A Tale of Two Lexus IS’s

There’s no want for choice in Lexus’ sedan lineup, that’s for sure. From the diminutive hatchback CT200 to the less attainable LS and RC halo cars, Toyota’s luxury brand packs the field with variants even within the platforms.2017IS300-4

The IS group for example. A buyer is offered 3 trims (200t, 300 and 350) and from there the available optional packages and equipment make for some difficult decision-making.

Here’s a look at a couple of them: the same in many respects (and dimensions) but fairly different cars; each with their merits and detractions.

I had the chance to take a 200t and a 300AWD out for test drives back-to-back, and here’s a little summary:2017IS300-6

2017 IS 300 AWD

The more expensive of the two, although not by much – even with the all-wheel drive powertrain it came to about 4K more – the 300 brings superior horsepower with its 3.5 litre gasoline powerplant and bumps up its creature comfort with the addition of a Luxury package (which adds an additional $6,700 to the bottom line).2017IS300-1

A six-speed automatic transmission marshals the 255 (and potential 236 lb.-ft. of torque, which the spec sheet claims comes on at a low 2.000 rpm) horses under the hood, with wheel-mounted paddle shifters and multiple drive modes to make the most of the refined and quiet power of the vehicle.

The aforementioned Luxury package adds flourish to the interior’s dark and leather-clad, understated splendor with inclusions like a heated steering wheel (which is also power tilt-and-telescoping), a ten-inch info display atop the center stack, heated/ventilated seats, and in-dash DVD player and navigation system.2017IS300-3

The option also includes a couple of useful safety features: blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic sensors. Frankly, I feel that these should be included as standard equipment on a car in this class (and at this price), because both are extremely useful. The system has proved its worth many times, to prevent a driver from backing out into moving traffic or pedestrians.

2017 IS 200t

The 200t was actually my favorite of the two IS models, despite being the more entry-level.2017IS200t-1

Rolling on a rear-wheel drive train, and with a smaller engine (which yielded better fuel economy than the V6 of the IS 300) it is an agile and fun car from a driver’s standpoint, and boasted a better information display and ease-of-use with its tech features.

The two litre turbo-four may have less on-paper horsepower (it is rated at 241 hp) than its platform sister, but torque is boosted to a superior 258 lb.-ft. My personal experience with it did not disappoint, the 200t had power to spare, and the handling was no doubt helped out by the fact that it is about 70 kg lighter than the 300 AWD.

I’ll tell you what I really like about the test car I used, though – the instrumentation.

Equipped with Lexus’ F Sport Series 1 option, this IS gained – along with F Sport badges sprinkled liberally throughout the interior – a digital speed display.2017IS200t-2

My IS 300 did not have this, only an analog dial display. I find it much easier to acquire, much quicker to determine your speed at a glance, with a big illuminated number put squarely in the center of the cluster.

Also, the F Sport display is fun to watch and dazzle your friends with, because when you put the car into sport-mode, the single gauge actually physically shifts over to the right to allow room for more graphical info to pop up and display beside it.2017IS200t-10

My 200t had no navigation system, which is again too bad at this price point (the car finished up at a little over 47K with freight and taxes) but also left out Lexus’ remote-touch user interface – a sort of combination of mouse and joystick on the console to select onboard functions that I find imprecise and tricky to use. The 200t embraced a simpler combination of selector knob and ‘home’ button.

Overall, either of the vehicles brought a proper, Lexus driving experience. Interior quiet, superior fit and finish throughout and an overall reputation for quality.

As both cars are dimensionally identical in length and width, detractions for them are basically the same. Rear seat legroom isn’t great, and the cars are built with a long overhang at both front and rear. There are a lot of cement curbs and parking ramps with steep angle-of-entry in my town, and a bumper that juts out a couple of feet in front of the wheels is just begging for scrapes.

Either way, though, the pair of IS’s offer a solid competitor against rivals from Germany at the entry end of the midsize premium sedan segment, and either are worth a test drive.

The IS 300 AWD with its Luxury pkg came with a final MSRP of $51,821 (all in), the 200t F Sport finished at $47,121

 

 

2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

2017MX-1Pound-for-pound, and with the top down, this is probably the most delightful and fun automobile within reach of a majority of buyers. It is an indulgence, certainly, but the Mazda MX-5 offers a sprightly and nimble two-seater that lowers a power hardtop and lets loose with some responsive and sporty performance.

At the entry-end of the lineup, there is a case to be made for bang-for-bucks value, but that is thrown off a bit by my test version – the 2017 MX-5 RF GS – which pushes the price to over 40K, but we’ll come back to that later.2017mx5-1

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The retractable top in mid-fold.

RF stands for ‘retractable fastback’, a convertible hardtop that deploys with what Mazda claims is segment-leading quickness (and it does, in fact, open and close with impressive alacrity) and is frankly a lot of fun to watch, as the roof panels fold over one another and settle at the press of the dash-mounted button.

This right here is the most attractive of the MX-5 models, and looks good whether the top is up or down; the car is a stylish piece of art that attracts comments. My test vehicle was further enhanced by an attention-grabbing paint job (“Soul Red Metallic”) that prompted a couple of random drivers to roll down their windows at stoplights to ask about the car.

My tester’s top was color-matched to the body, but there is an option to get it in a contrasting, ‘piano black’ finish. I’m not sure I’d want that, though; it looks just fine as is.

So the styling and overall design of the RF is a ‘10’, no question; and during a couple of very nice days out here on the Prairies it delivered everything it oughta – fun in the sun with the fresh air blowing through the cockpit.2017mx5-8

On that note, Mazda has done a good job of keeping wind in the cabin under control (mostly anyway, but we all know there’s going to be noise in a car like this). Informal testing with a couple of passengers confirmed that you can converse at normal volume up until about 80 kilometers and hour.

Powered by a 2.0 litre inline-four that pumps out a potential 155 horsepower (which, while not a big number by today’s standards, is way more than enough to haul a small car like this one up to speed in a hurry) and paired with a six-speed, short-throw manual transmission that just feels good to operate; the MX-5 brings the fun factor.

A rear wheel drive platform, tight-cornering with a responsive steering feel and low-to-the-ground weight distribution that loves twisty roads and sudden bursts of acceleration. A suspension that, while certainly tuned on the ‘sporty’ side of firmness, still manages not to punish the occupants when driven over bumps and imperfect road surfaces.

My GS RF tester yielded up some pretty decent full economy as well, sticking very close to the NRCan stated numbers (8.9L/100km in the city, 7.1 highway) and a very similar RF did quite well in the recent EcoRun event, with a combined mileage of 6.1.

What’s not to love?

The shortcomings are self-evident: the overall size and limited capacity of the car make it a tight fit in the passenger compartment, and if you are a taller person like myself, it feels claustrophobic with the top up (and with the roof in place, visibility is compromised from within the car).

Filled to capacity (which is two people), driver will find themselves rubbing elbows with passenger, and both will find themselves rubbing elbows with the oddly placed cupholders that jut from between the seats. The cup-traptions are removable, and you should remove them if you buy an MX-5, because why the heck would you want cups held at elbow height in a tight cabin like this?

Nor does the vehicle offer a lot of cargo capacity – although the wee trunk isn’t actually that bad, considering the overall size of the car; but this one is mostly suitable as a day-tripper that will be home by nightfall.2017mx5-2

The RF is at the top of the price chain among MX-5 models, which may choke back the value factor, but consider that the lineup starts at a 33,817, for which you get the same SkyActiv powertrain (and also manual transmission).

This one, though, a GS trim, retractable fastback with a four thousand dollar option package (the Sport package, which adds red-caliper’d Brembo brakes, 17” BBS wheels and Alcantara-trimmed Recaro sport seats) came to $43,500 before destination fees and taxes.

EcoRun 2017

KiaNiro

Kia’s Niro, a nifty new Korean crossover that also seems to be priced right

I’d still be driving up and down Autoroute 40, just outside Quebec City, were it not for the Kia Niro.

For I am the sort of person who could get lost in a room with one door, you see – not gifted with a ‘sense of direction’, as it were – and so became more and more convinced that I was indeed lost; just as the 2017 EcoRun was entering its final leg here in la Belle Province.

Ford's Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid

Ford’s Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid

This is the second year I have participated in the EcoRun, an interesting and worthwhile event that has been running for six years now.

Listen, rather than re-write the wheel here, so to speak, I’ma just post a link to the site and also this piece from last year if you want to catch up on how the whole thing runs.

In a nutshell, though, the EcoRun is essentially a great demonstration not only of new technology and methods aimed at reducing both emissions and fuel consumption – this years lineup of vehicles included hybrids, pure electric cars and Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell groundbreaker, the Mirai – but also a reminder that a lot of cars can yield great fuel economy just by minding your driving habits.Eco-12

You can check out the full field of entries here, and see a few gasoline-only contenders like Nissan’s Versa (two versions of it, too, manual and CVT), or Mazda’s CX-5.

It isn’t a contest with a defined winner, there is no singling out of any vehicle as being the best (and frankly that would be difficult to do, right? Comparing a Porsche Cayenne plug-in hybrid against, say, Hyundai’s new Ioniq would be complex).

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David Miller, co-chair of the 2017 AJAC EcoRun, with the whole vehicle lineup in front of the Joliette mural.

There is no real prize for the participating journalists either – who this year once again turned out to be a great group of some of my favorite people from across the country – but you can win a green t-shirt for being the most fuel-efficient of the bunch when the results are tallied.

Immediately realizing that I wouldn’t win, I intended to honor the spirit of the event; to demonstrate that any car can achieve better-than-stated fuel economy just by moderating one’s driving habits. No need to go nuts with any hyper-miling craziness, no driving down the shoulder of the road with the mirrors folded down and the A/C turned off to wring a few extra kms from the vehicle.

So I drove pretty much the way I normally do, but with perhaps more attention to not accelerating too exuberantly away from a light, sticking to the speed limit on the highway, coast wherever possible, that type of thing.

And anyway, it has always been my personal maxim that: ‘it’s not important if you win or lose, only that you do slightly better than Howard Elmer’.

The way EcoRun works is, a route from Ottawa to Quebec City was broken down into ten legs of roughly a hundred kilometers average, and at the end of each one we’d switch to another car.

CEO Louis Tremblay of AddÉnergie shows off the company's technology. They offer fast-charger station installations for homes and businesses.

CEO Louis Tremblay of AddÉnergie shows off the company’s technology. They offer fast-charger station installations for homes and businesses.

All in, I drove three hybrids, two plug-in hybrids, a diesel car and four strictly gasoline-powered vehicles. Talking with the various journos at the various stops (some pretty interesting spots, too) we all were seeing the results – pretty much every vehicle everyone used came in under the NRCan economy figures.

Even when you get lost like I do. A few of the cars didn’t have navigation systems in them, which for me is death – the organizers vastly overestimated my intelligence, and ability to read a printed route book and drive at the same time – so I took to following other members of our Eco caravan when I found myself in a Hyundai Ioniq without a nav app.

At the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres Hydrogen Research Institute for a brief overview of some of their facility!

At the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres Hydrogen Research Institute for a brief overview of some of their facility!

Except that following people never works. The guy I was tailing lost me at a light and I was on my own on Autoroute 40, right up until I noticed that someone else was following me (ha!) in the Niro, which I knew had navigation from driving it earlier.

So anyway, that solved that. Bonuses all around for everyone involved.

It’s not important if you win or lose, only that you do slightly better than Howard.

It’s not important if you win or lose, only that you do slightly better than Howard.

The takeaway lesson here, is that most any car can deliver good efficiency when driven optimally and with economy in mind. A decent showing all around, and pretty much every one of the entrants beat their stated economy.

There’s a list of the final fuel-usage tally of them all here, from a great event that continues to make its point and spread the word.

Check out the video!

2017 RAV4 AWD Platinum

RAV9While it hasn’t changed outwardly in any significant way for 2017, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Toyota’s RAV4; wrapped as it is in a sterling reputation for quality and reliability (as the RAV has been pretty much since its introduction).

The body retains the cues established after the last major facelift, and after the removal of the full-size spare tire mounted on the (formerly) side-hinged tailgate of the early models the RAV4 has forgone a lot of its distinctiveness.RAV1

But although it can now be easily mistaken for any number of compact utility vehicles, it does still sport a certain character and flourish, particularly when viewed from the front.

Indeed, check out this test model’s face – doesn’t this seem like it would have been a better tie-in for the Star Wars cross promotion Nissan did earlier this year? C’mon, the RAV just looks more like a stormtrooper helmet; even more so in the ‘Galactic Aqua Mica’ paintjob unique to this package.

This is what is new for 2017: the Platinum package option for the Limited trim.

Platinum adds $1,460 to the price of the RAV4 Limited (all-wheel drive) trim level, and builds on an already pretty good set of features. Power rear lift-gate, atmospheric lighting in the footwells, and the full-body colour treatment that makes my test vehicle look so sinister at the curbside.

And of course, you get interior trim and badging that announces the Platinum-ness of the whole thing. It’s not as ostentatious as, say, the extra labeling strewn around a Dodge PowerWagon, but you won’t forget what edition of RAV you’re driving.

The interior is specific to the Platinum package as well, a black-on-black upholstery and dash surface that looks well executed and feels good under the touch.2017RAV4a

Everything else is what you would get with a plain ol’ Limited model; and that isn’t too shabby.

RAV4 runs a 2.5 litre four-cylinder engine that offers a potential 176 horsepower, paired up with Toyota’s six-speed automatic tranny (there is no manual option in Canada).

Seating for five, and acceptable headroom in the rear (though legroom isn’t great, depending on the size of who you’re putting back there) along with decent cargo space are what made the RAV4 as popular as it is – it would be hard to go wrong with using this for a one-car suburban family.

Operating everything in the cabin is easy and intuitive which is a quality I find in most Toyota vehicles, there is no head-scratching looking for things or queuing up your station list on the stereo. I like the interface on the console better than the one found in the Highlander, frankly. Better, more tactile knobs and buttons.

2017RAV4d

This is cool and everything, but I would rather it showed me the vehicle speed.

The only thing I question in my RAV tester’s array of information options that can be called up between the main dials is the lack of a digital speedometer. While I can choose to look at a graphic display of the vehicle’s eco-performance or an oversimplified diagram of g-force and weight shift, why can’t I get a digital speedo?

Seriously, that is a function I find pretty handy in my city, where speed limits vary wildly (also, they keep changing them. Seemingly hourly). In fact, I’m not sure you can call yourself Platinum if you don’t have a digital speed display, but forcing them to brand it as the ‘Molybdenum Alloy” package would just confuse the public.2017RAV4c

Never mind me, though, if you’ve already made up mind for a RAV, it starts at an MSRP of about twenty-eight grand for a base model with front-wheel drive; but if you want to run out and buy a 2017 Limited AWD with Platinum package, it scampers up to $39,615 before freight and taxes and fees.

RAV2

WARRANTY: Basic-3 Years or 60,000km. Powertrain-5 Years or 100,000km. Corrosion Perforation-5 Years unlimited. Major Emissions- 8 Years or 130,000km.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq

Ioniq-6You know, there are times I wish a car had a navigation system. No lie, citizen; I’m the kind of person could get lost in a room with one door, and have a poor relationship with geography, even here in my beloved home city.

Combined with my uncannily poor sense of direction it can become a problem, especially if looking for an address in the west end. Or anywhere outside the Henday ring road, frankly.

My test car, a 2017 Hyundai Ioniq, is unable to help me with my tragic, lifelong problem; for it contains no navigation module or app.Ioniq-9

And that right there is my one big problem with my test ride, pretty much everything else I really like.

The Ioniq is positioning itself to be perhaps one of the very few true rivals to Toyota’s ownership of the hybrid segment with its world-beating Prius line, and if the likeable Ioniq holds up in terms of long-term quality it’s a contender

(This nameplate is new, but Korean manufacturers have been putting on a pretty Hybrid show, lately, with well-received offerings like Kia’s Optima Hybrid)Ioniq-2

There are actually three Ioniq models. The test car I used is their straight-up hybrid (which employs a gasoline engine combined with electric motor), but Hyundai also makes an all-electric version and a plug-in hybrid, which allows the battery to be recharged via a power cord module.

My gas-electric tester is the way to go, as far as I am concerned, doing away with the range anxiety of an all-electric car and also not adding another piece of equipment to the mix with an external charger. No matter what the charge level of the battery, it is a comfort knowing that there is a 1.6L internal combustion engine to fall back on.Ioniq-1

Even without considering the science of the whole thing, though the Ioniq functions very well as just a straight-up ‘car’. Better-than-adequate power is delivered by the system (the company claims a combined output of 139hp for the hybrid), made peppier with a Sport mode for the six-speed automatic transmission.

That’s kind of a rarity in itself, eh? A regular transmission on a vehicle like this, where I am accustomed to CVTs on hybrids. And not a bargain-basement tranny, either, but a dual-clutch rig that delivers fast and appropriate shifts (and allegedly rivals a continuously variable transmission for fuel-efficiency as well).

My navigation problem aside, the Ioniq delivered a comprehensive list of inclusions inside the cabin. Heated seats with memory function (and heated steering wheel) are a great creature comfort to have, ditto the LCD screen for the information display on the center stack.

A digital speed display is one of the fields available for between-the-gauges information, always a favorite for me, in any car. The driver’s seating position is made more comfortable with a steering column that allows a better range of tilt-and-telescoping than I have found in Toyota’s Prius.Ioniq-3

In an unrelated similarity to Prius, Hyundai has also split the rear window horizontally with a crosspiece, which has the effect of compromising rear visibility; as do the fat C-pillars of the Ioniq.

This is mitigated by the car’s backup camera, rear cross-traffic detection and blind-spot information systems, though, and I frankly didn’t have any complaints about the visibility during my time in the car.

Headroom up front is good, rear seat roominess is what you would expect in a compact car (i.e., not super, but the seats fold down for additional cargo – which is how they would spend their lives if I owned the car anyway).Ioniq-5

Overall, the Ioniq delivers a genuinely nice compact car that brings great fuel economy (I averaged 4.5L/100 km during my time in it) and styling that is attractive to look at – this isn’t an ugly car, nor is the sheetmetal overly far-out to attract attention just for the sake of it.

Screen shot 2017-05-15 at 10.54.55 AMIt comes with a pricetag that isn’t alienating, either. My test model, a “Blue” trim level Hybrid model, enters at $24,299, although you can push it up over 30K at the high end if you opt for the Limited trim with Tech package.

Which is probably where my navigation system is found.Ioniq-8

2017 Chrysler Pacifica

I figure it was the right thing to do when Chrysler reinvented the Pacifica for 2017.17Pacifica-9

Remember the previous incarnation? Big station-wagony vehicles from the mid-2000s, when that configuration was all the rage; kind of along the lines of Ford’s long-dead Freestyle (later briefly the rebranded as the Taurus X) that didn’t exactly revolutionize the market during its existence.17Pacifica-12

This new version, though, having morphed into a more ‘minivan’ configuration by the addition of proper, sliding rear side doors is at once more practical as the family-hauling all-purposer that anything like the Pacifica is intended to be.

The new Pacifica replaces the Town & Country, Chrysler’s former luxury family van (which is, basically, a prettied up Grand Caravan with more tech toys) and holds up the high-end ambitions of its predecessor while managing to be both better looking and more exciting to drive.17Pacifica-10

Three rows of seating – with a third row that is more accessible than what you find in most of the 3-row SUVs that a lot of buyers choose over minivans – inside a quiet and comfortable interior, quality upholstery and in-car Blu ray entertainment system for the denizens of the rear rows make the Pacifica a good pick for long trips.

It offers plenty of spots for passengers to store their cups and toys and sundry gear, and USB charging ports for phones and devices; and a panoramic moonroof overhead.17Pacifica-3

The best place to be in the Pacifica, though, is up front – preferably driving. The steering is, while not exciting, competent and controlled, with an ample feel of connection to the road through the (in the case of the one I test-drove) 20” wheels and tires.

‘It is a lot of money for a minivan, or a lot minivan for the money; depending on your perspective’.

A heated steering wheel and seats – which are also ventilated, a great feature in the summertime – were appreciated during my time in the Pacifica; along with the ability to set the car up to turn both functions on automatically when the vehicle was remote-started on cold days, so as to make the first sitdown in the morning more tolerable during Edmonton winter.

I like the suspension and I like the ride; the brakes performed fine and the powertrain is ample and refined. Employing a 9-speed automatic transmission coupled to a 3.6 litre engine capable of 287 horsepower, the Pacifica has enough get-up-and go to meet most reasonable demands for power; whether off the line or at highway speeds.

The console is kept uncluttered by doing away with a stick to operate the tranny – gear selection is done through a rotary knob – and most onboard functions accessed through the big touchscreen at the top of the console.

Overall, the Pacifica of 2017 is an improved, forward-looking exercise in style and practicality that I enjoyed in most respects.17Pacifica-2

The major drawback is obvious – check the sticker. The one pictured here, which included additional optional equipment like a metallic paint job, the aforementioned entertainment package and 20” wheels and tires, trailer equipment group and hands-free power liftgate, drove the pricetag to a jaw-dropping $62,340

We will see if the Pacifica fares better in its new shape than it did in the last outing – this is a lot of money for a minivan, or a lot minivan for the money; depending on your perspective.

 

 

 

2017 Tundra and Tacoma

A Tale of Two Toyota Trucks that Start With T

It is a misconception that the people of my bucolic Western province only drive pickup trucks, whether they be hard-workin’ roughnecks on their way to the oil patch or accountants clogging up the streets downtown as they search for a parking spot near the accounting office. A total falsie, I say, though a casual observer could be forgiven for thinking that (the truth, of course, is that many also drive three-row sport utility vehicles. So there).

Anyway, my snide commentary aside, there is of course a reason for this, and I had the chance recently to remind myself that the higher ground clearance and four-wheel drive systems of such vehicles is, on many days out here, a really desirable thing.17Tacoma02

2015 Tacoma TRD Pro

I drove Toyota’s pickup pair, the popular Tacoma midsize and its larger sibling, the Tundra, nearly back-to-back during a couple of weeks of weird weather. Freeze and thaw, accompanied by ridiculous amounts of snow that in turn froze-and-thawed until every day provided exciting new challenges and conditions on the road.

Neither vehicle is especially radically changed for the new model year, You’ve seen the Tundra before, and can find a longer piece here about the Tacoma’s changes back in 2016

The 2017 Tacoma I used distinguished itself with its TRD Pro package – a $12,850 option that adds a number of features to boost the overall robustness, in addition to the many TRD badges you find all over the vehicle, inside and out (and there are a lot of them, on skidplate, mats, doors, tailgate; you won’t forget what you driving).17Tacoma04

The TRD Pro also gets a non-functional hood scoop, from the Sport trim of the Tacoma lineup, Bilstein shocks and TRD tuned front and rear suspension.

Overall, it is a great truck, don’t get me wrong, certainly overkill for my purposes; and it shows off the highlights of the Tacoma platform, and brings the same detractions (my least favorite being the entry-and-exit through the front doors. It is just a weird combination of the door shape and the steering wheel position that makes it awkward to get in and out of, and not just for taller drivers).

Carrying a formidable reputation for reliability and resale value, and with full off-roading bona fides and equipment (I love the Crawl Control system Toyota has made available on the truck) the TRD is a great truck, on paper and on the road; its mostly a question of how much you want those TRD Pro badges, as it comes at a price. My test vehicle, which began life as a Tacoma 4×4 Doublecab (3.5 litre V6) at a starting point of $40,455 was pushed to a steep $55,183 with the TRD Pro package.17Tacoma05

I know if I were shopping for one, I’d consider that the truck already has everything I want (and the same engine and transmission, as well as the aforementioned crawl control and electronic and entertainment features) and opt to save myself the fifteen grand.

2017 Tundra 1794

My time in a Tundra is much the same story; that of a solid truck that has consistently demonstrated reliability and quality, bedecked with some special-label accoutrements that add to the bottom line.IMG_6634

This one was a 1794 edition – which in a nutshell is a Tundra 4×4 CrewMax-cab ‘Platinum’ trim (with 5.7 litre iForce V8 and a six-speed automatic) with a bunch of badges.

The 1794 option group gets you, basically, more wood-grain on the dash and leather on the wheel and seat inserts, a chromed bumper and grille, 1794 badges, and brand-emblazoned floor mats. That aside, what is underneath is basically the Crewmax Platinum.IMG_6635

You know what I found absent, though, is that for all that you still don’t get keyless start.

Now, you tell me if the price is acceptable, but the 1794 is still priced lower than a F150 King Ranch (but just between you and me, gentle reader, I like the interior of the King Ranch more) and the package doesn’t add greatly to the price.

The 1794 edition only ups the price of the regular ol’ Tundra Crewmax Platinum by a couple hundred bucks (unlike the TRD Pro package on the Tacoma). Before taxes and fees, a 2017 Tundra 1794 starts out at $58,790

An Alltrack for All Seasons

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Photos supplied by VW Canada

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack 4MOTION

A winner in its class at the recent Canadian Car of the Year event and now in the running for the overall title, Volkswagen’s 2017 Golf Alltrack is an all-round contender.

I’ve had the chance to take the car out a couple of times, most recently just as winter began to settle in out here on the lifeless tundra where I make my home; and also during last year’s Test Fest (I was one of the evaluators for the ‘large car’ class, the category the Alltrack was entered in).

The wagon-bodied Golf was up against some stiff competition in the group from notables like Toyota’s redesigned Prius, Kia Optima (both Hybrid and non) and Chevy’s Malibu (Chev also entered both a hybrid and a gas-only version).17Alltrack-4

I had the Alltrack ahead in most of the category scores, notably the more boring columns that boring guys like me care about – occupant environment, visibility, ride comfort, that type of thing – and also the cargo handling and access that a hatchback wagon offers.

The Alltrack didn’t let me down on its more dynamic aspects, though, posting the second-best 0-100 km/h times on the track (and more importantly, it nailed the shortest stopping distance in the group of contestants, going from 100 to zero in 40.4 meters.17Alltrack-3

The handling and general behavior of the Alltrack are very good, for a wagon-bodied family car, and what it loses in maneuverability on a cone-course on dry pavement it makes up for with VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel drive system when the weather turns and snow starts piling up on the roads.

It is a robust, all-season runabout that feels more surefooted and confidence inspiring, with ample power and traction.

ajacAlltrack

Photo supplied by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada

The major stats: a 1.8 litre, four-cylinder engine capable of 170horsepower (and 199 lb.-ft. of torque) combined with a six-speed transmission and the aforementioned AWD. The body sits atop 18” wheels and the 2017 Alltrack comes with a pretty long list of standard features (my favorites being keyless start and a 12-way power driver’s seat).

Mind you, at the MSRP that my Edmonton test car came with, it should be pretty loaded, but to really flesh the car out, a few more option packages were required (a Xenon headlight system, park assist, forward emergency braking and a Fender aud17Alltrack-5io system).

The Alltrack was the priciest vehicle in its class at the CCOTY tests (mind you, it was also the only all-wheel drive vehicle) at $38,215 (even the entry level is over 35K), and this, and fuel economy (10.6L/100 km and 9.4, city and highway respectively) were it s main detractions.

Nevertheless, the 2017 Golf Alltrack is the Best New Large Car of the year, and a top-three contender for the overall title (it is up against the BMW M2 and Hyundai Elantra). We’ll know the results on February 16, when the official announcement will be made at the Toronto auto show.

2017 Mercedes-Benz E 300 4MATIC

17E300-11This is the time of year that makes having AWD on you luxury car worthwhile. Up here in our delightful Edmonton home (the Paris of the Prairies™) the weather turned foul and a really eye-watering wind blew with it shifting snakes of snow, all over the gosh-darn place.

I had an E Class the week it all began, and right away appreciated it 4MOTION powertain as kept all four wheels under strict electronic management. The best thing about a well-nannied setup like the one in my test Benz is that its constant intervention keeps a driver from making a lot of the fool maneuvers we all mock when we see some lightweight who forgot how to drive in snow.17E300-9

Anyway, my point is, it kept me out of trouble during my time in the car, and allowed for a relaxed frame of mind to enjoy what Benz is all about: a really sweet interior.

My fine sedan, a 2017 E300 (and I should mention that there are two E sedans, the other is the E400, bigger engine) is the tenth generation of the marque, touted by Mercedes as being simultaneously the most technologically-saturated, highest tech yet.

And seriously, the company provided a .pdf that, if printed out and laid end-to-end, would stretch from here to the surface of the Sun; so rather than put us both through that, dear Reader, I’ll just abbreviate my favorites.

The keyless start (or KeylessGo, as the company calls it), along with engine stop/start are a couple of features I like in any car, the large screen atop the center console has variable display modes for every onboard function, and Benz claims to have simplified the operation of their central-command pad. And you know, that may be 17E300-7true, but I still find the mouselike, large-knob-and-palm-pad arrangement to be, uh, not super intuitive; and certainly not less distracting.

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Seriously, I love the lighted accent along the lower dash in the 2017 Mercedes-Benz E 300 sedan

It is a beautiful looking controller, though, as is everything inside the E300 cabin. The speaker grilles, the buttons, the layout and lighting are ready for any museum of modern art display. An illuminated strip rings the dash and door panels in a wonderfully understated piece of cabin accenting that makes the car an even more atmospheric drive at night.Comfortable seats and driver’s position I take for granted in any Mercedes product, and the adjustment range should accommodate most anyone. The ride is also typically Benz, seamless and smoothly quiet in any of the drive modes.

The E 300 runs the smaller of the engine options, with a 2.0L powerplant that certainly didn’t disappoint or leave me wanting more. Of course, I didn’t get too ‘dynamic’ with the car in my time in it (because of the snow o the roads, you will recall) but really, the potential output (241 horse, 273 lb.-ft. torque) can’t be called underpowered.

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The main controller takes some getting used to, like many similar premium-car systems. I wouldn’t say I like it better than Lexus’ Remote Touch, but I wouldn’t say I like it less.

Overall, though, the E sedan is all about looking good and dropping hints of status. Fitting into the Benz family between the C Class and stratospheric S, the car brings the feel of a luxury lifestyle; despite any esoteric eccentricities (or maybe because of them – perhaps it makes the car seem all the more exotic).

 

Now, enjoy the specs on the specific vehicle I drove, go ahead and check out the (very) long list of standard features.E_300_4MATIC_Sedan_2017-WDDZF4KBXHA033918 (1)

Bottom line on this particular collection of premium build quality and options:Screen shot 2017-01-25 at 2.33.15 PM

 

 

2016 Rear-view Review

… and just like that, a new  year is upon us! That went by fast, eh?

And while the newest vehicles are all the rage, let’s not forget that 2016 offered some great advances (and in may cases, minor tweaks) to virtually all manufacturer lineups.

Not everything featured here are 2016 models (a lot of 2017 product came early this year), but this can often be the best time to shop them; hoping for some tasty year-end discounts as dealers clear their lots to make room for new stock.

Here, then, are a few models I had the good fortune to try out in the past year (in no special order, I am not necessarily ranking them in this list):

2016 Honda Pilot

pilot1Redesigned and prettied up for 2016, Honda’s big family hauler boasts improved fuel economy, better diving dynamics and a Top Safety Pick rating from IIHS.

My Touring trim test model showed off cavernous interior space, 3-row seating and a smooth engine/transmission pairing. Oh, and a rear-seat widescreen Blu Ray entertainment system for the kids.

My major critique is the same as with the company new Civics, namely that I am not fond of the touch-screen interface that dominates the center console.

2016 Mustang GT Convertible

I feel conflicted about including the GT in this piece, as I am normally moved toward more economical vehicles with a more affordable buy-in; but I had the cloth-domed drop-top Mustang for a week of nearly perfect weather.GT-3

As a real-life, year-round ride it wouldn’t make sense for me (I come from the land of ice and snow, you see), but as a guilty pleasure two-season fun machine, the manual transmission and heavy-horse 5.0 litre engine may help justify the test vehicle’s sixty-thousand dollar pricetag.GT-6

Faster than any reasonable street car needs to be, boasting extra flash with its (optional) triple-yellow tricoat paint, complemented by ‘yellowjacket’ upholstery and with what must be every option-box checked on the order form, this car makes its statement.

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