2019 JCW MINI Countryman ALL4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

2019 Toyota Tundra SR5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2019 Acura RDX Premium Elite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

©Wade Ozeroff 2019

2019 RAM 1500 Limited

Big, bold and (arguably) beautiful, revamped and reworked for 2019 the Ram 1500 competes with other upper-niche trucks that seek to fill the higher echelons of the pickup market.

This one, a 1500 in ‘Limited’ trim definitely positions itself near the top. It’s a combination of comfortable and well-appointed cabin, with a piled-on collection of tech and creature comforts wrapped in a body painted ‘Diamond Black Crystal Pearl’ (quite a mouthful there, eh?).

Powered by a 5.7L HEMI eight-cylinder engine dispensing huge power and torque (395 hp and 410 lb.-ft., respectively) and four wheel drive, this is the Ram for the well-heeled and style-conscious buyer.

Of course that comes at a price, and omigawd – have you seen how much you can option the price of a pickup to these days? Equipped as it is, this one bent the MSRP to over thousand dollars (CDN, of course), but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Clambering up into (and out of) the cabin is aided by a foldout, power running board/step, which is handy because the Ram is a tall vehicle, but once everyone is inside there is a great deal of space in both seat rows, and rear seat legroom is extraordinarily good.

Quality leather wraps the seats, and passengers and driver (me) alike found them extremely comfortable. The climate controls allow for everyone to tailor the heat or A/C to their individual preference, but it was mostly heat that was in demand at the time of year I drove the Ram. On that note, I do love a vehicle with a heated steering wheel. Once you’ve experienced this function there’s no going back.

I loved the sound system in the Limited tester (it’s a Harmon/Kardon rig with 19 speakers), and I very quickly resorted to using the vehicle’s voice-command system for changing stations on the radio, because if I’m being honest here, I found the center stack interface difficult to use.

There’s a big touchscreen (and in the Limited its very big, twelve inches) that will display the various onboard functions of the Ram. You can split the display into up to four quadrants to show multiple info at once, and it is pretty bright. Like, almost too bright, especially at night.

A very good camera system with the Limited helped me out tremendously, as I don’t regularly drive vehicles of this size; so a 360 degree view along with backup cameras and rear cross-traffic alerts was a real benefit.

The ride is very good in the Limited, on virtually any road surface it handles bumps and rough patches well. Steering is at least the equal of any of it competitors, and it handles well (although what I mean is, it handles well for a truck, it’s obviously not a Porsche we’re dealing with here.

Gear selector for the 8-speed automatic transmission.

Overall, I liked the Ram during my time with it; although I primarily treated it is a good-looking luxury vehicle rather than a work truck. I like the exterior appearance (especially since the company has backed off a bit from the ‘gigantic grille’ look that they embraced for a long time.

It has lots of storage space inside, ample electrical and usb plugs for various devices, and delivers a top-flight passenger experience.

The downsides, for me, were the overall size of the thing, the difficult electronic interface, and of course fuel economy. I shouldn’t get to picky about the economy, of course – I mean what do you expect from a 4×4 pickup? The manufacturer states combined city/highway mileage of 16.1L/100 km, which is actually pretty good for a V8, and I managed to bring it down to 14.5 in a roughly even mix of city and highway use (but I admit, I wasn’t pulling a load or hauling anything in the bed, so that number will only go up if the Ram is driven as intended).

The price, though, dayumn. Clearly, I am showing off my embitterment about my economic and social stats by saying this, but where the heck are all the people coming from who can justify an $85,295 pickup truck?

Seriously, I’m askin’ here. If anybody knows the secret please let me in on it.

Limited models start at a little over 74K, but the vehicle I used for this drive included the aforementioned paint job ($275), $445 for a larger fuel tank (124 litres), the Level 1 equipment group ($3,895), folding tonneau cover for the bed ($650), anti-spin rear differential ($525), panoramic sunroof ($1,595), 22-inch wheels ($750), and $870 for hitch receiver and trailer brake controller.

2019 Lexus ES 350

I admit I have a nostalgic love for the ES, as one of the first vehicle-launches I ever attended was for the gap-bridging sedans; way back in the rosy-colored days of yesteryear.

We squeezed our oil straight out of live dinosaurs with our bare hands back then, if I recall correctly, and it was a simpler time; unencumbered with the level of gadgetry and electronic user interfaces of today. I believe the year was 2001

It was also the first time I’d seen a Lexus up close (or any luxury auto, for that matter). I liked it then and I like the vehicle to this day, give or take a few minor points.

Renewed and revised from stem to stern, Lexus’ entry-level luxury sedan rolled out its seventh generation on a new platform, wrapped in good looks and incremental improvements inside and out.

The ES 350 still looks familiar, overall, with the familiar (and polarizing!) spindle grille fronting the car’s presentation of smooth lines and curbside appeal.

Performance tweaks and enhanced handling compliment a serenely quiet cabin, and if upgraded with one of the option packages available the ES does a great job of capturing the spirit of the luxury the brand.

Why, let’s take this one here, for example – an ES 350 (the 350 is the gas-only trim of the vehicle, not to be confused with the ES 300h, which is a hybrid) with the company’s ‘Ultra Luxury package’.

The basics are these: the latest generation is a front-wheel drive sedan powered by a 6-cylinder engine that brings a potential 302 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque, now channeled by an 8-speed automatic transmission (the outgoing gen used a six-speed).

Riding on the company’s GA-K global platform, the ES is slightly lower and wider, and made stiffer with the addition of more high-strength steel throughout.

My test car, wrapped in a paint job called “Nightfall Mica” showed off the exterior changes the new platform ushers in, slimmed-down headlamps and more angling of the A and C pillars enhance the car’s low and sleek appeal.

Driving the ES is a great combination of smoothness and performance. Lexus all about the ride, and I can’t say I’ve ever driven any of their marques that didn’t stack up any of their German luxury competitors, but the 2019 ups the ante with a revised suspension at both front and rear.

It handles deftly, with the suspension and overall rigidity contributing to a maneuverable and responsive experience on the roads and in the curves, and improved power steering setup.

Lexus says that the changes to the steering have also allowed more adjustability of the tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, which is a good thing.

And! While we’re while we’re on the subject, check out the wheel. Strongly reminiscent of the steering in Lexus’ LC halo coupe, as is the cluster with protruding, machined knobs for the drive-mode selector.

The interior is as expected with the ES, nearly flawless and well executed throughout. A two-tone treatment for the leather upholstery in the test car called “Chateau” was genuinely pleasant to look at, and the seat comfort is very good, especially the front row (rear seat passengers also get some additional room as part of the GA-K platform).

Put it all inside a magnificently quiet cabin and top it off with a Mark Levinson premium audio system resonating from 17 speakers (part of the aforementioned Ultra Luxury package), and the ES stands out as it intended to, as an introduction to the brand.

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Overall, it isn’t hard to like most everything about the car, and really my big complaint is I don’t like the touchpad interface. I don’t know if I like the touchpad any less than the previous version of the company’s Remote Touch, but I don’t it more either; instead finding it fiddly and imprecise.

Also, entry and exit from the rear doors is a bit of a crunch for taller people, owing to the redesign.

While this isn’t the trim I would choose if I were buying (I’d get the hybrid ES 300h, because fuel econzo, know what I’m saying?) my test car made a solid case for itself.

Here’s the thing, though; while the price of the ES 350 starts under 50K, you’re going to want one of the option groups, to pull it up to the level of a true luxury machine.

The Ultra Luxury package on this one, which added everything I want for my entry-lux sedan, pushed that up by over ten grand, bringing the as-driven price of the test car to $61,701 (including freight and PDI)

2018 Prius Prime

My new favorite PHEV, right here:

We have a saying out here in Edmonton, a pithy witticism of homespun folksy wisdom “What the heck happened to our fall?” because although we do get a very nice autumn, the beauty only lasts a couple of days and then the wind kicks up and blows all the leaves off the trees and everything looks like a backdrop from a Tim Burton movie.

Thus it was, in the final days of October, that I was delighted to head for Ontario, where the trees are still adorned in colors; and also where the testing days for the Canadian Car of the Year are held.

Fully recharged in about 2 1/2 hours on a Level 2 charger. The Hilton in Ajax has a bank of chargers for both regular EVs and Tesla vehicles.

There were a lot of nice vehicles at the CCOTY event (held at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, formerly called Mosport) but I tell ya, one of my favorites wasn’t an entry in the contest this year – it was this one right here: Toyota’s Prius plugin hybrid.

I had the chance to put some time in a Prime, getting from Pearson airport to the city of Ajax, where the voting journalists make their home for the four days of the event, and commuting to the CTMP site.

Overall, I put about 427 km on the Prius, driving to the site every day; mostly highway kilometers – and this is where a hybrid vehicle saves the day. The Prime will run purely as an electric vehicle for as long as it can (and the Prime has more battery capacity than the regular model Prius) and after it runs out of charge switches to operating as a regular hybrid car, with its gasoline engine in combination with the (dual) electric motors.

The basics are this: the Prime employs a 1.8L gasoline powerplant, which combined with the electric motors yields a net output of 121 horsepower. It’s a front-wheel drive four seater (2+2 configuration) with a CVT transmission, all rolled up in a compact, hatchback body that sports a little more style than the regular Prius.

While the horsepower numbers don’t sound impressive, I never found the car let me down. It handled merging and passing on the highways without causing me a lot of angst or apprehension, and at one point I managed to fit four full-sized adults into it without anyone feeling cramped.

The car is comfortable enough in the driver’s position, with ample overhead space – oh, and hey! – heated seats and a heated steering wheel make for a welcoming environment on cold mornings.

My test car, in a trim level they call Prime Upgrade with an additional Technology package option, gave it a full-featured suite of electronic conveniences with an upgraded audio system and a heads-up display that projected all the pertinent information.

Prime models also get a bigger information screen on the center stack, and satellite navigation system (which is a lifesaver for people like me, I don’t know the area around Toronto/Ajax well at all). Indeed, without the nav system I would probably still be driving up and down the 401).

As for the economy case, even though I was mostly operating in hybrid mode (the fully electric range got used up fairly quickly during highway driving, and the Prime will automatically switch to using the gas engine), I still ended with fuel consumption of only 3.9L/100 km, which actually beats the stated FE number from NRCanada.

When I was just running short distances around Ajax, my fuel consumption was zero, as long I kept it charged; and the hotel I was at (a Garden Inn) provided a bank of Level 2 chargers for guests; which would fully recharge the battery pack in about two-and-a-half hours.

Prime is the only member of the Prius family I hadn’t driven before (or it was, anyway, if you’re following the action from the LA auto, you’ve seen the company introduce and AWD version of the car) and has made itself my personal favorite.

The one seen here, with its Tech package option, came to $38,570

2018 Outlander PHEV

OUTLANDEMONIUM

Alright, I am totally down with hybrids and increasingly, plugin hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV, is acronym, I figure most everybody knows that by now). Not just for the best of reasons, either – although the case for lower tailpipe emissions and decreased resource consumption is compelling – but for selfish concerns, i.e., it costs me less to drive them.

Honda’s Clarity has been one the big revelations I’ve been treated to this year, when one brought incredible FE numbers at the Auto Journalist’s association EcoRun event earlier this year, and then even incredible-er results during my time in a test car this fall.

An increasing number of PHEVs are coming online from all segments in the market, riding on platforms from compact to luxury, to the country’s current-favorite configuration: crossover SUVs

This is where Mitsubishi has positioned itself, with their best-selling (indeed the company claims it to the world’s best-selling) PHEV – the Outlander.

I had the opportunity for a good look at the 2018 Outlander PHEV out here in the Paris of the Prairies during what could characterized as either the best of times or the worst of times; depending on your perspective.

See, when I picked up the test model (in top-of-the-line GT trim) Edmonton had been blessed with an early snowfall and accompanying subzero temps – which on one hand, sucks if you’re a human and other hand sucks if you’re an electric vehicle.

Cold temperatures affect battery capabilities along with human capabilities (especially when you can’t find your snow-brush and have to de-ice the car with your hands), but the silver lining was getting to see how a PHEV would deal with northern climates in real life.

I didn’t get as anxious as I would have if I had been using a purely-electric vehicle though, because the Outlander PHEV is a hybrid; combining it’s two (yes, two, one at the front and one at the rear) electric motors with a capable 2.0 litre gasoline engine.

Starting off in the vehicle with nearly no charge left in its batteries (it had come in from a long highway drive and sat overnight getting snowed on), the Outlander’s economy monitor stated it was currently getting 9.2L/100 km from the gas engine.

The plug-in model’s batteries can be charged in a number of ways, by plugging into standard household current, or faster Level 2 or Level 3 charging stations. Level 3 would be the fastest (Mitsu says it will come to 80% capacity in less than half an hour, but there aren’t a lot of Level 3s around here. There’s one at a Simons store across town, purported to be free, but requires a membership in the Flo network).

A cool thing about the Simons location is the massive array of solar panels overhead:

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In past experience, I have found that household current takes a long time, so that was of less interest for me, but found a couple of level 2 charge points around town that were free to use – Ikea has a station, and so do a couple of branches of the public library.

Plugging it in at the library’s 240 volt station brought the Outlander up to full charge in a little over a couple of hours.

Now, I’ll just go ahead and spoil the ending for you – charging it very day brought the gas consumption down to a final result of 4.6L/100km, which is great, even exceeding the NRCan rating.

The charge drops fast when you’re running it in cold weather with the heated seats and the climate controls cranked (along with the heated steering wheel), so I made an effort to plug it into whatever was available everywhere I went; and attempted to run in fully electric mode as much as possible.

An interesting thing with the Mitsubishi’s sophisticated PHEV is that among its available drive modes is Battery Charge Mode. When activated, the Outlander uses the gasoline engine to recharge the lithium-ion packs as you drive – slowly, but it does work. I could see the power level increase from nearly depleted levels as I drove with the feature turned on.

The company states the Outlander is also currently the only plug-in hybrid that can operate in 4WD mode on fully electric power.

I’ll leave it at that before this turns into a James Joyce style, novel-length litany about the many aspects of Mitsubishi’s technical wizardry, but if you want to learn more about their system, check their site.

Setting aside the hybrid component, the Outlander still stacks up as a useful family ute and daily driving vehicle.

It brings the cargo space and passenger volume buyers in the segment want, and offers a comfortable seating scheme and cabin, good quality materials and upholstery.

When option’d up to the top-of-the-line GT that my test model was, the vehicle packs on a adaptive cruise control, boosts the safety suite with a collision mitigation system and multi-view camera, and adds a Rockford Fosgate audio package.

All the major controls and switchgear are easy to figure out and use (and interestingly, the shifter pattern is nearly identical to what you get with Toyota’s Prius).

About the only complaints I can muster after spending some time in the Outlander were that mine didn’t have a heads-up display (although it did have an easy-read digital speedo above the gauges).

Oh, and no navigation system. Its seems if you want the nav, you have to run it through an app on your phone. Don’t know why, frankly, as pretty much everything else in this price range seems to have navigation included.

Styling, too, the Outlander is well… it’s kinda ‘meh’. Judge for yourself of course, but on the outside the vehicle is unremarkable. In fact, I encountered a lot of people who thought it was a Toyota Highlander.

And getting to the price, the Outlander stays competitive; especially if you live in an area where EVs are eligible for rebates (I don’t, though).

The entry level starts at $42,998 and the GT I drove takes that to $49,998

2018 Mazda6 Signature

Six Degrees of SkyActivation

The 2018 Mazda6 is great looking, but also check out the mural behind it. Done by Spanish art duo PichiAvo, it is part of an effort to beautify Edmonton’s downtown. See more of their work at http://www.pichiavo.com/

Good looks count for a lot, no question (I mean, how else could you explain my incredible success? Beauty, that’s how) and Mazda is arguably turning out some of the best looking mass-market machines available.

You know what, it’s all in the grille. A few years back the company lost that odd ‘smiley face’ motif they had been using and adopted the pentagonal shape we seeing here, and it really did wonders for the appearance of all their vehicles; whether this, the MX-5 or one of my favorite compacts, the Mazda3

I’ve been a brand-fan for years, since long before ‘SKYACTIV’ became a weirdly spelled household name. The company has always offered a tight selection of practical and reliable automobilia across the board, from now-departed marques like the Protégé, the MPV minivan and their small pickups (previously a shared platform with Ford’s Ranger series, also now defunct) to today’s lineup.

I like sedans, too, even in the face of the encroaching popularity of small crossovers and utility vehicles; and so this one – the 2018 Mazda6 – while not necessarily the model I would choose from the company’s stable, is right up my alley.

A midsize, FWD daily commuter roughly comparable in dimension to, say, Kia’s Optima or the Toyota Camry, the 6 is this manufacturer’s Everyman car.

Updated for 2018 with styling tweaks and packaging changes, and in the case of the model featured here (the Signature trim) a newly-available 2.5L turbo engine; it’s a package that rivals much more expensive cars from snootier ‘premium’ brands with little tradeoff.

For those of us thinking ‘hey, it really doesn’t look all that different than the last Mazda6’, the company would draw our attention to a new front grille that has been sculpted to create the appearance of greater depth, new headlamps and a redesigned trunk lid.

Inside the car, Mazda boasts and all-new seat design, made more comfortable and in the case of the top-end Signature model, surfaced in Nappa leather.

Wood accents and something called UltraSuede give the cabin a premium look and feel.

The seats are comfortable indeed, and apparently the 6 is the first Mazda to get ventilated seats (in the first row only).

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Naturally, I figure the best place to be in any car is behind the wheel, and the driver experience in the 6 is very good.

They’ve redone the instrument display, and the heads-up display in our Signature test model projects all the pertinent information right there on the windshield in a readily acquired at a glance placement.

Everything is within easy reach and the controls are pretty intuitive, there’s not a big learning curve with this car. It’s quiet inside and out, with a stable and smooth ride and frankly the car is fun-to-drive, as the children say.

I’m not saying it’s a blast to drive mind you (let’s reserve that kind of hyperbole for the MX-5), but the Mazda6 handles well and shows off decent handling and responsiveness.

That 2.5L turbo engine kicks out 227 horses and 310 lb.-ft. of torque, and brings the power without hesitation. Connected to a six-speed automatic transmission (with Sport mode and wheel-mounted paddle shifters) this Signature trim 6 outdoes a number of competitors.

And while fuel economy from this gasoline-only model (its not a hybrid, in other words) isn’t going to approach some the hybrids and plugin hybrids out there; the test car didn’t do poorly at all in my time in it. It’s rated at 7.5L/100km on the highway (and 10.0 in the city), and I managed to come in a little under that.

Overall, I like the car, its well-equipped at this trim level and the 6 lineup has a good track record for owner satisfaction and reliability; the only nitpicks I have are that the rear seats don’t have as much overhead room as some of its near competition, and of course the price.

Mazda 6’s start at $27,000 (Canadian) for a non-turbo GS entry, but the much better equipped Signature takes that to $38,800 and when optioned in Soul Red Crystal metallic paint (the only option on the test car, adds an additional $450) the car tops the 40K mark for an as-driven price of $41,045

Now, I know I always complain about prices, but remember, I said I was beautiful, not rich. You be the judge. Check out our Youtube video here:

2018 Honda Clarity Touring

Another Home Run from Honda

Back in the day, the guy whose job it was to use the pole with the suction cup on it to rearrange the numbers on gas station’s signs would have been frantically working overtime to keep up with the rapidly changing cost of fuel.

A good-looking PHEV sedan with family-friendly space and cargo room, designed to run on purely electric power as much as possible.

Good thing we live in the future now, and those signs are electronic and can be revised with the touch of a button, making the numbers easy to change as gas prices rocket skyward; fluctuating wildly all the way.

It is times like these that hybrids and pure-electric vehicles attract attention anew, and Honda’s Clarity has been one of my favorites this year.

The car is a plug-in electric vehicle, with the gasoline engine combined with electric motor setup everyone is by now familiar with, but the deal with PHEV vehicles is that the hybrid battery can be recharged by – yes, plugging it in.

Here’s the thing with pluggable hybrids like the Clarity, they can be charged with household current (although that takes a long time, but if you can leave it overnight that will top up the battery), or more quickly with high-voltage Level 2 or Level 3 charging stations. Not everybody has 240v available at their home, of course, but an infrastructure is beginning to develop making the fast chargers available.

These can be few and far between, though, depending on where you live. I think there are a grand total of three such stations in my area (I found one at an Ikea store, and two more at branches of the Edmonton Public Library).

And here’s the salient point: I ended up with an overall fuel economy rating of 1.9L per hundred kilometers driven after putting on about 340 km in mostly city driving, when I was able to keep the Clarity fully charged. That’s insane.

Of course, that number changes when the battery gets low and the car uses the gasoline engine more; you’ll especially notice it on the highway – although even driving from Edmonton to Calgary under mostly gas power, the vehicle still came in at just over 6L/100 km.

A Clarity featured in the recent AJAC EcoRun event won a lot of hearts and minds with this kind of economy, and kudos for remaining an all-round ‘real’ car as well.

Honda touts the model as a ‘no compromise’ vehicle, citing the reassuring presence of the gasoline engine as a counter to range anxiety (which is a real thing, btw. I have driven purely battery-operated vehicles and experienced first hand the lump in the throat that starts when the juice gets low and you still have a fair distance to go).

Wrapped around all the technology, though, is a pretty decent car regardless of the drivetrain.

The one in the photos here is a Touring trim (so, top of the Clarity line), which showed off good people- space inside (along with overall cargo volume), and a comfortable array of surfaces and supports for passengers.

Clarity doesn’t compromise the driving experience, with more-than-ample power and torque (it outdoes a number of competitors, like Hyundai’s Sonata or the Kia Optima PHEVs, and Ford’s soon-departing Fusion Energi) with the combined output from the system rated at 212 hp.

Three major drive modes are selectable, the usual Normal, Eco and Sport choices (and a driver really can feel the difference in response when put into Sport) as well as what Honda has named ‘HV Mode’ – designed for use at highway speeds when the gasoline engine can be used to recharge the hybrid battery.

The price is where potential buyers may get balky, but in areas where rebates are available for purchasing efficient cars (I’ve read that it can be up $14K in some regions, but that doesn’t apply in Alberta), that may be something people can justify. Especially with the fuel saving factored in.

The 2018 Clarity starts at $39,900 for a base model; but the Touring trim test car I used pushes that to $43,900

Pretty neat stuff any way you approach it, and I must admit it’s kind of cool living in the future. Despite the loss of those gas station sign-changer jobs.

 

2018 Toyota Prius Tech

Roight. By now, with the world-changing vehicle in its fourth incarnation, you probably don’t need an explanation of what the Prius is, or the basics of hybrid cars; so we can just go straight to our look at this 2018 iteration of Toyota much loved-and-lauded ecofriendly compact.

Notice, though, that this one is the regular Prius, the latest generation of the original five-door passenger friendly runabout, but there are now four models within the family to choose from (you’ve also got the smaller Prius C, the larger Prius V, and the plug-in hybrid Prius Prime).

This one here is your basic Prius, but in the Technology trim.

The Tech model starts at about three grand over the base buy-in, and adds a whack of desirable functions (not all of which fall under my definition of ‘tech’, but we can talk about that some other time, eh?)

What you get with the Tech trim is: a blind spot monitor system (with

rear cross traffic alert, which I always make a point of mentioning is one my favorite safety features in any vehicle), an auto-dimming rear view mirror , rain sensing wipers, and Toyota’s clever ‘intelligent clearance sonar’ and parking assist – whereby the car will parallel park itself.

Another thing you get with the Tech trim is a heads-up display, which is great because it keeps all the important info (like your digital speed display) right in easy eyesight. One thing I always disliked about Prius was the way the info was displayed on the center stack, where you have to shift your gaze away from the road. The center info panel is still there, of course, with its 7” screen providing more detailed information.

My Tech test car also provided a decent driver environment, with heated, 8-way adjustable seat (the seating is branded as something called ‘Softex’). The seating is indeed passably comfortable all around, front headroom is good (the rear less so, frankly, so you don’t want to be too tall if you’re going to ride back there all day).

The cabin impression in the test vehicle was ‘dark’ overall, with mainly black surfaces and upholstery occasionally interrupted with white plastic molding and the blue accent of the shift knob.

Outwardly, the car has become more aerodynamic and dare I say stylish with the redesign – still polarizing, mid you, I got a variety of reactions to its appearance – in a marked departure from the Prius shape we’ve all gotten used to.

Not a bad looking little auto, in my opinion; and certainly still distinctive; if less slick-and-sporty than they may have been going for.

But the point of the Prius remains fuel efficiency and lower tailpipe emissions, and the consumption rating of 4.5L/100 km (NRCan number) is the biggest driving force in the car’s world-beating sales numbers.

I’ll confess I didn’t get that during my time in this one, but as you can see in the photos, I drove it during Edmonton winter; so the vehicle was working harder in the snow as well as running the heater the whole time, which has an impact.

As a bit of trivia, the Prius used in the EcoRun event in 2016 ended up at 3.2L/100 km (which works out to 73.5 mpg in US gallons)

The power train is a reliable 1.8 litre gasoline engine, paired with the company’s Hybrid Synergy Drive electric motor system. It’ll output a combined 121 horsepower (and 98 hp from just the gas engine alone) and 105 lb-ft of torque which, while not big numbers by today’s standards, is more than enough to get the Prius up to speed, and responsive enough that I never find myself nervous or apprehensive about merging and passing in general use.

You know going in that you’re not buying a sports car, and I doubt anyone is confused about that, but instead a thoroughly capable and competent car that delivers daily usefulness backed up by years of customer satisfaction and near-universal praise from institutions like Consumer Reports.

Pricing starts at the 30K level, and my Prius Tech tester came with a sticker of $34,637.50 and that’s without factoring in any incentives that may be available in your area (I live in Alberta, where there aren’t any incentives for buying hybrids or electric vehicles; and am not sure what the situation is in BC, ON or Quebec).