’t underestimate me.” Another welcome change from the Aveo is the hidden rear passenger doors, which provides the hatch with a trendy design that exudes youthfulness. The Sonic might be compact, but its small size is offset by its modern looks and cool personality.
The interior cabin is impressively laid out and, with its brightly coloured gauge cluster and some nice gadgets to boot, reflects much the same youthful spirit of the exterior, With its massive digital speedometer, the gauge cluster resembles that of a motorcycle. There may be a lot of hard plastic on the dash, but at least the upscale leather seats were roomy and comfortable. Even the back seats had ample space for at least two adults.
Of course, the true measure of a great car is in its performance, and in this regard the Sonic can go toe to toe with the Honda Fit, the Toyota Yaris, and the Hyundai Accent. It might be new to the neighbourhood, but it’s making its mark with an impressive 1.4 L Ecotec turbo engine cranking out 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. Weighing in at 2,776 pounds, the Sonic may be one of the heaviest vehicles in its segment, but it’s also the fastest in its class.
One major drawback is the clutch: not the greatest in the biz by a long shot. Although I gradually got used to it over the week, there isn’t much feel in it. With regard to acceleration, the Sonic is a little sluggish on initial take-off, and there isn’t a great deal of power in the lower revs, which doesn’t really declare itself until you get up to the sweet spot: 2,500-3,000 revs. As fast as the car is for its segment, it’s still no sports car, and it will lose some power as soon as it hits the red line.
The drive itself is smooth and quiet, especially for a compact, thanks to a stiff suspension that reduces much of the body roll. The steering wheel is light and quick, which allows this little fireball to execute turns and corners beautifully. On one of my longer drives, which combined both city and highway driving, the Sonic averaged 7.1 L / 100 km.
The base price of the Sonic sedan starts at a competitive $14,495, with the hatchback starting at $15,495, but that’s with a 1.8 L engine. The LTZ hatch tester I had starts at $20,995 and is accompanied by XM radio, heated leather seats, 17” alloy wheels, not to mention the 1.4 L turbocharged engine.
All things considered, the Sonic performed admirably and will go a long way towards righting the wrongs of past Chevy failures. It remains to be seen whether it will shake up the subcompact segment, but there’s no doubt that it will be a stronger contender.
The year 2011 has been a busy one for Hyundai. While many manufacturers have struggled with production delays and even closures, Hyundai’s been crafting sleek, reliable, and affordable vehicles for the average consumer. In Canada, Hyundai’s slowly but surely been gaining ground on the big three of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler.
One of the more exciting 2011 Hyundai offerings has been the completely redesigned Sonata, in which the V6 engine has been replaced with a four-cylinder. The regular family-sedan Sonata and Sonata Hybrid are fitted with a 2.4-litre engine, but the Sonata 2.0T has a two-litre direct-injection four-cylinder engine with a twin-scroll turbocharger. Hyundai promised that the Sonata 2.0T would have more power than a V6 and better fuel economy to boot; after test-driving it, I can say that they’ve delivered the goods.
My tester was a veritable beast, packing 274 hp and 269 lb.-ft. of torque with a six-speed automatic transmission and manual switch option. Around town, the 2.0T accelerated smoothly with minimal throttle jerkiness; on the highway, it gathered speed evenly and steadily, which is exactly what you hope for in a well-rounded car. It was all thanks to the direct injection and the twin-scroll turbocharger, which provides the acceleration you’d expect from a V6 while ensuring better fuel economy. The estimated fuel-economy numbers tell the whole story: 9.3 L/100 km in the city, 6.0 L/100 km on the highway.
While I drove around the city, the 2.0T handled expertly. The steering was light for a family sedan, and allowed me to enjoy some smooth lane changes. One of the car’s drawbacks is that it doesn’t absorb bumps on the road especially well, but, given everything else it has to offer, this hardly tips the scales against it. For instance, the interior is comfortable and spacious, with plenty of legroom up front and in back. The control panel is framed in a soft-touch dashboard that is at once modern and curiously satisfying. To configure the air flow within the car, you have to use a digital representation of the human body displayed on the panel, pressing the area you want cooled. Granted, it’s a little weird and over the top, but then again it’s a lot easier to figure out than most of the systems I come across.
If you’re looking for a car with a sleek and modern design, the Sonata will answer beautifully. In particular, the defined creases that shape the body provide the Sonata with a fun and sporty look. On top of this, the dual exhaust shows off its turbocharged engine and rounds out its sportiness.
In the last five years, Hyundai has taken incredible strides using a simple premise: offer more for less. The Sonata 2.0T exemplifies that simple formula. It starts at $29,249 and can get up to $34,199 with its Limited edition, which includes navigation. If it’s a family sedan with some real pop under the hood that you’re after, you need look no further. When it comes to power relative to fuel economy, the Sonata 2.0T is untouchable.
When you think Buick, it’s often images of old men in knee socks peering over the steering wheel or backing out of the drive and into oncoming traffic that come to mind. The name Buick is not ordinarily associated with excitement or fun. However, slowly but surely, General Motors has been rejuvenating the marque, and there is perhaps no finer example of the new spirit than the 2011 Buick Regal. I don’t want to be as clichéd as some of the new Buick commercials, but, simply put, the Regal is a far cry from your father’s car. At first glance, it looks sporty but sophisticated, which is not exactly familiar territory for Buick.
The tester I had was the Buick Regal CXL Turbo. The brilliant chrome grille immediately catches your attention, accenting the car’s midnight-blue metallic colour beautifully and letting you know right away that you’re about to get into something special. On this particular test drive, I was heading for Baltimore, accompanied by The Driver’s camera man, for the inaugural IndyCar Baltimore Grand Prix. It’s always ideal to take a tester for a long drive, since you can put the car through its paces in a wide range of different situations. Although we were good to go from the outset, there was one little hitch: neither of us could figure out how to use the confusing array of buttons and knobs to configure the vehicle the way we wanted it. Even though we were eventually able to solve the problem with the help of the owner’s manual, a car’s console should never be this confusing. Was this Buick’s way of distinguishing the Regal from your father’s Buick? I doubt it, but the technological confusion could really alienate their established clientele.
Beyond the center console, the Regal’s interior is striking. The leather seats were plush and added a luxurious touch. The steering wheel was wrapped in leather and the front seats had metallic door-pulls that really popped. Rear-seat passengers enjoy their own air vents and enough legroom to seat two comfortably.
The drive down the QEW began without incident. Traffic was light, so we had a chance to really stretch the car’s legs and see what it could do. The Regal Turbo has a 2.0 L turbocharged four-cylinder engine that churns 220 horses and 258 lb-ft of torque. It moves at a good clip when you consider the 3,765 pounds of weight it’s carrying (it can accelerate from 0 to100 km in 8.2 seconds). The turbo engine grinds audibly, but it provides a nice juicy shot of adrenaline.
We had occasion to test the Regal’s handling even before crossing the border. Driving in the left-hand lane, I was forced to quickly bend onto the shoulder as another car entered my field of vision while heading straight for the right side of my vehicle. Thankfully I had two cups of coffee in me and was on high alert. Not that I necessarily wanted to test the Regal under true battle conditions, but its agile yet remarkable controlled handling answered without any jerkiness.
The Regal Turbo also offers Interactive Drive Control, which consists of three different suspension options: sport, touring, or standard. In sport mode, I detected faint adjustments in the required steering effort and shift patterns, but it was so subtle that “sport mode” seems like a bit of a misnomer. Ditto during touring mode. But these days, it’s fuel economy that is priority one for many buyers, and manufacturers have responded accordingly. Case in point: the Regal Turbo averages 9.8 L/100 km. We travelled close to 2,000 kilometres on this particular trip but had to fill up only three times.
Overall, the drive was peaceful and comfortable, which is about all you can ask for on a long journey. The same could not be said, however, of the Baltimore Grand Prix, which was action-packed and well worth the drive. The turn-out was astounding and the excitement of the crowds was not misplaced: Team Penske’s Will Power took the checkered flag in what was the best race of the year, surpassing even the Honda Indy Toronto. When it was all over, we packed our bags into the Regal’s kingly 402-litre trunk and pointed our bow at Toronto.
The base price for the Regal is $31,990, while the CXL Turbo starts at $34,990. My tester was fully loaded with many other options, including 19” alloy wheels, power sunroof, Harman/Kardon stereo, Xenon headlights, Satellite radio, and the aforementioned Interactive Drive Control and navigation system, which will bring the cost up to $42,675. That may be a little steep, but, truth be told, you really don’t need all the gadgets to really enjoy this car. Buick has done a great job rebranding themselves to target younger drivers. If you’re looking for a sporty luxury sedan but don’t want to pay a king’s ransom, the Regal is definitely worth a look.
The 2012 Volkswgaen Jetta GLI provides sportier performance at a great price.
In the past, I have owned a couple of Jettas, so when I was invited to the media launch of the GLI – it brought back great memories and made me eager to test drive the new “North Americanized” version. After a two-year wait, The Volkswagen Jetta GLI is back with a reinvented and redesigned sharp look and lower price tag.
The GLI is Jetta’s “sportsline” model, similar to the GTI version of the Golf. For those of you who look for cars with a sportier touch you will be excited for a starting price of $27,475 – which is $2,500 cheaper than its previous 2009 version. It’s not just the price that will get you excited, but the overall performance and look has been refined. Volkswagen listened to its complaints about their Jetta and spruced up the GLI to build it with the European touches that had made it a success.
The Jettas of the past and of today are very different as they are currently being built in Puebla, Mexico. Volkswagen’s long-term goal is to make them more affordable vehicles and in turn create more sales. This has led to a small downgrade in quality for the Jetta, but an upsurge in sales. The Jetta has become a top-ten seller in Canada and a cornerstone of Volkswagen’s success with Jetta sales up 164 percent.
At first glance, the GLI catches your attention with its sleek and sporty look. The first thing that gets a hold of you is the new honeycomb grille that places the GLI badge front and centre. When you get to the back of the vehicle, you will notice smoked tail lights and a twin exhaust. It also has bright red brake callipers, front/rear sport bumpers, side skirts, and 17” alloy wheels to give it that sports car feel.
When you sit inside you can immediately tell that the interior is designed for comfort. Most of the fixings come standard including soft-leather sports seats with red trim stitching that creates that racing feel. There’s also red stitching around the leather steering wheel, gear shift, and hand brake handle. Volkswagen dealt with numerous complaints about its prior basic and hard plastic dashboard and has rectified that with the use of soft-touch plastics. Automatic climate control, six-speed audio with touch-screen, Bluetooth connectivity, and Sirius Satellite radio rounds off the rest of the standard amenities which are very impressive.
There are a few options which can be added to enhance your driving experience. You can upgrade with a technical package that includes a built-in navigation system and a Fender premium audio system for $1,290. Furthermore, you can add a power sunroof for $1,400 and 18” alloy wheels for $975.
You don’t have to worry about many downgrades when it comes to the GLI as it’s propelled by a 200 horsepower, 2-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. It also possesses 207 lb-ft of torque peaking at a low 1,700 rpm, which is hands-down one of the best engines on the market today. For greater stability, the GLI is proud to have a multilink rear suspension instead of the regular Jetta’s torsion-beam rear axle. The torsion-beam needed to be addressed as it raised many eyebrows of Volkswagen owners which caused them to second-guess the newly modelled Jettas.
The base model comes with a six-speed manual transmission, but if you would prefer the six-speed Direct Shift Gearbox (DSG) with Triptronic paddle shifters it will only cost you an extra $1,400. I must say after testing different triptronic/dual-clutch systems, Volkswagen’s DSG is the best in the business. The smooth transitions within gear changes are astonishing as there is absolutely no interruption in driving power. There are two-modes that you can drive in – the regular and sport mode. In its regular driving mode, the shifting is quicker for better fuel efficiency; while sport mode stretches out the gear shifts to get the most out of the engine in each gear.
We really got to test the sportiness of the GLI around Mosport International Raceway just north of Bowmanville, Ontario. To top off this fun-filled racing venture, Volkswagen brought in Canadian racing legend Richard Spenard to provide some helpful tips. The one thing I can safely say is that the stability control was working to perfection as I pushed down on those aluminium pedals and swung the GLI around each corner. You can steer with ease into and out of each corner with complete control. It was truly a joy to fully test what it’s capable of doing which you just cannot do driving throughout the streets of Toronto. The GLI compared well with the Mitsubishi Lancer Sportback Ralliart I recently tested, which is one of the top-sporty cars in its segment.
Volkswagen has done their homework on what their old customers like, as well as adding a lot of new customers by lowering their prices. The new GLI has been crafted with the European-spirit that Volkswagen is famous for. If you are looking for a sporty car with a lot of bite – the GLI looks like the best bang for your buck.
Quebec City, QC - Given the current economic outlook, it’s more important now than ever to make sure that you’re getting bang for your buck, which is why the new 2012 Nissan Versa Sedan may be an ideal choice for those in search of a new set of wheels. I happened to be present at the Versa’s Canadian media launch, which started in downtown Quebec City and through the beautiful Île d’Orléans, as picturesque a venue as any for a test drive. Compact and sporty, the Versa blended in well with the locals as it weaved through narrow streets lined with bakeries, wineries, and chocolatiers.
Ever since the Versa first appeared on the horizon in 2007, Nissan has been riding its momentum. The subcompact has ingratiated itself with many purchasers, not merely holding its own in a fiercely contested field with over ten solid competitors (not least among them the Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, and Honda Fit), but also emerging as the second-favourite choice in that segment for 2010-11. At least part of this success is attributable to its price tag: the Versa has the lowest retail price among subcompacts in Canada.
The 2012 Versa Sedan rides on a newly constructed global “V” platform (“V” as in versatile). It will be the first of many Nissan vehicles to use this new platform, which is 68 kg (150 lbs) lighter than the platform it’s replacing. In keeping with this new weight-loss regimen, the 2012 is 30 mm lower and 15 mm shorter than its stockier predecessors. It’s also the first Nissan car to showcase the marque’s new signature grille, which shines brilliantly with its chrome trim. None of these changes is especially conspicuous in itself, but, when viewed as a whole, they make for a far more stylish exterior design than was typical previously.
According to Judy Wheeler, who heads up marketing at Nissan Canada, the new Versa sedan “stands out as the only expensive-looking car in the segment,” boasting what she describes as “a lot of eye power.” Most of the cuts were made to the front of the interior, but the rear and trunk space have also grown. The Versa now has 419 litres of trunk space, making it more practical for real-world use. Considering its overall size, the interior is extremely roomy, especially when it comes to the rear-seat leg room, which was clearly built to accommodate some serious gams.
The charcoal-grey dashboard is a little primitive, which is scarcely surprising given the car’s price, but the radio, heating, and assorted other knobs are all logically situated. My tester was a Versa SL-CVT that came equipped with navigation, XM Radio, Bluetooth, and USB/iPod connectivity, and that topped out at $16,298.
The standard 5-speed manual Versa (known as the “S”) might be the model featured in most TV and print ads because of its low MSRP of $11,789, but Nissan is expecting most consumers to spring for the next-level “SV.” With its old-school roll-up windows, baseline two-speaker audio system, and lack of A/C, the S is really a Versa lite. The SV still starts at the reasonably low price of $13,798, and comes with air conditioning, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, upgraded seat cloth, chrome trim around the grille and exterior door handles, and a 60:40 rear-seat split-fold.
Whatever you might make of its price, there’s no doubt that the Versa Sedan is a pleasure to drive. It runs on a 1.6-litre 4-cylinder engine that is rated at 109 hp and 107 lb-ft of torque. The engine uses two injectors per cylinder, which allows for a wider injection of fuel. The fuel economy is reported at 6.7 L/100 km in the city, 5.2 L/100 km on the highway, and a class-leading 6.0 L/100 km combined with the CVT (continuously variable automatic transmission), which is available in the SV and standard in the SL.
And if you’re worried about its power numbers, don’t be: on this rainy day in Quebec, my Versa pushed easily (and almost noiselessly) past many other vehicles along the highway.
Granted, the Versa is not going to appeal to all demographics, particularly to those accustomed to a more luxurious and powerful car. But Nissan understands that, and the price of the 2012 clearly reflects what Nissan believes the market will bear. The new Versa, which is ideal for the commuting university or college student, also seems to be aimed more broadly at drivers who want to steer clear of buying another used car and who want the comfort and technological perks of a new one. Ultimately, Nissan has done a fine job distinguishing itself from the pack by creating an affordable car built comfortably for 4 to 5 adult passengers that represents excellent value with its assorted gadgetry.
I recently had the good fortune to test-drive two similar vehicles in the Honda Accord Crosstour and the Acura ZDX in back-to-back weeks. Both are very similar, futuristic-looking crossovers cars, but their prices differ substantially: the Crosstour starts at $34,900 and its upscale cousin, the ZDX, at $54,990. At first glance, the Crosstour looks part wagon, part hatchback, and part crossover, but in my mind it’s first and foremost a good-looking wagon. It seems to be geared to someone who likes an increased elevation over a sedan, yet not quite to the level of an SUV. It has a sleek, sporty, and very curvy exterior design, which makes it look cool, but a lone wolf in its class.
The tester was an EX-L 4WD version, which runs for $38,900. It’s an extremely powerful car in its class, with a 3.5-litre, 271-horsepower V-6 engine and a five-speed automatic transmission. The interior design has been adapted from the Accord sedan and boasts many impressive luxuries, including leather upholstery, heated mirrors, eight-way-driver and four-way-passenger power-adjustable heated front seats, a rear-view camera, XM radio, and a navigation system. The whole design of the Crossover revolves around maximum comfort: I slid easily into my seat and was always relaxed while driving. The legroom is especially generous in both the front and back seats.
As for the driving, the Crosstour’s handling was solid, not exceptional but not poor. The noise reduction system is exceptional, so ambient road noise is held to an absolute minimum. With eight inches of ground clearance, the Crosstour looks like a vehicle that would also thrive off road, but it’s ideally suited for the open highway. It handles well on curvy roads, but it downshifts sluggishly when cornering and is also somewhat slow to switch gears when accelerating. However, it does very well in terms of fuel economy, with an estimated 11.5 L/100 km in the city and 7.2 L/100 km on the highway in front-wheel drive.
With respect to the Acura ZDX, it may have a similar exterior design and share the funky rear hatch of the Honda Crosstour, but it has a totally different feel. Acura says that it’s a cross between a coupe and an SUV. It’s all well and good to admire a car from the outside, but it’s always more exciting to get in and see what the car and is really made of. This is where the problems with the ZDX start: manoeuvring into the driver’s seat is awkward given the car’s strange, sloping, wave-like design from the roofline to the windshield and its low elevation. Getting into the back was even worse because of the small rear-door openings.
Nevertheless, once you manage to make it into the car, it’s extremely comfortable. It comes equipped with all manner of gadgets and is absolutely beautiful inside with soft leather seating and accented stitching. It also has a leather panel and centre console, a multi-view rear camera, XM radio, a panoramic glass roof with a power sunshade, and 10-way power adjustable seating with two memory positions.
The ZDX is based on Acura’s MDX, which is a more conventional-looking SUV powered by the same 300 horsepower, 3.7-litre V-6 engine and six-speed automatic transmission. As those numbers suggest, the ZDX has plenty of power and doesn’t hold back. It’s exciting to drive, upshifts and downshifts with ease, and corners expertly with exceptional handling courtesy of Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system. It also does fairly well in fuel economy, with 12.7 L/100 km in the city and 8.8 L/100 km on the highway. Compared to the other vehicles in its class, the ZDX is not the most practical crossover on the market today: the small cargo space, limited back-seat legroom, and awkward entry are all significant defects. And if none of the issues are deal-breakers, unfortunately the price tag might be. Still, at the end of the day, the ZDX is a powerful, sporty ride whose unorthodox styling is sure to turn a few heads.
Ultimately, both crossovers are slightly eccentric in their respective fields, which will likely cause some shoppers to think twice. They aren’t the most practical cars, but the Honda Crossover may catch on if the price comes down. As for the Acura ZDX, it simply suffers from too many design flaws to be fit enough to survive.
There is arguably no other issue that grabs more attention in the news than the price of fuel. If there is any opportunity to lessen the amount of times to go to the pump, people might just go for it. Now throw in some power and performance and this is why you may get excited for the 2011 Volkswagen Jetta 2.0 TDI (Turbocharged Direct Injection).
Volkswagen has been known for their history of great diesel-powered vehicles and this new Jetta is no exception. It does come with some differences to the Jettas of the past. Volkswagen is currently building them in Puebla, Mexico and has put their long-term goal in place to make them more affordable vehicles and in turn create more sales. This has led to a small downgrade in quality for the Jetta, but it still rivals no other TDI in its class.
I recently had a chance to drive the TDI through some city driving throughout Toronto during the week and a trip up the 400 North and Hwy 26 into Orillia and Collingwood on the weekend.
When you think Infiniti, you think luxury, so there could really be no better setting for the unveiling of the 2012 Infiniti M35h – Nissan’s first in-house hybrid – than the Sparkling Hill Resort overlooking Lake Okanagan in Vernon, BC. Infiniti didn’t want to make a luxurious hybrid simply so that they’d have one as an option in their fleet: they set out to create a hybrid that is not only fuel efficient but that can also perform at a V8 level. “As hybrid technology has gotten more sophisticated, so have hybrid drivers,” said Wendy Durward, director of Infinti Canada. “Where it was once enough to offer fuel efficiency alone, today’s hybrid buyers need performance and handling to go along with the ‘green’ attributes – and that’s where the new Infiniti Hybrid delivers like no other.”
The M35h’s distinctly un-hybrid-like performance is made possible by Infiniti’s Direct Response Hybrid system, which consists of a one-motor, two-clutch parallel system that operates under a 3.5-litre V6 engine running on the Atkinson cycle via rear-wheel drive. The V6 gas engine produces 302hp and 258 lb-ft of torque, but the 50kw electric motor adds an additional 67hp and 199 lb-ft of torque, generating – when linked – a combined 360hp. Perhaps the key technology breakthrough is that the motor is used instead of the usual torque converter, which is what allows for the robust performance.
Hearing these figures and stats got me primed for the ride ahead along Vernon’s winding roads. Before lift-off, I walked around this sleeping giant, sizing it up with admiration. You only get one opportunity to make a first impression, and the M35h takes full advantage: this is one slick, sporty-looking vehicle, from the sharp-looking headlamps to the signature Infiniti grille to the left-and-right exhausts at the rear of the car.
But enough talk. I was ready to go, and eagerly climbed in to fire the engine. It started a bit slow, but when I dropped my foot it answered with smooth acceleration. I was told that the M35h can reach distances upwards of 1.9 kilometres in EV mode at 100 km/h, but it was hard to tell when the vehicle switched from electric power to gas. I monitored the energy-flow screen to see what mode I was in, but it seemed to fluctuate a lot. In any case, it didn’t matter: the transitions were seamless, and the drive was as impressive as the majestic scenery.
For the first time since introducing its flagship premium sports utility vehicle seven years ago, Volkswagen is completely revamping the Touareg lineup for 2011. And the makeover is not merely cosmetic: with the changes, something altogether new (and green) comes into the mix: a hybrid. Das Auto? More like das Hybridauto.
For nearly six decades it's been known as America's sports car, but ask any owner or enthusiast residing north of the 49th parallel and he'll tell you: the Chevrolet Corvette is Canada's sports car too.
Twist the key in the 2011 Shelby GT500's ignition and it growls startlingly to life after an extra second of cranking that suggests something big and angry is about to wake up. Then, after an instant, its supercharged V8 crackles out of the tailpipes with a noise that makes everyone within earshot check overhead for thunderclouds.