Automotive

Automotive, Car Reviews

Motoring: Fiat 500x

Teenagers standing by the roadside clapping and cheering.

Not something that I expect as I drive past in the Fiat 500x and at first I am oblivious but then slowly realise it’s the bright Amalfi yellow exterior - costing in excess of £1,000 - that’s really brought us to their attention.

Few vehicles on Britain’s roads have this effect and that alone makes you stand back and admire this characterful Italian.

Fiat has really achieved something special with this sports utility vehicle. It’s a difficult thing to do when considering the competition from the likes of the eye-catching Nissan Juke and Qashqai etc. etc.

By Tim Saunders -- Zainab Calcuttawala- Saturday, March 4, 2017 - Full Story

Toyota’s 2017 Highlander a handsome and comfortable SUV

The popular Highlander SUV/Crossover is about mid-way through its current generation and Toyota has enhanced and upgraded it for the 2017 model year, making it an even more pleasant vehicle to be in.

In fact, I’d reckon that, after my week in Toyota Canada’s sample Highlander XLE AWD model that it’s an even nicer vehicle than its up market cousin, the Lexus RX 350. That’s because, while it isn’t as luxurious or, ahem, prestigious as the Lexus (which rides on the same basic platform), the sample was plenty luxurious enough, more handsome inside and out (with the usual "eye of the beholder" caveat)  and easier to operate.

The ease of use comes mostly from Toyota’s decision to put a touch screen in the centre stack and mount it within reach of even short people. And it’s easy to fathom and to use. The Lexus has its screen mounted high and out of reach, forcing the company to put one of those damn mouse-like Remote Touch devices on the centre console, and as nifty as that sounds it’s actually counterproductive if you’re just trying to get stuff done because you’re fiddling with the knob and menus all the time instead of just poking and choosing.

By Jim Bray - Friday, February 24, 2017 - Full Story

Volkswagen and Subaru drive off with Canadian Car of the Year honours

The best new car and utility vehicles in Canada for 2017 come from Germany and Japan and, while one is considered a car, both could be considered utility vehicles as well.

That’s because the Canadian Car of the Year (CCOTY) overall winner, the Volkswagen Golf Alltrack, is not only a great car in its own right,  it’s also what once would have been known in these parts as a station wagon, a family-and-hauling-friendly vehicle that blends the best of both worlds while never forgetting that at heart, it’s a Golf - which is a very good thing indeed.

The other side of the Car of the Year coin is Utility Vehicle of the Year, which for 2017 has gone to the Subaru Forester, which just happens to be my favourite Subaru year after year (though I must admit liked earlier ones better).

By Jim Bray - Monday, February 20, 2017 - Full Story

Honda moves in the right direction with the new CR-V

Maybe Honda is listening to its critics because this new CR-V is a nice step back toward Hondas of old, Hondas that weren’t just great vehicles, but which didn’t really annoy their owners at the same time.

I’ve been one of those critics over the past few years,  though I can’t imagine a small potatoes guy like me being responsible for Honda moving back toward the light - but it’s sure good to see.  

By Jim Bray - Saturday, February 11, 2017 - Full Story

Lexus GS sport sedan a ‘Lexurious’ and fun drive

Lexus has been relentlessly, and passionately, pursuing automotive perfection since the brand first upset the luxury car market back in 1989. Does that mean its current line has reached that pinnacle of automotive excellence for which it has advertised its intent for so long?

Of course not. The only perfection in this world is my wife - followed closely by my grandson (and, yes, they made me write that) - and it isn’t realistic to expect flawlessness in any mere product, especially since your idea of perfection is undoubtedly quite a bit different from mine (which,  of course, means yours is wrong…).

But they keep plugging away, redefining and refining their line and building some of the most reliable vehicles on the planet year after year.

By Jim Bray - Sunday, February 5, 2017 - Full Story

Acura’s biggest SUV gets rhinoplasty for 2017

The Acura MDX has traditionally been a very nice luxury SUV and this might explain why the 2017 version hasn’t changed a lot from the previous year.

Probably the biggest change is to its front end, which now sports a new grille the company calls "diamond pentagon." I had no issues with the last schnozzola on the MDX - my issues with the vehicle stem more from an interior treatment that hasn’t been changed significantly, and that’s a shame.

By Jim Bray - Friday, January 27, 2017 - Full Story

Hyundai’s popular big ute gets a 2017 freshening

It may not be particularly sporting when stacked up against the likes of the Porsche Macan and Jaguar F-Pace, but Hyundai’s 2017 Santa Fe Sport costs a lot less and still manages to offer a lot of good stuff -  including some fun - to its potential buyers.

The Sport - a moniker that distinguishes the two row, five seat Santa Fe from the three row XL version - is said to have "over 350 all-new parts with new features" as well as 11 per cent better fuel mileage and, of course, new standard equipment.

By Jim Bray - Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - Full Story

Toyota Camry hybrid a surprisingly nice drive

It’s been called an appliance, a vanilla vehicle, boring, whatever. But the fact remains that Toyota’s Camry is a model of greatness in its own right - a car that’ll deliver comfortable and efficient driving for many years without fuss or hassle.

It’s also one of the top-selling vehicles in North America and, though it may never quicken the pulse of driving enthusiasts, it delivers a better driving experience than those same enthusiasts might expect.

Even in its hybrid form, the topic of this piece. Oh, as a hybrid it’s saddled with a noisy and whiny CVT and CVT’s also generally sap a lot of the enjoyment out of the driving process, but even that couldn’t kill my enjoyment during a recent week with the Camry hybrid SE.

By Jim Bray - Friday, January 13, 2017 - Full Story

Fiat Chrysler pumps $1 billion, 2000 jobs, into Michigan and Ohio

It feels like, every few days since November 8th, we get another happy story about the U.S. business outlook.  Whether it’s Carrier sticking around, Ford scrapping it’s Mexico plant, or SoftBank creating jobs for 50,000 Americans, it seems we’re just being inundated with good news. Now, we have some more.  Fiat Chrysler will be investing a billion dollars in Michigan and Ohio, creating 2,000 jobs in the process.

I’m not sure what happened on November 8th, but it sure looks like it’s working out.

By Robert Laurie - Monday, January 9, 2017 - Full Story

Honda’s new Ridgeline improves an already interesting pickup

Honda’s odd-looking pickup truck of old is gone, replaced by a new generation - its second - that brings a much more conventional demeanour to the marketplace.

And other than some "Honda-isms" that mar an otherwise great interior, it could be the perfect choice for people who need a pickup truck sometimes, but whose hauling needs aren’t heavy duty and who prefer the driving feel of a n SUV or crossover to that of a "regular" truck.

Part of the reason for that different feel from other pickups is because the Ridgeline isn’t a "regular" pickup truck at all. It features a unibody, er, body, which is more like today’s cars and SUV’s than the "body on frame" construction of the garden variety pickup. This makes the Ridgeline feel more like a Honda Pilot than, say, a Toyota Tacoma, and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, as a "not a truck guy" kind of guy, I’d look to the Ridgeline before any other pickup truck on the market if I ever needed to buy a truck.

By Jim Bray - Saturday, January 7, 2017 - Full Story

Smallest Lexus SUV continues to be a winner

Take Lexus’ top selling vehicle, the RX 350, shrink it to the next market niche down, and resist the urge to add a bunch of over styled cues and the result is the NX 200t, a wonderful little crossover/SUV that Lexus has made even more wonderful for 2017.

Well, mostly. It still has that awful "spindle" grille that’s infecting all Lexi currently, and you have to use a trackpad to navigate its central stack’s LCD - but other than that the NX continues to be my favourite current Lexus, the nicest of a very nice line of luxury vehicles.

Think of it as kind of a Rav4 on steroids,  though that isn’t really fair to either vehicle. But they both operate in that basic size niche, though of course at different areas of the marketplace. And they’re both very good vehicles, the NX also having the honour of being the first Lexus to sport, a term used not to describe its driving experience, a turbocharged engine.

By Jim Bray - Friday, December 23, 2016 - Full Story

Lincoln MKZ offers a capable and luxurious drive

Remember Lincoln? Ford’s high end division used to be out front - whether as luxury limo-type vehicles such as the Continental, "hot rods" of song, and even the original 1960’s TV Batmobile, which was really a Lincoln under the skin.

Whatever happened? Lincoln is still around, but today their vehicles are basically gussied up Fords - not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that. But it seems to me that the high end vehicles should be the state-of-the-art ones, with their stuff trickling down to their lesser brands.  This is how companies like Lexus have done it traditionally - stuff that began life on the top line vehicles, even such currently "pedestrian" features such as traction control, ABS and airbags, have made their way down the market and can now be found on the "lowly" Toyotas.

By Jim Bray - Friday, December 16, 2016 - Full Story

Hyundai scores a twofer in the 2017 Canadian Car of the Year competition

Hyundai’s Elantra copped a couple of category crowns in the 2017 Canadian Car of the Year Awards, announced on Tuesday, December 6 in Toronto.

The South Korean automaker’s compact sedan was named Best New Small Car and its new Sport version won Best New Sports/Performance Car.  The news comes in the wake of the Canadian Car of the Year TestFest held at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park during the last week of October.

Eight category winners were announced in all, the winners now competing head to head with each other for the overall bragging rights as Canadian Car of the Year and Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year, which will be announced next February. AJAC, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, under whose auspices the competition is held, will also name the Canadian Green Car of the Year awards next March.

By Jim Bray - Friday, December 9, 2016 - Full Story

Toyota Corolla: 50 years of a great small car

It’s been Toyota’s bread and butter car since before there was a Camry, and after a 50 year evolution in the automotive marketplace it continues to be a great little car for the 2017 model year.

Toyota must be doing something right because the Corolla has wriggled its way into a lot of people’s hearts over that half century, so much so that has become the top selling vehicle in the world, knocking the classic VW Beetle off that perch a while back. So while it may be a tad bland for some people, it’s obviously the perfect choice for many others.

And here’s something you might not expect: you can configure it with a six speed manual transmission!

By Jim Bray - Thursday, December 1, 2016 - Full Story

AWD makes Golf wagon an even better choice

One of my favourite cars has received a couple of great updates for 2017. It’s the Volkswagen Golf, one of the world’s great cars, and now they’ve introduced the Alltrack, a raised, all-wheel drive version of the Golf Sportwagon I enjoyed so much last year.

Now, I’m a sucker for Volkswagen products anyway, whether VW itself, Audi or Porsche (the only VW brands I’ve driven to date - no Bentleys or Bugattis for me, yet, alas). But even the "garden variety" VW’s drive great, have wonderful interiors with interfaces that are easy to get up to speed with, and are just wonderful cars all around. It’s a shame you can’t buy a VW diesel right now, too, because they’re great vehicles despite VW’s run-in with the Obama regime - and that would be the version I’d want.

By Jim Bray - Wednesday, November 23, 2016 - Full Story

Jaguar’s first SUV snarls like a beast - and drives like a Jag

Jaguar’s first entry into the popular SUV/Crossover market is a really nice vehicle, if my brief test drive recently is any indication.

The new for 2017 vehicle came into my possession for three days a couple of weeks ago; it would have been a full week but family emergencies cut short my time with it, much to my chagrin because I really liked the new Jag. The F-PACE goes head to with such competitors as the Porsche Macan,  BMW X3, Mercedes GLC, Lexus RX,  etc. etc. etc.

By Jim Bray - Saturday, November 19, 2016 - Full Story

Star Trek goes Beyond HD with 4K Blu-ray release

Whew, that was a relief!

After the disappointment of Star Trek Into Darkness (a.k.a. "Star Trek II: the wrath of Khan II"), I was really afraid that a new director and writer would make things even worse.  I loved the "original" reboot from 2009, in which J.J. Abrams and his team breathed new life into the then-moribund franchise, but the first sequel squandered a really great first hour by rehashing one of the greatest Trek films ever, and doing it in a way that showed the writers and performers weren’t fit to shine the shoes of the originators.

So it was with this in mind that I belatedly tackled Star Trek Beyond (belated because I missed a couple of weeks due to family emergencies thousands of miles away) - hoping it would be a worthy entry into the Trek universe but fearing that, at best, it’d be a home theatre toy for the eyes and ears but basically cotton candy for the brain.   

By Jim Bray - Friday, November 18, 2016 - Full Story

Canadian Car of the Year TestFest puts the latest through their paces

Take the mid-fall colours of southern Ontario, add a world class racing facility with gobs of heritage, mix in about 35 of the newest vehicles available in Canada and you have the recipe for an exciting Canadian Car of the Year 2017 TestFest.

It’s an annual affair mounted under the auspices of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC),  an intensive few days in which car writers from across Canada converge on Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (nee Mosport) to wring the latest wheels out in what amounts to glorified test drives that give us a decent first impression of what’s coming for the next automotive year. It’s also a real blast, especially if your advanced driving courses are up to date, in which case you get to take the wildest of the wheels onto the facility’s Driver’s Development Track.

I, thanks to a course earlier this year courtesy of Mercedes Benz,  was current, and positively salivating at the chance to take cars like the new Porsche 911, Mercedes C coupe AMG and BMW M2 onto the tight twisties of the DDT.  And I wasn’t disappointed. They have real drivers on hand as well, to ensure you don’t do something stupid with the high end iron, and their tips came in really handy.

By Jim Bray - Friday, November 11, 2016 - Full Story

Dodge Challenges for muscle car supremacy

Dodge’s Challenger Scat Pack Shaker (and no, the scat pack doesn’t mean it leaves stuff behind it on the road) is not only a great muscle car experience, it’s also an interesting lesson in semantics.

That’s because it teaches us that the word "standard transmission" no longer applies to a stick shift, at least in this instance. Nope, in this case, the 485 "horsepowerhouse" comes "standard" with an automatic transmission, whereas the great Tremec six speed stick manual transmission is a thousand dollar option.

And a good option, too - better than a lot of the nannies for which you can pay more!

By Jim Bray - Thursday, October 20, 2016 - Full Story

New Mercedes-Benz E-Class is a mostly excellent and state-of-the-art drive

Mercedes-Benz’ new E-Class is a bit of a revelation, not only about what a current mid-size luxury sedan can be, but also about where the market as a whole is going. And, like the E-Class, it should be an interesting ride.

I expected to like the E-Class, but after a week in Mercedes-Benz Canada’s sample E 300 4MATIC (all-wheel drive) I came away wishing I didn’t have to take it back.

As if that’s never happened to me before…

The new E-Class shows that Mercedes-Benz continues to be on a roll, both as far as styling and driver engagement are concerned. As the for tech stuff, well, you may find it a "love it or hate it" scenario. I certainly loved some of its toys and tools, and was amazed by some - but others would be real deal breakers, though fortunately, the ones I hated most (lane departure warning/assist) can be turned off.

By Jim Bray - Thursday, October 13, 2016 - Full Story