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.