Automotive

Automotive, Car Reviews

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

Ford Fusion hybrid adds mileage but - like most hybrids -  subtracts driving joy

It drives like a hybrid - with a whiny CVT transmission and more leisurely acceleration than some might like - but at heart Ford’s 2017 Fusion hybrid is a very nice car. And if you don’t want a hybrid, they make enough other models to satisfy nearly everyone.

Those "other models" include a plug in hybrid and a Fusion Sport that sounds really fun and interesting (more on that in a future column) - and there’s also a Platinum trim level now that tosses about every creature comfort and technological gewgaw you could think of into the mix.

But this column is about my week in the Fusion hybrid, in its Titanium trim level. And if you take it out of eco mode and ignore the CVT’s whine, you might find it a very nice choice in the mid-size sedan niche.

By Jim Bray - Friday, October 7, 2016 - Full Story

Ford F-150 Limited a big but luxurious worker

There are many reasons why Ford’s F-150 truck is the biggest selling vehicle in North America, and has been for decades. It’s rugged, hauls a lot of stuff, and with every generation it gets more advanced and sophisticated.

The current generation, for those who’ve missed the many,  many commercials for the F-150, even switched from a steel-intensive body structure to one made of "military grade" (whatever that means)  aluminum. That decreases the vehicle’s weight, which can increase its payload capacity and/or reduce fuel consumption, both of which can be handy features in a large utility vehicle such as this.

It’s near the end of the model year, but Ford of Canada sent me a 2016 Limited trim level of the F-150 to drive anyway and, truck person that I am not, I wasn’t really looking forward to it. But - alert the media - I really liked driving it, its size and utility notwithstanding.

By Jim Bray - Saturday, October 1, 2016 - Full Story

Jaguar brings a different kind of Pride parade to its vehicular road show

Jaguars, as in the big cats, are apparently solitary animals for the most part, but when you bring them together in a group it’s referred to as a "pride," just like with lions.

And I’d be lion if I told you I didn’t have a really great time at Jaguar Land Rover Canada’s Art of Performance tour, which stopped in Calgary over the September 17 weekend. In fact, my buttocks had to be "pride" from the seat of an F-Type before I’d leave.

The Art of Performance tour is billed by the company on its website thusly: "Thrill your senses. Introducing the all new XE, XF and F-Pace,  our new generation of vehicles at the Art of Performance Tour." And that’s what it turned out to be, a two and a half hour first impression of the marque’s newest vehicles, with a bit of "fake off road" Range Rover performance thrown in for good measure.

By Jim Bray - Thursday, September 22, 2016 - Full Story

Kia Sportage a compelling small crossover

Chalk up another win for Kia. The South Korean carmaker’s 2017 Sportage is a handsome and enjoyable vehicle that’s full of modern technology and safety features. It’s decent to drive, too.

And fortunately, it comes with a warranty - not that that’s unique. But read on!

Available in three trim levels - LX, EX and SX Turbo, both in either front or all-wheel drive configurations (the SX is AWD only, though)  - the SUV/Crossover starts at a reasonable $24,895 CAD for the FWD LX and climbs to $39,595 for the top line SX Turbo. The SX is the one Kia Canada sent for test purposes and other than a flutter in the two litre engine that would undoubtedly be fixed easily under warranty, I found it a really nice vehicle.

By Jim Bray - Thursday, September 15, 2016 - Full Story

Mazda’s new CX-9 downsizes the engine but keeps the ‘Zoom-Zoom’ intact

The bad news is that you can no longer get a V6 engine in Mazda’s biggest SUV. The good news is that you may not care.

I must admit that I was worried when I heard that Mazda was dumping the V6. I liked the old CX-9 a lot - I have yet to drive a Mazda I didn’t like - and I was concerned that trimming it down to a turbocharged four cylinder engine would lead to a vehicle that wouldn’t be as much fun to drive. But I needed have worried! After spending a week in the new CX-9, I commend Mazda for their choice because the new CX-9 loses nothing important in the way of performance, yet it shed weight and undoubtedly upped its fuel mileage in the process.

Therefore, we have a new turbo four, the first turbocharged SKYACTIV engine from Mazda, and while its horsepower rating of 227 may not set the world on fire considering the size of the CX-9, its 310 lb.-ft. of torque,  available at a nice and low 2,000 rpm, makes up for it very nicely.

By Jim Bray - Thursday, September 8, 2016 - Full Story

Ford’s Flex is a capable true crossover

In the tradition of the little engine that could, Ford really could call its Flex crossover the minivan that isn’t.

That’s because it isn’t a minivan, but it might as well be. Even better, it isn’t an SUV either, as compared with most "other" SUV’s on the market. And it’s a station wagon, too! Really, the Flex is one of the few true "crossovers"  I can think of, a vehicle that transcends the niches between the various and supposedly "soccer mom movers" that make up a so much of the marketplace.

Ford could be accused of trying to maximize sales by straddling the line between two or three, niches, but that would only be fair if the company had come out with some mishmash that didn’t do any job adequately. Fortunately, the Flex is, if not formidable, at least very good - and surprisingly driveable as long as you keep its turning circle in mind when you’re angle parking.

By Jim Bray - Saturday, August 27, 2016 - Full Story

Nissan adds a famed diesel name to its Titan line

It’s big, it’s brawny - and, for those who want maximum hauling performance, now you can get it with a torquey and businesslike Cummins diesel engine

It’s the Nissan Titan, and I just spent a week in Nissan Canada’s sample 2016 Nissan Titan XD Platinum Diesel Crew Cab 4x4 (one of five versions offered), tooling around the city and environs, cutting a swath through lesser vehicular traffic - which is most vehicular traffic!

If you’re a regular reader of my stuff - and thanks,  by the way! - you’ll know I’m not really a truck guy, so to ensure as much fairness and accuracy as possible I enlisted the help of a couple of friends,  one of whom owns a first generation Titan and one of whom owns two big Ram trucks, including a diesel. I defer to their knowledge and experience, though of course I also have my own opinons for whatever they’re worth.

By Jim Bray - Saturday, August 20, 2016 - Full Story

Ford ups the content ante on 2016 Mustang

It wasn’t exactly a mid-life crisis, but it sure may have looked like it to people not inside the car.

I’m referring to my recent week in the 2016 Ford Mustang GT convertible, which just happened to coincide with my 64th birthday and came at a time when the weather cried out for a ragtop.

Mustang has always been my favourite muscle car, sometimes called Pony car - but only because the Mustang is the original pony car,  appearing first in 1964 and changing the fun car market ever since then. Well,  mostly. There were some Mustangs during the 1970’s that weren’t fit to carry the horse logo and, I have to admit, none of the Mustangs really turned my crank between 1970 and the car’s reboot in the early 2000’s.

By Jim Bray - Thursday, August 11, 2016 - Full Story

Shomi streaming tries to cut into Netflix’ business

Netflix may be the several hundred pound gorilla in the world of TV content streaming - and with good reason - but competitor shomi has a lot going for it as well. I don’t think it has the depth and breadth of what Netflix offers, but there’s still plenty of programming to peruse.

The folks behind the service offered me a free month to sample its wares,  so I took them up on it; unfortunately, due to a brain issue (I forgot!) I signed up just as I was leaving for vacation, so I didn’t have as much time to poke around as I’d have liked before my trial period ended. But I got a decent first impression.

By Jim Bray - Thursday, August 11, 2016 - Full Story

Mercedes-Benz C Class coupe a real coup

Mercedes-Benz certainly seems to be on a roll these days.  The German luxury car manufacturer is currently making some of the most attractive vehicles in its history, beauty being in the eye of the beholder of course, and they’re integrating the latest technology into their models without making most of it unnecessarily annoying and/or obtrusive.

And that’s on top of their long-held reputation as the maker of some of the finest cars on the market - an impression they continue to foster via their slogan "The best, or nothing."

Ford’s 2017 Fusion offers something for nearly everyone

Ford’s top selling Fusion has a new look and new capabilities for 2017, and if my all-too-brief experience with the car on its introduction in British Columbia last week is any indication, it should continue to be a popular choice with consumers.

Ford of Canada invited me, and a gaggle of other car writers, to sample the 2017 Fusion, which isn’t a complete redesign but is still a major rethink of what was a pretty decent car already. Ford has made a number of tweaks they think - and they’re probably right - will help keep the car competitive in this bread-and-butter market niche that also features such great vehicles as the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord, Mazda6, VW Passat, Kia Optima,  Hyundai Sonata etc. etc. etc.

By Jim Bray - Thursday, July 28, 2016 - Full Story

Mercedes Benz Driving Academy helps you learn the physics of driving

Mercedes-Benz just taught me how to drive like Jackie Stewart!

Okay, maybe not - few people can drive like the legendary "wee Scot" who won the Formula 1 championship three times in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. But thanks to Mercedes-Benz’s Driving Academy and their recent "Mastering Performance" course at Castrol Raceway near Edmonton, I learned some great techniques aimed at making me a better driver - and one of those techniques was pioneered by Sir Jackie himself.

It’s called "trail braking," and if you can drive a manual transmission you’ll find it quite similar to using the clutch. But more about that later.

By Jim Bray - Thursday, July 14, 2016 - Full Story

Range Rover a classy suit of diesel-powered clothes

Range Rover has a solution for buyers of big,  luxury sports utes who don’t want to pay through the nose at the gas pump to get their big and heavy luxury vehicles around: get a diesel!

It’s too bad diesels have received so much bad publicity over the last year or so, because they really are remarkable power plants. Where else can you get gobs of oomph and still achieve great "gas" mileage other than electric cars, most of which still don’t have the range and take too long to charge?

By Jim Bray - Thursday, June 30, 2016 - Full Story

13 Hours and Anomalisa - two very different tales of humanity

One is a big and brash look at some American heroes left out to dry by their government and the other is an animated take on one man’s bittersweet attempt to feel like he belongs. And though they don’t have a lot in common, 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi and Anomalisa kind of bookend the movie business: a larger than life action movie and a smaller than life artsy fartsy "think piece."

Of the two, I preferred 13 Hours, not so much because it’s a better movie or a better story, but because it’s a more important film, a whistleblowing on a corrupt political regime for whom the military are pawns to be used and abused. I had hoped for more from Anomalisa, being a sucker for stop motion animation, but came away wondering why they bothered making it that way; about the only thing that made stop motion necessary was an explicit sex scene the filmmakers probably couldn’t have gotten away with and maintained their 14A rating using real actors.

By Jim Bray - Thursday, June 30, 2016 - Full Story