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 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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2017 Toyota Highlander SE

The Highlander needs no introduction, Toyota’s popular crossover took over the roads and grabbed up market share beginning back in 2001, and has developed a reputation for quality and endurance that keeps customers coming back.2017Highlander-9

The shape is still familiar, although the front end has been tweaked for the new model year with the family grille; the wide-mouth trapezoid that is being bestowed on Toyota models of all sizes and types.

Still in its third generation, Highlander is much the same for 2017 as last year’s, but with a new package available – the SE option.2017Highlander-7

To be brief, the SE is a package available on the XLE (V6) trim, which gives the vehicle a sportier grille, second row reclining captain’s chairs (SE is a seven seater, Highlanders can also be bought with room for eight passengers), roof rails, ambient lighting, SE-specific paint options and 19” wheels.

The one you see here is a gasoline-powered (i.e., non hybrid) coaxing a potential 265 horsepower from its 3.5L six-cylinder engine, and sporting a new-for-2017 8-speed automatic transmission.2017Highlander-4

Blind-spot monitors and rear cross-traffic sensors are a useful part of the safety suite, as is intelligent cruise control, lane departure warning (and an active departure-assist system, which will attempt to pull the car back between the lines, presumably in case a driver isn’t paying attention).

It drove well, for a large-ish, though technically still a ‘mid-size’ crossover, with smooth steering and good stopping power from the brakes. The cabin is spacious and cargo-friendly when the third row of seats is folded down, and when the rearmost seats are righted, access to them is helped out by the sliding second row.

Comfortable enough for long drives, thanks to a driver’s seat that will accommodate a wide variety of body types, although I got a few complaints about the ride from second-row passengers.2017Highlander-2

Overall, it is easy to recommend Highlanders in any trim, just based on the vehicle’s rep and record. It is a constant favorite of Consumer Reports and other quality barometers, and yielded good fuel economy during my time in the SE – the ‘city’ portion of which was no doubt helped by the engine’s auto-stop function, which shuts it down when stopped at a light.

There are definitely a few things I would change about it, of course, should I ever become a Toyota engineer:

I don’t especially enjoy the user interface on the console, with flat buttons on either side of the information display that don’t offer a lot of ‘feedback’ when you are using them – sort of like elevator buttons, if you know what I mean. You have to look at them to see if they have responded to your touch.

The vehicle didn’t have a digital speedometer option among the choices of info to display between the dials, and the navigation app wasn’t especially space age, lacking the handy feature whereby speed limits are shown on the street map on the center display.

2017Highlander-6

You see what I mean about the cover, right? Here it is in its mounted position, where it blocks the 3rd row, and also inhibits folding the seats.

Finally, the rollup tonneau cover, which hides your goodies in the back from prying eyes isn’t easy to store when you remove it. Unlike, say, Subaru’s Forester, where a compartment has been built into the rear floor to snap the thing into to have somewhere to keep it when it’s not in use; the one in the Highlander has to sit loose on the floor. And it would have to be removed when using the third row seats, as it locks in place right in front of them.

And of course the price – Highlander comes at a premium it seems. My test model, with the $1,595 SE Package, bent the sticker all the way to $47,478 including taxes/destination charges.

 

 

 

2017 Chrysler Pacifica

I figure it was the right thing to do when Chrysler reinvented the Pacifica for 2017.17Pacifica-9

Remember the previous incarnation? Big station-wagony vehicles from the mid-2000s, when that configuration was all the rage; kind of along the lines of Ford’s long-dead Freestyle (later briefly the rebranded as the Taurus X) that didn’t exactly revolutionize the market during its existence.17Pacifica-12

This new version, though, having morphed into a more ‘minivan’ configuration by the addition of proper, sliding rear side doors is at once more practical as the family-hauling all-purposer that anything like the Pacifica is intended to be.

The new Pacifica replaces the Town & Country, Chrysler’s former luxury family van (which is, basically, a prettied up Grand Caravan with more tech toys) and holds up the high-end ambitions of its predecessor while managing to be both better looking and more exciting to drive.17Pacifica-10

Three rows of seating – with a third row that is more accessible than what you find in most of the 3-row SUVs that a lot of buyers choose over minivans – inside a quiet and comfortable interior, quality upholstery and in-car Blu ray entertainment system for the denizens of the rear rows make the Pacifica a good pick for long trips.

It offers plenty of spots for passengers to store their cups and toys and sundry gear, and USB charging ports for phones and devices; and a panoramic moonroof overhead.17Pacifica-3

The best place to be in the Pacifica, though, is up front – preferably driving. The steering is, while not exciting, competent and controlled, with an ample feel of connection to the road through the (in the case of the one I test-drove) 20” wheels and tires.

‘It is a lot of money for a minivan, or a lot minivan for the money; depending on your perspective’.

A heated steering wheel and seats – which are also ventilated, a great feature in the summertime – were appreciated during my time in the Pacifica; along with the ability to set the car up to turn both functions on automatically when the vehicle was remote-started on cold days, so as to make the first sitdown in the morning more tolerable during Edmonton winter.

I like the suspension and I like the ride; the brakes performed fine and the powertrain is ample and refined. Employing a 9-speed automatic transmission coupled to a 3.6 litre engine capable of 287 horsepower, the Pacifica has enough get-up-and go to meet most reasonable demands for power; whether off the line or at highway speeds.

The console is kept uncluttered by doing away with a stick to operate the tranny – gear selection is done through a rotary knob – and most onboard functions accessed through the big touchscreen at the top of the console.

Overall, the Pacifica of 2017 is an improved, forward-looking exercise in style and practicality that I enjoyed in most respects.17Pacifica-2

The major drawback is obvious – check the sticker. The one pictured here, which included additional optional equipment like a metallic paint job, the aforementioned entertainment package and 20” wheels and tires, trailer equipment group and hands-free power liftgate, drove the pricetag to a jaw-dropping $62,340

We will see if the Pacifica fares better in its new shape than it did in the last outing – this is a lot of money for a minivan, or a lot minivan for the money; depending on your perspective.

 

 

 

2017 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.

17E300-5

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.

17E300-3

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

 

 

On the Road: 2016 Toyota Avalon

Newly facelifted for 2016, sporting the family grille that defines Toyota’s lineup, my Avalon test car this week remains the rock solid flagship of the company.2016Avalon-34

Beneath the cosmetic appearance, the basics stay the same beneath the skin – engine, transmission, etc. carry over into the new model year, as does the borderline-luxury car feel of the passenger compartment inside the most full-sized of Toyota’s sedans.

My test vehicle, a top-line Avalon in Limited trim lacks very little in the cabin to separate it from true Premium segment cars; displaying comfortable and leathery seating surfaces, electronic creature comforts (and a suite of safety features).

2016Avalon-1It does lack a couple of things I would like to see though (specifically, my test car does not have a heated steering wheel, which makes me sad because it is freezing outside and I hate grabbing a cold wheel), but this brings me to a point:

I have this one friend who always points out that, as a spoiled media weasel, I may have become unrealistic in my expectations – I learned this when whining one day about some car that didn’t have keyless start (apparently, LOTS of people don’t have keyless start), so I don’t dare mention the lack of heated steering to him, for I will get no empathy.

That aside, my Avalon Limited (with no additional option packages) contains almost everything else one might want. Blind spot monitoring is one of the best warning and prevention systems that has come along in the recent past; a navigation app that displays both on the center console info screen and also in between the gauges over the wheel; where an animated arrow helps with turn-by-turn instructions.2016Avalon-18 2016Avalon-15

As with anything Toyota makes, all the controls are easy to understand and presented in a straightforward layout, from stereo to climate controls (and, conveniently, the climate controls are grouped separately on the center stack, so that they can be operated without going into sub-menus on the touch-screen interface).

The only feature on the vehicle that required a look at the manual was the inclusion of a wireless charger plate on the door of a center-console compartment – a clever bit of technology that will charge various phones and devices just by placing them on it, if the devices are compatible. (Incidentally, turns out none of my devices were compatible with the charger, and this is just one more thing that I can’t expect any pity from my friend over).

The Avalon rides beautifully and quietly, obviously a good highway cruiser, but thoroughly enjoyable in urban settings, too; and maintains its upscale feel with an engine that effortlessly handles acceleration with a potential 268 horsepower (and 248 lb.-ft of torque) behind the new grille; a 3.5 litre six-cylinder.

A six-speed automatic transmission is the only choice for Avalons, and handles itself well in any of the selectable drive modes (Sport, Eco or normal, depending on your preference). The car isn’t sluggish in any mode, and Sport peps it up noticeably in terms of accelerator response. It handles well in general daily operation, and brakes very well; the only real detraction, for me, is the rather ‘light’ feel calibrated into the steering.

That’s just me though, the steering is tuned to be appealing and comfortable for the broadest range of drivers (and remember: spoiled media weasel. Why, if it was up to me, everything would be as tight and instantaneously unforgiving as a high-end German sports sedan, and would of course also be heated. Don’t tell my friend).

With a cabin rivaling big-car competitors like Taurus or Impala for spaciousness (and naturally, Avalon provides the best rear-seat environment of any of Toyota’s car lineup), it is a car to be considered if you have a need for something this size; and don’t blanch at the price.

While it doesn’t push its sticker price into the big-bucks territory of the ‘true’ premium sedans of similar size, the Avalon isn’t a bargain buy, either, especially in the Limited trim of my test car.

This one, without options and before taxes, comes to $43,770 but check out your choices at Toyota.ca

Fact file
Trim level: Limited
Price as tested (before taxes): $43,770
Options on test vehicle: none
Freight: $1,660
Configuration: front-engine, front-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 3.5L 6-cylinder / 6-spd automatic
Power/torque: 268 hp/ 248 lb.-ft.
Fuel (capacity): regular (64L)
Fuel economy ratings (L/100 km): 11.4 city, 7.6 hwy
Observed fuel economy (L/100 km): 12.8 over 231 km
Warranties: 3 years/60,000 km (basic)
Competitors: Chevy Impala, Ford Taurus, Lexus ES350, Nissan Maxima

Strengths: styling, quiet interior, smooth ride

Weaknesses: expensive, needs a couple more features

Report Card (out of 10):
Fuel Economy: 5 – I was using it in some punishing temperatures, so this is not the best I could have wrung from the V6
Equipment level: 8 – all the desirable stuff, some of the more esoteric flourishes of Premium cars.
Price: 7 – pricey, especially the Limited
Styling: 8 – Great new face and pleasing lines
Comfort (front): 8 – Good seats and lateral room.
Comfort (rear): 8 – the most spacious of any Toyota sedan
Handling: 7 – light steering feel, secure braking
Performance: 7 – plenty of power from the V6
Storage: 7 – similar to most full-size sedans
Overall: 7 – A solid, big-car offering from the top of Toyota’s lineup.

 

 

2016 Nissan Sentra

Editor’s note: Since my former publication, Autonet has been shuttered, and its archive gone dark and its former links unlinked, I’ma repost some of my favorite stuff here, lest history (and, yes, the world) be deprived of some valuable Wade Ozeroffin’.

Tell you what though, you can really appreciate the contribution of my former Powerful & Cruel Editors, as they would have caught most of the grammatical errors and removed all instances of foul language, blasphemy or weird humor that didn’t work from the raw copy.

I present you now: the first drive of the 2016 Nissan Sentra

2016 Sentra-3(Orange County, CA) – and also, did you know there is also a Tomato County, CA? Cool, huh?

Well, from the look of the neighborhood around me, everyone here makes a lot more money than I do.

Bolting out of Newport Beach in the mid-model refreshed Sentra, amid a slew of luxury sleds (from, literally, everywhere – I saw some Teslas, one i8, all the 911 family and innumerable Bentleys), the bread-and-butter mainstay of Nissan’s grip on the compact segment held its own on the roads, literally as well as figuratively.

It has been a renaissance for the company over the past couple of years, with the introduction of the in-house design language they’ve branded “Energetic Flow” showing up in the flagship Maxima and the latest gen Murano; with upgraded interiors and electronics beneath distinctive exterior styling; and the Sentra carries that forward.2016 Sentra-17

The changes are many and profound, though many of my favorite ones are less visible – the CVT transmission (Xtronic, in Nissan parlance) is now into its third generation and boasts a better-still cooperation with the 1.8 litre engine in terms of smoothness of shifts and projected fuel economy – and tweaks to the suspension and steering feel have made the 2016 version a must-drive tester for anyone shopping compacts.2016 Sentra-27

(Having said that, though, let’s not cheerlead for the continuously-variable autobox too much here – I did find the CVT response a little sluggish at low speeds, most noticeably on hills; and while I didn’t get to try the Sentra’s available six-speed manual transmission, I’ll wager I would prefer it. You can choose the stickshift with S and SV trims).

The company has done its job keeping up with the ever-increasing level of consumer expectation in the compact segment (hey, remember when a anyone expected from and entry level car was a steering wheel and maybe a radio?) and equipped the Sentra with a flight of features even at the base trim.

Speaking of which, Sentras will come in three basic trims when they arrive at Canadian dealers in early spring; SL, SR and SV all of which will include leather seating surfaces, Bose audio and very good driver’s seat (six-way adjustable, with lumbar support, I might add), a radar-based blind spot information system and the company’s NissanConnect telematics system, for external device interface and connections (one of the best functions of NissanConnect is its emergency preparedness function with an automatic collision notification feature stolen vehicle locator and automatic roadside assistance notification.

Externally, you’ll still recognize the vehicle from the outside, of course, there have been tweaks to the rear end but where Nissan is especially proud is the prow – the hood, grille and fenders are new, with an emphasis on aerodynamics via the V-Motion arrangement we’ve seen on the latest Maxima and Murano (and hey, tell me if you don’t see it in the upcoming Titan pickup).

2016 Sentra-23

Front row environment in the SL trim Sentra

The cabin’s environment has been enhanced with additional sound-dampening materials and a laminated glass in the windows that brings new levels of quiet to the cockpit; especially when you roll up the windows to block out the sound of the snooty luxury cars rolling up and down the drives and highways in Orange County.

The big takeaway from this, though, is that as carbuyers on a budget are offered an ever-expanding array of up-to-date technology (and I won’t even get into the driver assistance technologies here, but by all means get yerself a test drive in one when the latest Sentra hits dealers in the spring) this car is a major contender; and is poised for conquest in a hotly competitive market.

Pricing was recently announced for the models, and runs the range of econocar affordability; with an entry level S model (with that 6-speed manual trans) starting at $15,898 and most of the lineup staying under the promised 20K; although you can work it up to $25, 998 for the full-load SL with Xtronic.

Truth is, this car isn’t actually out of place in this neighborhood at all, and could be as at home in tony Newport Beach as it could in the brutal slums of Edmonton (er, for example, heh heh, nothing against my fine town) really should be experienced.

Weird floating dog endorses new-look Ford Escape

by Wade Ozeroff

This rare, Hovering Golden Retriever brings its implied family values and inherent wholesomeness to the 2013 Ford Escape:

Oh, for gawd's sake people, the dog is fine. Quit worrying about it.

My vehicle scientists and I bred him especially for this photo – his bones are mostly made of helium. Unfortunately, the animal had to be destroyed after the picture was taken, as the AKC said its existence was a crime against Gawd and Nature.

Don’t worry, though, it was totally humane; we simply released the dog – named ‘Heliummy’, in a burst of the inspired originality for which my vehicle scientists and I are known – into a stiff breeze and he floated away.

Arooo“, he said, wistfully, before being sucked into the engine of a low-flying jet.

Infiniti JX Gets Full Marks for Brakes

By Wade Ozeroff

I’ll grant you that it isn’t very scientific; my friends, but is my practice to give any car that prevents me from hitting another car, or an animal, full marks for brake performance.

My methods wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny, of course. I employ no protractors or slide-rules; and I don’t measure stopping distances because I don’t have a stopping-distance-o-meter*

Nevertheless, I am awarding Infiniti’s JX vehicle a full 10 out of 10 for the way it prevented some Loser and it’s hapless passenger from being seriously hurt when they pulled out of my JX from behind a wall of vehicles in what could easily have become the worst decision she had ever made; in a life that has almost certainly been hallmarked by bad decision-making.

It would have been bad, too. The JX is a big vehicle, with the grill at about eye-level to the gasping passenger in the late-model Escort or what ever it was. The speed limit on that road is 60 km/h and I was doing all sixty of them when the Losermobile suddenly wheeled out in front of me from behind a wall of stopped traffic as people waited to left-turn into a shopping center parking lot.

I hopped full-force onto the brakes and the JX nose-dived sharply with tires screeching, and I looked into the terrified face of the passenger in the car, who really would have been the real loser if the event had unfolded any differently. That poor, frightened little fella would have been the “T” in T-bone, and I hope his organ-donor card is up to date if he’s going to keep riding with anyone as stupid as the driver of the Losermobile.

Anyway, the point here is the JX pulled it off, and despite being pushed into a full-on life-threatening situation, the four-wheel discs brought the ute to a full stop without a hitch, from 60 kmh to zero.

The entire situation was hopefully very useful to the driver of the Losermobile as well, as it also allowed me to demonstrate for them the Infiniti’s horn, for about ten seconds straight. Unfortunately, the vehicle’s horn doesn’t have enough decibels.

When I have to lay on the smarten-up button for the benefit of some jerkhole (because I am all about helping others, you see), I want it to be loud enough to actually change their brain structure, and make them into a Smart Person**, like you or me.

And so it is that the Infiniti’s brakes get full points from me; here at the Wade Ozeroff School of Impromptu Emergency Handling Demonstrations™.

Other successful participants in this academy have been the Porsche Cayenne and a base-model Hyundai Accent that prevented me from hitting a deer.

*I had a stopping-distance-o-meter, but my powerful and cruel editors took it away, as they felt I was using it for ‘immoral purposes’.

** This is wishful thinking. Anyone so stupid they would make a blind left-hand turn across three lanes of traffic cannot be fixed by something as simple as a car horn, and the incredible torrent of foul language I unloaded at them.