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

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.

Book plug!

Mahoney’s Camaro
by Michael J. Clark

Fiction fans!

Here’s a niche market for you – gritty Winnipeg noire, set in a not-too-distant past and told in the time honoured dialog of the genre.

Author Michael Clark has wrought a really special combination of foul play meeting regular folks, with a twist or two that makes the whole tale worth following to the end.

Clark’s gift for bringing back the Canadiana of yore, the stuff that we all grew up with (remember OV stubbies?) along with his detailed and genuine love of the location and situations he puts the characters into, fold the tale of the titular character and car into an engaging read.

*full disclosure: I know Michael, from back in the day, when we both wrote automotive features for rival newspapers and would run into each other at product launch events; so basically this is me saying “hey! I know that guy!”

2019 VW Jetta Execline

Photo by VW Canada

Rolling out for 2019 with improved looks and polished, minimalist styling, Volkswagen’s latest Jetta brings a competitive small sedan that combines daily usefulness with a dash of German aesthetics.

The company makes much of the seventh-generation’s “all new” status – it isn’t just the looks that have changed, the car now rides on VW’s latest global architecture (interestingly, the Jetta shares the platform with a diverse array of vehicles, from the Audi TT and A3 to VW’s own Atlas and Arteon).

Comfortable enough inside, and with good headroom even for us six-foot types, the dash shows off an uncluttered display accented with metallic highlights. The digital gauge cluster behind the wheel is easily tailored to display the information an individual driver may prefer, and the steering-mounted buttons are fairly quick to figure out and use, as is the touchscreen on the center stack

My test model was the Execline trim (which is the top end for Jettas, there are also Comfortline and Highline), which gave it customizable interior ambient lighting, and a 400watt BeatsAudio sound system along with the digital info display and a navigation module.

The Execline also gets a set of snappy 17” wheels, which nicely compliment the redesigned exterior. The car is a lot more distinctive than previous generation Jettas, thanks to a better looking grille and more accented creasing of the body panels.

Performance was supplied by a turbocharged 1.4L gasoline engine, which put a respectable 147 horses and 184 lb.-ft. of torque to the front wheels (with the torque coming on at a very low 1,400 rpm).

Marshaled by an eight-speed automatic transmission and four driver-selectable modes (I alternated mostly between Eco for better fuel consumption, and Sport for thrills), the little powerplant is up to any of the demands of daily driving. Oh, and I’ll mention too that the Jetta can be had with a manual six-speed gearbox as well.

It handles well, showing off agility and cornering ability, with just enough stiffness in the suspension to make the car feel sporty without letting the overall ride feel harsh or jarring. Backing that up with good braking and steering that allows a driver to feel connected to the road, the Jetta feels like a more expensive car (such as its Audi platform-mates).

My Execline tester included VW’s Driver Assist package as the only option on the already very well equipped machine, which added adaptive cruise control, front-assist emergency braking, lanekeeping assist and automated high beam control for the price of $995

VW claims fuel economy of 7.8L/100 km in the city and 5.9L on the highway, which, while not what you’ll find in hybrid cars, is pretty good in this segment.

In fact, the whole overall package stays competitive against its rivals from Japan and Korea (notably the Corolla and Civic kingpins) both in equipment and pricing.

The Jetta lineup starts in the low twenties (for a Comfortline trim) and by the time we get to the Execline car we see here it comes to $30,090 with its optional driver assist package, before freight and taxes.

 

2018 Crashed Ice in Edmonton

Well, that was pretty entertaining.

We took in Redbull’s Crashed Ice event on its Edmonton stop this past weekend, the last stop on a globe spanning tour that has seen this Ice Cross Downhill World Championships stop in cities from Finland to France to the US and Canada – in fact, the race was in La Sarre Quebec before bring the action to Edmonton, the final stop on the tour.

I confess I wasn’t familiar with the sport before we attended the Edmonton; but it isn’t too hard to get your brain around the concept, it’s a downhill skate race over a course that looks pretty extreme.

The skaters go off in heats of up to four, and rocket down an elaborate elevated course with a heavily iced surface, first one to the finish line wins. Sounds straightforward enough, right? But its easier said than done when you’re traveling at speeds of up to 80km/h.

No question this qualifies as an extreme sport, my friends, and I have nothing but respect for all the athletes who made it to the Edmonton final round.

(Incidentally, the overall winners were crowned here Saturday night, and American Amanda Trunzo took the honors in the women’s division, and Canada’s Scott Croxall won the men’s.

The full results can be seen here on Redbull’s Crashed Ice page

But it wasn’t just about the races themselves, this was a full-on, get-out-and-enjoy the spectacle in downtown E-town, where the streets around the Shaw center were closed off and people marched down Grierson hill to a site filled with a really decent crowd around the ice-cross track.

Adding another level of interest, this is the first year that Hyundai Motors has partnered with Redbull for the Crashed Ice show, the Korean manufacturer is using the extreme sport to showcase a couple of their more extreme vehicles – the newest generation of pumped-up Velosters.

The three door hatchbacks are being groomed for rally sport with the introductions of the 2019 Veloster Turbo and their halo hatch, the Veloster N

The Turbo was on display up at street level, showing off for the crowd with a sporty leatherclad interior and matte paint-job on it that looked pretty appealing.

This one boasts 201hp 195 lb.-ft. of torque (and I’m told it will be available with a manual transmission as well), but the monster Veloster, the N, was strictly on display at Crashed Ice.

Mirko Lahti of Finland, Alex Schrefels of the United States, Jesse Sauren of Finland and Joni Saarinen of Finland compete during the Junior Competition at the tenth and final stage of the ATSX Ice Cross Downhill World Championship at the Red Bull Crashed Ice in Edmonton, Canada on March 9, 2018.

Here it is up on a pedestal in front of one of the first drops on the ice course, looking sporty; and when it hits the streets and showrooms this car will really be bringing the performance.

A 2.0L turbocharged engine pushing 275 horses and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, riding on an electronically controlled suspension and offering a selection of driving modes tuned for track performance; with distinctive body sculpting and detailing to differentiate this top of the line model from the Turbo and other members of the Veloster lineup.

The N won’t be available until later in the year, so this is our first look at it, but we’ll be hoping to take a drive in this little monster when it arrives.

And on a less adrenalizing but perhaps more practical note, Hyundai had their newest urban-oriented utility vehicle on hand as well – here’s the 2018 Kona at their display in downtown Edmonton.

Now if you’re like me, gentle reader, you probably realize that while you may want the Veloster, the Kona is the one that makes a better case for purchase as all-round everyday vehicle for all seasons.

And that’s about it. Having seen this year’s Crashed Ice competition, I’m a fan; and having seen Edmonton’s support for the event and the good time had by everyone I met there I’d bet the event’s sponsors and promoters are fans of us too.

Check out the Youtube here:

 

 

 

Mercedes Benz E 400 Coupe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Driver and front seat passenger will love this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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