2017 Mazda MX-5 RF

2017MX-1Pound-for-pound, and with the top down, this is probably the most delightful and fun automobile within reach of a majority of buyers. It is an indulgence, certainly, but the Mazda MX-5 offers a sprightly and nimble two-seater that lowers a power hardtop and lets loose with some responsive and sporty performance.

At the entry-end of the lineup, there is a case to be made for bang-for-bucks value, but that is thrown off a bit by my test version – the 2017 MX-5 RF GS – which pushes the price to over 40K, but we’ll come back to that later.2017mx5-1

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The retractable top in mid-fold.

RF stands for ‘retractable fastback’, a convertible hardtop that deploys with what Mazda claims is segment-leading quickness (and it does, in fact, open and close with impressive alacrity) and is frankly a lot of fun to watch, as the roof panels fold over one another and settle at the press of the dash-mounted button.

This right here is the most attractive of the MX-5 models, and looks good whether the top is up or down; the car is a stylish piece of art that attracts comments. My test vehicle was further enhanced by an attention-grabbing paint job (“Soul Red Metallic”) that prompted a couple of random drivers to roll down their windows at stoplights to ask about the car.

My tester’s top was color-matched to the body, but there is an option to get it in a contrasting, ‘piano black’ finish. I’m not sure I’d want that, though; it looks just fine as is.

So the styling and overall design of the RF is a ‘10’, no question; and during a couple of very nice days out here on the Prairies it delivered everything it oughta – fun in the sun with the fresh air blowing through the cockpit.2017mx5-8

On that note, Mazda has done a good job of keeping wind in the cabin under control (mostly anyway, but we all know there’s going to be noise in a car like this). Informal testing with a couple of passengers confirmed that you can converse at normal volume up until about 80 kilometers and hour.

Powered by a 2.0 litre inline-four that pumps out a potential 155 horsepower (which, while not a big number by today’s standards, is way more than enough to haul a small car like this one up to speed in a hurry) and paired with a six-speed, short-throw manual transmission that just feels good to operate; the MX-5 brings the fun factor.

A rear wheel drive platform, tight-cornering with a responsive steering feel and low-to-the-ground weight distribution that loves twisty roads and sudden bursts of acceleration. A suspension that, while certainly tuned on the ‘sporty’ side of firmness, still manages not to punish the occupants when driven over bumps and imperfect road surfaces.

My GS RF tester yielded up some pretty decent full economy as well, sticking very close to the NRCan stated numbers (8.9L/100km in the city, 7.1 highway) and a very similar RF did quite well in the recent EcoRun event, with a combined mileage of 6.1.

What’s not to love?

The shortcomings are self-evident: the overall size and limited capacity of the car make it a tight fit in the passenger compartment, and if you are a taller person like myself, it feels claustrophobic with the top up (and with the roof in place, visibility is compromised from within the car).

Filled to capacity (which is two people), driver will find themselves rubbing elbows with passenger, and both will find themselves rubbing elbows with the oddly placed cupholders that jut from between the seats. The cup-traptions are removable, and you should remove them if you buy an MX-5, because why the heck would you want cups held at elbow height in a tight cabin like this?

Nor does the vehicle offer a lot of cargo capacity – although the wee trunk isn’t actually that bad, considering the overall size of the car; but this one is mostly suitable as a day-tripper that will be home by nightfall.2017mx5-2

The RF is at the top of the price chain among MX-5 models, which may choke back the value factor, but consider that the lineup starts at a 33,817, for which you get the same SkyActiv powertrain (and also manual transmission).

This one, though, a GS trim, retractable fastback with a four thousand dollar option package (the Sport package, which adds red-caliper’d Brembo brakes, 17” BBS wheels and Alcantara-trimmed Recaro sport seats) came to $43,500 before destination fees and taxes.

2017 RAV4 AWD Platinum

RAV9While it hasn’t changed outwardly in any significant way for 2017, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Toyota’s RAV4; wrapped as it is in a sterling reputation for quality and reliability (as the RAV has been pretty much since its introduction).

The body retains the cues established after the last major facelift, and after the removal of the full-size spare tire mounted on the (formerly) side-hinged tailgate of the early models the RAV4 has forgone a lot of its distinctiveness.RAV1

But although it can now be easily mistaken for any number of compact utility vehicles, it does still sport a certain character and flourish, particularly when viewed from the front.

Indeed, check out this test model’s face – doesn’t this seem like it would have been a better tie-in for the Star Wars cross promotion Nissan did earlier this year? C’mon, the RAV just looks more like a stormtrooper helmet; even more so in the ‘Galactic Aqua Mica’ paintjob unique to this package.

This is what is new for 2017: the Platinum package option for the Limited trim.

Platinum adds $1,460 to the price of the RAV4 Limited (all-wheel drive) trim level, and builds on an already pretty good set of features. Power rear lift-gate, atmospheric lighting in the footwells, and the full-body colour treatment that makes my test vehicle look so sinister at the curbside.

And of course, you get interior trim and badging that announces the Platinum-ness of the whole thing. It’s not as ostentatious as, say, the extra labeling strewn around a Dodge PowerWagon, but you won’t forget what edition of RAV you’re driving.

The interior is specific to the Platinum package as well, a black-on-black upholstery and dash surface that looks well executed and feels good under the touch.2017RAV4a

Everything else is what you would get with a plain ol’ Limited model; and that isn’t too shabby.

RAV4 runs a 2.5 litre four-cylinder engine that offers a potential 176 horsepower, paired up with Toyota’s six-speed automatic tranny (there is no manual option in Canada).

Seating for five, and acceptable headroom in the rear (though legroom isn’t great, depending on the size of who you’re putting back there) along with decent cargo space are what made the RAV4 as popular as it is – it would be hard to go wrong with using this for a one-car suburban family.

Operating everything in the cabin is easy and intuitive which is a quality I find in most Toyota vehicles, there is no head-scratching looking for things or queuing up your station list on the stereo. I like the interface on the console better than the one found in the Highlander, frankly. Better, more tactile knobs and buttons.

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This is cool and everything, but I would rather it showed me the vehicle speed.

The only thing I question in my RAV tester’s array of information options that can be called up between the main dials is the lack of a digital speedometer. While I can choose to look at a graphic display of the vehicle’s eco-performance or an oversimplified diagram of g-force and weight shift, why can’t I get a digital speedo?

Seriously, that is a function I find pretty handy in my city, where speed limits vary wildly (also, they keep changing them. Seemingly hourly). In fact, I’m not sure you can call yourself Platinum if you don’t have a digital speed display, but forcing them to brand it as the ‘Molybdenum Alloy” package would just confuse the public.2017RAV4c

Never mind me, though, if you’ve already made up mind for a RAV, it starts at an MSRP of about twenty-eight grand for a base model with front-wheel drive; but if you want to run out and buy a 2017 Limited AWD with Platinum package, it scampers up to $39,615 before freight and taxes and fees.

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WARRANTY: Basic-3 Years or 60,000km. Powertrain-5 Years or 100,000km. Corrosion Perforation-5 Years unlimited. Major Emissions- 8 Years or 130,000km.

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.

 

 

 

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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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.

First Drive: 2016 Lamborghini Huracan LP610-4 Spyder

Editor’s note: So you know what happened, eh?

The dang publication I wrote for, Autonet, folded up, and that makes me sad – mostly because all the links to their online presence have gone dead, but also because the shutdown came just days after I submitted what would turn out to be my last story for them – a Lamborghini launch!

Only time I’ve ever driven one, or sat in one outside of an auto show for that matter. I republish it here now for the enjoyment of you, my three readers, in the Auto Section at www.wozeroff.com

Huracan-9(South Beach, FLA) Well, ‘scuse me while I pwn the sky.

You know, I have always hoped that one day I would get to attend a launch of a true Supercar; and Lamborghini’s newest, the Huracan Spyder fits the bill.

A V10-powered combination of extreme styling and lightning quickness; eye-catching and track-ready with its light and low-slung body; cruising the streets of Dade County in the Italian masterpiece seems like the just the right farewell blowout for my final assignment with Autonet.

A sort of ‘last Hura’, if you can tolerate a final, delicious pun.

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CEO Stephan Winkelmann introduces the Huracan Spyder at the worldwide launch in Miami, 2016

Now, I don’t know if you are a supercar driving person in real life (heck, I’m certainly not), but the long and short of the experience is this:

610 horsepower running to all four wheels (that is what the 610-4 part of the nomenclature means, and Spyder of course indicates it is a drop-top convertible) through a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission; a fast-shifting dynamo of acceleration and high-performance steering, braking and handling that turns heads at any speed, even in the tonier neighborhoods of Miami.

I can tell you that it is as fast as you expect, exceedingly so (the company proudly states that the new Huracan will hit 100 km/h in 3.4 seconds, and I believe ‘em; and equally importantly, the car will brake from 100 to zero in 32 meters).

An exhaust note that changes noticeably as it blasts from the four tailpipes (along with the responsiveness of the 5.2 litre engine, and the feeling of weight in the steering) serenades me when I scroll through the three drive modes – ‘Strada’, ‘Sport’ and ‘Corsa’ which disables the traction and stability controls, which is scary and don’t do that – it sounds like the prestige powerhouse that it is.

It borrows a fair bit it from it family member from Audi, the R8, particularly the steering wheel layout (where the mode selector switch resides at the bottom of the wheel, and signal light switch mounted as a thumb-button) and cluster information display.

Where the Huracan (which I learned was named after a famous fighting bull, as are most of Lambo’s legendary cars) stands alone is with its unmistakable styling; which turns wind management and optimized coefficient of drag into art-gallery sculpture from nose to tail lamps.

Huracan-39You won’t confuse it for anything else, and the responses from casual observers and passersby were almost always positive. It is the kind of car that seems to make people happy just for seeing it  – primarily adolescent and arrested-adolescent boys, of course – and also elucidates a streak of competitiveness from confused people in Mustangs (for some reason Florida seems to be Mustang country, they’re everywhere here) who would rev their engines at me in an attempt to provoke a futile challenge they have no hope of winning.

An interesting feature of the Huracan is how well it rides on rough pavement. The suspension, while all about the sporty handling, deals with road surfaces with aplomb, soaking up what I know from experience would be  teeth-chattering bumps and asphalt cracks were I driving any of the 911 family.

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Photo courtesy of Lamborghini. No way I’d get nice interior shots like this.

The two-seat cabin is a cross between ‘aircraft cockpit’ and ‘spaceship’, and a bit on the tight side, especially if you put the top up (and interestingly, the top opens-or-stows in 17 seconds, and Lamborghini states that can be operated at speeds up to 50 km/h, which is a first for convertibles I have been in.

Huracan_Spyder_Interior_DriverNow, you can get faster cars, and you can get more expensive cars (the mere $289,242 pricetag of the new Bull is actually competitive against a number the Huracan’s supercompetitors, including Ford’s GT) but this one is all about the cachet – buy one of these and people will automatically assume you’re One Percent.

And incidentally, if you want to feel like a real jerk, parade your Huracan through the poor neighborhoods of Miami where people are sleeping in the streets in front of shuttered buildings; which is what I did by accident when I tried to take a shortcut around some blocked roads.

The drawbacks of the Huracan are what you’d expect – really poor visibility in all directions (especially with the top up, though even down I found the windshield header was about eye level for me) and really uncomfortable seats. I drove both seat configurations and found that after about an hour I had to stop and walk around for a while.

So there you have it; but on a personal note (and at the risk of greatly exceeding my column length and pissing off my beloved editor, Angry Angry Dan just one final time) I just want to thank the excellent Autonet team I have worked with here for the past… oh, jeez, is it fifteen years?

But most of all you, Gentle Reader, especially the (few) who enjoyed my prose; and even more so those who took the time to write – especially the ones who corrected my grammar and word use. That’s the only way I learn, right?

Now, if you’ll excuse me…Huracan-27

Wade Ozeroff 2016