Mercedes Benz E 400 Coupe

For 2018, a wicked two-door for the well-heeled 

Mercedes doesn’t require introduction in the world of tony, high-end vehicles, and the company offers an exhaustive range of choice for buyers across many pricepoints.

Not ‘any’ pricepoints, mind you, the pantheon of Benz is geared toward the customer with a premium car budget; but when you’re dressing for success and trying to impress the partners at the firm, that’s when you turn to German luxury and styling.

And the E-Class is the one to turn to, slightly better from a status standpoint than the C-Class, a few notches below the S-Class, and boasting major changes for this model year: the E400 4MATIC coupe.

(as is my wont, that will be the only time I spell it all in capitals like that. And, as you no doubt already know, 4Matic is Benz-speak for all-wheel drive).

The E400 has expanded for 2018, being both longer and wider (and just a little over an inch taller) than last year’s, and the engine still rates the same: a twin-turbo V6 capable of 329 horsepower and 354 lb.-ft. of torque.

Of course, if all you wanted was a powerful two-door, you’d buy a Mustang and save some money (unless you went with a Shelby Fastback, which is actually more expensive than the base E400), but if you’re shopping this one it’s all about the style.

Mercedes’ sets the tone with interiors, and while my test vehicle went with basic black as the dominant color scheme (it is available with optional brown, beige or two-tone color schemes), which imparts a feel of appropriately understated class.

Nappa leather upholstered seats face a redesigned dash crowned by digital displays (two of them on dash and console, each configurable and custom-tailorable as to the info they show) set on ash wood accented, curved surfaces.

The whole effect is wonderful to look at, and impressed everyone I showed the vehicle off to, but the icing on the cake in the E400 test car was the comfort of the first row; capped by my favorite option on the tester – massage seats.

Driver and front seat passenger will love this.

Seriously, up until I climbed into the E400 I would have said the seats in the previously featured BMW 440i were my favorite buckets in any luxury car I have driven; but the offers adjustable back massage of the E has won my heart.

The feature – like almost all onboard function in the E – is engaged and configured through a central controller on the console. This isn’t unusual for most luxury vehicles, you’ll find similar systems in all the premium cars, and while it isn’t as intuitive and straightforward as I want, I will say that like the Mercedes implementation of it (branded as COMAND, all in capitals once again) better than the touchpad of Lexus or the twiddle-and-poke function of BMW’s iDrive module.

Anyway, I’m saying 10 out of 10 for style and comfort throughout the cabin, with a bonus for the LED accent strip that rings the cockpit, which can be tailored according to your mood through the aforementioned Comand module.

Outwardly, you’ll still recognize the E Coupe, despite the company’s insistence that it is ‘all-new’ they haven’t departed too radically from their winning formula, and this is what really works for the car.

The fascia and headlight treatment is new, as are the air intakes and ‘diamond’ grille, and hood has been resculpted with what they call a powerdome bulge added; but the side windows and overall profile are still very similar to the 2017 model year.

It is a beautiful piece of sculpture, no question, but I like the way Benz has kept the outward appearance shy of being ostentatious and show-offy.

Driving the E400 is what really sells the car – from inside the ultra-quiet cabin the flat and stable ride garners approval from passengers in both front and rear seats, and the smoothness of acceleration from the three-litre six meshes so well with the steering feel that it will quickly spoil a driver for anything else.

The nine-speed transmissions fluid shifts are seamless in any of the drive modes, but the E allows you to takeover the shifting with wheel-mounted paddle shifters for those who enjoy the extra feel of being in charge.

All-wheel drive also brings a broader, year-round appeal to the platform, especially if you live in a climate zone where you just know its gonna snow.

I don’t have a lot of criticism of the E400 coupe overall, but for the really obvious:

The coupe body, having just two doors, in my mind makes it a de facto two-seater (its not, of course, the car will hold four people after all, but if you regularly haul more than one passenger you will want to check out the proper sedan version of the E-Class)

And then of course, the matter of price. My test model came with a sticker cost of $85,600, which included a number of option packages that brought it up to full luxury status.

You can pay a lot less and still come away with a pretty decent car from less prestigious brands, but hey, you can pay a lot more, too; compare it with a number of other similarly dressed-for-success autos from Audi, BMW or Lexus.

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

Pasta Brioni

I love this place, and have been coming here since it was called ‘Shecky’s’ way back in the day.

There it is, my friends: the Chicken Gigi

It’s Pasta Brioni now, but the menu and format are still very much the same – really good Italian food in nice yet unpretentious setting.

I’ve mostly been there for the lunch session (they are open evenings as well, for a more ‘fine dining’ experience) and every time I go I have but one thing on my mind: Chicken Gigi!

They’ve got other selections too, of course, sandwiches, salads – all of it good – but I consider the chicken-in-a-vodka sauce (with penne noodles) the establishment’s signature dish; and highly recommend it.

Excellent buns, too.

2018 Hyundai Elantra GT Sport

I do love the compact hatchbacks, my friends.

A 5-door hatch is the most useful body style for a car, especially that can be the only vehicle for a family, or even an angry loner such as myself.

The utility of the big rear door for cargo and groceries speaks for itself, and seating for up to five people is a plus; but put that together in a sporty hot-hatch body with a direct-injection gasoline turbo engine and a six-speed manual gearbox and we have a car that is actually a lot of fun in addition to practical.

Such is the case with this one – and here: check out our Youtube video of the  2018 Hyundai Elantra GT, in Sport trim.

Hyundai is pretty proud of this latest iteration of their well-received compact, and they tout it as being “all-new” for 2018

It’s not just the design of the body – and check it out, the Elantra has become progressively more attractive and aerodynamic this year, and gained a new and better-looking grille.

The company credits their new focus on ‘European styling’ for the improvements, which is where the car was developed and tested, and they also state that it is built with 53% more Advanced High Strength Steel (from their own subsidiary, Hyundai Steel, which they are extremely proud of)

That’s double the high strength steel used in the outgoing model, adding extra rigidity to the new Elantra GT’s chassis which Hyundai says further enhances noise insulation, collision safety, and the car’s driving and handling performance.

And sure, I’ll go along with that. The Elantra GT is highly maneuverable and genuinely fun to drive. The one we’re looking at here, as I say, is the Sport model, which gets Hyundai’s 1.6L turbo powerplant.

The engine has an output of 201 hp and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, which is actually more torque – available at lower rpms – than Honda’s Civic SI, but hey, we shouldn’t turn this into a horse-measuring contest here.

Sure you can get more get-up-and-go in Ford’s Focus ST or the VW Golf GTi, but really, we must stop and ask ourselves, how much power does the average driver require, for average daily use?

201 is way more than adequate, at least for any kind of legal driving, and it got me up to speed good and quick in any situation where I poured it on.

Now, you can get the GT with an automatic (a 7-speed dual clutch transmission), but for the purists, the six-speed manual is great. A short throw shifter that feels great to use, and helps bring the performance-oriented feel to daily driving.

So with a package that offers great flexibility for cargo an passenger handling, as much power the average driver is ever likely to need and a generally good looking vehicle body, its hard to pick at the 2018 GT Sport’s faults.

It isn’t even significantly expensive when compared to its major rivals (like the aforementioned Civic Si), and in fact comes in a lot lower than either the Golf or Focus hot-hatches; and I want to mention here that Hyundai has gained a lot of ground in terms or reliability and longevity; as demonstrated by the Consumer reports rating of not just this but all of their lineup.

The NRCanada fuel economy rating for the GT is 10.7L/100 km, which, while not stellar, isn’t really too bad for a turbo gasoline engine intended to be sporty and fun, and here’s the thing:

If you love the looks and the layout, but don’t need the turbo, the Elantra GT is also available with a 2.0 litre non-turbo engine and starts in the low twenties.

Our GT Sport tester moves that up a bit, with this one coming in at a Canadian MSRP of a little over 28K

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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