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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2018 BMW 440i xDrive Coupe

440i-8Ah, yes indeed, some days I get to drive around feelin’ like a bigshot.

You know you’re getting into a high-end sports machine when, after you take your position in the driver’s chair and start ‘er up, a little mechanical arm pushes out the shoulder strap of your seatbelt so it can be easily reached.

The seat bolsters cozy up on your sides (to whatever position you have set the memory seat to), and the projected heads-up display lights up in your field of view just above the hood line.

BMW offers one of the most comfortable seats I have found in any similarly high-end luxury/performance machine, with a full range of adjustment – which is great if you are a tall-and-skinny type such as myself, who enjoys the aggressive lumbar support and ability to lengthen the thigh support portion of the driver’s perch.

In fact, I would call it my favorite seat in the segment, except I think it may be tied for first place with the one found in one of the 440i’s closest home-country competitors, Mercedes’ E 400 Coupe.

(Incidentally, while the two are very similar in dimensions, the 440i is about 70mm shorter overall than the E400, but the wheelbase is longer by 50 mm).

My test vehicle is one of three of the available models under the 4-series umbrella – there is the Coupe, Cabriolet and Grand Coupé (which is a four-door, so yeah, I know, not technically a ‘coupe’, but what can I say).

A buyer can further make the choice between all-wheel drive (xDrive, in BMW parlance) and rear-wheel powertrains; and so it is that the full name of my test vehicle is 440i xDrive Coupe. Simple, no?

Additionally, this particular one is further enhanced by the addition of several option packages (which is why it tops out at over 70K).

Notably, the M performance package group, which adds not only a generous sprinkling of M-badging throughout the car, from kick plates to tailpipes, but boosts the horsepower of the 440i’s inline six-cylinder powerplant from its base rating of 320 ponies (and 330 lb.-ft. of torque) up to 355hp and 369 lb.-ft.

The takeaway here is that the 4 doesn’t lack power. Acceleration in any of the vehicle’s driving modes is quick – and I mean speeding-ticket quick; you’ll want to keep an eye on the digital speed readout on your heads up display – and incredibly smooth, as one might expect from BMW.

Handling is superb, the car’s ride is excellent, if decidedly tuned to the ‘sporty’ end of the spectrum (BMW boasts of a newly stiffened suspension in all the 4 series models, particularly the M Sport suspension) and an eight speed automatic transmission manages the power masterfully in my test car; but driving purists need not worry, the 440i can also be had with a six-speed manual gearbox.

Inside – in the front row, anyway – an occupant finds good headroom, tight everything else, but that is how it is supposed to be. The car is intended to hold you firmly (but comfortably) in place with all the necessary controls close at hand; provided you don’t mind BMW’s user-interface module (now called iDrive 6.0, which has also been made easier to work with for this latest generation).

Wrap all that up in BMW’s ever-evolving styling and you have one of the best looking two door coupes on the road. The 440i exterior is rolling sculpture from any angle, helped out by a reworked rear tail light treatment for 2018.

The interior is a coherent collection of high-end materials and a console-and-cluster layout that fans of the brand will love, but here’s the thing: you have to be a fan of the company’s design language.

That is pretty much the only major detraction for anyone considering the 440i (well, that and the price, but we’ll get to that). I showed my test car to a couple of owners of current Benz and Audi products, and their reaction was that the Beemer was a bit too austere for their tastes.

The sticker for a base 440i xDrive Coupe starts at $57,550, which is already more than I make in a week, but that won’t be the one I want.

No indeed, to get the vehicle up to the high level of comfort/ luxury/ premium-ness that I figure a buyer in this segment would require, a potential customer would have to consider the packages tacked onto this one, in order to feel like a bigshot like me.

By the time you add the enhanced Premium Package, the Driver assistance and Connectivity packages, the M Performance group and three standalone options, the car whistles past seventy grand and pulls up at $73,190

Fish Story: the 2017 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4

2017Countryman-6You know, at first I was just enjoying driving around in a Countryman test car for the sheer appearance of the thing and the attention to detail and design the manufacturer has lavished upon the interior.

FEF2

This, my friends, is Fuel Efficiency Fish

But then, I discovered Fuel Economy Fish.

A delightful cartoon sprite that lives within a submenu called “Minimalism Analyser”, and which can only be displayed when one has the vehicle set to Green mode, Fuel Economy Fish (which I am sure is not the actual name for the graphic) is a fun little metric that aims to aid a driver in achieving maximum efficiency by following some fairly simple rules for stretching one’s fuel economy.

So the takeaway here is that, yes, I spent most of my time in the vehicle trying to amuse a cartoon fish; but we’ll come back to that later.

So you know what happened, eh? I totally grabbed a photo of the Ford Escape interior here. (Fortunately, it was spotted by a real good dude and car enthusiast I met today at a small business networking hoe-down, here in Edmonton). Tragically, I have forgotten the gentleman’s name, but Bro, if you happen to read this let me know and I’ll credit you proper. Anyway, please welcome this 3/4 view in place of my original mistake. – Wade

As I am sure you know, the Countryman is the largest offering from MINI, more of a compact crossover-sized creature than the brand’s other, smaller members (which would be the Cooper, the first model reanimated when BMW bought the English company; and the expanded, five-door Clubman).

This latest generation of the Countryman has grown, being longer and wider than the previous model (it now shares its platform with parent-company BMW’s X1 crossover), and has toned down some of the more esoteric styling features within the cabin; and comes at a more competitive MSRP.

Don’t think of the Countryman in the same terms as the regular MINIs – being much taller and overall bulkier, it doesn’t bring the go-kart feel of the smaller original, nor bite into corners with the same adrenal thrill – but it works much better as a practical and useful all-round daily driver.2017Countryman-2

Four doors and big (power) hatchback that raises to expose a goodly amount of cargo space ensure its appeal as a family car; the added height make it friendlier for people of all physical abilities to get in and out of, and the newly expanded legroom in the rear seats are more welcoming for second row passengers.

A heads-up display (always a favorite for me – the digital display is comfortably within a driver’s line of vision) rises up from the dash when the Countryman is started greets you when you push the start switch, and a comfortable seat with a great range of adjustment await. I should mention, too, that with the one I used, the front passenger seat also gets the same range of adjustment, which is not always the case with a lot of vehicles.

The instrumentation and switchgear is unlike anything else in the segment, and imparts a science-fiction spacecar feel to the well-finished, sculpted dash. In addition to being interesting to look at, the controls on the center stack are pretty easy to figure out and find your way around, and I daresay a lot more intuitive and user-friendly than I usually find in many German-influenced autos.2017Countryman-3

The Harmon Kardon stereo system option (one of many packages crammed onto the loaded test car I drove) makes the interior sound as good as it looks and feels.

It isn’t intended to be a performance hotrod, of course, but the Countryman isn’t sluggish, either. A turbocharged 2.0 litre engine under the hood can deliver 189 horses and 207 lb.-ft. of torque – more than adequate to haul its bulk around, though by no means segment-leading – gets it up to speed easily (and in fact, this is one of those vehicles that you can easily accidentally get into speeding ticket territory before you even realize it).2017Countryman-5

Put it into Sport mode and the shift-logic gets more aggressive, holding gears longer and making the accelerator noticeably more responsive (the base model Countryman can be had with a manual transmission, but this one employed an eight-speed automatic).

For the most part, I found little to disdain in the vehicle, especially as well-equipped as it was, but here are a couple of dislikes – the sliding mesh cover that closes beneath the moonroof, and the door opening lever in the front row.

I like a moonroof cover that is totally opaque, like my mind, when closed my friends, and the translucent mesh of my MINI let in just a little too much glare.

The interior door handle thing, though, is maybe not a bad thing. I didn’t like the way it forced me to bend my hand into an uncomfortable crooked shape to open the door, until I realized that opening the door with my right hand was not only easier, but also maybe intentional on the part of the manufacturer.17Countryman-17

Opening the door with the right hand forces you to turn your body, ever so slightly, and what that in turn does is allow you to see more of what’s coming up beside you – so that, for example, you don’t door-whack a cyclist who happens to ride by at that exact moment – so maybe this is exactly what the engineers intended.

In the Netherlands, for example, there was a public awareness campaign that advocated right-handed door opening for this very reason.

But enough about that. Back to Fuel Efficiency Fish:

FEF

FEF approves

Fuel Efficiency Fish actually works as intended. When the display first pops up, FEF is just sort of sitting there, gawping at you quizzically with little animated eyes. But as you earn points (or stars) by driving in a practical manner – which isn’t that hard to do, really, just avoid hammering the gas/brake haphazardly, coast whenever possible and don’t unnecessarily over accelerate – the fish becomes progressively happier. He does a little flip every time you add another star to the performance graph.

It’s pretty cute, to be sure, but the thing is this: I achieved really decent mileage by doing this exercise. 4.6L/100 km is practically hybrid numbers, for gosh sakes; and almost unheard of in an AWD crossover vehicle, at least in my experience.

And finally, the price was the icing on the (fish) cake.

The MINI Countryman All4 came in a lot lower than what I had guessed when I first laid eyes on it. A base model starts at $31,990 and my test piece, loaded with option packages only pushed that to $44,880 which makes it comparable with RAV4, Sportage, Escape and several other, less cleverly styled vehicles.

Here's the complete list of options, including Fuel Efficiency Fish

Here’s the complete list of options, including Fuel Efficiency Fish

Fun with Ford

RobinsonWeb

Actual photo of Jim. Honest, a real person who actually exists.

“So what is the story here?”, are the words of Jim, my spiritual mentor and unofficial Muskoka district tour guide. A serious and dignified journalist, he has little time for the antics of one such as I, for whom the story is that I came here to have fun with some Ford product.

We started out on the shores of Lake Joseph, a peaceful setting in relative quiet among the ritzy waterfront homes and mahogany-hulled playboats of the Ontario moneyed class; at an event Ford Canada put together to showcase their sport utility lineup.

Problem was, although everything the company makes to compete in the increasingly diverse SUV world, from compact to gigantic, Ford’s two major entries for 2018 weren’t available to drive.

The new-to-North America Ecosport and latest edition Expedition were on hand, of course, artfully arranged at the hotel staging ground and looking ready for the showroom floors they will hit later this year; but I’ll have to tell you more about the actual road manners of either of them at a later date.

As it is though, here’s a glimpse of them:

2018 Ecosportby Pinpoint National Photography

This compact and cargo-friendly little hauler is likely to win friends in the teeny-weeny utility segment (don’t laugh, the small ute segment is blowing up with demand, and the Ecosport will joust with rivals like Honda’s HR-V and Toyota’s newest, the C-HR).

The Ecosport is another truly ‘global’ vehicle from Ford. It is a Fiesta platform underneath, built in India and already sold all over the world.

It will be available as either AWD or front wheel drive, with two engine options: a three-cylinder one litre, or 2.0L four-cylinder, both with automatic transmissions.by Pinpoint National Photography

Its got a funky, decent-looking interior (which improves with optional, larger LCD information screen atop the center stack) and a side-hinged tail gate to access the rear. As an aside, do you think this is coming back into vogue? I’m thinking of Honda’s redesigned Ridgeline, where they have altered the gate to be hinged on either the side or the bottom; so maybe there is a demand for this configuration.

Full specs on the machine will be available closer to its arrival, but the company promises a full list of available safety features (my favorites being blind-spot monitor and rear cross traffic sensor) and technology packages for the Ecosport; including the unusual option of a B&O 10-speaker sound system (which, if it follows the company’s other products I have seen, will be expensive and weird to operate, but sound great).by Pinpoint National Photography by Pinpoint National Photography

Ford is still being cagey with the MSRP, but you can imagine the Ecosport will be the most affordable of their sport utility lineup.

So that is the story there, my gentle friends, and I will update this with actual pricing when it arrives.

I’ll tell ya what I do know the price of, though:

The 2018 Expedition

I’ll get that out of the way right now, the newest edition of Ford’s largest multipurpose monster ute runs from $59,999 up to $89,999, depending on whether you want, XLT, Limited or Platinum trim.

Running a combination of a new, 3.5L EcoBoost six-cylinder engine and the company’s latest 10-speed automatic transmission (which we saw first on the F-150 pickup, earlier this year).

The all-new Ford Expedition is the smartest, most capable and most adaptable Expedition ever, the ultimate full-size SUV to carry families through life’s adventures.

The all-new Ford Expedition is the smartest, most capable and most adaptable Expedition ever, the ultimate full-size SUV to carry families through life’s adventures.

This is the only engine you can get the Expedition with now, but it promises huge towing capacity – Ford insists the 9,300 lbs it is rated for is best-in-class, in fact – on a vehicle whose curb weight has been lowered by over 130 kilos, due to more high-strength aluminum being used throughout the vehicle.

It gets a power boost over the previous-generation Expedition as well, now being rated at 375 hp (and 470 lb.-ft. of torque), but here’s an interesting factoid: Ford tested a Platinum trim model with 93 octane fuel (the first figures are for regular 87 octane in XLT trim) and states 400 hp and 480 lb.-ft. from that combination.

The wheelbase is 4” longer than past Expeditions, the body an inch wider, and as you might expect interior roominess and cargo space is very generous – and can be made even more so with the availability of the XL body (for fleet customers) and Expedition MAX stretched platform.18Expedition_06_HR

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

2017mx5-11

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.

EcoRun 2017

KiaNiro

Kia’s Niro, a nifty new Korean crossover that also seems to be priced right

I’d still be driving up and down Autoroute 40, just outside Quebec City, were it not for the Kia Niro.

For I am the sort of person who could get lost in a room with one door, you see – not gifted with a ‘sense of direction’, as it were – and so became more and more convinced that I was indeed lost; just as the 2017 EcoRun was entering its final leg here in la Belle Province.

Ford's Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid

Ford’s Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid

This is the second year I have participated in the EcoRun, an interesting and worthwhile event that has been running for six years now.

Listen, rather than re-write the wheel here, so to speak, I’ma just post a link to the site and also this piece from last year if you want to catch up on how the whole thing runs.

In a nutshell, though, the EcoRun is essentially a great demonstration not only of new technology and methods aimed at reducing both emissions and fuel consumption – this years lineup of vehicles included hybrids, pure electric cars and Toyota’s hydrogen fuel cell groundbreaker, the Mirai – but also a reminder that a lot of cars can yield great fuel economy just by minding your driving habits.Eco-12

You can check out the full field of entries here, and see a few gasoline-only contenders like Nissan’s Versa (two versions of it, too, manual and CVT), or Mazda’s CX-5.

It isn’t a contest with a defined winner, there is no singling out of any vehicle as being the best (and frankly that would be difficult to do, right? Comparing a Porsche Cayenne plug-in hybrid against, say, Hyundai’s new Ioniq would be complex).

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David Miller, co-chair of the 2017 AJAC EcoRun, with the whole vehicle lineup in front of the Joliette mural.

There is no real prize for the participating journalists either – who this year once again turned out to be a great group of some of my favorite people from across the country – but you can win a green t-shirt for being the most fuel-efficient of the bunch when the results are tallied.

Immediately realizing that I wouldn’t win, I intended to honor the spirit of the event; to demonstrate that any car can achieve better-than-stated fuel economy just by moderating one’s driving habits. No need to go nuts with any hyper-miling craziness, no driving down the shoulder of the road with the mirrors folded down and the A/C turned off to wring a few extra kms from the vehicle.

So I drove pretty much the way I normally do, but with perhaps more attention to not accelerating too exuberantly away from a light, sticking to the speed limit on the highway, coast wherever possible, that type of thing.

And anyway, it has always been my personal maxim that: ‘it’s not important if you win or lose, only that you do slightly better than Howard Elmer’.

The way EcoRun works is, a route from Ottawa to Quebec City was broken down into ten legs of roughly a hundred kilometers average, and at the end of each one we’d switch to another car.

CEO Louis Tremblay of AddÉnergie shows off the company's technology. They offer fast-charger station installations for homes and businesses.

CEO Louis Tremblay of AddÉnergie shows off the company’s technology. They offer fast-charger station installations for homes and businesses.

All in, I drove three hybrids, two plug-in hybrids, a diesel car and four strictly gasoline-powered vehicles. Talking with the various journos at the various stops (some pretty interesting spots, too) we all were seeing the results – pretty much every vehicle everyone used came in under the NRCan economy figures.

Even when you get lost like I do. A few of the cars didn’t have navigation systems in them, which for me is death – the organizers vastly overestimated my intelligence, and ability to read a printed route book and drive at the same time – so I took to following other members of our Eco caravan when I found myself in a Hyundai Ioniq without a nav app.

At the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres Hydrogen Research Institute for a brief overview of some of their facility!

At the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres Hydrogen Research Institute for a brief overview of some of their facility!

Except that following people never works. The guy I was tailing lost me at a light and I was on my own on Autoroute 40, right up until I noticed that someone else was following me (ha!) in the Niro, which I knew had navigation from driving it earlier.

So anyway, that solved that. Bonuses all around for everyone involved.

It’s not important if you win or lose, only that you do slightly better than Howard.

It’s not important if you win or lose, only that you do slightly better than Howard.

The takeaway lesson here, is that most any car can deliver good efficiency when driven optimally and with economy in mind. A decent showing all around, and pretty much every one of the entrants beat their stated economy.

There’s a list of the final fuel-usage tally of them all here, from a great event that continues to make its point and spread the word.

Check out the video!

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 Hyundai Ioniq

Ioniq-6You know, there are times I wish a car had a navigation system. No lie, citizen; I’m the kind of person could get lost in a room with one door, and have a poor relationship with geography, even here in my beloved home city.

Combined with my uncannily poor sense of direction it can become a problem, especially if looking for an address in the west end. Or anywhere outside the Henday ring road, frankly.

My test car, a 2017 Hyundai Ioniq, is unable to help me with my tragic, lifelong problem; for it contains no navigation module or app.Ioniq-9

And that right there is my one big problem with my test ride, pretty much everything else I really like.

The Ioniq is positioning itself to be perhaps one of the very few true rivals to Toyota’s ownership of the hybrid segment with its world-beating Prius line, and if the likeable Ioniq holds up in terms of long-term quality it’s a contender

(This nameplate is new, but Korean manufacturers have been putting on a pretty Hybrid show, lately, with well-received offerings like Kia’s Optima Hybrid)Ioniq-2

There are actually three Ioniq models. The test car I used is their straight-up hybrid (which employs a gasoline engine combined with electric motor), but Hyundai also makes an all-electric version and a plug-in hybrid, which allows the battery to be recharged via a power cord module.

My gas-electric tester is the way to go, as far as I am concerned, doing away with the range anxiety of an all-electric car and also not adding another piece of equipment to the mix with an external charger. No matter what the charge level of the battery, it is a comfort knowing that there is a 1.6L internal combustion engine to fall back on.Ioniq-1

Even without considering the science of the whole thing, though the Ioniq functions very well as just a straight-up ‘car’. Better-than-adequate power is delivered by the system (the company claims a combined output of 139hp for the hybrid), made peppier with a Sport mode for the six-speed automatic transmission.

That’s kind of a rarity in itself, eh? A regular transmission on a vehicle like this, where I am accustomed to CVTs on hybrids. And not a bargain-basement tranny, either, but a dual-clutch rig that delivers fast and appropriate shifts (and allegedly rivals a continuously variable transmission for fuel-efficiency as well).

My navigation problem aside, the Ioniq delivered a comprehensive list of inclusions inside the cabin. Heated seats with memory function (and heated steering wheel) are a great creature comfort to have, ditto the LCD screen for the information display on the center stack.

A digital speed display is one of the fields available for between-the-gauges information, always a favorite for me, in any car. The driver’s seating position is made more comfortable with a steering column that allows a better range of tilt-and-telescoping than I have found in Toyota’s Prius.Ioniq-3

In an unrelated similarity to Prius, Hyundai has also split the rear window horizontally with a crosspiece, which has the effect of compromising rear visibility; as do the fat C-pillars of the Ioniq.

This is mitigated by the car’s backup camera, rear cross-traffic detection and blind-spot information systems, though, and I frankly didn’t have any complaints about the visibility during my time in the car.

Headroom up front is good, rear seat roominess is what you would expect in a compact car (i.e., not super, but the seats fold down for additional cargo – which is how they would spend their lives if I owned the car anyway).Ioniq-5

Overall, the Ioniq delivers a genuinely nice compact car that brings great fuel economy (I averaged 4.5L/100 km during my time in it) and styling that is attractive to look at – this isn’t an ugly car, nor is the sheetmetal overly far-out to attract attention just for the sake of it.

Screen shot 2017-05-15 at 10.54.55 AMIt comes with a pricetag that isn’t alienating, either. My test model, a “Blue” trim level Hybrid model, enters at $24,299, although you can push it up over 30K at the high end if you opt for the Limited trim with Tech package.

Which is probably where my navigation system is found.Ioniq-8

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.