2018 Honda Clarity Touring

Another Home Run from Honda

Back in the day, the guy whose job it was to use the pole with the suction cup on it to rearrange the numbers on gas station’s signs would have been frantically working overtime to keep up with the rapidly changing cost of fuel.

A good-looking PHEV sedan with family-friendly space and cargo room, designed to run on purely electric power as much as possible.

Good thing we live in the future now, and those signs are electronic and can be revised with the touch of a button, making the numbers easy to change as gas prices rocket skyward; fluctuating wildly all the way.

It is times like these that hybrids and pure-electric vehicles attract attention anew, and Honda’s Clarity has been one of my favorites this year.

The car is a plug-in electric vehicle, with the gasoline engine combined with electric motor setup everyone is by now familiar with, but the deal with PHEV vehicles is that the hybrid battery can be recharged by – yes, plugging it in.

Here’s the thing with pluggable hybrids like the Clarity, they can be charged with household current (although that takes a long time, but if you can leave it overnight that will top up the battery), or more quickly with high-voltage Level 2 or Level 3 charging stations. Not everybody has 240v available at their home, of course, but an infrastructure is beginning to develop making the fast chargers available.

These can be few and far between, though, depending on where you live. I think there are a grand total of three such stations in my area (I found one at an Ikea store, and two more at branches of the Edmonton Public Library).

And here’s the salient point: I ended up with an overall fuel economy rating of 1.9L per hundred kilometers driven after putting on about 340 km in mostly city driving, when I was able to keep the Clarity fully charged. That’s insane.

Of course, that number changes when the battery gets low and the car uses the gasoline engine more; you’ll especially notice it on the highway – although even driving from Edmonton to Calgary under mostly gas power, the vehicle still came in at just over 6L/100 km.

A Clarity featured in the recent AJAC EcoRun event won a lot of hearts and minds with this kind of economy, and kudos for remaining an all-round ‘real’ car as well.

Honda touts the model as a ‘no compromise’ vehicle, citing the reassuring presence of the gasoline engine as a counter to range anxiety (which is a real thing, btw. I have driven purely battery-operated vehicles and experienced first hand the lump in the throat that starts when the juice gets low and you still have a fair distance to go).

Wrapped around all the technology, though, is a pretty decent car regardless of the drivetrain.

The one in the photos here is a Touring trim (so, top of the Clarity line), which showed off good people- space inside (along with overall cargo volume), and a comfortable array of surfaces and supports for passengers.

Clarity doesn’t compromise the driving experience, with more-than-ample power and torque (it outdoes a number of competitors, like Hyundai’s Sonata or the Kia Optima PHEVs, and Ford’s soon-departing Fusion Energi) with the combined output from the system rated at 212 hp.

Three major drive modes are selectable, the usual Normal, Eco and Sport choices (and a driver really can feel the difference in response when put into Sport) as well as what Honda has named ‘HV Mode’ – designed for use at highway speeds when the gasoline engine can be used to recharge the hybrid battery.

The price is where potential buyers may get balky, but in areas where rebates are available for purchasing efficient cars (I’ve read that it can be up $14K in some regions, but that doesn’t apply in Alberta), that may be something people can justify. Especially with the fuel saving factored in.

The 2018 Clarity starts at $39,900 for a base model; but the Touring trim test car I used pushes that to $43,900

Pretty neat stuff any way you approach it, and I must admit it’s kind of cool living in the future. Despite the loss of those gas station sign-changer jobs.

 

2018 Toyota Prius Tech

Roight. By now, with the world-changing vehicle in its fourth incarnation, you probably don’t need an explanation of what the Prius is, or the basics of hybrid cars; so we can just go straight to our look at this 2018 iteration of Toyota much loved-and-lauded ecofriendly compact.

Notice, though, that this one is the regular Prius, the latest generation of the original five-door passenger friendly runabout, but there are now four models within the family to choose from (you’ve also got the smaller Prius C, the larger Prius V, and the plug-in hybrid Prius Prime).

This one here is your basic Prius, but in the Technology trim.

The Tech model starts at about three grand over the base buy-in, and adds a whack of desirable functions (not all of which fall under my definition of ‘tech’, but we can talk about that some other time, eh?)

What you get with the Tech trim is: a blind spot monitor system (with

rear cross traffic alert, which I always make a point of mentioning is one my favorite safety features in any vehicle), an auto-dimming rear view mirror , rain sensing wipers, and Toyota’s clever ‘intelligent clearance sonar’ and parking assist – whereby the car will parallel park itself.

Another thing you get with the Tech trim is a heads-up display, which is great because it keeps all the important info (like your digital speed display) right in easy eyesight. One thing I always disliked about Prius was the way the info was displayed on the center stack, where you have to shift your gaze away from the road. The center info panel is still there, of course, with its 7” screen providing more detailed information.

My Tech test car also provided a decent driver environment, with heated, 8-way adjustable seat (the seating is branded as something called ‘Softex’). The seating is indeed passably comfortable all around, front headroom is good (the rear less so, frankly, so you don’t want to be too tall if you’re going to ride back there all day).

The cabin impression in the test vehicle was ‘dark’ overall, with mainly black surfaces and upholstery occasionally interrupted with white plastic molding and the blue accent of the shift knob.

Outwardly, the car has become more aerodynamic and dare I say stylish with the redesign – still polarizing, mid you, I got a variety of reactions to its appearance – in a marked departure from the Prius shape we’ve all gotten used to.

Not a bad looking little auto, in my opinion; and certainly still distinctive; if less slick-and-sporty than they may have been going for.

But the point of the Prius remains fuel efficiency and lower tailpipe emissions, and the consumption rating of 4.5L/100 km (NRCan number) is the biggest driving force in the car’s world-beating sales numbers.

I’ll confess I didn’t get that during my time in this one, but as you can see in the photos, I drove it during Edmonton winter; so the vehicle was working harder in the snow as well as running the heater the whole time, which has an impact.

As a bit of trivia, the Prius used in the EcoRun event in 2016 ended up at 3.2L/100 km (which works out to 73.5 mpg in US gallons)

The power train is a reliable 1.8 litre gasoline engine, paired with the company’s Hybrid Synergy Drive electric motor system. It’ll output a combined 121 horsepower (and 98 hp from just the gas engine alone) and 105 lb-ft of torque which, while not big numbers by today’s standards, is more than enough to get the Prius up to speed, and responsive enough that I never find myself nervous or apprehensive about merging and passing in general use.

You know going in that you’re not buying a sports car, and I doubt anyone is confused about that, but instead a thoroughly capable and competent car that delivers daily usefulness backed up by years of customer satisfaction and near-universal praise from institutions like Consumer Reports.

Pricing starts at the 30K level, and my Prius Tech tester came with a sticker of $34,637.50 and that’s without factoring in any incentives that may be available in your area (I live in Alberta, where there aren’t any incentives for buying hybrids or electric vehicles; and am not sure what the situation is in BC, ON or Quebec).

2018 BMW M550i xDrive

It is 27 degrees outside, according to the car’s temperature display, and it feels a lot worse with the humidity we’re getting; but you know what? I can’t complain.

Pretty much the whole rest of the country is faring as bad (or worse) this summer, and many of the other people enduring the heat wave don’t have the advantage of ventilated seats in a luxury car, like I do this week with BMW’s M550i.

A hot car for a hot day.

There’s nothing like a seat that helps cool you down, working in conjunction with the rest of the 2018 5 Series’ climate control system; it’s a feature which is fast becoming a must-have in any car that wants to compete in the high-end market.

I consider it especially important when your interior is decked out in black-on-brown Nappa leather, sitting outside in a sun baked parking lot.

My beloved driver’s seat is part of the Premium Package option included on this test car (and I want to add, the front seat passenger is treated equally well). Boasting a full range of adjustability with tailorable leg-length extension, properly aggressive lumbar support and side bolstering, it is easy to add my setup to the seat memory and end up with a configuration I could sit behind the wheel in for hours at a time. And I did!

Check out this fantastic photo by Elliott Mah, exclusive cinematographer to the world’s finest website! Taken in beautiful downtown Edmonton outside the landmark Chez Pierre, in front of a great mural by artist Carly Ealy.

Ah, but look at me, leading with the cabin comfort when I should be talking about performance – this is a Beemer, after all.

BMW touts the M550i as being all-new for 2018, and the fastest 5 Series to date. Now, by way of explanation of the lineup, the M550 is the latest edition to a lineup of 5’s, coming in above the 530, the 530e hybrid and 540. And while the vehicle we’re looking at here wears the M badge, and gets many of the M-specific tuning and trim accoutrements, this is not the same car as the company’s M5 (which further pumps up the power to 600 ponies and  553 lb.-ft. of torque).

A twin-turbo 4.4L, eight-cylinder engine pushing 455 horses and 480 lb.-ft. of torque to the wheels (all the wheels, mind you, AWD is what xDrive stands for, though the power is biased toward the rear).

The big 8 exhibits a sweet exhaust note that gets the right kind of attention from fans of the brand, and one of the things I like about the 550i is that the engineers don’t confuse ‘performance’ with ‘stupidly loud’ – the car sounds good without ostentatious, blasting noise.

The company claims acceleration of 0-100km/h in just four frightening seconds, and while I don’t have personal stopwatch verification of that, I’ll take them at their word – the M550i is a rocket, particularly when the Sport or Sport+ drive modes are engaged.

My test car put the power to the road via an 8-speed Steptronic transmission (with wheel-mounted paddle shifters) and backed that up with the sort of enhanced stopping power a driver needs to get this monster back under control with an M Sport brake package with its big, blue calipers.

M550i also gets a tweaked suspension – branded as you might imagine as the Adaptive M Sport suspension – which lowers the ride height by 10 millimeters versus other members of the 5 Series lineup, and further enhances the handling and cornering abilities of the car.

Steering and handling is a real joy all ‘round in this package, feel –and-feedback through the wheel is engaging and tight, highly responsive without being heavy or difficult; and while that makes a driver look forward to the twists and turns, the M550i is also an excellent highway car.

I took it 300km down the QE2 to Calgary (using mostly the car’s Eco mode, for as you may imagine, fuel economy isn’t one of the car’s strongest selling points), and the cabin showed off its quiet and NVH-free environment.

The outward styling is more of the evolution of BMW. Still easily recognizable, with its stance and overall silhouette, and further sculptural refinement behind the twin-kidney grille (with its active air vents), it is, as with every generation of every model from the Bavarian brand, better looking than the last.

Detractions for the M550i are the predictable series of complaints. I won’t even dwell on the fuel economy (as I figure if you’re shopping for eight-cylinder sports/prestige vehicles, it probably won’t be a factor in your purchase, but the M550i states FE of 14.3L/100 km in the city and 9.4 on the highway).

Its also a big car with a big turning circle (at over 6 meters) and interior cargo volume is not huge, at 530 litres.

Instead, I will say, as I always do, that in order to get the car you want, when envisioning the perfect 5 Series package, is that to get it up to its fully realized potential, many an option group is required.

Here’s a breakdown of this particular test car, which came with a $6,500 Premium Package (which is how it got those seats I like so much), an Advanced Driver Assistance package ($1,500, and it includes desirable safety features like evasion assist, cross traffic alert and lane-keeping function), Smartphone package ($750) and the Nappa leather upholstery for another $1,500

I love this photo because without any context it looks like I just stumbled out of a strip bar at 11:00 on a Sunday morning and coincidentally encountered cinematographer Elliott Mah.

The car’s is at its best with those additions, but it kicks up the buy-in from a starting base of a cool $83,000 to a sticker price of $93,250 before freight ‘n’ taxes.

The price of prestige, I suppose. Here, please check out the video of the M550i on our Youtube channel!

EcoRun 2018!

Prologue: Good Morning New Brunswick

The EcoRun vehicle showcase wrapped up its seventh year late in June, once again demonstrating the real-world utility of a cross section of fuel-efficient cars. This was my third year participating in the event (which is staged by the Automobile journalist’s Association of Canada).

I’ll get to that pretty quick – and you can find background info on EcoRun here and here, for a rundown of what its all about – but first, can we get a shout-out for the province of New Brunswick!

Serving as the backdrop for the adventure, the beautiful province provided fine scenery and a backdrop of Maritime lifestyle for myself and the other participants as we wound our way through three cities on some beautiful roads.

This year marked the first time NB has been the staging ground for EcoRun, and it is also he first year it could have been – the event requires somewhere to plug in for the various PHEVs and all-electric vehicles that account for many of the cars used for the drive, and the province has just completed a year-long implementation of the province’s charging network.

Indeed, NB has gone from having virtually no public charging points for such vehicles to having 49 of them, including 18 level 3 chargers (level 3 are the ‘fast’ chargers, these are the ones you want if you’ll need to get up to full battery in a reasonable amount of time).

Photo courtesy John Walker/AJAC

That alone is a good reason to plan your holiday in the Atlantic province if you drive, say, a Honda Clarity or Toyota’s Prius Prime, but put it together with the hospitality and scenery and (of course) the food, and my advice is to put New Brunswick on your list of Canadian adventures.

Go ahead, learn more here.

EcoRun: Part One

The scene at Catch 22 in downtown Moncton.

We kicked things off in Moncton, where we’d landed the day before and fueled up with a dinner at Catch 22 Lobster Bar downtown; which I mention for no other reason than to say that if you are ever in downtown Moncton, eat at Catch 22. Order the lobster, of course, but really, order anything on the menu.

The next morning, Day One, the assembled auto journos and our nineteen vehicles gathered at Moncton City Hall where we were welcomed by the province’s Finance Minister, Cathy Rogers, and the city’s Mayor Dawn Arnold.

Justifiably proud of the giant strides made so quickly in modernizing the provinces electrical infrastructure, they waved the EcoRun green flag to start us on our way – nearly 600 kilometers split up into six legs of driving over the next two days awaited.

NB Finance Minister, Cathy Rogers, and Mayor Dawn Arnold, with EcoRun co-chair David Miller at Moncton City Hall. Photo by John Walker/AJAC

I started out in Ford’s Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid (and with as many vehicles as we had at the 2018 event, of course not all the participants could get seat time in all the cars, so I’ll focus mostly on the ones I drove).

The Energi is the pluggable gas-electric hybrid version of the Fusion (and this may be one of the last chances to see one, for as I’m sure you know, Ford is going to stop selling cars in North America to focus on trucks and utility vehicles). A full-size sedan boasting a roomy and comfortably appointed interior beneath some good-looking sheetmetal, I put a little over a hundred km on it en route to our first change point, a recreational family holiday spot called Snider Mountain Ranch.

Now, I won’t lie to you, me and some of other drivers kind of blew the curve for the Energi – I ended with a fuel consumption number of 4.6L/100km (which is high, for that car, a couple of the other drivers got into the low fours and one brought it down to a ridiculous 2.4L/100km)

The thing of it is, though, it wasn’t that long ago that those numbers would have been considered really good – that’s how far hybrid technology has come.

Anyway, we spent a couple of hours at Snider Mountain (where the EV and plug-in hybrids were recharged at Flo chargepoints) and then saddled up in new vehicles.

I took a run from the ranch to the City of Fredericton in Mazda’s CX-3, one of a few gasoline-only vehicles entered in the EcoRun this year. Mazda loves to make the point that even in a field of hybrids, the SkyActiv underpinnings of the vehicle can still yield very good economy.

And here’s the thing – it did. I put over a hundred km on it and beat the NRCanada rating by over a litre per hundred. Nearly all the drivers who used the CX-3 did – average economy for our event was 7.2 – versus the official rating of 8.2 from NRCan.

That’s kind of the main point of EcoRun, that virtually any vehicle can achieve better fuel economy when driven with an eye to lowering consumption. I didn’t do anything special with my driving habits in any of the cars; except maybe for sticking to the posted limits and trying to avoid hard braking and lunging starts; and I figure all the other participants did the same. AJAC strongly discourages ‘hypermiling’ techniques (i.e., driving waaay too slow) as it defeats the spirit of the event.

Anyhoo, switching cars in Fredericton I got into one of my favorite new vehicles of the year: Honda’s Clarity plug-in.

The Clarity was originally going to be present in New Brunswick with both its powertrains (it is also sold as a hydrogen fuel cell car, but apparently the FC one wasn’t able to make the event).

Clarity is a full-size family car that I will feature pretty soon right here on the world’s finest website; as it delivered some of the best fuel economy I have ever seen. No kidding, I did a week-long test of one recently where it ended up at an incredible 1.9L/100km over 360 kilometers driven.

I really have nothing but praise for the 2018 Clarity.

Here’s my room at a Delta in Moncton. The layout was very similar in other members of the chain we stayed at.

We rolled into Saint John at the end of day one and parked everything at the hotel. As a bit of trivia, all the hotels we stayed at were Delta. What I found interesting was how uniform the room layout was in all three of them. Once you get used to it, everything is exactly where you found it in the previous one, which is pretty handy when I want to locate the TV remote and flip on the Cartoon Network while I fall asleep.

EcoRun: Day Two

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

Most of St. John downtown appeared to be under construction when I rolled out the next morning, resulting in a detour where I almost immediately got lost; but fortunately was driving the Camry Hybrid from Toyota, which had an excellent navigation system.

Good thing it was a short leg to a cool little spot called the Baybreeze restaurant, where we performed another car swap. I didn’t post my best mileage in the Camry, but I want to stress it came in with an overall score of 4.8L/100 km, which beat its NRCan rating.

Mitsubishi’s latest gas-electric utility vehicle was up next – the Outlander PHEV. Once again, this new entry outperformed its FE rating overall, but I bet it could do even better. There’s a lot of tech onboard and a lot of fuel-saving, efficiency-boosting wonders within its electronic presets. Mitsubishi’s rep gave me a bit of a rundown on the basics, but you know, this tiny brain of mine…

I am hoping to get a longer-term test drive in the Outlander plugin (hopefully this summer) and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

The best possible car to finish up the 2018 EcoRun was the Lexus. I didn’t plan it that way, it just worked out that I got the new LS500h sedan for the final run to our last destination, back in Fredericton.

It goes without saying it is a supremely luxurious auto, and after a couple days of sitting in cars for extended periods, well, give me the one with the massage seats.

The LS500h is also the only car that I beat the rest of the field in, finishing up at 6.9L/100 km, which is just over two litres per hundred better than the NRCan numbers, and even lower than the average posted by AJAC drivers at this years event (which was 8.0)

And with that, the ‘Run came to its end at the Delta Marriott in Fredericton (the nicest of the three we stayed at, imho). Now, while EcoRun isn’t run as a competition, either for the vehicles or the drivers, the group does award the Green Jersey to whomever posts the best overall fuel economy.

Just to show you that anyone can win, I won it last year; but for 2018 the prestigious t-shirt was taken home by Jim Kerr, a real good guy and long-time auto writer (and mechanic, and teacher) from Saskatoon.

But the point that EcoRun is truly making, is that this is a game anyone can win; regardless of what they drive; and with gas prices where they are, it would foolish not to play.

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

You can view the stats of all the models driven here; and once again, I exhort you to visit New Brunswick when you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cafe Linnea

Here’s another of Edmonton’s A-list eateries – Cafe Linnea!

Located once again in an area I don’t normally associate with fine dining (much as we found with Range Road) they’re in a strip mall in a fairly industrial-looking district over on 119st and 109ave)

I was there with Toyota Canada a few weeks back, and Linnea brought on a great experience for roughly a dozen of us.

While not as well-known locally as some (they have only been in business a couple of years now), I wish them nothing but good things going forward!

Here’s a link to a fun blog on their website; where the restaurant’s contact info can also be found

Range Road

Okay, I admit its a bit higher end than a gentleman like myself usually patronizes (I keep to more of a Burger Baron budget), but how have I never heard of Range Road before?

Consistently rating on virtually every Edmonton foodie’s top-ten lists for years now, this establishment is a gem tucked away in an unassuming downtown neighborhood where you might not expect to find fine dining.

I went to RR with a group from Cadillac after the Edmonton Motorshow back in April, and was blown away by the food (and the staff!) as well as the concept – they use the Butchery (a room separated from the main dining area) for special event bookings.

Yes, I showed up in a Lincoln for a Cadillac dinner, don’t tell anybody 🙂

Great atmosphere and a good time, highly recommended for special occasions and gatherings. Check them out here for bookings and a more complete rundown:

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve

We are classy guys this time out, here at the Auto Section, wheeling around beautiful springtime Edmonton in a Lincoln Continental.

I’ve driven the company’s reworked classic a couple of times since it major reintroduction a couple of years back, and I never get tired of it. The fit, the finish, the materials used through the big beast and the general overall comfort – there isn’t much to dislike.

Except maybe the price, but we’ll get to that later.

A North American rival to popular richmobiles like BMWs 7 Series (or the latest generation E-Class from the dominant player in the market, Mercedes) the 2017 Continental brings every accoutrement and high-end touch that rich people like you and I be expecting when shopping for our limos.

This is the third opportunity I’ve had to experience the car, so I won’t rehash the whole schlemiel (here’s a longer piece  from the introduction of the Continental)

Suffice to say, it holds its own in terms of comfort, power and an overall fit and finish worthy of anything in the class.

The test car we used was a loaded Reserve trim sporting the optional 3.0L twin-turbo powerplant (the six-cylinder 3.0 adds $3000 to the bottom line) and the option packages that even cars playing the premium luxury game seem to require in order to truly deliver on their promise.

The truly excellent Revel Ultima audio system is a part of Luxury Package (as are premium LED headlamps), and I love it – this is top-flight audio reproduction right here; and the Technology Package is desirable for the active park assist and pre-collision safety suite.

For my money, though, it is the seats that make the Continental as desirable as it is. The driver’s perch in particular offers highly adjustable tailoring of the setup and seat bolstering (and of course a massage feature – test drive a Continental Reserve just to experience this, I tell ya).

The rear seat passengers don’t miss out on the massage feature in our test car, either, in fact the whole rear seat experience is overall mighty fine

On a more pedestrian note, I also benefitted more from the AWD system this time around, driving as I was in Alberta winter instead of the California sun.

Regardless of the conditions, the reinvigorated Continental rides well, shows off responsive and quick steering (and powerful acceleration, though there wasn’t much chance to appreciate the 400 horses of the three-litre six).

The upsides are pretty evident with the 2017 Continental: its comfort and overall roominess, the available tech and smooth drivetrain. This is just a wonderful car to drive, or be driven in. Plus, it sports the best-looking grille currently in the Lincoln lineup.

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Potential detractions are equally straightforward – this is a big car, with a big turning circle and overall footprint; and it is neither fuel-economical (the company rates it at 14.4L/100 km in the city with this engine, I got about mid-sixteens overall in winter conditions) – and while it competes, pricewise with similar vehicles from Audi, Merc and Lexus, I don’t think you’ll be shocked to learn that the final buy-in is correspondingly steep.

This one, starting from a jump-in point of $60,500 for the Reserve, rolled up to $75,050 with the addition of the aforementioned packages and engine, along with the standalone panoramic moonroof option.

Check out our Youtube video of the 2018 Continental!

2018 Buick Regal Drive

New profile and powertrains for the sixth generation

(Tofino, BC) I embrace any opportunity I get to visit beautiful BC, and it was a great chance when Buick rolled out to the Island for a road test in two of the company’s latest Regal sedan models.

The lineup was shy a couple of the trims this sixth generation offers – the FWD model wasn’t there, and as you may know, the wagon version of the global offering, the TourX, isn’t being sold in Canada.

What the event lacked in variety, though, it made up for in quality, as we got to finally drive the cream of the lineup, the Sportback and GS.

Two different powertrain combinations, both models rolling on Buick’s all-wheel drive platform; here’s a quick look at what was on hand:

The Sportback (‘Essence’ trim level)

You could consider this the slightly-above-entry level into Buick’s ‘attainable luxury’ world, a reasonably well equipped and appointed car that starts at an MSRP of just under 32K

Powered by a 2.0L inline-four cylinder engine capable of 250 horsepower and a sprightly 295 lb.-ft. of torque, which is put to the wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission in the AWD version I drove (the front-wheel drive models get a 9-speed auto)

Vancouver Island provides some wonderful driving roads, with a lot of twists and turns between Nanaimo and the west coast, and a good demonstration of the car’s pavement-handling abilities. Buick’s steering has improved dramatically from what you may be expecting if you haven’t been in one of their cars for a few years.

An electronic, variable-effort power setup, it keeps the impression of smooth and easy operation while maintaining the feel of being connected with the driving experience; without the ‘floaty’ sensation that characterized the company’s cars back in the bad old days.

Response is very good, and braking backs it up with four-wheel ABS

Overall, the Sportback doesn’t lack for power (and frankly, 250 horses is more than adequate for my needs), and I doubt a buyer will regret not moving up to the larger engine of GS trim; and fuel economy from the turbo two-litre makes a case for itself, aided as it is by an auto-stop function that turns the engine off when the Regal is waiting at a light.

Fuel frugality is a worthy consideration, too, especially out here where gas was closing in on $1.40 a litre when I visited.

The price goes up when a number of desirable options are added into the mix – the Sportback Essence I drove packed on an “Experience Buick” equipment group (which brings a power moonroof, infotainment system with HD radio, and 8-speaker Bose stereo) along with a Driver Confidence package and a red metallic paintjob.

The options brought the price up to $44,480 including destination charge.

The Sportback GS AWD

This is the top-end for the Regal line, boasting the larger engine, sportier seats and a nine-speed automatic tranny.

(Pricing starts where my Sportback Essence tester left off, in the low forties).

The GS loads a six-cylinder engine into the platform, a 3.6L powerhouse with 310 horses and 282 lb.-ft. of torque on tap. The larger mill is noticeably more energetic than the four-cylinder of the Essence, especially with Sport mode engaged (there’s basically Sport and default modes, unlike a number of competitors there is no ‘Eco’ mode).

The twin-clutch nine-speed automatic makes the shifts incrementally smoother, and a more exclusive brake setup provide extra stopping power – the Regal GS gets Brembo brand front calipers on the four-wheel disk system.

It puts great seats inside the cabin, too; both driver and front seat passenger get a highly adjustable performance seat, with tailorable bolstering and seat length. Both seats are heated and ventilated, and equipped with one of my favorite features, a massage function.

(For an interesting trivia note, Buick states that these massage seats are the only ones in the industry certified by a German chiropractic organization called AGR).

As with the Essence trim, the GS improves with the available options, but the cost climbs.

The one I used was also ramped up with the Experience and Driver Confidence groups, and a block heater ($150), bringing the sticker price to $51,235 (dest. included)

All the new Regals available in Canada share the coupe-like bodystyle, the increased interior cargo space, which has been expanded dramatically for 2018. A maximum volume of 1,719 litres is available, thanks to the flat-folding rear seats (and is easier to reach with the wide-opening rear hatch lid), which blows away competitors like Toyota’s Avalon or Ford’s Fusion.

The Regal trunk is an electronic-activated affair, operated by touching the Buick badge on the rear. Odd thing is there is no manual trunk release button inside the car.

That would be one of a couple of cautions I would offer about the vehicles – that and the entry/exit to the rear seats. If you have a couple of six-footers riding up front, I found the rear seat legroom gets tight. Overhead room is okay, but the shape of the rear door opening makes the Regal tricky to get in and out of.

Ultimately, though, Buick is indeed bringing forth the attainable luxury that the enlarged and re-imagined Regal promises. Designed and built in Germany, the sixth-gen sedan is on dealer lots across the country.

But Vancouver Island is arguably the best place to drive one.

 

2018 Lexus NX300h

At Edmonton’s Aviation Museum

Hybridized and Urbanized

Winter’s never the greatest time for a hybrid vehicle to show off their superior fuel economy – everyday driving is harder work in snow, and running the heater (and heated seats and steering wheel, in this case) force the gasoline engine to be in use most of the time.

Nevertheless, I ended a week of driving with figures not too far off the stated FE (which is a combined city/highway consumption of 7.5L/100 km, I got 8.8 during a freezing cold week with a fair amount of snow) in our test subject – the 2018 NX300h.

Here’s a crossover that is riding the wave of popularity that buyers have bestowed on the small-ish utility vehicle segment, and bringing with it a Lexus level of premium build quality in addition to an economical low-emissions powertrain.

As you know, Lexus is the luxury arm of Toyota Motors, the company that has done more than anyone to bring hybrid vehicles to the masses (check back next week, when we’ll be looking at the latest version of their original marketplace gamechanger, the Prius), and in terms of size and configuration (and powertrain) you could think of the NX as being the more elite version of the company’s ultra popular RAV4.

Fitting into the Lexus utility lineup between the recently announced UX and the larger and better known RX models, the NX has been around for about four years now – long enough that it has received a bit of a refresh for the 2018 model year, though not a complete model change.

New front fascia and a sleekening of the grille and front bumpers have helped streamline its appearance on approach; and the love-it-or-hate-it ‘spindle’ grille that the vehicle shares with the rest of the Lexus lineup has been incorporated more seamlessly into the overall presentation.

The rear of the NX has had its taillights stretched a bit, the rear bumper has been lowered and widened, the exhaust tips are larger for this year and an underbody spoiler has been added.

Overall, I think the styling changes work in its favor, this is a good-looking machine that manages to stand out on the road without begging for attention in an undignified or gaudy fashion; unlike a number of ‘premium’ compact crossovers that have sprouted up in the expanding segment.

The NX is more about the occupant’s experience inside it than the overall curb appeal, although it does look sweet perched on those eighteen-inch alloy wheels.

Our test car showed off nice upholstery over comfortable seating (the leather even extended to the wrap on the steering wheel), and brought the newly enlarged information screen to the center-dash display (the display has grown three inches from previous models).

Comfort is always one of the strong points in virtually any Lexus, and our NX lived up to expectations with a fully adjustable driver’s seat, decent room overhead in the front row, power tilt-and-telescoping steering column and a heated steering wheel.

Ah, yes indeed. The Remote Touch touchpad. photo courtesy Lexus Canada

Everything is easy to reach and relatively intuitive to operate, but let us draw your attention once again to the interface, which is this touchpad thing here. I find it fiddly and imprecise, to be honest with you, and easy to overshoot the menu items I try to select.

I’ll warn you too, the NX isn’t a huge vehicle. I didn’t find the space bad, but it is noticeably tighter inside than the RX model, and likewise doesn’t offer as much cargo and second-row space.

From a driving perspective, the NX300h boasts a smooth ride and a quiet cabin (although, interestingly, the engine note is reproduced inside the cabin through the vehicle’s sound system speakers, in what the company calls ‘Active Sound Control’. Neat, eh?)

The all-wheel drive system offers a selection of preprogrammed drive modes (Sport, Eco and Normal, as with most of Lexus’ hybrids), and the electric power steering system makes the handling responsive and car-like, overall. Our test car also contained the Lexus Safety System, which brought lane-departure with steering assist.

The Hybrid gets its power from a combination of 2.5L gasoline engine mated to two electric motors, bringing enhanced fuel economy to the NX and a combined output of 194 horsepower and 152 lb.-ft. of torque.

So it isn’t exactly a sports car, but frankly I didn’t feel under-powered during my time in the NX. The transmission is a CVT, as seamless as any in the company’s lineup does a great job of everyday driving (and includes paddle shifters as well).

Lexus’ overall rep speaks for itself, the company dominates in data from consumer advocacy agencies in terms of reliability and build quality.

There’s little to dislike here, as I find with most of the company’s products, and if you find the price a bit on the ‘high’ side (which it is, let’s not lie to each other here, gentle reader),I am going to suggest cross-shopping the NX against the Toyota RAV4 hybrid (coincidentally the 2019 model was just unveiled in New York), which sports virtually the same powertrain in a more budget-conscious machine but at roughly ten grand less.

Here’s the sheet (pdf): NXh 963 – BXWV 682 EN

This one here, though, a 2018 NX300h, came to $55,300 (and that’s before freight and taxes, the full sticker was $57,471.25 CDN)

Don’t forget to check out our video of the NX on Youtube!