Automotive

WhatFinger

Say goodbye to an American tradition: The thrill of the open road

BALTIMORE — Self-driving cars will kill our precious thrill of the open road while hurting large segments of our economy.

When killjoys and bureaucrats get their way, we give up the things that make our lives rich and fun.  We’re are approaching that now with these pod-like vehicles.

Private companies and federal agencies are working to put millions of driverless cars on America’s roads, and there’s a good chance those vehicles will eventually comprise the majority of personal vehicles on our roads: Some are predicting fully automated cars could be 10 percent of global vehicle sales yearly by 2035 and that percentage likely will grow.

By Whitt Flora - Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mazda’s little bundle of joy continues to please

Ah, the Mazda MX-5. Once called the Miata, the Japanese carmaker’s little open top roadster has been around for nearly 30 years and during that time has evolved and grown like most cars.

But unlike some cars that get overstyled or “over-teched” or which lose their original mien over the years, Mazda has never lost the Miata’s focus of delivering the kind of driving joy that used to be found on such cars as the MGB, but without leaving you on the side of the road every time it rains.

Okay, that may be an exaggeration about the old British sports cars, but I’ve owned three MGB’s (in various states of repair from “on its last legs” to “brand new”) and they all left me on the side of the road - so much so that I look back now, decades later, and find it hard to believe I could have been so stupid as to get kicked by that particular mule three times. What can I say? I was a kid.

By Jim Bray - Friday, June 9, 2017

Mazda celebrates a half century of Wankels

It turns out that the phrase “Wankel rotary engine,” unlike how it’s described in an old Monty Python sketch, is no reason for embarrassment. Especially for Mazda, the only carmaker with the pluck to realize - and do its best to prove - that Wankels weren’t just for wankers.

Sure, it hasn’t worked out as Mazda may have liked - the last rotary Mazda was the now-defunct RX-8, a terrific sports car - but it isn’t as if the technology doesn’t work. It just may not work as well as the conventional internal (a.k.a, to greenies, as infernal) combustion engine, especially in this day and age of increasingly mandated fuel economy.

But 50 years ago as of May 30th, the Hiroshima-headquartered carmaker began its legacy of, as Mazda’s press release celebrating the anniversary said, “doing what was said couldn’t be done.” Mazda wasn’t unique, if my aging memory is still working. General Motors was also looking at rotary engines at one time, but I don’t believe they ever followed through. That would make Mazda the only major carmaker to wish the Wankel onto the world, and the company did it not only via its sports cars (though never the Miata) but also via some very nice sedans and coupes. A coupe de grace, perhaps?

By Jim Bray - Friday, June 9, 2017

New apps claim help for gift givers and narcissistic navigators

Have you ever been stuck for gift ideas? Have you ever been bored by the generic computerized voice programmed into your vehicle? Well, folks, the free market has solutions for both of these vital issues and the world may be a better place because of them.

Or not. But they are interesting apps regardless of their overall impact on modern civilization, and I figured you might like to know about them.

Giving till it doesn’t hurt…

By Jim Bray - Sunday, June 4, 2017

Toyota’s 2018 C-HR plows smaller fields with a new crossover

Think of it as a Juke that’s less a joke, or as a little sibling to the RAV4 - but however you choose to gaze upon its little fullness, Toyota’s latest SUV/Crossover is definitely an interesting little vehicle.

Whether or not it’s blazing a new sales trail for Toyota will be known somewhere down the, er, road, but in the meantime, this is definitely - well, reasonably - another compelling vehicle from the land of the rising sun.

Just don’t sit in the back!

By Jim Bray - Sunday, June 4, 2017

Toyota Prius C a cheap and cute way to save gas

It’s pretty Spartan, all things considered, and it’s about as much fun to drive as a hobby horse, but Toyota’s 2017 Prius C hybrid hatchback is still a decent little car that does a lot with a little. And, at a starting list price of $21,975, it doesn’t cost a huge amount of cash to save the Earth.

On the other hand, you could buy a gas-fueled 106 hp Yaris SE five door hatch with an automatic transmission for about $19,510, sans taxes, fees and other kilos of flesh. The Yaris probably won’t get the excellent 4.5 litres per 100 km that I achieved in the Prius C (despite my lead foot), but Toyota claims 7.9/6.8 (City/Hwy) for the Yaris, which is still darn good. And the Yaris is a heckuva lot more fun to drive, if only because it doesn’t come with a whiny continuously variable transmission.

Sure, you’ll be poking the Al Gores, David Suzukis and "Science Guys" of the world in the eye, but how is that a bad thing?

By Jim Bray - Saturday, May 27, 2017

CX-9 brings Mazda’s fun driving experience to the three row crossover

It’s big and it only sports a four banger engine, but the Mazda CX-9 SUV/crossover is one of the best driving vehicles in the class.

In other words, it’s a typical Mazda.

Mazda is a relatively small car company, and for the last few years the Hiroshima-headquartered Japanese carmaker has had to forge its own path without another carmaker having its back (Ford used to be a partner). Yet it consistently comes up with vehicles - sedans, SUV/crossovers and, of course, sports coupes - that are just plain fun, yet are also featured fully and exude an air of quality that makes them seem more expensive than they are. 

The CX-9 is Mazda’s biggest vehicle, but slip this baby into sport mode via the little rocker switch on the centre console and the vehicle seems to shrink a tad, just enough to make it sit up and take notice that you’re looking to play. It still feels big, of course - even Mazda can’t change the laws of physics - but it goes from feeling like a nice, big SUV to a nice, big Mazda SUV, and all the “Zoom-Zoom” that brings.

By Jim Bray - Thursday, May 18, 2017

Toyota Camry: the extraordinary ordinary family car

It’s been called vanilla, boring, bland, but what the Toyota Camry really is, is a fabulously designed and rendered sedan that gives a driver everything needed and most of what could be wanted - in an unassuming but handsome package that’s as state-of-the-art as most people could want.

It also sells oodles (it’s been one of the top selling cars for years now) and, judging by the Toyota logo and the number of old Camry still on the road, it’ll probably run forever.

That, to me, makes it an automotive masterpiece.

Sure, I’ve called the car vanilla, and I suppose it still is in some ways - in that it’s not yummy like butterscotch or a fantastic driving car like an Audi A6 or even, well, the Hyundai Elantra Sport reviewed here last week. I meant that crack originally as a minor put down of what I considered to be a boring car, but over the years that I’ve reviewed cars (including more than a few Camrys) the Camry has grown in looks, driving feel, and features - so much so that this current version (which will be replaced for 2018 with an even newer one) really is pretty much all one could want in a car. And it’s even decent to drive!

By Jim Bray - Thursday, May 18, 2017

Sporty Hyundai sedan ups the fun factor of an already great car

It drives like a Volkswagen Jetta GLI, and it feels like a German car in its construction. But it’s not German - it’s from South Korea, proving once more that the "traditional" automakers had better be taking the Hyundai/Kia twins very seriously lest they end up on the government dole.

The car under discussion here is the Hyundai Elantra Sport,  the winner of the Best New Sport/Performance car from AJAC’s Canadian Car of the Year awards - an annual fall TestFest that also resulted in the more "pedestrian" Elantra winning its
category
as well. Quite a feat for a company whose cars used to be the butts of many automotive jokes (though that was a long time ago now!).

By Jim Bray - Friday, May 5, 2017

VW Passat Estate

We live in a materialistic world.

This fact becomes blatantly clear when I park the sleek Volkswagen Passat Bluemotion estate on the busy main road outside my house. The previous day I had done this with my own ageing mark 5 Ford Fiesta and had very quickly proceeded to be bibbed and tooted by a series of impatient motorists fed up with queuing to get passed me. Yet not a soul does this with the Passat, which is parked there at a much busier time of day for considerably longer. Now aside from this being an interesting study in human behaviour the large VW plays a vitally important role in my family’s move from our Victorian mid-terrace to a more family friendly detached property in a quieter location. Without doubt parking the VW outside our house increases the street’s credibility and there is no qualm about doing this because there are power folding wing mirrors so they cannot be knocked by frustrated drivers.

By Tim Saunders - Friday, May 5, 2017

Honda and Toyota offer wildly different visions of Crossover styles

One’s a truck that drives like an SUV; the other is an SUV that drives like a truck. Which one makes more sense?

Naturally, it depends on the task at hand. If you’re looking for a small pickup truck that rides like more a car, the Honda Ridgeline is the clear choice. But if you want a brawny adventurer that’ll be as comfortable off the asphalt as it is inside the city, the Toyota 4Runner is the winner.

And never will the twain meet, except perhaps in this column.

By Jim Bray - Saturday, April 22, 2017

Ford SUV’s offer good driving and plentiful technology for 2017

Ford offers a long list of SUV’s for sale, from the entry size Escape to the humongous Expedition, all of which face stiff competition from a huge number of SUV/Crossover models available. So how do the three most popular models stack up for the 2017 model year?

Pretty well, I’d say, though I haven’t driven all of the competition recently. But after a week with each of the Escape, Edge and Explorer (with a week off between to fall under the spell of the exquisite new Lincoln Continental), I came away impressed with how well the vehicles drive, how easy they are to operate, and how nice they are overall.

I slid my prodigious posterior into the Edge first, Ford of Canada’s sample wearing the Sport trim level that immediately caused my ears to perk up. Sure, it’s a bigger SUV than I like (which makes the Explorer even more so…), but - at least in the Sport trim - it drives smaller than it looks, and that made a huge difference to my enjoyment.

By Jim Bray - Friday, April 14, 2017

New Hyundai hybrid an interesting and rewarding drive

Hyundai’s Ioniq green car is so new we don’t even have a published price for it in Canada yet, but it’s worth waiting for because the hybrid is so good to drive I kept forgetting it’s an earth saver.

Heck, I liked driving the Ioniq so much that, after all my hybrid humour and hammering over the years, I figure I’m risking a lightning bolt from above just for saying I like this car. And isn’t that ioniq, er I mean ironic?

By Jim Bray - Sunday, April 9, 2017

Motoring: Honda HR-V

When the Honda HR-V arrives on my doorstep (it’s a tough job being a motoring journalist) I am very pleasantly surprised. You see I remember the original HR-V in production from 1999 to 2006, which looked, frankly, strange. It was a quirky vehicle that didn’t really look comfortable in itself and quite boxy, too.

This second generation model is a veritable delight. It’s curvaceous and sexy and extremely youthful looking no doubt enhanced by its pearly white finish. First and foremost it is a sports utility vehicle (SUV) but I would go as far as saying that it is one of the most stylish I have had the pleasure of driving. Head on it looks fresh; I like the curvaceous front end and from the rear there is a hint of the frog about it thanks to its slightly arched back.

By Tim Saunders - Sunday, April 9, 2017

New Continental puts Lincoln firmly back on the map

It doesn’t wallow, nor does it feel like a car my grandfather would drive. In fact, it looks as if Lincoln has thrown down a gauntlet with the 2017 Continental, announcing to the world that the famed marque is not only back, but capable of taking on the competitors head to head.

When was the last time you read that about a Lincoln Continental?

It’s something I had never written before, let alone thought.  Oh, I liked the MKZ I drove last fall a lot, but as nice as it was it still felt like a “gussied up” Fusion (which it is, really), whereas after spending a week in the grand new Continental I came away excited for the future of the famed nameplate, which had kind of gone to sleep as a major luxury brand.

By Jim Bray - Friday, March 31, 2017