EcoRun 2018!

Prologue: Good Morning New Brunswick

The EcoRun vehicle showcase wrapped up its seventh year late in June, once again demonstrating the real-world utility of a cross section of fuel-efficient cars. This was my third year participating in the event (which is staged by the Automobile journalist’s Association of Canada).

I’ll get to that pretty quick – and you can find background info on EcoRun here and here, for a rundown of what its all about – but first, can we get a shout-out for the province of New Brunswick!

Serving as the backdrop for the adventure, the beautiful province provided fine scenery and a backdrop of Maritime lifestyle for myself and the other participants as we wound our way through three cities on some beautiful roads.

This year marked the first time NB has been the staging ground for EcoRun, and it is also he first year it could have been – the event requires somewhere to plug in for the various PHEVs and all-electric vehicles that account for many of the cars used for the drive, and the province has just completed a year-long implementation of the province’s charging network.

Indeed, NB has gone from having virtually no public charging points for such vehicles to having 49 of them, including 18 level 3 chargers (level 3 are the ‘fast’ chargers, these are the ones you want if you’ll need to get up to full battery in a reasonable amount of time).

Photo courtesy John Walker/AJAC

That alone is a good reason to plan your holiday in the Atlantic province if you drive, say, a Honda Clarity or Toyota’s Prius Prime, but put it together with the hospitality and scenery and (of course) the food, and my advice is to put New Brunswick on your list of Canadian adventures.

Go ahead, learn more here.

EcoRun: Part One

The scene at Catch 22 in downtown Moncton.

We kicked things off in Moncton, where we’d landed the day before and fueled up with a dinner at Catch 22 Lobster Bar downtown; which I mention for no other reason than to say that if you are ever in downtown Moncton, eat at Catch 22. Order the lobster, of course, but really, order anything on the menu.

The next morning, Day One, the assembled auto journos and our nineteen vehicles gathered at Moncton City Hall where we were welcomed by the province’s Finance Minister, Cathy Rogers, and the city’s Mayor Dawn Arnold.

Justifiably proud of the giant strides made so quickly in modernizing the provinces electrical infrastructure, they waved the EcoRun green flag to start us on our way – nearly 600 kilometers split up into six legs of driving over the next two days awaited.

NB Finance Minister, Cathy Rogers, and Mayor Dawn Arnold, with EcoRun co-chair David Miller at Moncton City Hall. Photo by John Walker/AJAC

I started out in Ford’s Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid (and with as many vehicles as we had at the 2018 event, of course not all the participants could get seat time in all the cars, so I’ll focus mostly on the ones I drove).

The Energi is the pluggable gas-electric hybrid version of the Fusion (and this may be one of the last chances to see one, for as I’m sure you know, Ford is going to stop selling cars in North America to focus on trucks and utility vehicles). A full-size sedan boasting a roomy and comfortably appointed interior beneath some good-looking sheetmetal, I put a little over a hundred km on it en route to our first change point, a recreational family holiday spot called Snider Mountain Ranch.

Now, I won’t lie to you, me and some of other drivers kind of blew the curve for the Energi – I ended with a fuel consumption number of 4.6L/100km (which is high, for that car, a couple of the other drivers got into the low fours and one brought it down to a ridiculous 2.4L/100km)

The thing of it is, though, it wasn’t that long ago that those numbers would have been considered really good – that’s how far hybrid technology has come.

Anyway, we spent a couple of hours at Snider Mountain (where the EV and plug-in hybrids were recharged at Flo chargepoints) and then saddled up in new vehicles.

I took a run from the ranch to the City of Fredericton in Mazda’s CX-3, one of a few gasoline-only vehicles entered in the EcoRun this year. Mazda loves to make the point that even in a field of hybrids, the SkyActiv underpinnings of the vehicle can still yield very good economy.

And here’s the thing – it did. I put over a hundred km on it and beat the NRCanada rating by over a litre per hundred. Nearly all the drivers who used the CX-3 did – average economy for our event was 7.2 – versus the official rating of 8.2 from NRCan.

That’s kind of the main point of EcoRun, that virtually any vehicle can achieve better fuel economy when driven with an eye to lowering consumption. I didn’t do anything special with my driving habits in any of the cars; except maybe for sticking to the posted limits and trying to avoid hard braking and lunging starts; and I figure all the other participants did the same. AJAC strongly discourages ‘hypermiling’ techniques (i.e., driving waaay too slow) as it defeats the spirit of the event.

Anyhoo, switching cars in Fredericton I got into one of my favorite new vehicles of the year: Honda’s Clarity plug-in.

The Clarity was originally going to be present in New Brunswick with both its powertrains (it is also sold as a hydrogen fuel cell car, but apparently the FC one wasn’t able to make the event).

Clarity is a full-size family car that I will feature pretty soon right here on the world’s finest website; as it delivered some of the best fuel economy I have ever seen. No kidding, I did a week-long test of one recently where it ended up at an incredible 1.9L/100km over 360 kilometers driven.

I really have nothing but praise for the 2018 Clarity.

Here’s my room at a Delta in Moncton. The layout was very similar in other members of the chain we stayed at.

We rolled into Saint John at the end of day one and parked everything at the hotel. As a bit of trivia, all the hotels we stayed at were Delta. What I found interesting was how uniform the room layout was in all three of them. Once you get used to it, everything is exactly where you found it in the previous one, which is pretty handy when I want to locate the TV remote and flip on the Cartoon Network while I fall asleep.

EcoRun: Day Two

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

Most of St. John downtown appeared to be under construction when I rolled out the next morning, resulting in a detour where I almost immediately got lost; but fortunately was driving the Camry Hybrid from Toyota, which had an excellent navigation system.

Good thing it was a short leg to a cool little spot called the Baybreeze restaurant, where we performed another car swap. I didn’t post my best mileage in the Camry, but I want to stress it came in with an overall score of 4.8L/100 km, which beat its NRCan rating.

Mitsubishi’s latest gas-electric utility vehicle was up next – the Outlander PHEV. Once again, this new entry outperformed its FE rating overall, but I bet it could do even better. There’s a lot of tech onboard and a lot of fuel-saving, efficiency-boosting wonders within its electronic presets. Mitsubishi’s rep gave me a bit of a rundown on the basics, but you know, this tiny brain of mine…

I am hoping to get a longer-term test drive in the Outlander plugin (hopefully this summer) and I’ll let you know how it goes.

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

The best possible car to finish up the 2018 EcoRun was the Lexus. I didn’t plan it that way, it just worked out that I got the new LS500h sedan for the final run to our last destination, back in Fredericton.

It goes without saying it is a supremely luxurious auto, and after a couple days of sitting in cars for extended periods, well, give me the one with the massage seats.

The LS500h is also the only car that I beat the rest of the field in, finishing up at 6.9L/100 km, which is just over two litres per hundred better than the NRCan numbers, and even lower than the average posted by AJAC drivers at this years event (which was 8.0)

And with that, the ‘Run came to its end at the Delta Marriott in Fredericton (the nicest of the three we stayed at, imho). Now, while EcoRun isn’t run as a competition, either for the vehicles or the drivers, the group does award the Green Jersey to whomever posts the best overall fuel economy.

Just to show you that anyone can win, I won it last year; but for 2018 the prestigious t-shirt was taken home by Jim Kerr, a real good guy and long-time auto writer (and mechanic, and teacher) from Saskatoon.

But the point that EcoRun is truly making, is that this is a game anyone can win; regardless of what they drive; and with gas prices where they are, it would foolish not to play.

Photo by John Walker/AJAC

You can view the stats of all the models driven here; and once again, I exhort you to visit New Brunswick when you can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2018 Lincoln Continental Reserve

We are classy guys this time out, here at the Auto Section, wheeling around beautiful springtime Edmonton in a Lincoln Continental.

I’ve driven the company’s reworked classic a couple of times since it major reintroduction a couple of years back, and I never get tired of it. The fit, the finish, the materials used through the big beast and the general overall comfort – there isn’t much to dislike.

Except maybe the price, but we’ll get to that later.

A North American rival to popular richmobiles like BMWs 7 Series (or the latest generation E-Class from the dominant player in the market, Mercedes) the 2017 Continental brings every accoutrement and high-end touch that rich people like you and I be expecting when shopping for our limos.

This is the third opportunity I’ve had to experience the car, so I won’t rehash the whole schlemiel (here’s a longer piece  from the introduction of the Continental)

Suffice to say, it holds its own in terms of comfort, power and an overall fit and finish worthy of anything in the class.

The test car we used was a loaded Reserve trim sporting the optional 3.0L twin-turbo powerplant (the six-cylinder 3.0 adds $3000 to the bottom line) and the option packages that even cars playing the premium luxury game seem to require in order to truly deliver on their promise.

The truly excellent Revel Ultima audio system is a part of Luxury Package (as are premium LED headlamps), and I love it – this is top-flight audio reproduction right here; and the Technology Package is desirable for the active park assist and pre-collision safety suite.

For my money, though, it is the seats that make the Continental as desirable as it is. The driver’s perch in particular offers highly adjustable tailoring of the setup and seat bolstering (and of course a massage feature – test drive a Continental Reserve just to experience this, I tell ya).

The rear seat passengers don’t miss out on the massage feature in our test car, either, in fact the whole rear seat experience is overall mighty fine

On a more pedestrian note, I also benefitted more from the AWD system this time around, driving as I was in Alberta winter instead of the California sun.

Regardless of the conditions, the reinvigorated Continental rides well, shows off responsive and quick steering (and powerful acceleration, though there wasn’t much chance to appreciate the 400 horses of the three-litre six).

The upsides are pretty evident with the 2017 Continental: its comfort and overall roominess, the available tech and smooth drivetrain. This is just a wonderful car to drive, or be driven in. Plus, it sports the best-looking grille currently in the Lincoln lineup.

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Potential detractions are equally straightforward – this is a big car, with a big turning circle and overall footprint; and it is neither fuel-economical (the company rates it at 14.4L/100 km in the city with this engine, I got about mid-sixteens overall in winter conditions) – and while it competes, pricewise with similar vehicles from Audi, Merc and Lexus, I don’t think you’ll be shocked to learn that the final buy-in is correspondingly steep.

This one, starting from a jump-in point of $60,500 for the Reserve, rolled up to $75,050 with the addition of the aforementioned packages and engine, along with the standalone panoramic moonroof option.

Check out our Youtube video of the 2018 Continental!

2018 Buick Regal Drive

New profile and powertrains for the sixth generation

(Tofino, BC) I embrace any opportunity I get to visit beautiful BC, and it was a great chance when Buick rolled out to the Island for a road test in two of the company’s latest Regal sedan models.

The lineup was shy a couple of the trims this sixth generation offers – the FWD model wasn’t there, and as you may know, the wagon version of the global offering, the TourX, isn’t being sold in Canada.

What the event lacked in variety, though, it made up for in quality, as we got to finally drive the cream of the lineup, the Sportback and GS.

Two different powertrain combinations, both models rolling on Buick’s all-wheel drive platform; here’s a quick look at what was on hand:

The Sportback (‘Essence’ trim level)

You could consider this the slightly-above-entry level into Buick’s ‘attainable luxury’ world, a reasonably well equipped and appointed car that starts at an MSRP of just under 32K

Powered by a 2.0L inline-four cylinder engine capable of 250 horsepower and a sprightly 295 lb.-ft. of torque, which is put to the wheels via an 8-speed automatic transmission in the AWD version I drove (the front-wheel drive models get a 9-speed auto)

Vancouver Island provides some wonderful driving roads, with a lot of twists and turns between Nanaimo and the west coast, and a good demonstration of the car’s pavement-handling abilities. Buick’s steering has improved dramatically from what you may be expecting if you haven’t been in one of their cars for a few years.

An electronic, variable-effort power setup, it keeps the impression of smooth and easy operation while maintaining the feel of being connected with the driving experience; without the ‘floaty’ sensation that characterized the company’s cars back in the bad old days.

Response is very good, and braking backs it up with four-wheel ABS

Overall, the Sportback doesn’t lack for power (and frankly, 250 horses is more than adequate for my needs), and I doubt a buyer will regret not moving up to the larger engine of GS trim; and fuel economy from the turbo two-litre makes a case for itself, aided as it is by an auto-stop function that turns the engine off when the Regal is waiting at a light.

Fuel frugality is a worthy consideration, too, especially out here where gas was closing in on $1.40 a litre when I visited.

The price goes up when a number of desirable options are added into the mix – the Sportback Essence I drove packed on an “Experience Buick” equipment group (which brings a power moonroof, infotainment system with HD radio, and 8-speaker Bose stereo) along with a Driver Confidence package and a red metallic paintjob.

The options brought the price up to $44,480 including destination charge.

The Sportback GS AWD

This is the top-end for the Regal line, boasting the larger engine, sportier seats and a nine-speed automatic tranny.

(Pricing starts where my Sportback Essence tester left off, in the low forties).

The GS loads a six-cylinder engine into the platform, a 3.6L powerhouse with 310 horses and 282 lb.-ft. of torque on tap. The larger mill is noticeably more energetic than the four-cylinder of the Essence, especially with Sport mode engaged (there’s basically Sport and default modes, unlike a number of competitors there is no ‘Eco’ mode).

The twin-clutch nine-speed automatic makes the shifts incrementally smoother, and a more exclusive brake setup provide extra stopping power – the Regal GS gets Brembo brand front calipers on the four-wheel disk system.

It puts great seats inside the cabin, too; both driver and front seat passenger get a highly adjustable performance seat, with tailorable bolstering and seat length. Both seats are heated and ventilated, and equipped with one of my favorite features, a massage function.

(For an interesting trivia note, Buick states that these massage seats are the only ones in the industry certified by a German chiropractic organization called AGR).

As with the Essence trim, the GS improves with the available options, but the cost climbs.

The one I used was also ramped up with the Experience and Driver Confidence groups, and a block heater ($150), bringing the sticker price to $51,235 (dest. included)

All the new Regals available in Canada share the coupe-like bodystyle, the increased interior cargo space, which has been expanded dramatically for 2018. A maximum volume of 1,719 litres is available, thanks to the flat-folding rear seats (and is easier to reach with the wide-opening rear hatch lid), which blows away competitors like Toyota’s Avalon or Ford’s Fusion.

The Regal trunk is an electronic-activated affair, operated by touching the Buick badge on the rear. Odd thing is there is no manual trunk release button inside the car.

That would be one of a couple of cautions I would offer about the vehicles – that and the entry/exit to the rear seats. If you have a couple of six-footers riding up front, I found the rear seat legroom gets tight. Overhead room is okay, but the shape of the rear door opening makes the Regal tricky to get in and out of.

Ultimately, though, Buick is indeed bringing forth the attainable luxury that the enlarged and re-imagined Regal promises. Designed and built in Germany, the sixth-gen sedan is on dealer lots across the country.

But Vancouver Island is arguably the best place to drive one.

 

2018 Lexus NX300h

At Edmonton’s Aviation Museum

Hybridized and Urbanized

Winter’s never the greatest time for a hybrid vehicle to show off their superior fuel economy – everyday driving is harder work in snow, and running the heater (and heated seats and steering wheel, in this case) force the gasoline engine to be in use most of the time.

Nevertheless, I ended a week of driving with figures not too far off the stated FE (which is a combined city/highway consumption of 7.5L/100 km, I got 8.8 during a freezing cold week with a fair amount of snow) in our test subject – the 2018 NX300h.

Here’s a crossover that is riding the wave of popularity that buyers have bestowed on the small-ish utility vehicle segment, and bringing with it a Lexus level of premium build quality in addition to an economical low-emissions powertrain.

As you know, Lexus is the luxury arm of Toyota Motors, the company that has done more than anyone to bring hybrid vehicles to the masses (check back next week, when we’ll be looking at the latest version of their original marketplace gamechanger, the Prius), and in terms of size and configuration (and powertrain) you could think of the NX as being the more elite version of the company’s ultra popular RAV4.

Fitting into the Lexus utility lineup between the recently announced UX and the larger and better known RX models, the NX has been around for about four years now – long enough that it has received a bit of a refresh for the 2018 model year, though not a complete model change.

New front fascia and a sleekening of the grille and front bumpers have helped streamline its appearance on approach; and the love-it-or-hate-it ‘spindle’ grille that the vehicle shares with the rest of the Lexus lineup has been incorporated more seamlessly into the overall presentation.

The rear of the NX has had its taillights stretched a bit, the rear bumper has been lowered and widened, the exhaust tips are larger for this year and an underbody spoiler has been added.

Overall, I think the styling changes work in its favor, this is a good-looking machine that manages to stand out on the road without begging for attention in an undignified or gaudy fashion; unlike a number of ‘premium’ compact crossovers that have sprouted up in the expanding segment.

The NX is more about the occupant’s experience inside it than the overall curb appeal, although it does look sweet perched on those eighteen-inch alloy wheels.

Our test car showed off nice upholstery over comfortable seating (the leather even extended to the wrap on the steering wheel), and brought the newly enlarged information screen to the center-dash display (the display has grown three inches from previous models).

Comfort is always one of the strong points in virtually any Lexus, and our NX lived up to expectations with a fully adjustable driver’s seat, decent room overhead in the front row, power tilt-and-telescoping steering column and a heated steering wheel.

Ah, yes indeed. The Remote Touch touchpad. photo courtesy Lexus Canada

Everything is easy to reach and relatively intuitive to operate, but let us draw your attention once again to the interface, which is this touchpad thing here. I find it fiddly and imprecise, to be honest with you, and easy to overshoot the menu items I try to select.

I’ll warn you too, the NX isn’t a huge vehicle. I didn’t find the space bad, but it is noticeably tighter inside than the RX model, and likewise doesn’t offer as much cargo and second-row space.

From a driving perspective, the NX300h boasts a smooth ride and a quiet cabin (although, interestingly, the engine note is reproduced inside the cabin through the vehicle’s sound system speakers, in what the company calls ‘Active Sound Control’. Neat, eh?)

The all-wheel drive system offers a selection of preprogrammed drive modes (Sport, Eco and Normal, as with most of Lexus’ hybrids), and the electric power steering system makes the handling responsive and car-like, overall. Our test car also contained the Lexus Safety System, which brought lane-departure with steering assist.

The Hybrid gets its power from a combination of 2.5L gasoline engine mated to two electric motors, bringing enhanced fuel economy to the NX and a combined output of 194 horsepower and 152 lb.-ft. of torque.

So it isn’t exactly a sports car, but frankly I didn’t feel under-powered during my time in the NX. The transmission is a CVT, as seamless as any in the company’s lineup does a great job of everyday driving (and includes paddle shifters as well).

Lexus’ overall rep speaks for itself, the company dominates in data from consumer advocacy agencies in terms of reliability and build quality.

There’s little to dislike here, as I find with most of the company’s products, and if you find the price a bit on the ‘high’ side (which it is, let’s not lie to each other here, gentle reader),I am going to suggest cross-shopping the NX against the Toyota RAV4 hybrid (coincidentally the 2019 model was just unveiled in New York), which sports virtually the same powertrain in a more budget-conscious machine but at roughly ten grand less.

Here’s the sheet (pdf): NXh 963 – BXWV 682 EN

This one here, though, a 2018 NX300h, came to $55,300 (and that’s before freight and taxes, the full sticker was $57,471.25 CDN)

Don’t forget to check out our video of the NX on Youtube!

 

2018 Mercedes-Benz C 300 Wagon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nevertheless, that’s just me.

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

 

 

 

 

BMW X5 40e

Electrifying Bavarian Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screw these people.

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

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

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

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

 

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 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