An Alltrack for All Seasons

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Photos supplied by VW Canada

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack 4MOTION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo supplied by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada

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

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

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

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

2017 Mercedes-Benz E 300 4MATIC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

2016 Rear-view Review

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

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

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

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

2016 Honda Pilot

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

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

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

2016 Mustang GT Convertible

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

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

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

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Night at the Museum

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Ford research engineer Mica DeBolt (r), and executive chef David Omar of Zinc restaurant pose for a photo in the back of a C-Max Energi vehicle; surrounded by many of the ingredients of the Sustainability Feast held in October.

Ford Motor Co often gets overlooked when people are naming carmakers who put a focus on recycling and environmental concerns; but the company has been a leader in the field since long before it became a topic of everyday conversation.ff3

I’ve visited the Rouge Plant in Michigan, and surprised at the level of recovery and ‘green’ technology they have made a central part of the operation; I’ve attended presentations about their extensive use of recycled materials for insulation and filler and seat upholstery (back in 2008 the company put out the first Mustang that incorporated soybean oil-based foam in the seat padding, you may recall).

Research continues constantly, and Ford occasionally takes its PR out into communities to spread the word – which is what they did this October in a clever event here in Edmonton (and several other cities across the country) billed as the Sustainability Feast.ff1

Hosted by up-and-coming research engineer Mica DeBolt, and catered by local food impresario David Omar (the executive chef at the Zinc restaurant downtown), the event showcased not only the latest ideas from the Blue Oval, from the use of organic materials throughout the company’s lineup to forward-looking partnerships in the future.

I didn’t know, for example, that Ford is exploring partnerships with Jose Cuervo (for re-use of material from the agave plants that tequila is made from) and Heinz in Ontario (for tomato plant material recovery, obviously).

Hosted at the new Art Gallery of Alberta (while it has actually been around for a few years now, I still think of it as the “new” gallery, because I am way behind in my cultural experience), the event presented the attendees with food as well as information.ff2

All of the dishes featured ingredients that can also be found in Ford’s vehicles – soy, rice, wheat, edamame, corn, and various derivatives thereof.

 

 

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2016 Toyota Prius

Like a lot of car writers from across the nation, I am looking forward to the Auto Journalists Association of Canada’s annual Test Fest next week; where the entrants will be pared down into their respective class winners (and from the pool of survivors, one will go on to become the Canadian Car of the Year).

I haven’t driven all the contenders in every class prior to the AJAC event, but I have driven a few. Here is a look at some of my favorites, prior to the upcoming Test Festprius-ajac-photo

The new look Prius is a solid competitor in the Full-Size Car group this year, where it is up against Malibu (hybrid), Optima HEV and Volkswagen’s Golf Alltrack.

Prius brings its natural Toyota advantage to the contest – the proven hybrid powertrain that revolutionized the world since its introduction nearly twenty years ago.

There’s a reason it is the best-selling hybrid of all time, but with the redesigned body and enhanced balance and aerodynamics, Prius now makes a case for itself as a really good-looking car as well (‘cuz let’s face, one of the most common arguments against the vehicle in the past has been its appearance – “ugly” was a word I often heard applied).

I loved the car before, because I am a fuel-economy freak; but when I first saw the latest generation unveiled in Frankfurt last year I loved it even harder.

Here’s a gallery of one I drove this summer – which differs slightly from the model entered in the CCOTY contest in that this one is equipped with Toyota’s ‘Upgrade Package’, whereas the formal entrant will be one with Technology Package.

This one, with upgrade package, came with a sticker price of $28,661 including freight charges; but that doesn’t include any hybrid-rebates that may be available, depending on your area.

Soon We Will Be Ever So Safe

teslapostHear me out here – is this an actual problem? People leaving kids in their cars to the point where more children are being done-in this way than by sharks and marbles combined?

It all began innocently enough yesterday morning, when my broski Gary Grant posted on the Book of Faces™  a link to a story on some website, all about how Tesla has promised a forthcoming, all-new-strata of safety nanny systems.

(gonna make us all Safe again, at least according to a cryptic tweet from Elon himself cited in the story) – a super intelligent system that actually runs the A/C while the vehicle is turned off, if it thinks you may have left your kids in the car.

My response was:

“Or! Or!

Mofos could try not forgetting their children in the car.

Perhaps employing some sort of sophisticated ‘counting’ algorithm, or maybe an old fashioned roll call like:

“Hey, li’l Bobby (or whatever), are you ready for dinner, or are you slowly suffocating in the car?”

I mean seriously, mang, how in the shit does that even happen. How is this a thing that has grown so far out of control that it that requires the f**king carmakers to intervene?

Totally makes sense to me, right? And I obviously thought that was the end of that, my friends – but no!

A bunch of rational people joined in, and tried to make it *not* about going off on some internet rant; but I refuse to play dat.

You down with me on this one, fellow citizens? You feel?

Now, let’s take this to its logical extreme, so I can get on with my life:

teslapost2©Wade Ozeroff 2016

Toyota Yaris Hybrid

This is an old story by now (in fact, it is exactly a year old) but I am posting it because I love the Netherlands, and also the Yaris hybrid.

This one features a 2015 model that I was using in Eindhoven last fall, and I just happened to be in the great city of Eindhoven on September 18, the 75th anniversary of the city’s emancipation at the end of WWII.

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(Eindhoven, Netherlands) All right, here’s what I want you to do: go to Europe and drive a Toyota Yaris Hybrid. Not just anywhere in Europe, either, I want you to go specifically to Eindhoven, Holland.yarishyb-23

Go ahead and ignore me if you want, but Eindhoven is a delightful place; and you have go to Europe to get the Yaris hybrid anyway, as they aren’t sold here, so go to Eindhoven.

I used mine to bolt out of Frankfurt after the auto show, and took down the A3 highway to Holland. As you know, long stretches of the Autobahn have no speed limit, and while the compact hybrid can’t touch the Carreras and R8s racing down the road in the left lane, he specs on the Hybrd Yaris say that it tops out at 165 km/h.yarishyb-25

I got pretty close to that, too (the car, while not a prizewinner in acceleration, will handle sustained high speed pretty admirably) but I chickened out of pushing it to the limit as it rained hard on me for most of the trip.

Ever since I learned they exist, at Toyota’s Hybrid World Tour showcase a couple of years ago I wanted to try one; big fan of alt-fuel low-emitters that I am (I also learned that Toyota sells a ton of gas-electric powertrain vehicles that we don’t get here in North America, from minivan to Corolla – the closest equivalent you can find on our side of the Atlantic would be the even smaller Prius C or the Lexus equivalent CT200h).yarishyb-9

Compact though it may be, the Yaris was far from the smallest vehicle on the road in the Eurozone, where it dwarfed a lot of Clio and Peugeot cars but still fit right in. The hatchback bodystyle is the way to go in small cars, as far as I am concerned; with an easy access cargo area that holds enough stuff to make it a suitable do-all daily commuter.

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This is why you want a hybrid car in Europe

This one, also contained, thankfully, an excellent navigation module (with an English language option, thank golly) which is the only reason I am not still driving around south Holland, lost and starving; because hey: have you ever tried to find an address in The Netherlands?

The streets are, shall we say, non-intuitive – I drove past my hotel like three times when I got to the city of Eindhoven – and the nav is invaluable if you’re like me and don’t actually know where you’re going and just sort of make up destinations at the last minute, real haphazard-like.

I’ll tell ya where the real value of my Yaris Hybrid test car was, though; fuel economy! This is no small concern in Europe, either; gas was going for the equivalent of $2.31 a litre while I was over there, and here’s the really interesting part: I can’t believe the fuel efficiency I got with the car.

This may be the best I have ever seen, in any hybrid. I’m pretty sure I am doing the math correctly, here – I drove the little car a total of 703 km between fills, and it took 23 litres to top it up. That works out to 3.27L/100km, which is fantastic.yarishyb-24

I’m not sure what the takeaway is here, the moral of the story, as it were. Is it “let’s hope the Yaris Hybrid makes it to Canada one day soon?” Is it “gas-electric powertrains are the way to go in the future?”

No. The moral here is: let’s all go visit Eindhoven.

 

Fact file
2015 Toyota Yaris hybrid
Trim level: Comfort 5-door
Price as tested (before taxes): 18,790 Euros ($27,527 CDN)
Engine/transmission: 1.5L 4-cylinder with electric motor/ CVT automatic
Power/torque: 98 hp/ 820 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): regular
Fuel economy ratings (L/100 km): 3.1 city, 3.3 hwy
Observed fuel economy (L/100 km): 3.3 over 703 km
Competitors: Ford C-Max, Honda Civic hybrid, other Toyota hybrids

Strengths: Super fuel economy, all-round usefulness, fierce styling

Weaknesses: a little on the ‘subcompact’ side for family use, not available in North America yet

 

 

 

2016 Mazda CX-9

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Sporting exterior design tweaks and a new-for-2016 engine, there is little to dislike in Mazda’s largest utility vehicle offering.

The CX-9 gets a new-look front end with the five-point grille that has become familiar across the rest of the lineup (which is a big improvement over the outgoing generation, if you ask me, I like the new grilles). If you’re shopping large utes with 3 rows of passenger space, and demand an interior that feels and looks high end, this is one to consider.2016cx-9-7

Outwardly, Mazda has gone in for the ‘angular’ look, with sheetmetal sporting more pronounced edges and corners – this school of thought can also be seen in offerings like Toyota’s latest-gen RAV4 (and pushed even further in Lexus’ RX350), and the new Murano from Nissan – with new head and tail lamps backing up the reworked face.

Its new engine is the standout change in the CX-9, though, with Mazda having dumped the previous generation’s larger (3.7 litre, and a pretty thirsty one, too, as I recall) six-cylinder powerplant in favor of a turbocharged four.

This is the first Mazda ute to get the latest SKYACTIV engine, a 2.5L direct-injection turbo, a responsive and quick little beast offering a potential 227 horses – a reduction from the outgoing V6, but it showed itself to be fast and smooth in my time with the car – and surprisingly, an increase in torque. Mazda states the engine is capable of a considerable 310 lb.-ft. of torque at very low (2000!) rpm.2016cx-9-12

The steering feel is a nicely weighted, controlled and engaged experience, which is pretty consistent with everything in the Mazda family; at least the ones I’ve spent time with.

I used a ‘Signature’ trim model, for purposes of this piece; the top of the line for the CX-9, so it comes as packed as is available. A power driver’s seat is standard across the lineup, but the brown-toned, Nappa-leather-upholstered perch in my test vehicle was mighty fine indeed. The instrumentation was augmented with a heads-up display (a feature I love – it is basically a little floating digital speedometer hovering just at the bottom of your field of view).2016cx-9-6

Mazda is justifiably proud of the improvement in fuel economy with the new engine, and better than I expected, frankly – I got 10.9L/100 km in my time in it, and a colleague reported 9.9 over a longer, highway drive.

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The CX-9 will continue to compete with rivals like Toyota’s Highlander, or the formidable Kia Sorento; but as it can qualify as an “all new” entry, it will be in the running at this year’s Canadian Car of the Year tests coming up in October.

There it will find itself comparing head to head with the reborn Chrysler Pacifica and GMC’s newest iteration of the Acadia in a variety of categories from roominess and ease of access to economy to acceleration. Should be an interesting result!

And finally, let’s get to the price. Always the money with me, you know?

As with virtually any of the competition I have mentioned, Mazda’s big crossover starts in the mid-30K range (but ha, ha citizen! for that you only get a front-wheel drive, base model). The Signature trim CX-9 however, will take that up to $52,130 before freight and taxes.

©Wade Ozeroff 2016

 

AJAC EcoRun 2016

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photo by Jeff Wilson/AJAC

(Ottawa, ON) Alright, I knew going in I wouldn’t win the contest, lead-footed feller that I am. I am not a hyper-miler, my gentle friends, but I gave the EcoRun Challenge a fair go this year.

(You’ve heard of hypermiling, right? The practice of squeezing every last kilometer out of every drop of fuel, mostly by driving incredibly slowly and getting rid of every bit of extra weight and aerodynamic drag on a vehicle to reap some pretty astounding economy).

I’m not quite willing to go to those kinds of extremes – I didn’t fold down the side mirrors or shave off all my body hair to save the extra weight and dump my pocket change and empty my head of heavy thoughts – just simply drove a variety of vehicles according the best practices of economical driving habits, as outlined by Natural resources Canada.EcoRun7

The basics of it are pretty straightforward – keep your speed down (although I never drove dramatically under the limit, ‘cuz that’s just ignorant), avoid sudden bursts of acceleration, and above all: keep it smooth.

I didn’t win the coveted Green Jersey, of course, but I’ll tell you that by sticking to the spirit of the event I got better fuel economy than usual. In fact, everybody did; from every vehicle that was entered in this year’s Challenge.

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The lineup was as diverse as it gets at the 2016 EcoRun, running the gamut from hybrids and pure electric vehicles to a high-falutin sports car and a diesel pickup. Photos by Jeff Wilson/AJAC

It was a diverse field of entries this year, too, featuring not only what you may expect in a fuel economy contest (hybrids, plug-ins and pure electric vehicles Like Nissan’s Leaf), but straight-up gasoline powered vehicles as well – including a pickup truck and a full-on sports car.

Heck, I averaged 7.0L/100km in the Chevy Colorado Diesel pickup on my run in it, which is way less than the projected number from NRCan (10.3L/100 km), and the 2017 911 Carrera entered in the contest by Porsche achieved an overall score of 7.8L/100km, which is incredible.

Fact is, every entry in this year’s EcoRun got better economy numbers than their various manufacturers state on their window stickers; which shows you what a change in driving habits can do.ColoradoDiesel

Check it out for yourself – here is a link to the overall scores of all the cars in the group, 27 of them in total.

This is the fifth year that the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada has put on the EcoRun, and the first time I have participated in it. The event moves around the country, but this year came home to Ontario where we ran a rout from Toronto to Ottawa, driving different cars on different legs of a journey that rolled through Belleville, Coburg, and Kingston.

We drove on highways and backroads, we drove in cities and towns. We drove through Ottawa’s downtown during rush hour, which is something I don’t recommend; but is a great chance to operate in EV mode if your vehicle is equipped for it.Ottawa

I didn’t drive everything that was entered, of course, two days is actually a pretty short time, but in everything from Fiat’s cutie-pie 1957 edition 500 to Toyota’s RAV4 (hybrid) I beat the projected FE, and so did everybody else.

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Allie Marsh, the Event Coordinator of AJAC’s fifth annual EcoRun, demonstrates the connection of Hyundai’s Sonata plug-in hybrid.

And again, I didn’t do anything particularly special or scientific on any of my drives. Kept it within five of the limit, no fast passing or erratic maneuvering and above all smoothness, whether accelerating, braking or changing lanes. I didn’t run the A/C for the most part, and kept the windows up most of the time to reduce drag, but really nothing anyone couldn’t do.

Indeed, my only regret is that there wasn’t enough time for me to drive Toyota’s Mirai vehicle, the only hydrogen-powered auto entered in the EcoRun, but Lesley Wimbush of Postmedia did. (Disclosure: I know Wimbush, and I am totally using the massive popularity of my site to plug the fine work of a broski. Or sisterski as is the case here).

As said, I didn’t win the contest (wild-eyed hypermiler Jim Kenzie did. I suspect he may have shaved off his body hair, as his coefficient of drag felt abnormally low when I shook his hand).

What I did, though, was got an up-close look at what a difference driving style makes in any car, for anyone.

AJAC’s EcoRun doesn’t declare a winner among the autos entered, as it would be somewhat contrary to the spirit and point of the event (and also difficult to categorized, as obviously pure electric cars would be the most efficient, not burning any gas and all, and how would you evaluate a fuel cell vehicle against a diesel pickup, for example), but among the gas-electric powertrains, as you no doubt expected, Toyota’s Prius, Hyundai’s Sonata plug-in and Ford’s C-Max Energi hybrid did the best.

The thing is: what the EcoRun proves is that with optimal driving habits, everyone’s a winner.