2019 Honda Passport

Okay, the Passport is touted as all-new for 2019, but let’s start with the question that I (and everyone else I showed the Touring-trim test vehicle to during my time in it) asks:

What’s the difference between this and Honda’s other, very similar vehicle, the Pilot?

Because at a glance, they look a lot alike to my eye, both are pretty much the same size (and use the same engine, and depending on the trim level, the same transmission) and be honest, they look alike. In fact, I would cavalierly say that you could just just think of it as a Pilot without the third row of seats, but that wouldn’t be quite correct.

Both vehicles use the same engine, a 3.5L six-cylinder that promises a capable 280 horsepower (and 262 lb.-ft. of torque), and a nine-speed automatic transmission (at least in the case of the Touring trim models, which was the case with test car; and both can be had with all-wheel drive.

The Passport, is slightly shorter, end-to-end, and also slightly wider and taller on a wheelbase that is almost the same (it is three whole millimetres shorter with the Passport). Oddly, despite this, the Passport’s turning radius is greater than the Pilot. Oh, and Passport has more second row legroom, owing to not having a third row squeezed in behind it.

This fine by me, and possibly for most potential customers, as I don’t need or use the third row in any vehicle I test, and the seats get folded down to make for more cargo space – which the Passport offers plenty of, boasting an interior cargo volume of 1,430 litres.

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So there’s that. Mostly though, it dishes out a Honda-level utility vehicle experience and brings its AWD platform and ground clearance to the real world where I recently drove one around for a week.

As I always enjoy mentioning, my city is fraught with potholes and uneven road surfaces, and in the summer we love to compound that by tearing up all the streets and major thoroughfares at once; in order to provide the residents with a delightful challenge – hence the desirability of an SUV or crossover vehicle.

I actually beat the NRCan fuel economy projection (11.3L/100km) after a week in the Passport, running it in Eco mode most of the time.

It handles all the bumps very well (including those ruthless extra-large speed bumps they put in quiet, children-infested neighbourhoods, those really tall ones that’ll rip your underside off if you’re driving a low-slung sports car) and a pretty capable suspension smoothed the ride and kept everything comfortable inside the cabin in both rows.

Some credit for Passport’s bump absorption must go to the seats. Well padded affairs, wrapped in leather upholstery and fairly roomy for people of almost any size, they are comfortable in either row and the driver’s perch offers a good range of adjustment.

Fire it up via push-button start, and appreciate the clean look of the instrument cluster – easy to read with all the major gauges obvious and use. The steering wheel houses a number of buttons, which you may also appreciate, as you may be using the steering-mounted controls more than the touchscreen interface (because the touchscreen has almost no buttons – although Honda at least brought the on/off/volume control knob back). You know what I figure it could use, is a central control knob on the centre console, such as you’d find in Mazda’s products.

Meh, I’m not sure I can fall in love with this.

What you do find on the centre console is the gear selector, which is the ‘strip-of-buttons’ arrangement found on most Honda (and Acura) vehicles. I have never really liked this thing, although really, it doesn’t offend anything but my dinosaurian sensibilities, which demand a proper shifter.

Boiling it all down, the Passport is an option for people who like the Pilot for its overall size and capabilities, but don’t need to stuff up to eight people into it. It also comes with a sticker price a few grand less than Pilot: the model I drove, Touring trim, came to $50,911.25 including freight and PDI

And, for those who like the size and configuration, but don’t care for Honda’s interface and controls, check out competitors like Toyota’s Highlander, the Kia Sorento or Hyundai’s Santa Fe (among many others, of course. This is a crowded segment, gentle shopper, with lots of choices available).

Mazda3 tackles 2019

2019 Mazda3 GT Sport, AWD

This is one of those vehicles that I never hesitate to recommend to anyone looking for a compact car, and Mazda has expanded the choices for 2019 with the introduction of an all-wheel drive option for their likeable sedan (or hatchback).

I love a mainstream family car with some curb-appeal on the outside, and enough attention to comfort and technology in the cabin that it never feels like the only reason for buying it is sheer value-for-money.

2019 Mazda3 GT sedan, front wheel drive

Indeed, the Mazda3 feels and looks and drives like a much more expensive car than it is, and is one of those marques that has moved the bar for all manufacturers by showing how well it can be done.

Having had the chance to get into a one of each earlier this summer, both in the top-line GT trim (so, you know, with more leather and a higher price tag than the entry-level) and came away impressed. In fact, picking a favourite mainly revolves around how much you feel you need the AWD drivetrain.

Otherwise, what you get in either package (the AWD is the red Sport hatchback in the photos, the grey sedan is the regular front-wheel drive) is a welcoming interior with comfortable seats and an array of controls that manage to remain easy-to-use while looking suitably high-tech and 21st century.

Here are the common stats for both these vehicles:

• 2.5L 4-cylinder engine (with cylinder deactivation)
• 186 horsepower, 186 lb.-ft. Torque
• 6-speed automatic transmission
• Heated seats, heads-up display, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and backup camera
• 8.8 inch information display
The Sport hatchback is about 65kg heavier, owing to the AWD system

Hopping into either model, I’m greeted by a heads-up display (or ‘Active driving Display’ as Mazda bills it), a little cooler hologram projected on the windshield just above the steering wheel. This is a great feature in any vehicle, for keeping important information – like the vehicle’s speed, for I live in the land of radar traps – right in front of you.

Firing the car up with the keyless start button, and the SkyActiv 4-cylinder engine shows off… well, let’s not call it a ‘sporty’ engine note, but a pleasant one; and also a quiet engine, which I like.

I didn’t find a big difference between the Sport AWD and the front-wheel drive sedans steering and handling (although the Sport is heavier), and frankly I doubt most drivers would, unless you jump from one model to the other back-to-back. For a mainstream family car, the steering feel is very good indeed, bringing a more tight and connected sensation with little ‘play’ in the wheel and just heavy enough that there’s enough feedback through the wheel to keep a driver engaged.

A lot of this is due to Mazda’s SkyActiv powertrain and the incorporation of the company’s G-vectoring Control system; which they tout as a grand enhancement to the car’s overall stability. Heck, I’ll just quote directly from their press kit, as I wouldn’t want to get the wording wrong:

“GVC maximizes tire performance by focusing on the vertical load
on the tires. The moment the driver starts to turn the steering wheel, GVC controls engine drive torque to generate a deceleration G-force, thereby shifting load to the front wheels. This increases front-wheel tire grip, enhancing the vehicle’s turn-in responsiveness”.

And, well, I have no reason to doubt them – the handling is very good, and twisting and cornering in the car is genuinely fun.

Inside the cabin, in either of the models I drove (both GT trim level) the driver gets the best seat in the cabin – a ten-way adjustable power affair with excellent lumbar support in my test cars, thanks to the inclusion of the Premium Package option (which also gave it the heads-up display). This $2500 package also includes rear crossing brake support and parking sensors, rear parking sensors and a traffic sign recognition system; all in all a pretty good addition to the car.

All the seats are quite good throughout, passengers aren’t punished by either the seating or the ride, and cabin quiet has been further bolstered by seals and damping, and sound insulation. All the better to listen to the Bose sound system, I suppose.

As for fuel efficiency, well it goes without saying that the AWD models consume more gas that the front-drive ones, but frankly not that much more.

The NRCan numbers for the Sport are 8.2L/100 km (combined), and the Fwd sedan is rated at 8.0L, but here’s an interesting anecdote for you: when Mazda entered both models in this year’s EcoRun competition, each of them achieved some pretty astounding results (which you can see here, alongside a number of other entrants), with an incredible 5.4 and 5.7L/100km, respectively.

Styling is one of the key selling points for the entire Mazda lineup as well – the company has really got their game on (finally, after a few years of that odd ’smiley face’ grille they were doing). Front-to-back, the 2019 Mazda3s rule the segment, I like their looks better than most of the competition.

The only thing I’m going to bring up is the new, fattened C-pillar on the hatchback model, which I don’t especially care for, both aesthetically and from a rear visibility standpoint. Now obviously, things like the blindspot monitor and rear traffic detection help make up for the compromised sightlines, but I am one of those old people who still enjoys things like shoulder-checking and, y’know, looking around.

All in all, it comes down to whether you prefer a hatch or a sedan, and AWD or front-drive. Speaking for myself, I’ve always liked a five-door body, but there is a decent trunk on the sedan, so you tell me – which one?

As for pricing, both vehicles were loaded up with the Premium Package option, which added $2,500 to the sticker, but the GT sedan (in optional Machine Grey Metallic paint) came to $30,695, all in, and that fancy-lookin’ Soul Red Crystal Sport model with all-wheel drive showed up at $33,645

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EcoRun 2019: Alberta Edition

Calgary

We were yahoo’d properly into the spirit of the town, and given big, funny hats befitting our stature by the city’s Director of Business Development, Greg Newton, down at the Stampede grounds as the 2019 edition of EcoRun came to a close.

Stampede didn’t officially start for another week, but around here they take this festival/rodeo seriously, and start the party early. Our hotel downtown was buzzing with people in similar hats to ours, and the atmosphere decidedly celebratory.

However, just as the speechifying was about to begin, with the announcements of who among us had achieved the best fuel economy numbers – and would thus rule over us all with their prize, the coveted ‘Green Jersey’ (similar to an Oscar, except it isn’t rigged, ha ha), that’s when the weather turned on us.

The sky cracked open, and blasted down upon us some truly biblical rain, which is one thing; but it was when the thunder started and the power in our building went out that our group abandoned Stampede Park and ran to the buses back to downtown, sheltered from the monsoon (somewhat) by our big, funny hats.

But wait. I’m formulating this tale poorly – stories aren’t supposed to start at the end. Let’s back it up a couple of days, to the beginning of this 8th installment of AJAC’s EcoRun:

Edmonton

We kicked it off in Edmonton, down by the river at Louise McKinney Park. Mayor Don Iveson joined Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi and Suncor VP Dean Wilcox on a stage with several of the vehicles to open the drive.

(And hey, for a complete list of vehicles that were involved in the event, and their fuel scores, scroll down to the bottom of the page).

EcoRun Chair David MIller (left) opens the event along with Mayor Don Iveson, Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi and Suncor VP Dean Wilcox Photo courtesy John Walker/AJAC

You don’t need me to run down what the annual EcoRun is all about – in a nutshell it’s a demonstration of vehicles from a number of manufacturers’ most fuel efficient products. Not everything needs to be an EV or a hybrid to enter; we had a diesel-powered Chevy Colorado in the mix along with a couple of gasoline-only Mazda3s (both sedan and hatchback, and one an AWD to boot).

Here’s some links to some past history and overview of the event and its intent.

Getting back to the story: I jumped into a Toyota RAV4 and drove out to our first destination (and charge point for the electric vehicles):

Red Deer

I rolled into the ‘Deer with an average of 5.5L/100km, which is actually .5 under the NRCanada rating for the RAV, and pretty decent for an AWD crossover. It underscores another important point, too; almost every vehicle entered in this year’s run actually beat the projected ‘official’ mileage figures – some by a little and some by a lot. Check out the results for the Hyundai Elantra and the Colorado, for example!

Red Deer isn’t just famous for being the birthplace of Wade Ozeroff, either, there’s a sports museum on the outskirts of the city where we pulled in for a look while the EV’s recharged. The recharging can take a couple of hours, even with 240v power, so the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame is a good place to kill time, and hear a few words from one of the big sponsors of the EcoRun, ATCO’s Francois Blouin.

Drumheller

I switched to a Volvo for the next leg, an XC60 T8 for the drive from Red Deer to Drumheller. Great vehicle, incidentally; I love Volvo’s interiors in any of their current vehicle lineup. I got less-stellar fuel economy on this leg of the run, though, coming in at 6.7L per 100km.

But hey! Drumheller! I haven’t been to the area since I was a little kid, and they’ve got way more stuff at the excellent Royal Tyrrell Museum. I totally recommend it – there’s dozens if not hundreds of dinosaur skeletons (and prehistoric mammals). The facility is awesome, as is the Badlands countryside around it.

 Calgary

It was in Drumheller that I swapped the Volvo for a fully electric vehicle, a Kia Niro. And here’s an important point: EVs have become much better at predicting, accurately, their range. When they unhooked my test car from the charging station, it claimed to have a range of 220 kilometers.

I have been in earlier-generation electric vehicles where this claim meant nothing (which is where the whole ‘range anxiety’ comes in – a car starts off saying it has lots of range and then the estimate plummets when you pull onto the highway in a headwind, and then suddenly you’re worried about not making it home).

Not the case with the Niro, though. The drive to Cowtown was 141 km, and pulled into the hotel downtown with 80 km of range still left in the battery, according to its info display.

Longview

Photo courtesty AJAC/John Walker

Longview, AB isn’t just the home of country music icon Ian Tyson, it is also the base of one of the finest Jerky stores in our fine province. I picked some up for the rest of the trip, and totally vouch for the quality of their fine product.

That aside, the trip to Longview from Calgary (this is into the second day of the Run) allowed another hybrid from Toyota to stand out – the Corolla Hybrid.

What made it remarkable in particular was that this was only leg of the event where I drove with a passenger in any of the vehicles. A delightful woman named Andrea from NRCan joined me for the trip, which was great timing because the Corolla didn’t a navigation system and I am absolutely terrible at directions.

Indeed, the only thing worse than a car with no nav is a car with a navigation system that gets confused and does stupid things like try to send you the wrong way down a one-way, or keeps making you drive across the bridge over the river unnecessarily. So it was good to have someone to read the map directions, especially since all the highways to Longview seem to be called Hwy 22. Andrea can attest to this.

Anyway, the point is, the Corolla hybrid came in under the official economy estimate with two of us in the car (I got 3.9km/100km versus the stated 4.5 from the company) and that was including me getting lost for a while on the way out of downtown.

Banff/Canmore

Coming into the home stretch, Andrea abandoned me in Longview (perhaps in favor of a more competent media geek, one who doesn’t get lost, I dunno), and I hopped daintily into another Toyota product – one of my favorites: the Prius!

And not just any Prius, either, but the company’s new, all-wheel drive model. It turned in stellar mileage on the drive from Longview to Banff/Canmore yielding 3.7L/100km which is incredible for an AWD car, and full litre below the official economy numbers. Also, this one had a nav system, and a really good one at that.

Calgary Redux

In summation: that was about that, my gentle friends. My last push of the EcoRun was in a Nissan Altima that took me into Calgary (admittedly, it was pretty much a straight run down the highway) with a result almost two km under the official FE number, at 5.8L/100km.

I could have done better, too, but the Altima’s nav system got confused and kept trying to make me drive over to the wrong side of the river and I got mad at it and was perhaps mashing the gas a little hard as I drove ‘round and ‘round in downtown traffic.

Actual photo of David MIller, outgoing EcoRun Chair and a pretty right-on guy.

And now we’re back to the start of this tale, y’all, with a bunch of really good-lookin’ men and women fleeing the Stampede grounds deluge in big funny hats.

Don’t worry, though, we took over the bar at the hotel for the closing ceremonies, conducted under makeshift conditions by longtime EcoRun Chair, David Miller. The poignant touch on the evening is that will be Miller’s last turn as Chair of the event after 8 years – a great guy with absolutely first-rate planning skills who consistently pulls together the wonderful showcase of fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles. I can’t imagine how much work must go into putting this spectacle on, primarily done by Miller and the event Logistics Manager, the excellent Jim Koufis.

My big funny hat is off to them, and to the Alberta edition of the AJAC EcoRun!

You can check out the results below for the results of all the entries, there really isn’t a loser in the bunch:

 

 

Smoke-a-localypse!

Like everyone in the city with a camera, I have made a short film about the smoke from the fires in the north of the province that covered Edmonton on May 30th. Enjoy!

It certainly made for a surreal look to the city, with everything being quite yellow-tinted and dark, and the air quality was… as good as it looks. I swear, you walk around outside for a minute and you could taste it for hours afterward.

2019 Jeep Cherokee

This turned out to be a pretty cool surprise – a 2019 Jeep Cherokee. Another solid-feeling, right-sized utility vehicle option for a segment that is attracting ever more buyers.

You can see the reasoning behind the adoption of midsize utes, especially ‘round these parts, what with our magnificent potholes (a lot of people don’t know this, but Alberta’s provincial flower is actually a pothole) and also my city’s latest safety innovation – giant speed bumps that’ll rip a low slung car to shreds at speeds over 10km/h

There is also the height advantage over traditional sedan-style vehicles; which makes for better sightlines looking out from the driver’s seat, but also allows for easier entry and exit from the vehicle. If you’re like me, you know a lot of older people, and the one thing they point out in any car I show them is that squat/crouching into a low door becomes increasingly uncomfortable with age.

Even I increasingly notice this as well, despite being a fresh-faced cherub whose limbo skills are still topnotch, and I dislike having to grab the pillars and hoist myself out of a car like I was mounting a pommel horse.

Anyway, that’s not the big picture here, let me run it down:

For 2019 the Cherokee gets a new engine choice in its lineup – a 2.0L turbo four-cylinder that delivers pretty spectacular performance with a max 270 horsepower and 295 lb.-ft. of torque – combined with a 9-speed automatic transmission. There are two other engines available for the Cherokee lineup (2.4L and a 3.2L six-cylinder).

I’ll vouch for the 2.0L in my test vehicle, it gets the Cherokee off the line quickly and remains ready for sudden bursts of acceleration even at highway speeds; but also brings unexpected fuel economy.

The company states a NRCan rating of 9.8L/100 km for the engine – which is really good for any 4×4 vehicle, and I got slightly better than that from the one I drove (mind you, for the most part it was just me in the Cherokee, without any sort of load and not towing anything, so expect it to go up if you regularly transport the up-to-five people the vehicle’s seating is configured for).

Speaking of seating, the Cherokee used here was a North 4×4 trim, which got fabric upholstered seats throughout. Black-on-black styling made for a pretty dark interior, but all the surfaces feel good and the seats in both rows are comfortable and acceptably roomy.

From the driver’s position, you get fairly good all round visibility, helped out by the backup camera, but this one lacked a few features I would have liked to see, especially at the pricepoint of this one; most notably a rear cross-traffic sensor.

I didn’t mind the Cherokee experience, overall, the overall footprint of it is comparable enough to an average sedan, so daily driving and maneuvering isn’t as clumsy as a truck or full-size utility vehicle.

The ride is very good, and stays smooth on all road surfaces (and, it handles those speed bumps I mentioned earlier with ease). There is an engine start/stop function that helps bolster fuel economy, especially in city driving.

The exterior appearance has improved for 2019 (especially the headlamps – this looks way better than those slitty little lights on the previous generation).

A list of things I didn’t care for in my North 4×4 test vehicle would include:

It didn’t have heads-up display. There was a big digital speed readout that could be displayed on the cluster, though, so maybe that isn’t a big deal for most people, but I like my HUDs.

The information touchscreen on the center console is by today’s standards, small. The rear seats don’t fold fully flat when put forward, so the cargo floor is uneven. The power rear door doesn’t have a button to close it on the door itself, so you have to use either the keyfob or the button on the dash.

Finally, this may be a difficult car for a buyer to spec out – I’ve included the sheet that came with this one here, so you can check out the list of options (and if you want further puzzles, check out the company website for a list of the options/powertrains/trim levels).

This one here though, a 2019 “North” trim 4×4 with the turbo 2.0L and three of the option groups, came to $44,115

2019 JCW MINI Countryman ALL4

Well, it isn’t the MINI that I would buy, but the Countryman is the model that makes the most sense.

(In case you are wondering why I wouldn’t buy one, it is because my favorite is the ‘real’ one: the three-door Cooper. That thing is my jam, man. Oh, and also the price, but I’ll save that ‘til the end, to build suspense).

I tell you, though, the 2019 Countryman, in this case all dressed up in the John Cooper Works package, is the one that works the best for where I live – a magical kingdom where the potholes rule the road, and periodically a wicked ‘polar vortex’ weather pattern moves through; as happened during my time with the test car.

Right off the bat, I’ll give it full marks for its cold-start cooperativity, and for having heated seats and steering wheel, as I experienced the Countryman during a record-setting time in February, (where we set a new benchmark for most days with temps below -20C, apparently).

My Countryman was equipped with a pricey John Cooper Works package, not unlike the last time I got up close with the largest of the MINI fam, and the overall experience in my time in this one was much the same.

The season, though, was different, and so my impressions were more focussed on the all-wheel drive and selectable traction control modes than in the Countryman’s power or dynamic handling (which are both pretty decent in the compact utility vehicle class – my tester boasted a potential 228 hp and 258 lb.-ft. of torque – and will bring you ample acceleration in more ideal road conditions).

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It dealt with the snow very well (but if we’re being honest, I won’t it overshadowed any of the other AWD utility vehicles I have driven in slippery/drifty conditions, it just did the job and stayed under control at all times and of course never got stuck).

A 2.0L turbocharged four-cylinder engine puts out the power; and delivered fuel economy that, while not hybrid calibre, stayed pretty acceptable by my estimation – I ended up averaging 9.8L/100km, and that’s in winter conditions and deep cold. Also I didn’t put the vehicle in Sport mode very often. JCW brings the action to halt when necessary with big Brembo brakes that could frankly be described as “grabby”. I know the vehicle is intended for performance situations, but I’ll warn you in advance if you’re planning a test drive in a JCW Countryman, braking comes on hard and enthusiastically when you hit the pedal.

Inside the JCW Countryman, the familiar circular motif of the MINI brand continues, with all the gauges, controls and displays framed in round, or at least rounded shapes. All the instruments are easy to read and understand, the switchgear looks quite arty, and most functions run through a centralized knob-and-buttons controller on the console.

The front seats were very good in the test car – fully adjustable, heated sports seats with thigh extension and upholstered in (optional) “Carbon Punch” leather.

An advantage of the Countryman line is that the rear seats are also pretty accommodating for passengers – they had more head and leg room than I expected, and more configurable because they could both slide forward and back, and also recline.

So overall, the Countryman sells itself as a thoroughly practical choice for everyday driving, and is a capable, multipurpose crossover that can handle a wider variety of conditions than my beloved three-door Cooper. Being in the ‘premium’ class of the segment, it brings a higher level of quality and design (and materials) over what you would find in some of the more down-to-earth competitors (like Mazda’s CX-3 for example), but here’s the thing: that all comes with a premium sticker price.

While the ALL4 lineup starts at a not-bad entry point of $31,090 (according to the company’s product guide) this one here, being the extra-tony Midnight Black Edition pushed that up to $39,790, and then with the John Cooper Works Package added (JCW option is another $7,200) and the freight and PDI charges tacked on, we are suddenly looking at a total cost of $49,635

 

Afternoon of the Lepus

We get a lot of rabbits around here, kind of in cycles that occur every couple of years or so.

I’ve always thought they were pretty neat, and ridiculously cute as babies (which, I just learned the other day, are called kittens. Weird, right?) and this leads me into another long tale of ‘how I met my neighbours’. Check this out:

So I am sitting around my palatial mansion last Friday; because my life is such a laugh-a-minute thrill ride, and I decide to go outside for a cigarette.

(The palatial mansion is a non-smoking building, you see).

Anyway, I go out back into the alley and right away notice that a couple of neighbours are out on their balcony, yelling at something. They spot me and start yelling down, and I’m all “Sup?”

They tell me that a couple of magpies have gotten ahold of a baby rabbit (or ‘kitten’, as we have learned) in the yard of the building next door, and are fixing to croak it.

I go round a small hedge that is the only barrier to the yard, sure enough, two magpies are dragging the little animal around by his legs, getting really pecky with the terrorized critter.

Frightening the birds off with the time-tested technique of waving my arms and yelling obscenities at them, I find myself alone with the rabbit as the magpies settle on the roof of a garage and sit there watching us.

So I can’t really leave,  and the rabbit has compressed himself face-first into a curb around the house and is huddling there quaking.

It kinda reminded of that last scene in The Blair Witch Project, you know? With the guy standing in the corner?  I loved that film.

Incidentally, this is not the first time I couldn’t leave a scene because I watching out for something, and not the most unusual object.

At this point my neighbours from the balcony have come down, and now three of us stand around looking at the rabbit. One of them calls 311 and gets an opinion on what to do (and those options were: leave the animal there, as its parent may be around, or box it up and take it inside, but then you gotta whole ‘nother problem).

Of course, we then find the rest of the rabbitlings. Almost invisible, five more of them are huddled in a pile at the base of the weedy little hedge. They had probably escaped the notice of the magpies by not moving around; while the original rabbit was perhaps an ‘early hopper’.

Trouble is, the others are beginning to try to hop as well, but being as they were probably born, literally, yesterday, they weren’t very good at it and also didn’t exercise good judgement. The three of us keep gathering them up and returning them to the rabbit-pile.

Long story short: as the sun starts going down, the magpies leave and the kits become less active and remain in their huddle. And, fortunately, some adult rabbits (or maybe they’re hares, I don’t know to be honest) begin to show up on the perimeter. We all figure this is a good thing, and go back inside.

And thither, my friends, is how I met a couple of my neighbours, Josh and Sarah.

PS: I checked out the hedge the next morning and the whole group was gone, so it looks like they got on with wherever rabbits go when they aren’t hanging out with us.

2019 Toyota Tundra SR5

(or, if you enjoy longer, but more technically correct headlines: 2019 4×4 Toyota Tundra SR5 Crewmax 5.7L TRD Pro)

As with a number of Toyota’s vehicles (I’m thinking of the 4Runner), the company’s full-size pickup is nearing the end of its current-generation product life cycle. The 2019 Tundra is pretty close to the ones we’ve seen on the roads for the past few years give or take a few updates and cosmetic and option/packaging changes.

Our tested vehicle this time out is a 4×4 with Crewmax cab (like all pickups from virtually all the major players, there is a bewildering variety of configurations to choose from) and 5.7 litre V8 engine.

This big iForce powerplant brings a competitive 381 horsepower (and 401 lb.-ft. of torque) to the platform and promises a 1,700 lb payload in the bed and 10,000 lb towing capacity. I’ll just mention here that buyers can still select Tundra with a smaller 4.6 litre eight-banger as well, should you not require that kind of power.

Porting the power through a 6-speed automatic transmission and making it easy between four-wheel drive modes (and 4×2) with a simple knob on the dash, the Tundra is easy to get used to and doesn’t bring a big learning curve to jump in and start driving.

As it happened, our videographer, Elliott owns a 2013 Tundra (also with TRD Pro equipment) so here is a look at the two side-by-side:

For 2019, the TRD package brings extra toughness and off-road equipment – and a few new standard features (like the Rigid Industries fog lamps, and Fox shock absorbers) in addition to a lot of badges all over the vehicle, inside and out.

TRD Pro pumps up the cost of the Tundra by almost eighteen grand ($17,900 to be exact) but brings it to a level suitable as a proper truck for real world use.

The offroad capability is boosted with an underbody skid plate and fuel tank protector plates, all-terrain tires (mounted on TRD-specific 18” wheels and Remote Reservoir suspension kit.

The branding adds to the appearance inside and out, with TRD performance dual exhaust tips and black badging, and the name is now stamped into the bed side; and some pretty good looking stitching on the leather seats in the cabin.

Passenger space is generous throughout the Crewmax cab, as is storage area; but here’s an interesting thing Elliott pointed out when compared to his 2013 model: the rear seats have been changed to a flip-up style, which has eliminated a behind the seat hidden storage area.

Technology standouts in our test Tundra were clearance and backup sensors (and blind spot monitor), AVN navigation system and an auto-dimming rear view mirror with compass in it.

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I won’t pretend I did any serious rough-country driving during my time in the Tundra, but Toyota boasts of the vehicle’s ability on difficult terrain. I did manage to find some snowy trails and a lot of pothole-cratered roads to navigate though (because I live in Edmonton, you see, where our civic flag is just a picture of a pothole swallowing a car) and the truck dealt with urban hazards with ease and a consistently smooth ride.

Even the price isn’t all that off-putting, though frankly I think I may have become somewhat jaded to pickup prices. Sixty-five grand is sixty-five grand, after all, but you can certainly pay more than that for a number of trucks that double as working and family vehicles (like the Ram 1500 we looked at recently).

Detractions I would offer after my time in this one, in addition to the usual stuff that comes with the overall size (the turning circle, the difficulty in any sort of covered parkade due to the overall height) would be:

No smart key. I could open the doors by pushing a button on the fob, but starting the Tundra required the key to be inserted in the ignition. Seems kind of anachronistic in these modern times.

Climbing into the cab was made more difficult by the test truck having no step-in rail or running board.

And of course, fuel economy – the Tundra is rated at a combined mileage of 16.0L/100 km, and I came in closer to eighteen, though in it’s defense, all my driving was done during a week of pretty heavy snow and deep-freeze temps.

Ultimately, it is a decent truck backed by Toyota’s formidable reputation for build quality and long-term value, and despite the age of this current generation continues to offer the best competition to the traditional Big Three options.

2019 Acura RDX Premium Elite

For those times when you want what everybody else is having, just nicer and with more stuff, the premium crossover offers a solution.

Midsize utility vehicles dominate the market, for reasons easy to see – elevated lines of sight for drivers, easier entry and exit due to the overall height, and (in most cases) all wheel drive – make for a package that suits the needs of a large segment of the population.

And, when a buyer wants such a vehicle, but still wishes to stand out from the crowd (and not have their ride easily confused with all the others on the roads), the makers of luxury brands step up and offer just that.

This is the case with the RDX, from Acura, Honda’s luxury arm. They’ve been selling the combination of everyday usefulness and high style (and of course, enhanced performance) since 2006, and with this third generation have put forth a complete redesign to make their popular offering ever more appealing to driver and passenger alike.

Certainly the 2019 RDX is vastly better looking in its redesigned body – the grille alone is an improvement over past models (which the company describes as ‘diamond pentagon’), and follows up with more pleasing and tapered style from front to rear.

I’m a fan of the new look, mostly because I was never a fan of the old look; that cheese-slicer faux-chrome horizontal band that served as the vehicle’s face just didn’t do anything for me.

The ‘A’ badge at the center of the grille has grown quite a bit larger as well; you won’t miss the branding even at a casual glance.

Naturally, one of Acura’s biggest hooks has always been performance. The manufacturer is dedicated to bringing a sporty and, when pushed, adrenaline charged experience to their models, and the RDX continues to bring that with the latest iteration.

It gets a new engine for the new generation, a turbo two-litre (which replaces the 3.5L V6 of past models) that is capable of 272hp and 280 lb.-ft. of torque. The power comes on quickly and readily – I didn’t find any significant lag or delay when punching the accelerator, regardless of which of the available drive modes I’d selected.

The intelligent, adaptive suspension and all-wheel drive system (called ‘super-handling all wheel drive’ in Acura-speak, SH-AWD for short) keeps the ride under control on slippery terrain, or when performing enthusiastic cornering just for the fun of it.

Inside the cabin, the RDX follows through on the ‘premium’ promise, decking the seating surfaces out in comfortable leather and the dash and door trim with dark wood inserts. It was all quite pleasant to look at and touch in the test vehicle I used for this review, as was the brown-on-black color scheme inside the cabin.

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From the driver’s position, the 2019 RDX is great. I love a heads-up information display, putting the pertinent info (particularly the speed) in easy view right in front of you. I am throwing in a special shout-out to the 16-way power adjustable driver’s seat in my Platinum Elite trim test vehicle, Acura offers one of the best driver’s seats available.

The steering feels great, it’s smooth and responsive, allowing a feeling of connection and control. Braking is very effective, without being grabby, even when applying the brakes hard.

As is the case with any vehicle from any carmaker looking to compete in the premium market, technology abounds; some of it good and some of it… well some of it I could do without.

I love the look and design of the center console and gauge cluster, it’s a masterpiece of high-end industrial design. The framing of the mode selector knob and gear selector on the center console looks good, as does the central information display on the dash.

Things I don’t especially care for though, are the gear selector itself (it is the ‘strip-of-buttons’ motif found in an increasing number Honda and Acura products). I just prefer an old-skool shifter. Maybe that’s just me. I feel the same way about the turny-knob selector found in several FCA vehicles, like the Ram 1500.

Another thing I didn’t enjoy in the RDX is the touchpad interface. Similar to what you’ll find in other premium offerings from, say, Lexus’ NX, it is like the pad on most laptop computers. While the one in the RDX is perhaps more precise, I find that with any of these systems, inevitable some sort of grit or crumb or particle of dust ends up on the pad and you feel it under your finger when touching the pad and ew, I hate that.

As for the pricing of the vehicle, well decide for yourself.

The one used for this review was the top-of-the-line trim, a Platinum Elite (with no additional options, and I do like a vehicle that comes pretty much complete without having to tick a lot of boxes to get all the extras required to fully put together the car you want), and it rolls with an MSRP of $54,990 before taxes and destination charges.

In the world of premium crossover utes, that’s actually not out of the norm, and I will mention that 2019 RDX can be had in five different models (base, Technology, Elite and A-Spec), all of which provide the basics of the Acura experience, starting at entry point of $43,990

©Wade Ozeroff 2019