2018 Mercedes-Benz C 300 Wagon

This time out we have a wagon, and not just any wagon, mind you, but a premium vehicle from Mercedes, in the form of a long-roofed C- class: a 2018 C 300 Wagon.

I’m a big fan of hatchbacks, so it stands to reason that a wagon-bodied car is equally appealing to me; what with them bringing the convenience of a five-door vehicle, just, you know, longer.

This bodystyle seems to make an appearance from time to time in cars from a number of manufacturers, hangs around for a product cycle or two and then fades away. I’m thinking of a few that I have liked over the years – Mazda’s Protege5 (and later the Mazda6 wagon from the mid-aughts, Subaru’s Legacy wagon, heck even the Dodge Magnum, I’ll count that too.

But this German family-friendly conveyance is a bit different. More of an upper-class status machine, more executive caliber, fancier all around, and with more bells and whistles.

Its a good time of year to flail about in the C Wagon, for as you see it is a pretty cold day out there; with repeated dumpings of snow over the past few days. The Benz tester sport Mercedes awd system (called 4MATIC by the company) and has been handling itself admirably.

Now that’s a cluster. I always opt for the digital speedometer display, of the choices the C 300 offers

Notice, too, that the C isn’t a crossover, so it doesn’t have quite the ground clearance that you would get in models like the GLC, but I haven’t got the car stuck yet and it grips the road competently and handles well in these conditions.

It has power enough, although the C 300s 2.0 litre turbo engine isn’t at the top of the class, but 241 horses and 273 lb.-ft of torque haul it around with ample to spare. Acceleration is good, in any of the drive modes (I ran it mostly in Eco, just for the fuel economy benefits, but the C comes alive with Sport and Sport+ modes that tailor the combination of engine response and transmission behavior to a more active driving style.

A 9-speed automatic transmission marshals the engine power (and there are steering mounted paddle shifters if you like to get involved in changing your own gears, but really, I found the C’s 9G-TRONIC just fine making its own decisions).

Outwardly, this is a good-looking wagon – more so than it looks in the photos, as it is covered in ice – and easily recognizable as being part of the Benz family.

It is a piece of art inside as well, very comfortable (in a ‘cozy’ sort of way, as the C class is smaller overall than Mercedes’ E or S class vehicles. The seats are upholstered Artico leather (or ‘leatherlike substance’, if you will) comfortable in both rows and favoring the driver with a cockpit-like feel.

I loved the Burmester sound system in the test model, and the additional (and optional) technology included in this one fleshed out the space age appeal of the C with a 360-degree bird’s eye view simulation displayed on the center console monitor.

In case you haven’t been in a Benz for a while, here’s the main controller set for the company’s COMAND system for accessing the various onboard functions. It… requires some getting used to, but frankly I think I like it as well as Lexus’ touchpad, or BMW’s iDrive.

The car rides beautifully, of course, and that is the company’s main claim to fame. I don’t think I’ve ever had a Benz – and I mean any of the models – that anyone I had out for a ride didn’t remark on the incredible smoothness and quiet that almost leaves a passenger disconnected from the road. It’s actually a pretty relaxing way to be ferried around.

Through and through, the 2018 C 300 wagon is quite a machine, certainly more practical and versatile than the sedan version of the C, and this one here is very well equipped; but there’s a ‘but’ attached to this statement my friends.

For you see, to make it this well equipped, many an option package was included with the car, and as you might imagine it all comes at a price.

Starting at an initial buy-in of $46,000, the wagon got a $5000 Premium package, Premium Plus package, Selenite grey paintjob, heated steering wheel, satellite radio and the upgraded sound system, all at additional expense, in addition to the ‘dark ash wood trim. Here’s a breakdown: C 300 Wagon_2018_WDDWH4KB7JF579954

And that took the whole thing up to $57,865. Now of course that’s nothing to a couple of high rollers like you and I, gentle viewer, but make no mistake, that’s getting up there.

And this is a thing that always kind of bugs me, when an already pricey car requires a suite of add-ons to bring it to the level of desirability that attracted you to the brand in the first place.

Nevertheless, that’s just me.

Feel free to check out a quick video of the C Wagon on our Youtube channel!

 

 

 

 

BMW X5 40e

Electrifying Bavarian Design

BMW’s X5 utility vehicle lineup expanded back in the 2015 model year to include a fourth choice when they added the 40e to the family (there are three other X5 choices, two gasoline engine models and a diesel), and the 40e was the first of the company’s more mainstream vehicles to inherit the technology they developed for their more futuristic-looking i3 and i8 cars.

There aren’t a lot of PHEV vehicles in the premium/luxury segment, yet, but there a lot in the pipeline as everyone rushes into hybrid and fully electric automobiles – but Porsche’s Cayenne is already available with a similar drivetrain, for example.

Looking at it from the outside – and the inside, for that matter – the plugin X5 isn’t greatly different than the rest of the lineup, the readily identifiable grille and headlamps, and side-and-rear profile of the eDrive model are near identical, its mostly the badge and distinctive cover of the chargepoint on the driver’s side front panel that give it away.

All around, it retains the appearance, and that’s a good thing; as the X5 in general has been one of the company’s best sellers, and certainly their most practical offering for this time of year, out here in majestic Edmonton; the Paris of the Canadian prairies. I’mma apologize that the car is dirty in the test drive photos and Youtube vid, but you know, it’s hard to keep anything clean right now.

As a hybrid, the 40e is powered by a combination of electric motor and gasoline engine, in this case a 351v lithium ion battery mates with a 2.0L inline four-cylinder, aiming to optimize fuel economy with the electric assist, as well as lowering emissions. It can be run in strictly electric mode, as well, BMW claims for a distance up to 40km. So in theory, if you lived very close to where you work, you might scarcely ever have to fill up the tank. In theory, that is. In reality the cold conditions had me running on gasoline power for most of the week.

The gas engine on its own peaks at 241 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft of torque, and combined output with the electric motor shoots up to 313 horses. The hybrid X5, like all X5s, has EcoPro, Comfort (default) and Sport modes, which change the vehicles behavior by changing the shift point and throttle response.

Now, where a PHEV differs from a regular hybrid is that the battery can be recharged by – you guessed it – plugging the vehicle in. The 40e can be recharged on household current, although I’ll level with you, that takes a long time; but will also accept charging with level 2 or level 3 high-voltage fast chargers.

The problem with this, though, is that not a lot of people have an extra 220v panel at their homes, and at least there I live there aren’t a lot of Level 2 chargers available. Check this out, though, my test vehicle is equipped, through it navigation module, to find and locate charging stations. Pretty cool, eh? I found one at an Ikea store, and a row of three of them at one of Edmonton’s public libraries.

Screw these people.

But, prepare to gasp in horror and dismay, my friends, ‘cuz look what happened when I tried to use the library ones. Yeah. Do any of those look like plugin/electric vehicles to you?

Driving experience the X5 is very much like any of it’s linemates – it displays tight and responsive steering, great performance and acceleration in all of its drive modes, and does a good job of holding the road in corners; but I want to tell you, the hybrid is a heavy vehicle and you’ll feel that in the handling. It is almost 200kg heavier than the 35i gasoline only model, and actually weighs more than a Toyota Tacoma, for example. So, um, stopping distances are affected, as I learned in my first day in the car on icy roads.

The price jump for selecting the 40e may also influence your decision here, with a rather hefty premium coming with this power train. Here’s a breakdown of the pricing, if you’re interested: MY17 X5 40e Price

Consider that a 35i model starts at $68,500, and that jumps to $74,950 for the 40e plugin, but the test vehicle we are looking at here powered that to a frightening $88,500 when loaded up with option packages that take it to the level that I figure a premium-brand buyer would want.

 

2018 Honda Odyssey

I always like to start stories about this type of vehicle by restating the point that if you need a minivan, you should buy a minivan. Don’t try to weasel out and get an SUV with third-row seats because they look cooler, you’re a grownup now.

The vehicles make the most sense for many situations, and needn’t reek of soccer-dad mediocrity, particularly with some of the models available today, like this one here: a 2018 Honda Odyssey.

One of the more highly regarded minivans out there, and offering a nearly complete collection of practical function and usefulness (and seating for up to seven passengers in the case of my test van here), Odyssey brings more than family-friendliness, particularly in the Touring trim.

Spoiler: it also becomes one of the more expensive family vans you can buy if you select the Touring model, although not the most expensive well-equipped van I’ve seen for 2018 (that award would go to Chrysler’s latest Pacifica – you can find a look at it here).

I will stress also that while my Odyssey Touring test vehicle tipped in at over 50K, the lineup starts at $34,890, so the case can be made that it competitive with Kia’s Sedona or the Toyota Sienna.

The whole lineup gets the same engine, a redesigned 3.5 litre six-cylinder (built in Alabama) for this fifth-generation van, which has received a power boost for 2018 that pumps up the output to a pretty robust 280hp and 262 lb.-ft. of torque.

It’s a FWD drivetrain that handles well for a vehicle of its type, with steering that is likewise appropriate for this shape and size. Definitely a lighter feel than what you’d find in an Accord, but I wouldn’t want it to be overly ‘sporty’ anyway, for fear of throwing around the passengers in the rear seats.

The styling of the Odyssey hasn’t received the radical reworking of the sheetmetal that Honda’s Civic and latest Accord received; it’s still recognizable when parked side by side with the outgoing generation.

The 18 has a new-look grille and headlamps, a bit of extra pizzazz added stamped into the side panels, and the recognizable ‘lightnining bolt’ of the side window trim has been smoothed out a bit.

The body has been lightened, cabin sound insulation and overall ride improved, and two new transmissions added to the lineup; including a Honda’s ten-speed automatic (the company is awfully proud of the ten-speed, and offering it in a number of their vehicles in the upper trim levels, notably the latest Accord).

The 10-speed is one of only a few features that a buyer needs to move up to the Touring trim to get, though – if you can get by with only nine cogs, well, the rest of the lineup may do you just fine.

A couple of other exclusives for the Touring trim are worth noting, and mostly fall into the additional bells-and-whistles category, but my favorites are:

An upgraded, 11-speaker sound system (and rear seat entertainment package with Blu Ray player), ventilated front seats, a wi-fi hotspot app and additional ambient lighting; and perhaps most notable is the rear cross-traffic sensor – probably my favorite part of the modern safety suites being added to a lot of vehicles these days.

Also, an interesting techno-bit for parents (I am figuring that parents are the number one buyer of a van like the Odyssey) is the Cabin Watch and Cabin Talk components of Honda’s in-vehicle. It pulls up a wideangle view of the rear seats, and allows you to keep an eye on the kids in the back rows, and verbally admonish them if they’re, like, eating laundry pods or whatever back there. No more need to raise your voice as you threaten to turn this car around and drop them off at military camp.

The first two rows are the best seats in the Odyssey (the second rows captain’s chairs also slide, for easy access to the back, and space all ‘round is very good, as is outward visibility from the driver’s position).

In terms of the value case, well, as stated way back at the beginning, the Odyssey in Touring trim is one of the pricier family vans, but a buyer may not find it necessary to go all the way to the top-end to get a satisfying package – here’s a bit of trim walk through the lineup: 2018 Specs_Odyssey_EN

As for criticism of the ’18 Odyssey, well, the info interface isn’t as evolved as what I found in the latest Accord – there’s a volume button for the sound system, but most everything else is still touchscreen. Also a few people I showed the Touring to didn’t care for the unusual strip-of-buttons gear selector (very much like what you find in a number of vehicles from Acura).

This 2018 Touring level test van cam with an MSRP of $50,290 CDN, before freight and taxes.

Check out the Youtube video here!

 

 

2018 Honda Accord Touring 1.5 litre

Some would have you believe that sedans are on their way out, as drivers opt for crossovers and utility vehicles in increasing numbers, but the sedan segment continues to offer some considerable alternatives for people who still enjoy a midsize four-door conveyor fit for the whole family.

The venerable ‘car’ shape has been stoked, refined, continually improved and benefitted with advancing technology; and in the flagship examples of every manufacturer, imbued with a heaping helping of high style to keep them in the minds of buyers.

Examples from Kia, Hyundai and Ford’s current generation Fusion display what can be done with the platform, but this year may be owned by Honda, who have never been afraid to remake a vehicle completely from generation to generation.

Honda has been doing wonderful things with styling the past couple of years, if you witness last year’s redesign of their best-selling Civic in all its configurations, and the same holds true for our subject this time out: the 2018 Accord.

Now, obviously styling is a matter of taste, but I love the look of the latest Civic and if you do too the Accord is candy, with its swept back, European-influenced lines.

This is the 10th generation of Honda’s flagship family sedan, a complete remake of the popular marque that sports new-look features inside and out.

I’m going to mention here the car we’re looking at is the sedan version, you can also get it as a coupe, and there are two engine options for gasoline-powered models.

Inside the Touring is a comfortably leather-upholstered cabin, with decent space overhead and from side to side, extra legroom has been carved out in the rear seat passengers as well.

It has a suitable comfortable and fully adjustable driver’s seat and some nice high-end touches, like a heated steering wheel and oh, look: buttons! Honda has done away with their previous interface, which I never really loved, to be honest with you – it was a mainly touchscreen interaction that was finicky to use. Give me good ol’ buttons any day, what with the tactile feedback ease-of-use and so forth.

Another feature I always enjoy is a heads up display, and this year’s Accord Touring brings a nice, bright large readout, hovering just above the hoodline (from the driver’s point of view). You can change the information display, but I settled on an easy-to-read speed display and the arrows of the turn-by-turn navigation system in the test car.

The engine in this test car is the smaller of two gasoline powerplants available: a 1.5L four-cylinder Earth Dreams i-Vtec that pushes out a surprising 192 horsepower.

I should also mention that the Accord can also be had with a 2.0L engine that will crank that up to 252 ponies (the larger engine comes with the Accord Sport 2.0 trim level, as well as the appropriately name Touring 2.0 trim. There is also a hybrid, using a combination of gas engine and electric motor – not unlike its major competitor, Toyota’s Camry, which we just recently featured on our delightful Youtube channel. Go ahead, click that. We improve a little each time

Anyway, getting back on topic, the 1.5L Touring trim yielded up good fuel economy on its own. I ran it mostly in Economy mode, primarily because I have to pay for my own gas, but it does have the Sport mode function, which will ramp up the performance noticeably; making the accelerator more responsive and holding the transmission in lower gears a little longer in order to pump the engine rpm.

Also interesting is that there are three transmissions available for the Accord lineup; mine used a CVT automatic, but the can be had with a six-speed manual or a new, ten-speed automatic gearbox (which you can only get with the Sport 2 and Touring 2).

Rather than blabber statistics and trim-walk stuff, I’ll just put up a pdf straight from Honda: Here y’go

Check it out if just for the rundown of active safety features and driver-assist technologies

Suffice it to say the newest Accord handles and performs well. The steering feels good, with the kind of feel of “weight” tuned into it that I like, and the handling is really enjoyable with the newly lowered body.

If you’re a sedan person (and yes, I remember what I said back at the beginning, people are increasingly opting for small crossovers and utility vehicles for their better ground clearance and available AWD systems) have a look at this car; and compare it point for point against the major competition, which I figure would be the Kia Optima, Ford’s Fusion or our old friend the Camry.

Even the price isn’t off the dial for a car as well padded as our tester, with a Canadian MSRP of $35,790

Please feel free to subscribe to our channel – we’ll have another Honda up pretty soon, a minivan this time – why at this rate we’ll soon be as popular as the Internet screaming head/conspiracy nuts or twentysomething fashion v-loggers! Haha, just kidding, we’ll never be that popular.

 

2018 Toyota Camry XLE Hybrid

I’ve always felt that if I had to make the choice, I would buy a loaded Camry before I would buy an entry level Lexus, and that is certainly the case with this one.

(Incidentally, here is a link to a brief Youtube video with the XLE Hybrid, holding its own on a frigid day here in Edmonton).

A Camry in XLE trim is practically a luxury car, perhaps lacking the brand cachet of Lexus, but consider that this one still comes in about 6K less than the ES300h, which is pretty much the equivalent of the Camry in size and configuration.

The major points of our test Camry are: it’s powered by a 2.5L four-cylinder gasoline engine, which on its own can produce 176 horsepower (and 163 lb.-ft. of torque), but as a hybrid it also adds an electric motor – branded by Toyota as their Hybrid Synergy Drive system – which brings the combined output to a potential 208 hp.

And of course, one of the things about electric power is that the torque comes on at very low rpm, putting the power to the wheels very quickly, especially when the Sport Mode of the Camry hybrid is activated.

I’m not trying to imply that it’s some sort of sports car here, it isn’t, but the vehicle provides ample power and a driving experience that won’t leave the daily driver feeling let down. It comes up to speed promptly and deals with everyday demands admirably whether on the highway or here on the streets of Edmonton.

But where the advantage lies with hybrid vehicles like this is with the increased fuel economy and savings at the pump over the life of the vehicle – Toyota states a combined consumption rating for the Camry Hybrid of 5.2L/100km, although I’ve gone a little over that (this one ended up with 6.0 after about 400 km of mostly city driving, but it has been my observation that cold weather affects the mileage of hybrids by forcing the cars to use the gas engine more).

Inside the 2018 XLE you find comfortable seating and decent headroom, a dash layout where all major controls are easy to find and understand, and a suite of new tech for 2018.

Now, if you watch our Youtube video you may notice that a lot of the apps on my test vehicle come up grayed out, as they aren’t activated for this press car, but regardless, you can see where the apps would be activated through the combination of touch-screen and interface buttons of the Entune 3.0 suite.

Entune is apparently an open source, Linux based system for the communication module – and the 2018 Camry is the first vehicle to get the system.

This Camry XLE also includes a comprehensive set of safety features, my favorites of which are blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic detection, and a backup camera that will display an overhead, bird’s eye view of the car.

And while less space-age and futuristic, another feature I like on the Camry XLE is the tire-pressure monitor (which can be displayed as a little graphic on the cluster behind the steering wheel if you cycle through the submenus with the steering-mounted controls) that shows the pressure in each individual tire. I like that so much better than lower-end systems that will only alert you that there is a low tire, but makes you get out and check each one to find it.

So ultimately, there isn’t much to dislike in the all-new Camry Hybrid (and it is ‘all-new’, Toyota says the 2018 shares almost no components with the previous generation).

The Camry is also a top-finalist in the Large Car category for the Canadian Car of the Year, presented by Automobile Journalists Association of Canada

You could pick on the price, I suppose, as the XLE does come in a little higher than competitive hybrids from Korea; and perhaps the appearance – although again, the car looks better in my opinion than the outgoing model.

I wouldn’t call it ugly – it isn’t – but rather what a number of people describe as ‘boring’, but that is of course in the eye of the beholder. (Although, do me a favor and check out that big plastic grille and see what you think).

Our test car here, a pretty complete package as is (there are no options listed for our tester) came with a sticker price of $42,832.50 CDN

2018 Subaru Crosstrek Limited

Exactly the right vehicle, timing-wise and arriving at the right time (by which I mean, just as the weather turned wintry out here and the snow began to fall) the Crosstrek made itself instantly welcome.

Not just because it is the latest, 2018 Subaru Crosstrek, either, I’d have been equally glad to have the previous year’s model, or for that matter just about any Subaru product.

And here’s the thing, just as a piece of trivia: pretty much any mountain town I’ve ever visited, anywhere where they get a lot of snow, Subaru is the nameplate I see on most of the vehicles owned by the people who live there. Well, Subaru and Jeep.

Naturally, the all-wheel drive system (Subaru’s Symmetrical AWD) is what has made their lineup a hit among their fans in climate zones similar to mine, and the Crosstrek has been embraced as much for its ability to handle the adverse conditions as for its more car-like size.

Photo courtesy Subaru Canada

The whole lineup employs a 2.0 litre, four-cylinder engine that brings ample power to the platform (152 horses and 145 lb.-ft. of torque). In terms of power, it isn’t dominating its class with those numbers, but the Boxer engine delivers better fuel economy than many of its rivals – Subaru boasts a combined city/highway consumption of 8.1 L/100 km, which is pretty decent.

My test vehicle, a Limited trim with the company’s Eyesight package option, used a continuously variable transmission to put the power to the wheels (and, as a note of trivia, the Limited model is only available with the CVT as of 2018, previously a six-speed manual was offered).

Photo courtesy Subaru Canada

Also new for the upcoming year is that all Crosstreks equipped with this transmission will be equipped with the company’s ‘X-Mode’.

X- mode is, basically, an automated system for managing tricky terrain at low speeds. Activated by the touch of a button on the center console, I think of it mainly as a hill-descent control – it works with the transmission and AWD to maintain torque distribution and engine power.

I’ve seen and experienced X-mode in demonstrations with Subaru’s Forester, crawling down a frighteningly steep and rocky path in mountainous terrain; and I’ll vouch that it works well.

But it was in mostly urban settings that I used this Crosstrek, and thus enjoyed the vehicle more for the general selling points that bring buyers into this segment.

The Crosstrek provides a car-sized footprint that its customers like, and the smooth ride they are looking for; and at the same time brings slightly higher sightlines and better ground clearance (which is a big deal for many in my neck of the woods, where the road surface can be pretty uneven, and nobody likes to hear their undercarriage or front bumper scrape).

Anecdotally, a comment I always hear when I show a car like this to any member of our um, ‘more aged’ population (you know, seniors, oldsters, the more fossilized generation) is the added height of crossover vehicles makes getting in and out of them easier. I am increasingly finding that I enjoy that as well.

I’ll warn you, though, that the Crosstrek has less overall headroom inside than many of its competitors, but in all fairness, this won’t trouble anyone under six feet tall, and has never been mentioned by any of the owners that I know.

The Crosstrek lineup starts at a really reasonable $23,695 for the base/entry-level model, and my test vehicle with its Limited badge and Eyesight package pushed that into the thirties.

Eyesight brings a collection safety technology to the vehicle: adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assistance (which is a new inclusion for 2018) and braking intervention that will aggressively step in and actually brake the car if it detects that the vehicle is backing into something.

All of which are good things to have, and overall the Crosstrek itself makes a case as a good thing to have, as an all-round capable light duty family-oriented everyday conveyor.

The Limited tester with CVT and Eyesight wasn’t the least expensive crossover out there, but neither is it the priciest, coming with an MSRP of $34,920

2018 Lexus LC 500 Coupe

This is one those automobiles my neighbors all come out to see, and I’ve got pretty jaded neighbors. They’ve become used to seeing some quality sheetmetal parked in my drive, to the point where they barely blink at a Carrera or F150, but when a 2018 Lexus LC 500 (hey, click that – it’s a link to our Youtube video!) showed up I had more than a couple of people come out to say “Nice car! What is that?”

Meet the one Lexus that will rule them all. Strikingly good-looking and packed with Lexus’ cutting edge technology, the new flagship coupe is reminiscent of the discontinued SC430 (which I loved, in its day) but updated for the twenty first century.

It made its Canadian debut at the Edmonton Motor Show last year, after being shown as a concept at the Frankfurt motor show in 2015.

This low-and lovely two-door standout is powered by a 5.0 litre V8 engine, running through a 10-speed automatic transmission (which Lexus boasts is a first for a luxury car). It puts out a potential 471 horsepower and 398 lb-ft of torque.

I should mention, too, that the one we’re looking at here is the gasoline-only model, but there is also a hybrid version of the car available, the LC 500h; and while I’m pretty sure fuel economy won’t be a factor for people who are able to buy this car, you just know this isn’t a frugal gas sipper.

Lexus states combined, city & highway numbers of 12.2 L/100 km (or about 24 mpg) for the V8, but I went a bit over that – I think we ended up at about 16.0L per hundred k after a week in the LC, but we may have been using the car’s Sport Plus mode more than we should have, because here’s the thing – this beast is a hoot to drive.

A low center of gravity combined with variable-gear-ratio electric power steering and an adaptive variable suspension help the car eat up corners; and the model you see here added a Performance Package option.

This is interesting – the shift pattern is like that of the Prius, with a push to the left and ‘up’ motion for reverse, and Park engaged by a button. Notice the trackpad user interface to the right.

The performance package (which adds $13,500 to the Canadian price) builds on that with a limited slip differential, 4-wheel active steering (which gives it a really tight turning circle) and that cool pop-up rear spoiler that we saw earlier.

The package also pumps up the interior’s posh environment with Alacantra and leather surfaces and upholstery, really comfortable and fully adjustable sport seats. The LC is as delightful just to sit in as it is to drive.

At least in the front seats anyway. It is a four-seat car, technically, but the rear row is pretty tight and small. No legroom.

Oh, and another thing – low ground clearance and a long front overhang. This is something a potential buyer should be aware of, as it would be very easy to scrape off your front air dam on a curb, or rub the underbody on, well, even a larger-than-normal speed bump.

And that, like pretty much any of the criticism I could make about the LC could be applied to virtually any of its competitors. The rear seats are small, the trunk is small, the car’s low profile make it a challenge getting in and out of, blab bla bla, you probably already figured all of that out just by looking at it.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but even the price isn’t over the top when you stand it up beside the other luxury/performance cars it is competing with. The LC 500 starts at 101K, this one here with its Performance Package pushes that up to $117,271 (and twenty five cents) which is actually quite competitive with similar offerings from Porsche or Audi, and a good deal less than any of the Italian supercars – and the Italian supercars can’t boast Lexus’ rep for quality.

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2018 BMW 440i xDrive Coupe

440i-8Ah, yes indeed, some days I get to drive around feelin’ like a bigshot.

You know you’re getting into a high-end sports machine when, after you take your position in the driver’s chair and start ‘er up, a little mechanical arm pushes out the shoulder strap of your seatbelt so it can be easily reached.

The seat bolsters cozy up on your sides (to whatever position you have set the memory seat to), and the projected heads-up display lights up in your field of view just above the hood line.

BMW offers one of the most comfortable seats I have found in any similarly high-end luxury/performance machine, with a full range of adjustment – which is great if you are a tall-and-skinny type such as myself, who enjoys the aggressive lumbar support and ability to lengthen the thigh support portion of the driver’s perch.

In fact, I would call it my favorite seat in the segment, except I think it may be tied for first place with the one found in one of the 440i’s closest home-country competitors, Mercedes’ E 400 Coupe.

(Incidentally, while the two are very similar in dimensions, the 440i is about 70mm shorter overall than the E400, but the wheelbase is longer by 50 mm).

My test vehicle is one of three of the available models under the 4-series umbrella – there is the Coupe, Cabriolet and Grand Coupé (which is a four-door, so yeah, I know, not technically a ‘coupe’, but what can I say).

A buyer can further make the choice between all-wheel drive (xDrive, in BMW parlance) and rear-wheel powertrains; and so it is that the full name of my test vehicle is 440i xDrive Coupe. Simple, no?

Additionally, this particular one is further enhanced by the addition of several option packages (which is why it tops out at over 70K).

Notably, the M performance package group, which adds not only a generous sprinkling of M-badging throughout the car, from kick plates to tailpipes, but boosts the horsepower of the 440i’s inline six-cylinder powerplant from its base rating of 320 ponies (and 330 lb.-ft. of torque) up to 355hp and 369 lb.-ft.

The takeaway here is that the 4 doesn’t lack power. Acceleration in any of the vehicle’s driving modes is quick – and I mean speeding-ticket quick; you’ll want to keep an eye on the digital speed readout on your heads up display – and incredibly smooth, as one might expect from BMW.

Handling is superb, the car’s ride is excellent, if decidedly tuned to the ‘sporty’ end of the spectrum (BMW boasts of a newly stiffened suspension in all the 4 series models, particularly the M Sport suspension) and an eight speed automatic transmission manages the power masterfully in my test car; but driving purists need not worry, the 440i can also be had with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Inside – in the front row, anyway – an occupant finds good headroom, tight everything else, but that is how it is supposed to be. The car is intended to hold you firmly (but comfortably) in place with all the necessary controls close at hand; provided you don’t mind BMW’s user-interface module (now called iDrive 6.0, which has also been made easier to work with for this latest generation).

Wrap all that up in BMW’s ever-evolving styling and you have one of the best looking two door coupes on the road. The 440i exterior is rolling sculpture from any angle, helped out by a reworked rear tail light treatment for 2018.

The interior is a coherent collection of high-end materials and a console-and-cluster layout that fans of the brand will love, but here’s the thing: you have to be a fan of the company’s design language.

That is pretty much the only major detraction for anyone considering the 440i (well, that and the price, but we’ll get to that). I showed my test car to a couple of owners of current Benz and Audi products, and their reaction was that the Beemer was a bit too austere for their tastes.

The sticker for a base 440i xDrive Coupe starts at $57,550, which is already more than I make in a week, but that won’t be the one I want.

No indeed, to get the vehicle up to the high level of comfort/ luxury/ premium-ness that I figure a buyer in this segment would require, a potential customer would have to consider the packages tacked onto this one, in order to feel like a bigshot like me.

By the time you add the enhanced Premium Package, the Driver assistance and Connectivity packages, the M Performance group and three standalone options, the car whistles past seventy grand and pulls up at $73,190

2017 Mercedes-Benz GLC 43 Coupe

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You know, I though this was going to be such a great shot – it was taken during the solar eclipse last month – but we didn’t really get much of the effect at this latitude.

Well, before we go any further, let us address the most obvious aspect of this vehicle: yes, it does look a lot like a BMW X6. Like, quite a lot. It kind of reminds me of when Honda reintroduced the Insight after a lengthy absence, and it looked startlingly like its main competitor, Toyota’s Prius.

There are a few fundamental differences, though, particularly in the dimensions – the X6 is longer, slightly taller and over 200 kg heavier than my test vehicle this time out – between Mercedes’ GLC Coupe and it’s fellow countryman.

The GLC Coupe is a relatively new addition to Benz’s expanding fleet of light-duty premium crossovers, and brings everything you expect from a luxury car with its catchy combination of visual appeal and capable underpinnings.IMG_7122

This one especially, may I add, for my test vehicle is the apex of the model, a loaded and tricked-out trim sporting AMG trappings and a suite of option packages that push the price and the power to levels befitting its segment.2017GLC-5a

Properly described as the AMG 43 GLC 4MATIC Coupe in the company product info, this is one frisky package of horsepower and sport-oriented tuning, riding on an all-wheel drive platform.

(That’s what ‘4MATIC’ means in Mercedes-talk, for those of you who may not know, sort of like VW’s designation for awd is ‘4MOTION’. Both companies enjoy capitalizing their terms as well, for whatever reason).

The key mechanical specs boast a potential output of 362 hp and 384 lb-ft. of torque, strapped to a 9-speed transmission (which they also spell in all-caps as the 9G-TRONIC).

The power comes on strong when you hit the pedal, the twin-turbo 3.0 litre never left me feeling let down or underwhelmed, regardless of the drive mode I was in. Which was mostly eco-mode, mind you, as the GLC 43 is not a fuel sipper (as you might deduce) and putting it into Sport Plus will have it gulping a hefty amount of the premium gasoline it demands.

Of course, as a Mercedes the GLC is as much about the interior as the performance; and it brings a cockpit worthy to stand alongside the company’s sedans.

Heated front (and rear) seats are upholstered in leather, as is the dash make the vehicle a nice place to just sit and take in the ambience in the cabin. An optional Burmester stereo system provides studio-quality sound, as good as any I’ve heard in any vehicle in this class; and the acoustic glass windows make the GLC a great environment to spend time; whether in city traffic or on a highway drive.

Ride comfort should be a given in a vehicle like this, and my 43 coupe didn’t disappoint. In any of the drive modes, including Sport Plus (which stiffens things up appreciably), the air-suspension system absorbed bumps and pavement flaws much more ably, and less jarringly, than many vehicles I driven in similar conditions.GLC-speaker

Partially contributing to the GLC’s terrain-friendliness may be the twenty-inch wheels that this one came with; a great looking set of two-tone, spoked rims that are part of the basic package when you start shopping for this particular model.

However, it is the options and packages that compete the experience with this high-end crossover. Sure, it drives the price up; but hey, we’re all millionaires here, right Gentle Reader?

Anyway, a brief rundown of the packages goes like this:

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For any of you who haven’t been in Mercedes products in the last few years, it is this touchpad/controller apparatus that will take the most getting used to. Beautiful piece of industrial design, though, aye?

The AMG Night Package, Intelligent Drive package, Premium Package and Premium Plus package, combined with standalone options (a great looking blue metallic paint job, red-stitched leather upholstery and AMG carbon fibre trim) added the better part of ten grand to the bottom line.

So the takeaway here is, buyers in this particular market probably won’t be left wanting, and they probably won’t be gobsmacked by the MSRP (let’s face it, you can easily get a similar Audi, Range Rover or Porsche product up to this price), and if they are already owners of any of the rest of the Mercedes-Benz sedan family, the esoteric controls and touch-pad user interface won’t require any new learning on their part either.

My tested model, a AMG 43 GLC 4MATIC Coupe comes in at 79,830 as driven.

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.

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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:

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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