Fish Story: the 2017 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4

2017Countryman-6You know, at first I was just enjoying driving around in a Countryman test car for the sheer appearance of the thing and the attention to detail and design the manufacturer has lavished upon the interior.

FEF2

This, my friends, is Fuel Efficiency Fish

But then, I discovered Fuel Economy Fish.

A delightful cartoon sprite that lives within a submenu called “Minimalism Analyser”, and which can only be displayed when one has the vehicle set to Green mode, Fuel Economy Fish (which I am sure is not the actual name for the graphic) is a fun little metric that aims to aid a driver in achieving maximum efficiency by following some fairly simple rules for stretching one’s fuel economy.

So the takeaway here is that, yes, I spent most of my time in the vehicle trying to amuse a cartoon fish; but we’ll come back to that later.

So you know what happened, eh? I totally grabbed a photo of the Ford Escape interior here. (Fortunately, it was spotted by a real good dude and car enthusiast I met today at a small business networking hoe-down, here in Edmonton). Tragically, I have forgotten the gentleman’s name, but Bro, if you happen to read this let me know and I’ll credit you proper. Anyway, please welcome this 3/4 view in place of my original mistake. – Wade

As I am sure you know, the Countryman is the largest offering from MINI, more of a compact crossover-sized creature than the brand’s other, smaller members (which would be the Cooper, the first model reanimated when BMW bought the English company; and the expanded, five-door Clubman).

This latest generation of the Countryman has grown, being longer and wider than the previous model (it now shares its platform with parent-company BMW’s X1 crossover), and has toned down some of the more esoteric styling features within the cabin; and comes at a more competitive MSRP.

Don’t think of the Countryman in the same terms as the regular MINIs – being much taller and overall bulkier, it doesn’t bring the go-kart feel of the smaller original, nor bite into corners with the same adrenal thrill – but it works much better as a practical and useful all-round daily driver.2017Countryman-2

Four doors and big (power) hatchback that raises to expose a goodly amount of cargo space ensure its appeal as a family car; the added height make it friendlier for people of all physical abilities to get in and out of, and the newly expanded legroom in the rear seats are more welcoming for second row passengers.

A heads-up display (always a favorite for me – the digital display is comfortably within a driver’s line of vision) rises up from the dash when the Countryman is started greets you when you push the start switch, and a comfortable seat with a great range of adjustment await. I should mention, too, that with the one I used, the front passenger seat also gets the same range of adjustment, which is not always the case with a lot of vehicles.

The instrumentation and switchgear is unlike anything else in the segment, and imparts a science-fiction spacecar feel to the well-finished, sculpted dash. In addition to being interesting to look at, the controls on the center stack are pretty easy to figure out and find your way around, and I daresay a lot more intuitive and user-friendly than I usually find in many German-influenced autos.2017Countryman-3

The Harmon Kardon stereo system option (one of many packages crammed onto the loaded test car I drove) makes the interior sound as good as it looks and feels.

It isn’t intended to be a performance hotrod, of course, but the Countryman isn’t sluggish, either. A turbocharged 2.0 litre engine under the hood can deliver 189 horses and 207 lb.-ft. of torque – more than adequate to haul its bulk around, though by no means segment-leading – gets it up to speed easily (and in fact, this is one of those vehicles that you can easily accidentally get into speeding ticket territory before you even realize it).2017Countryman-5

Put it into Sport mode and the shift-logic gets more aggressive, holding gears longer and making the accelerator noticeably more responsive (the base model Countryman can be had with a manual transmission, but this one employed an eight-speed automatic).

For the most part, I found little to disdain in the vehicle, especially as well-equipped as it was, but here are a couple of dislikes – the sliding mesh cover that closes beneath the moonroof, and the door opening lever in the front row.

I like a moonroof cover that is totally opaque, like my mind, when closed my friends, and the translucent mesh of my MINI let in just a little too much glare.

The interior door handle thing, though, is maybe not a bad thing. I didn’t like the way it forced me to bend my hand into an uncomfortable crooked shape to open the door, until I realized that opening the door with my right hand was not only easier, but also maybe intentional on the part of the manufacturer.17Countryman-17

Opening the door with the right hand forces you to turn your body, ever so slightly, and what that in turn does is allow you to see more of what’s coming up beside you – so that, for example, you don’t door-whack a cyclist who happens to ride by at that exact moment – so maybe this is exactly what the engineers intended.

In the Netherlands, for example, there was a public awareness campaign that advocated right-handed door opening for this very reason.

But enough about that. Back to Fuel Efficiency Fish:

FEF

FEF approves

Fuel Efficiency Fish actually works as intended. When the display first pops up, FEF is just sort of sitting there, gawping at you quizzically with little animated eyes. But as you earn points (or stars) by driving in a practical manner – which isn’t that hard to do, really, just avoid hammering the gas/brake haphazardly, coast whenever possible and don’t unnecessarily over accelerate – the fish becomes progressively happier. He does a little flip every time you add another star to the performance graph.

It’s pretty cute, to be sure, but the thing is this: I achieved really decent mileage by doing this exercise. 4.6L/100 km is practically hybrid numbers, for gosh sakes; and almost unheard of in an AWD crossover vehicle, at least in my experience.

And finally, the price was the icing on the (fish) cake.

The MINI Countryman All4 came in a lot lower than what I had guessed when I first laid eyes on it. A base model starts at $31,990 and my test piece, loaded with option packages only pushed that to $44,880 which makes it comparable with RAV4, Sportage, Escape and several other, less cleverly styled vehicles.

Here's the complete list of options, including Fuel Efficiency Fish

Here’s the complete list of options, including Fuel Efficiency Fish

Fun with Ford

RobinsonWeb

Actual photo of Jim. Honest, a real person who actually exists.

“So what is the story here?”, are the words of Jim, my spiritual mentor and unofficial Muskoka district tour guide. A serious and dignified journalist, he has little time for the antics of one such as I, for whom the story is that I came here to have fun with some Ford product.

We started out on the shores of Lake Joseph, a peaceful setting in relative quiet among the ritzy waterfront homes and mahogany-hulled playboats of the Ontario moneyed class; at an event Ford Canada put together to showcase their sport utility lineup.

Problem was, although everything the company makes to compete in the increasingly diverse SUV world, from compact to gigantic, Ford’s two major entries for 2018 weren’t available to drive.

The new-to-North America Ecosport and latest edition Expedition were on hand, of course, artfully arranged at the hotel staging ground and looking ready for the showroom floors they will hit later this year; but I’ll have to tell you more about the actual road manners of either of them at a later date.

As it is though, here’s a glimpse of them:

2018 Ecosportby Pinpoint National Photography

This compact and cargo-friendly little hauler is likely to win friends in the teeny-weeny utility segment (don’t laugh, the small ute segment is blowing up with demand, and the Ecosport will joust with rivals like Honda’s HR-V and Toyota’s newest, the C-HR).

The Ecosport is another truly ‘global’ vehicle from Ford. It is a Fiesta platform underneath, built in India and already sold all over the world.

It will be available as either AWD or front wheel drive, with two engine options: a three-cylinder one litre, or 2.0L four-cylinder, both with automatic transmissions.by Pinpoint National Photography

Its got a funky, decent-looking interior (which improves with optional, larger LCD information screen atop the center stack) and a side-hinged tail gate to access the rear. As an aside, do you think this is coming back into vogue? I’m thinking of Honda’s redesigned Ridgeline, where they have altered the gate to be hinged on either the side or the bottom; so maybe there is a demand for this configuration.

Full specs on the machine will be available closer to its arrival, but the company promises a full list of available safety features (my favorites being blind-spot monitor and rear cross traffic sensor) and technology packages for the Ecosport; including the unusual option of a B&O 10-speaker sound system (which, if it follows the company’s other products I have seen, will be expensive and weird to operate, but sound great).by Pinpoint National Photography by Pinpoint National Photography

Ford is still being cagey with the MSRP, but you can imagine the Ecosport will be the most affordable of their sport utility lineup.

So that is the story there, my gentle friends, and I will update this with actual pricing when it arrives.

I’ll tell ya what I do know the price of, though:

The 2018 Expedition

I’ll get that out of the way right now, the newest edition of Ford’s largest multipurpose monster ute runs from $59,999 up to $89,999, depending on whether you want, XLT, Limited or Platinum trim.

Running a combination of a new, 3.5L EcoBoost six-cylinder engine and the company’s latest 10-speed automatic transmission (which we saw first on the F-150 pickup, earlier this year).

The all-new Ford Expedition is the smartest, most capable and most adaptable Expedition ever, the ultimate full-size SUV to carry families through life’s adventures.

The all-new Ford Expedition is the smartest, most capable and most adaptable Expedition ever, the ultimate full-size SUV to carry families through life’s adventures.

This is the only engine you can get the Expedition with now, but it promises huge towing capacity – Ford insists the 9,300 lbs it is rated for is best-in-class, in fact – on a vehicle whose curb weight has been lowered by over 130 kilos, due to more high-strength aluminum being used throughout the vehicle.

It gets a power boost over the previous-generation Expedition as well, now being rated at 375 hp (and 470 lb.-ft. of torque), but here’s an interesting factoid: Ford tested a Platinum trim model with 93 octane fuel (the first figures are for regular 87 octane in XLT trim) and states 400 hp and 480 lb.-ft. from that combination.

The wheelbase is 4” longer than past Expeditions, the body an inch wider, and as you might expect interior roominess and cargo space is very generous – and can be made even more so with the availability of the XL body (for fleet customers) and Expedition MAX stretched platform.18Expedition_06_HR

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

17Alltrack-2

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.