2018 Honda Odyssey

I always like to start stories about this type of vehicle by restating the point that if you need a minivan, you should buy a minivan. Don’t try to weasel out and get an SUV with third-row seats because they look cooler, you’re a grownup now.

The vehicles make the most sense for many situations, and needn’t reek of soccer-dad mediocrity, particularly with some of the models available today, like this one here: a 2018 Honda Odyssey.

One of the more highly regarded minivans out there, and offering a nearly complete collection of practical function and usefulness (and seating for up to seven passengers in the case of my test van here), Odyssey brings more than family-friendliness, particularly in the Touring trim.

Spoiler: it also becomes one of the more expensive family vans you can buy if you select the Touring model, although not the most expensive well-equipped van I’ve seen for 2018 (that award would go to Chrysler’s latest Pacifica – you can find a look at it here).

I will stress also that while my Odyssey Touring test vehicle tipped in at over 50K, the lineup starts at $34,890, so the case can be made that it competitive with Kia’s Sedona or the Toyota Sienna.

The whole lineup gets the same engine, a redesigned 3.5 litre six-cylinder (built in Alabama) for this fifth-generation van, which has received a power boost for 2018 that pumps up the output to a pretty robust 280hp and 262 lb.-ft. of torque.

It’s a FWD drivetrain that handles well for a vehicle of its type, with steering that is likewise appropriate for this shape and size. Definitely a lighter feel than what you’d find in an Accord, but I wouldn’t want it to be overly ‘sporty’ anyway, for fear of throwing around the passengers in the rear seats.

The styling of the Odyssey hasn’t received the radical reworking of the sheetmetal that Honda’s Civic and latest Accord received; it’s still recognizable when parked side by side with the outgoing generation.

The 18 has a new-look grille and headlamps, a bit of extra pizzazz added stamped into the side panels, and the recognizable ‘lightnining bolt’ of the side window trim has been smoothed out a bit.

The body has been lightened, cabin sound insulation and overall ride improved, and two new transmissions added to the lineup; including a Honda’s ten-speed automatic (the company is awfully proud of the ten-speed, and offering it in a number of their vehicles in the upper trim levels, notably the latest Accord).

The 10-speed is one of only a few features that a buyer needs to move up to the Touring trim to get, though – if you can get by with only nine cogs, well, the rest of the lineup may do you just fine.

A couple of other exclusives for the Touring trim are worth noting, and mostly fall into the additional bells-and-whistles category, but my favorites are:

An upgraded, 11-speaker sound system (and rear seat entertainment package with Blu Ray player), ventilated front seats, a wi-fi hotspot app and additional ambient lighting; and perhaps most notable is the rear cross-traffic sensor – probably my favorite part of the modern safety suites being added to a lot of vehicles these days.

Also, an interesting techno-bit for parents (I am figuring that parents are the number one buyer of a van like the Odyssey) is the Cabin Watch and Cabin Talk components of Honda’s in-vehicle. It pulls up a wideangle view of the rear seats, and allows you to keep an eye on the kids in the back rows, and verbally admonish them if they’re, like, eating laundry pods or whatever back there. No more need to raise your voice as you threaten to turn this car around and drop them off at military camp.

The first two rows are the best seats in the Odyssey (the second rows captain’s chairs also slide, for easy access to the back, and space all ‘round is very good, as is outward visibility from the driver’s position).

In terms of the value case, well, as stated way back at the beginning, the Odyssey in Touring trim is one of the pricier family vans, but a buyer may not find it necessary to go all the way to the top-end to get a satisfying package – here’s a bit of trim walk through the lineup: 2018 Specs_Odyssey_EN

As for criticism of the ’18 Odyssey, well, the info interface isn’t as evolved as what I found in the latest Accord – there’s a volume button for the sound system, but most everything else is still touchscreen. Also a few people I showed the Touring to didn’t care for the unusual strip-of-buttons gear selector (very much like what you find in a number of vehicles from Acura).

This 2018 Touring level test van cam with an MSRP of $50,290 CDN, before freight and taxes.

Check out the Youtube video here!

 

 

Mercedes Benz E 400 Coupe

For 2018, a wicked two-door for the well-heeled 

Mercedes doesn’t require introduction in the world of tony, high-end vehicles, and the company offers an exhaustive range of choice for buyers across many pricepoints.

Not ‘any’ pricepoints, mind you, the pantheon of Benz is geared toward the customer with a premium car budget; but when you’re dressing for success and trying to impress the partners at the firm, that’s when you turn to German luxury and styling.

And the E-Class is the one to turn to, slightly better from a status standpoint than the C-Class, a few notches below the S-Class, and boasting major changes for this model year: the E400 4MATIC coupe.

(as is my wont, that will be the only time I spell it all in capitals like that. And, as you no doubt already know, 4Matic is Benz-speak for all-wheel drive).

The E400 has expanded for 2018, being both longer and wider (and just a little over an inch taller) than last year’s, and the engine still rates the same: a twin-turbo V6 capable of 329 horsepower and 354 lb.-ft. of torque.

Of course, if all you wanted was a powerful two-door, you’d buy a Mustang and save some money (unless you went with a Shelby Fastback, which is actually more expensive than the base E400), but if you’re shopping this one it’s all about the style.

Mercedes’ sets the tone with interiors, and while my test vehicle went with basic black as the dominant color scheme (it is available with optional brown, beige or two-tone color schemes), which imparts a feel of appropriately understated class.

Nappa leather upholstered seats face a redesigned dash crowned by digital displays (two of them on dash and console, each configurable and custom-tailorable as to the info they show) set on ash wood accented, curved surfaces.

The whole effect is wonderful to look at, and impressed everyone I showed the vehicle off to, but the icing on the cake in the E400 test car was the comfort of the first row; capped by my favorite option on the tester – massage seats.

Driver and front seat passenger will love this.

Seriously, up until I climbed into the E400 I would have said the seats in the previously featured BMW 440i were my favorite buckets in any luxury car I have driven; but the offers adjustable back massage of the E has won my heart.

The feature – like almost all onboard function in the E – is engaged and configured through a central controller on the console. This isn’t unusual for most luxury vehicles, you’ll find similar systems in all the premium cars, and while it isn’t as intuitive and straightforward as I want, I will say that like the Mercedes implementation of it (branded as COMAND, all in capitals once again) better than the touchpad of Lexus or the twiddle-and-poke function of BMW’s iDrive module.

Anyway, I’m saying 10 out of 10 for style and comfort throughout the cabin, with a bonus for the LED accent strip that rings the cockpit, which can be tailored according to your mood through the aforementioned Comand module.

Outwardly, you’ll still recognize the E Coupe, despite the company’s insistence that it is ‘all-new’ they haven’t departed too radically from their winning formula, and this is what really works for the car.

The fascia and headlight treatment is new, as are the air intakes and ‘diamond’ grille, and hood has been resculpted with what they call a powerdome bulge added; but the side windows and overall profile are still very similar to the 2017 model year.

It is a beautiful piece of sculpture, no question, but I like the way Benz has kept the outward appearance shy of being ostentatious and show-offy.

Driving the E400 is what really sells the car – from inside the ultra-quiet cabin the flat and stable ride garners approval from passengers in both front and rear seats, and the smoothness of acceleration from the three-litre six meshes so well with the steering feel that it will quickly spoil a driver for anything else.

The nine-speed transmissions fluid shifts are seamless in any of the drive modes, but the E allows you to takeover the shifting with wheel-mounted paddle shifters for those who enjoy the extra feel of being in charge.

All-wheel drive also brings a broader, year-round appeal to the platform, especially if you live in a climate zone where you just know its gonna snow.

I don’t have a lot of criticism of the E400 coupe overall, but for the really obvious:

The coupe body, having just two doors, in my mind makes it a de facto two-seater (its not, of course, the car will hold four people after all, but if you regularly haul more than one passenger you will want to check out the proper sedan version of the E-Class)

And then of course, the matter of price. My test model came with a sticker cost of $85,600, which included a number of option packages that brought it up to full luxury status.

You can pay a lot less and still come away with a pretty decent car from less prestigious brands, but hey, you can pay a lot more, too; compare it with a number of other similarly dressed-for-success autos from Audi, BMW or Lexus.

2018 Honda Accord Touring 1.5 litre

Some would have you believe that sedans are on their way out, as drivers opt for crossovers and utility vehicles in increasing numbers, but the sedan segment continues to offer some considerable alternatives for people who still enjoy a midsize four-door conveyor fit for the whole family.

The venerable ‘car’ shape has been stoked, refined, continually improved and benefitted with advancing technology; and in the flagship examples of every manufacturer, imbued with a heaping helping of high style to keep them in the minds of buyers.

Examples from Kia, Hyundai and Ford’s current generation Fusion display what can be done with the platform, but this year may be owned by Honda, who have never been afraid to remake a vehicle completely from generation to generation.

Honda has been doing wonderful things with styling the past couple of years, if you witness last year’s redesign of their best-selling Civic in all its configurations, and the same holds true for our subject this time out: the 2018 Accord.

Now, obviously styling is a matter of taste, but I love the look of the latest Civic and if you do too the Accord is candy, with its swept back, European-influenced lines.

This is the 10th generation of Honda’s flagship family sedan, a complete remake of the popular marque that sports new-look features inside and out.

I’m going to mention here the car we’re looking at is the sedan version, you can also get it as a coupe, and there are two engine options for gasoline-powered models.

Inside the Touring is a comfortably leather-upholstered cabin, with decent space overhead and from side to side, extra legroom has been carved out in the rear seat passengers as well.

It has a suitable comfortable and fully adjustable driver’s seat and some nice high-end touches, like a heated steering wheel and oh, look: buttons! Honda has done away with their previous interface, which I never really loved, to be honest with you – it was a mainly touchscreen interaction that was finicky to use. Give me good ol’ buttons any day, what with the tactile feedback ease-of-use and so forth.

Another feature I always enjoy is a heads up display, and this year’s Accord Touring brings a nice, bright large readout, hovering just above the hoodline (from the driver’s point of view). You can change the information display, but I settled on an easy-to-read speed display and the arrows of the turn-by-turn navigation system in the test car.

The engine in this test car is the smaller of two gasoline powerplants available: a 1.5L four-cylinder Earth Dreams i-Vtec that pushes out a surprising 192 horsepower.

I should also mention that the Accord can also be had with a 2.0L engine that will crank that up to 252 ponies (the larger engine comes with the Accord Sport 2.0 trim level, as well as the appropriately name Touring 2.0 trim. There is also a hybrid, using a combination of gas engine and electric motor – not unlike its major competitor, Toyota’s Camry, which we just recently featured on our delightful Youtube channel. Go ahead, click that. We improve a little each time

Anyway, getting back on topic, the 1.5L Touring trim yielded up good fuel economy on its own. I ran it mostly in Economy mode, primarily because I have to pay for my own gas, but it does have the Sport mode function, which will ramp up the performance noticeably; making the accelerator more responsive and holding the transmission in lower gears a little longer in order to pump the engine rpm.

Also interesting is that there are three transmissions available for the Accord lineup; mine used a CVT automatic, but the can be had with a six-speed manual or a new, ten-speed automatic gearbox (which you can only get with the Sport 2 and Touring 2).

Rather than blabber statistics and trim-walk stuff, I’ll just put up a pdf straight from Honda: Here y’go

Check it out if just for the rundown of active safety features and driver-assist technologies

Suffice it to say the newest Accord handles and performs well. The steering feels good, with the kind of feel of “weight” tuned into it that I like, and the handling is really enjoyable with the newly lowered body.

If you’re a sedan person (and yes, I remember what I said back at the beginning, people are increasingly opting for small crossovers and utility vehicles for their better ground clearance and available AWD systems) have a look at this car; and compare it point for point against the major competition, which I figure would be the Kia Optima, Ford’s Fusion or our old friend the Camry.

Even the price isn’t off the dial for a car as well padded as our tester, with a Canadian MSRP of $35,790

Please feel free to subscribe to our channel – we’ll have another Honda up pretty soon, a minivan this time – why at this rate we’ll soon be as popular as the Internet screaming head/conspiracy nuts or twentysomething fashion v-loggers! Haha, just kidding, we’ll never be that popular.

 

2018 Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid

I’ve always felt that if I had to make the choice, I would buy a loaded Camry before I would buy an entry level Lexus, and that is certainly the case with this one.

(Incidentally, here is a link to a brief Youtube video with the XLE Hybrid, holding its own on a frigid day here in Edmonton).

A Camry in XLE trim is practically a luxury car, perhaps lacking the brand cachet of Lexus, but consider that this one still comes in about 6K less than the ES300h, which is pretty much the equivalent of the Camry in size and configuration.

The major points of our test Camry are: it’s powered by a 2.5L four-cylinder gasoline engine, which on its own can produce 176 horsepower (and 163 lb.-ft. of torque), but as a hybrid it also adds an electric motor – branded by Toyota as their Hybrid Synergy Drive system – which brings the combined output to a potential 208 hp.

And of course, one of the things about electric power is that the torque comes on at very low rpm, putting the power to the wheels very quickly, especially when the Sport Mode of the Camry hybrid is activated.

I’m not trying to imply that it’s some sort of sports car here, it isn’t, but the vehicle provides ample power and a driving experience that won’t leave the daily driver feeling let down. It comes up to speed promptly and deals with everyday demands admirably whether on the highway or here on the streets of Edmonton.

But where the advantage lies with hybrid vehicles like this is with the increased fuel economy and savings at the pump over the life of the vehicle – Toyota states a combined consumption rating for the Camry Hybrid of 5.2L/100km, although I’ve gone a little over that (this one ended up with 6.0 after about 400 km of mostly city driving, but it has been my observation that cold weather affects the mileage of hybrids by forcing the cars to use the gas engine more).

Inside the 2018 XLE you find comfortable seating and decent headroom, a dash layout where all major controls are easy to find and understand, and a suite of new tech for 2018.

Now, if you watch our Youtube video you may notice that a lot of the apps on my test vehicle come up grayed out, as they aren’t activated for this press car, but regardless, you can see where the apps would be activated through the combination of touch-screen and interface buttons of the Entune 3.0 suite.

Entune is apparently an open source, Linux based system for the communication module – and the 2018 Camry is the first vehicle to get the system.

This Camry XLE also includes a comprehensive set of safety features, my favorites of which are blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic detection, and a backup camera that will display an overhead, bird’s eye view of the car.

And while less space-age and futuristic, another feature I like on the Camry XLE is the tire-pressure monitor (which can be displayed as a little graphic on the cluster behind the steering wheel if you cycle through the submenus with the steering-mounted controls) that shows the pressure in each individual tire. I like that so much better than lower-end systems that will only alert you that there is a low tire, but makes you get out and check each one to find it.

So ultimately, there isn’t much to dislike in the all-new Camry Hybrid (and it is ‘all-new’, Toyota says the 2018 shares almost no components with the previous generation).

The Camry is also a top-finalist in the Large Car category for the Canadian Car of the Year, presented by Automobile Journalists Association of Canada

You could pick on the price, I suppose, as the XLE does come in a little higher than competitive hybrids from Korea; and perhaps the appearance – although again, the car looks better in my opinion than the outgoing model.

I wouldn’t call it ugly – it isn’t – but rather what a number of people describe as ‘boring’, but that is of course in the eye of the beholder. (Although, do me a favor and check out that big plastic grille and see what you think).

Our test car here, a pretty complete package as is (there are no options listed for our tester) came with a sticker price of $42,832.50 CDN

2018 Subaru Crosstrek Limited

Exactly the right vehicle, timing-wise and arriving at the right time (by which I mean, just as the weather turned wintry out here and the snow began to fall) the Crosstrek made itself instantly welcome.

Not just because it is the latest, 2018 Subaru Crosstrek, either, I’d have been equally glad to have the previous year’s model, or for that matter just about any Subaru product.

And here’s the thing, just as a piece of trivia: pretty much any mountain town I’ve ever visited, anywhere where they get a lot of snow, Subaru is the nameplate I see on most of the vehicles owned by the people who live there. Well, Subaru and Jeep.

Naturally, the all-wheel drive system (Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD) is what has made their lineup a hit among their fans in climate zones similar to mine, and the Crosstrek has been embraced as much for its ability to handle the adverse conditions as for its more car-like size.

Photo courtesy Subaru Canada

The whole lineup employs a 2.0 litre, four-cylinder engine that brings ample power to the platform (152 horses and 145 lb.-ft. of torque). In terms of power, it isn’t dominating its class with those numbers, but the Boxer engine delivers better fuel economy than many of its rivals – Subaru boasts a combined city/highway consumption of 8.1 L/100 km, which is pretty decent.

My test vehicle, a Limited trim with the company’s Eyesight package option, used a continuously variable transmission to put the power to the wheels (and, as a note of trivia, the Limited model is only available with the CVT as of 2018, previously a six-speed manual was offered).

Photo courtesy Subaru Canada

Also new for the upcoming year is that all Crosstreks equipped with this transmission will be equipped with the company’s ‘X-Mode’.

X- mode is, basically, an automated system for managing tricky terrain at low speeds. Activated by the touch of a button on the center console, I think of it mainly as a hill-descent control – it works with the transmission and AWD to maintain torque distribution and engine power.

I’ve seen and experienced X-mode in demonstrations with Subaru’s Forester, crawling down a frighteningly steep and rocky path in mountainous terrain; and I’ll vouch that it works well.

But it was in mostly urban settings that I used this Crosstrek, and thus enjoyed the vehicle more for the general selling points that bring buyers into this segment.

The Crosstrek provides a car-sized footprint that its customers like, and the smooth ride they are looking for; and at the same time brings slightly higher sightlines and better ground clearance (which is a big deal for many in my neck of the woods, where the road surface can be pretty uneven, and nobody likes to hear their undercarriage or front bumper scrape).

Anecdotally, a comment I always hear when I show a car like this to any member of our um, ‘more aged’ population (you know, seniors, oldsters, the more fossilized generation) is the added height of crossover vehicles makes getting in and out of them easier. I am increasingly finding that I enjoy that as well.

I’ll warn you, though, that the Crosstrek has less overall headroom inside than many of its competitors, but in all fairness, this won’t trouble anyone under six feet tall, and has never been mentioned by any of the owners that I know.

The Crosstrek lineup starts at a really reasonable $23,695 for the base/entry-level model, and my test vehicle with its Limited badge and Eyesight package pushed that into the thirties.

Eyesight brings a collection safety technology to the vehicle: adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance (which is a new inclusion for 2018) and braking intervention that will aggressively step in and actually brake the car if it detects that the vehicle is backing into something.

All of which are good things to have, and overall the Crosstrek itself makes a case as a good thing to have, as an all-round capable light duty family-oriented everyday conveyor.

The Limited tester with CVT and Eyesight wasn’t the least expensive crossover out there, but neither is it the priciest, coming with an MSRP of $34,920

Pasta Brioni

I love this place, and have been coming here since it was called ‘Shecky’s’ way back in the day.

There it is, my friends: the Chicken Gigi

It’s Pasta Brioni now, but the menu and format are still very much the same – really good Italian food in nice yet unpretentious setting.

I’ve mostly been there for the lunch session (they are open evenings as well, for a more ‘fine dining’ experience) and every time I go I have but one thing on my mind: Chicken Gigi!

They’ve got other selections too, of course, sandwiches, salads – all of it good – but I consider the chicken-in-a-vodka sauce (with penne noodles) the establishment’s signature dish; and highly recommend it.

Excellent buns, too.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport

I do love the compact hatchbacks, my friends.

A 5-door hatch is the most useful body style for a car, especially that can be the only vehicle for a family, or even an angry loner such as myself.

The utility of the big rear door for cargo and groceries speaks for itself, and seating for up to five people is a plus; but put that together in a sporty hot-hatch body with a direct-injection gasoline turbo engine and a six-speed manual gearbox and we have a car that is actually a lot of fun in addition to practical.

Such is the case with this one – and here: check out our Youtube video of the  2018 Hyundai Elantra GT, in Sport trim.

Hyundai is pretty proud of this latest iteration of their well-received compact, and they tout it as being “all-new” for 2018

It’s not just the design of the body – and check it out, the Elantra has become progressively more attractive and aerodynamic this year, and gained a new and better-looking grille.

The company credits their new focus on ‘European styling’ for the improvements, which is where the car was developed and tested, and they also state that it is built with 53% more Advanced High Strength Steel (from their own subsidiary, Hyundai Steel, which they are extremely proud of)

That’s double the high strength steel used in the outgoing model, adding extra rigidity to the new Elantra GT’s chassis which Hyundai says further enhances noise insulation, collision safety, and the car’s driving and handling performance.

And sure, I’ll go along with that. The Elantra GT is highly maneuverable and genuinely fun to drive. The one we’re looking at here, as I say, is the Sport model, which gets Hyundai’s 1.6L turbo powerplant.

The engine has an output of 201 hp and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, which is actually more torque – available at lower rpms – than Honda’s Civic SI, but hey, we shouldn’t turn this into a horse-measuring contest here.

Sure you can get more get-up-and-go in Ford’s Focus ST or the VW Golf GTi, but really, we must stop and ask ourselves, how much power does the average driver require, for average daily use?

201 is way more than adequate, at least for any kind of legal driving, and it got me up to speed good and quick in any situation where I poured it on.

Now, you can get the GT with an automatic (a 7-speed dual clutch transmission), but for the purists, the six-speed manual is great. A short throw shifter that feels great to use, and helps bring the performance-oriented feel to daily driving.

So with a package that offers great flexibility for cargo an passenger handling, as much power the average driver is ever likely to need and a generally good looking vehicle body, its hard to pick at the 2018 GT Sport’s faults.

It isn’t even significantly expensive when compared to its major rivals (like the aforementioned Civic Si), and in fact comes in a lot lower than either the Golf or Focus hot-hatches; and I want to mention here that Hyundai has gained a lot of ground in terms or reliability and longevity; as demonstrated by the Consumer reports rating of not just this but all of their lineup.

The NRCanada fuel economy rating for the GT is 10.7L/100 km, which, while not stellar, isn’t really too bad for a turbo gasoline engine intended to be sporty and fun, and here’s the thing:

If you love the looks and the layout, but don’t need the turbo, the Elantra GT is also available with a 2.0 litre non-turbo engine and starts in the low twenties.

Our GT Sport tester moves that up a bit, with this one coming in at a Canadian MSRP of a little over 28K