2017 Toyota Highlander SE

The Highlander needs no introduction, Toyota’s popular crossover took over the roads and grabbed up market share beginning back in 2001, and has developed a reputation for quality and endurance that keeps customers coming back.2017Highlander-9

The shape is still familiar, although the front end has been tweaked for the new model year with the family grille; the wide-mouth trapezoid that is being bestowed on Toyota models of all sizes and types.

Still in its third generation, Highlander is much the same for 2017 as last year’s, but with a new package available – the SE option.2017Highlander-7

To be brief, the SE is a package available on the XLE (V6) trim, which gives the vehicle a sportier grille, second row reclining captain’s chairs (SE is a seven seater, Highlanders can also be bought with room for eight passengers), roof rails, ambient lighting, SE-specific paint options and 19” wheels.

The one you see here is a gasoline-powered (i.e., non hybrid) coaxing a potential 265 horsepower from its 3.5L six-cylinder engine, and sporting a new-for-2017 8-speed automatic transmission.2017Highlander-4

Blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic sensors are a useful part of the safety suite, as is intelligent cruise control, lane departure warning (and an active departure-assist system, which will attempt to pull the car back between the lines, presumably in case a driver isn’t paying attention).

It drove well, for a large-ish, though technically still a ‘mid-size’ crossover, with smooth steering and good stopping power from the brakes. The cabin is spacious and cargo-friendly when the third row of seats is folded down, and when the rearmost seats are righted, access to them is helped out by the sliding second row.

Comfortable enough for long drives, thanks to a driver’s seat that will accommodate a wide variety of body types, although I got a few complaints about the ride from second-row passengers.2017Highlander-2

Overall, it is easy to recommend Highlanders in any trim, just based on the vehicle’s rep and record. It is a constant favorite of Consumer Reports and other quality barometers, and yielded good fuel economy during my time in the SE – the ‘city’ portion of which was no doubt helped by the engine’s auto-stop function, which shuts it down when stopped at a light.

There are definitely a few things I would change about it, of course, should I ever become a Toyota engineer:

I don’t especially enjoy the user interface on the console, with flat buttons on either side of the information display that don’t offer a lot of ‘feedback’ when you are using them – sort of like elevator buttons, if you know what I mean. You have to look at them to see if they have responded to your touch.

The vehicle didn’t have a digital speedometer option among the choices of info to display between the dials, and the navigation app wasn’t especially space age, lacking the handy feature whereby speed limits are shown on the street map on the center display.

2017Highlander-6

You see what I mean about the cover, right? Here it is in its mounted position, where it blocks the 3rd row, and also inhibits folding the seats.

Finally, the rollup tonneau cover, which hides your goodies in the back from prying eyes isn’t easy to store when you remove it. Unlike, say, Subaru’s Forester, where a compartment has been built into the rear floor to snap the thing into to have somewhere to keep it when it’s not in use; the one in the Highlander has to sit loose on the floor. And it would have to be removed when using the third row seats, as it locks in place right in front of them.

And of course the price – Highlander comes at a premium it seems. My test model, with the $1,595 SE Package, bent the sticker all the way to $47,478 including taxes/destination charges.

 

 

 

2017 Lincoln Continental Reserve

17 Continental-8You know, if there is any fit contender from manufacturers on this side of the Atlantic to go up against the best of Germany as the global purveyor luxury/premium/status vehicles, it is this latest Lincoln.

This is just a wonderful car to drive, or be driven in. Plus, it sports the best-looking grille currently in the Lincoln lineup.

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.17 Continental-7

This is the second opportunity I’ve had to experience the car, so I won’t rehash the whole schlemiel (here’s a longer piece here 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.

My test car 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.

17 Continental-2

A couple submenus into the user settings, you’ll find the full range of configurations for the front row.

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).

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).17 Continental-13

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.

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.

Soon We Will Be Ever So Safe

teslapostHear me out here – is this an actual problem? People leaving kids in their cars to the point where more children are being done-in this way than by sharks and marbles combined?

It all began innocently enough yesterday morning, when my broski Gary Grant posted on the Book of Faces™  a link to a story on some website, all about how Tesla has promised a forthcoming, all-new-strata of safety nanny systems.

(gonna make us all Safe again, at least according to a cryptic tweet from Elon himself cited in the story) – a super intelligent system that actually runs the A/C while the vehicle is turned off, if it thinks you may have left your kids in the car.

My response was:

“Or! Or!

Mofos could try not forgetting their children in the car.

Perhaps employing some sort of sophisticated ‘counting’ algorithm, or maybe an old fashioned roll call like:

“Hey, li’l Bobby (or whatever), are you ready for dinner, or are you slowly suffocating in the car?”

I mean seriously, mang, how in the shit does that even happen. How is this a thing that has grown so far out of control that it that requires the f**king carmakers to intervene?

Totally makes sense to me, right? And I obviously thought that was the end of that, my friends – but no!

A bunch of rational people joined in, and tried to make it *not* about going off on some internet rant; but I refuse to play dat.

You down with me on this one, fellow citizens? You feel?

Now, let’s take this to its logical extreme, so I can get on with my life:

teslapost2©Wade Ozeroff 2016

On the Road: 2016 Toyota Avalon

Newly facelifted for 2016, sporting the family grille that defines Toyota’s lineup, my Avalon test car this week remains the rock solid flagship of the company.2016Avalon-34

Beneath the cosmetic appearance, the basics stay the same beneath the skin – engine, transmission, etc. carry over into the new model year, as does the borderline-luxury car feel of the passenger compartment inside the most full-sized of Toyota’s sedans.

My test vehicle, a top-line Avalon in Limited trim lacks very little in the cabin to separate it from true Premium segment cars; displaying comfortable and leathery seating surfaces, electronic creature comforts (and a suite of safety features).

2016Avalon-1It does lack a couple of things I would like to see though (specifically, my test car does not have a heated steering wheel, which makes me sad because it is freezing outside and I hate grabbing a cold wheel), but this brings me to a point:

I have this one friend who always points out that, as a spoiled media weasel, I may have become unrealistic in my expectations – I learned this when whining one day about some car that didn’t have keyless start (apparently, LOTS of people don’t have keyless start), so I don’t dare mention the lack of heated steering to him, for I will get no empathy.

That aside, my Avalon Limited (with no additional option packages) contains almost everything else one might want. Blind spot monitoring is one of the best warning and prevention systems that has come along in the recent past; a navigation app that displays both on the center console info screen and also in between the gauges over the wheel; where an animated arrow helps with turn-by-turn instructions.2016Avalon-18 2016Avalon-15

As with anything Toyota makes, all the controls are easy to understand and presented in a straightforward layout, from stereo to climate controls (and, conveniently, the climate controls are grouped separately on the center stack, so that they can be operated without going into sub-menus on the touch-screen interface).

The only feature on the vehicle that required a look at the manual was the inclusion of a wireless charger plate on the door of a center-console compartment – a clever bit of technology that will charge various phones and devices just by placing them on it, if the devices are compatible. (Incidentally, turns out none of my devices were compatible with the charger, and this is just one more thing that I can’t expect any pity from my friend over).

The Avalon rides beautifully and quietly, obviously a good highway cruiser, but thoroughly enjoyable in urban settings, too; and maintains its upscale feel with an engine that effortlessly handles acceleration with a potential 268 horsepower (and 248 lb.-ft of torque) behind the new grille; a 3.5 litre six-cylinder.

A six-speed automatic transmission is the only choice for Avalons, and handles itself well in any of the selectable drive modes (Sport, Eco or normal, depending on your preference). The car isn’t sluggish in any mode, and Sport peps it up noticeably in terms of accelerator response. It handles well in general daily operation, and brakes very well; the only real detraction, for me, is the rather ‘light’ feel calibrated into the steering.

That’s just me though, the steering is tuned to be appealing and comfortable for the broadest range of drivers (and remember: spoiled media weasel. Why, if it was up to me, everything would be as tight and instantaneously unforgiving as a high-end German sports sedan, and would of course also be heated. Don’t tell my friend).

With a cabin rivaling big-car competitors like Taurus or Impala for spaciousness (and naturally, Avalon provides the best rear-seat environment of any of Toyota’s car lineup), it is a car to be considered if you have a need for something this size; and don’t blanch at the price.

While it doesn’t push its sticker price into the big-bucks territory of the ‘true’ premium sedans of similar size, the Avalon isn’t a bargain buy, either, especially in the Limited trim of my test car.

This one, without options and before taxes, comes to $43,770 but check out your choices at Toyota.ca

Fact file
Trim level: Limited
Price as tested (before taxes): $43,770
Options on test vehicle: none
Freight: $1,660
Configuration: front-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 3.5L 6-cylinder / 6-spd automatic
Power/torque: 268 hp/ 248 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): regular (64L)
Fuel economy ratings (L/100 km): 11.4 city, 7.6 hwy
Observed fuel economy (L/100 km): 12.8 over 231 km
Warranties: 3 years/60,000 km (basic)
Competitors: Chevy Impala, Ford Taurus, Lexus ES350, Nissan Maxima

Strengths: styling, quiet interior, smooth ride

Weaknesses: expensive, needs a couple more features

Report Card (out of 10):
Fuel Economy: 5 – I was using it in some punishing temperatures, so this is not the best I could have wrung from the V6
Equipment level: 8 – all the desirable stuff, some of the more esoteric flourishes of Premium cars.
Price: 7 – pricey, especially the Limited
Styling: 8 – Great new face and pleasing lines
Comfort (front): 8 – Good seats and lateral room.
Comfort (rear): 8 – the most spacious of any Toyota sedan
Handling: 7 – light steering feel, secure braking
Performance: 7 – plenty of power from the V6
Storage: 7 – similar to most full-size sedans
Overall: 7 – A solid, big-car offering from the top of Toyota’s lineup.

 

 

First Drive: 2016 Lamborghini Huracan LP610-4 Spyder

Editor’s note: So you know what happened, eh?

The dang publication I wrote for, Autonet, folded up, and that makes me sad – mostly because all the links to their online presence have gone dead, but also because the shutdown came just days after I submitted what would turn out to be my last story for them – a Lamborghini launch!

Only time I’ve ever driven one, or sat in one outside of an auto show for that matter. I republish it here now for the enjoyment of you, my three readers, in the Auto Section at www.wozeroff.com

Huracan-9(South Beach, FLA) Well, ‘scuse me while I pwn the sky.

You know, I have always hoped that one day I would get to attend a launch of a true Supercar; and Lamborghini’s newest, the Huracan Spyder fits the bill.

A V10-powered combination of extreme styling and lightning quickness; eye-catching and track-ready with its light and low-slung body; cruising the streets of Dade County in the Italian masterpiece seems like the just the right farewell blowout for my final assignment with Autonet.

A sort of ‘last Hura’, if you can tolerate a final, delicious pun.

Huracan-10

CEO Stephan Winkelmann introduces the Huracan Spyder at the worldwide launch in Miami, 2016

Now, I don’t know if you are a supercar driving person in real life (heck, I’m certainly not), but the long and short of the experience is this:

610 horsepower running to all four wheels (that is what the 610-4 part of the nomenclature means, and Spyder of course indicates it is a drop-top convertible) through a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission; a fast-shifting dynamo of acceleration and high-performance steering, braking and handling that turns heads at any speed, even in the tonier neighborhoods of Miami.

I can tell you that it is as fast as you expect, exceedingly so (the company proudly states that the new Huracan will hit 100 km/h in 3.4 seconds, and I believe ‘em; and equally importantly, the car will brake from 100 to zero in 32 meters).

An exhaust note that changes noticeably as it blasts from the four tailpipes (along with the responsiveness of the 5.2 litre engine, and the feeling of weight in the steering) serenades me when I scroll through the three drive modes – ‘Strada’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Corsa’ which disables the traction and stability controls, which is scary and don’t do that – it sounds like the prestige powerhouse that it is.

It borrows a fair bit it from it family member from Audi, the R8, particularly the steering wheel layout (where the mode selector switch resides at the bottom of the wheel, and signal light switch mounted as a thumb-button) and cluster information display.

Where the Huracan (which I learned was named after a famous fighting bull, as are most of Lambo’s legendary cars) stands alone is with its unmistakable styling; which turns wind management and optimized coefficient of drag into art-gallery sculpture from nose to tail lamps.

Huracan-39You won’t confuse it for anything else, and the responses from casual observers and passersby were almost always positive. It is the kind of car that seems to make people happy just for seeing it  – primarily adolescent and arrested-adolescent boys, of course – and also elucidates a streak of competitiveness from confused people in Mustangs (for some reason Florida seems to be Mustang country, they’re everywhere here) who would rev their engines at me in an attempt to provoke a futile challenge they have no hope of winning.

An interesting feature of the Huracan is how well it rides on rough pavement. The suspension, while all about the sporty handling, deals with road surfaces with aplomb, soaking up what I know from experience would be  teeth-chattering bumps and asphalt cracks were I driving any of the 911 family.

Huracan_Spyder_Interior

Photo courtesy of Lamborghini. No way I’d get nice interior shots like this.

The two-seat cabin is a cross between ‘aircraft cockpit’ and ‘spaceship’, and a bit on the tight side, especially if you put the top up (and interestingly, the top opens-or-stows in 17 seconds, and Lamborghini states that can be operated at speeds up to 50 km/h, which is a first for convertibles I have been in.

Huracan_Spyder_Interior_DriverNow, you can get faster cars, and you can get more expensive cars (the mere $289,242 pricetag of the new Bull is actually competitive against a number the Huracan’s supercompetitors, including Ford’s GT) but this one is all about the cachet – buy one of these and people will automatically assume you’re One Percent.

And incidentally, if you want to feel like a real jerk, parade your Huracan through the poor neighborhoods of Miami where people are sleeping in the streets in front of shuttered buildings; which is what I did by accident when I tried to take a shortcut around some blocked roads.

The drawbacks of the Huracan are what you’d expect – really poor visibility in all directions (especially with the top up, though even down I found the windshield header was about eye level for me) and really uncomfortable seats. I drove both seat configurations and found that after about an hour I had to stop and walk around for a while.

So there you have it; but on a personal note (and at the risk of greatly exceeding my column length and pissing off my beloved editor, Angry Angry Dan just one final time) I just want to thank the excellent Autonet team I have worked with here for the past… oh, jeez, is it fifteen years?

But most of all you, Gentle Reader, especially the (few) who enjoyed my prose; and even more so those who took the time to write – especially the ones who corrected my grammar and word use. That’s the only way I learn, right?

Now, if you’ll excuse me…Huracan-27

Wade Ozeroff 2016

Icketty Blumpkin

jackLook everybody: it is unpleasant musical footnote Jack White!

They actually let this guy be in a documentary with The Edge and Jimmy Page. Its on Netflix right now.

It turns out I am so disinterested I couldn’t even bother to research what he looks like, but it’s pretty much like this, right? Kinda mime-like?

Look, I’ll level with you, I only drew this because I am liking the drawing tools in the Adobe Ideas app on my iPod (which must take the place of my beloved ‘Artrage’ app, which for some reason won’t load anymore. Seems to have died after the last iOS update)

Tears in Schmuckland

A riotous adventure in musical bastardry, by Wade Ozeroff, esq.

Musical taste is a very personal thing, is what I have learned from some of the videos I see my friends post online.

One person’s Poison is another’s Led Zep, in a manner of speaking, and it is only through experience that I have learned to watch what I say regarding a particular tune or band that suddenly pokes it’s musical head out in the background ambience, when I am out among the decent people.tears

This is silly, of course, because I know damn well that I am the arbiter of what is good and what is dreck; and it galls me no end that others do not recognize my opinion as being vastly superior to their own. I mean, can’t they see that if they just shaddap and listened to me, their lives would be so much better, or at least filled with tolerable music?

Nevertheless, take heed, my friends, for there is a lesson here that I refuse to learn.

Years ago, at some newspaper I worked at, I had returned from photographing a Def Leppard show at a big bar in my fair town. It was one of those ‘surprise concerts’ (remember those?) where they would bring out a band, but no one knew who it would be until they took the stage. They had had some pretty big names at some of the previous shows across the continent.

The audience was milling about, writhing in anticipation, practically preemptively taking off their shirts as rumors swirled about whom the act would be. I heard its Aerosmith! one excited fellow exclaimed; another piped I heard its Kiss!

Well, long story short, it was Def Fucking Leppard. The Molson surprise concerts were losing their momentum by the time one came to Edmonton, and in a lazy piece of casting, they had picked a band that was already in town to play a concert the very next night. So it was Def Leppard. And they sucked the roof off the dump.

I returned to my newspaper to process my film and print up a shot (this was millions of years ago, we still had ‘film’ and made ‘prints’, which were then scanned by our Imaging department).

It was into the imaging department I sallied, with my print in hand; and the technicians on shift that night asked me so who was the band?

”Def Fucking Leppard”, I replied.

I inhaled deeply, preparing to make a big speech peppered with obscenities detailing exactly how much I didn’t care for the band; but an alert staffer caught my arm and walked me out the door of the department. “Def Leppard is Brad’s absolute favorite band in the world”, he hissed. “He loves them more than anything. He’s seen them multiple times, and has tickets to their show tomorrow night”.

Good advice delivered in a timely fashion, I must say; for Brad is a large fellow, bigger than two of me. His arms are the size of my legs, if I had really big legs. I altered my tone and re-entered the department.

“How was the show?” Brad beamed, excited as heck to see the first images of his band from their latest appearance in our town.

“Oh…Oh. They were… in top form… yes indeed. Exude Some Glucose on Me, and all that. Yes” I replied, pumping my fist and shaking my imaginary mullet in pop-metal solidarity with my friend.

The image I had selected for the paper showed their lead singer, Schmucko, sopping wet and spitting mad after someone in the audience had thrown a drink at him, immediately after they took the stage and band’s name was announced to a chorus of boos and disappointment. An ice cube was still in his hair. Brad was aghast.

“Who the hell would do something like that?” he asked rhetorically, personally wounded by the attack. Gosh, I said, I just don’t know…

You might think that would have been warning enough for me, but I am not a quick study, my friends.

*   *   *

In 1993 I went to the Grey Cup game in Calgary with a bunch of photographers, to cover the event because Edmonton was playing in it. The night before, we all went out to one of those ‘kitsch’ restaurants, the kind with, like, plastic rhino heads and whatnot on the walls.

We sat at a table, maybe eight of us, telling stories about how cool we were; and plowing down ribs and beef and beer. At some point I got up to go to the washroom.

When I returned, scant minutes later, Eric Clapton’s execrable Tears in Heaven was warbling from the sound system, much louder than it should have been. I knew at once what I had to do.Tears3

I inhaled deeply, and made a big speech for the assembled photojournalists, wherein I explained in a lengthy diatribe (peppered with obscenities) just what a crappy tune it is.

I ranted that Eric hadn’t done anything worthwhile in years. I vouchsafed that if it weren’t for J. J. Cale writing songs, Clapton would have disappeared altogether after 1970. I accused the song of playing cheap emotional badminton with the death of his child for a radio-friendly hit by a marginally talented, uncomprehending junkie too stoned and dumb to keep his own son away from the balcony of a highrise, rockstar condo.

I opined that the Clapper should have died while he was still cool; that my handsome ears would never have been sullied by the elevator-dreck now coming from the muzak system. I believe I made a jerk-off motion with my hand.

Finally, I was able to calm down, and waited patiently for a round of applause from the assembled media weasels. It was at that point that the manager of our group got up and bolted from the table.

I mean, he ran from the table; with such alacrity that I though maybe he had drunk too much, and was racing to the can for a frantic purge.

“What’s up with Schmucko?” I inquired of the strangely silent group, “he’s had like, two drinks”.

Some of them burst out laughing, others just sat shaking their heads, as one of them explained to me the situation. It wasn’t the muzak system, it turns out. The place had a jukebox.

He had personally chosen the awful tune, but more than that, he had made a big speech about how deeply the song touched him.

The overwrought sentiment spoke to him personally, it seems, and each word held deep meaning for him and blablabla changed his life forever and made him a better human being, just because it existed. It was his favorite tune, man.

Apparently, he damn near had tears in his eyes as he blurted this confession to the group, about the incredible meaningfulness that Tears in Heaven held for him. All this happened while I was in the loo, and had only just concluded moments before I returned.

It was an unnaturally frosty Grey Cup game that year, let me assure you, but don’t worry.

I learned nothing from the experience, of course, and neither did you, gentle reader. Now please enjoy this link to Paul McCartney’s Helen Wheels, because I think, if nothing else, we can all agree that he was the most talented Beatle.

 © Wade Ozeroff 2014