2020 Lexus UX250h

Is this the best Lexus yet?

Well, no, that would be the LC500. Ha! You see what I did there? This is me demonstrating my gift for disingenuity, my friends, by pulling the ol’ bait-and-switch. Aren’t you glad you started reading this?

No, what I should have said is: is the 2019 UX 250h the best choice in a Lexus, from the standpoints of practicality, price and all-round usefulness for real people?

And yes, is the answer to that. Yes it is.

Introduced in January of this year as the newest Lexus utility vehicle, and priced with an entry-level buy-in (or at least, entry-level by Lexus standards), the UX is at the smaller end of the ever-expanding lineup of Lexii, which runs, with nameplates in order of size, GX, LX, RX and the just-slightly-bigger than this one, the NX which we saw here on the world’s finest website last year.

It is suitably ‘right-sized’ for urban use, with a footprint similar to a family sedan; but brings the higher ground clearance (you know how I loves me some ground clearance, living as I do in the land of curbs and speedbumps), as well as being an appropriate height for ease of entry/exit.

The body style of the UX allows for decent, if not enormous, cargo capacity, oh and hey!

It’s a hybrid! At least the one we’re looking at here is, pairing a 2.0L gasoline engine with possibly the best-regarded electric motor system in the world. The system outputs 175 net horsepower and put it to the wheels (all the wheels, mind you, as it is an AWD ute) via a CVT transmission.

(I’ll just interject here, that the one we’re are looking at here is a 2019, and being as it is all-new don’t expect huge changes for the new year, but I’ll point out that Lexus appears to have boosted the horsepower slightly – to 181hp – and added a couple of connectivity features. Here’s the deets).

The UX rides beautifully (and quietly), as anyone would expect from anything from Toyota’s luxury brand, and brings solid performance. It isn’t a sport machine, of course, but it the vehicle doesn’t lack or lag. Everything is easy to get used to from a driver’s standpoint, but where the new hybrid captures attention is the quality and feel of all the materials and surfaces.

It is quite a fashion statement, as well – check out the eye-catching upholstery. ‘Circuit Red’ leather adorns the seats contrasting with the black/dark dash treatment and futuristic look of the digital gauge cluster.

My test vehicle fleshed out the trappings with an F Sport 2 option group (and no, I don’t know what the F Sport 1 group might be). The option tacks another $8,800 to the bottom line, but truly finishes the package with everything one needs to call it a true luxury ride.

Among the major inclusions are a 3-Spoke F Sport steering wheel, (and for that matter, F Sport badges all over everything, everywhere), 8-speaker Enform 2.0 premium sound system, embedded navigation with three years of map updates included, a larger central information display (10.3”) parking assist, heated and ventilated front seats, smartphone charger and power tailgate.

The only downsides with the 2019 UX250h might be its overall size, but as mentioned, if you need a bigger premium utility vehicle, Lexus has a houseful of choices. There’s also the central interface touch-pad thing, which… well… you either like it or you don’t. Lexus gets a little better with their touchpad with every new generation of their vehicles, and at least the one in my test model now includes some buttons and a thumb-wheel for tuning the stereo.

The price is going to be a driver of sales for this vehicle as well. Don’t get me wrong, Lexus is never ‘cheap’ (in fact, if I were shopping for a ute like this, I’d probably opt for a fully-loaded RAV4 Hybrid, because money), but by premium-brand standards, this is not outrageous.

Starting at $39,700 for a base model, the one shown here, with F Sport 2 option package, came out at $50,697 and twenty-five cents, including freight and A/C charges and tire levy.

So, best Lexus yet? Maybe.



2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid


Gimme hybrids all day long, that’s my new motto.

That is my maxim, my mantra, my short, pithy statement expressing a general truth or rule of conduct, my thing-that-I-say.

Not just because of the lower tailpipe emissions and overall level of quietness, but of course because I don’t have to jump to the gas-pumps as often, to refuel.

Thus it is that I love the latest of Toyota’s hybrid lineup to make it over to Canada – the 2020 Corolla. (It is interesting to note, too, that the company has a really huge variety of hybrid powertrain vehicles available in overseas markets, from minivans to subcompacts like this cool Yaris I drove in the Netherlands back in 2015).

The gas/electric Corolla combines a 1.8L engine with the nickel-metal hydride battery pack that forms Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive system, adding two electric motors to the mix. Combined output from the system is rated at 121 hp and 105 lb.-ft. of torque.

The transmission is a two-speed CVT, and the Corolla brings the fairly industry-standard drive mode choices of Eco, Sport and (default) Normal, along with the ability to run it under purely electric power (for short distances). The car will also switch into pure EV mode even at pretty decent speeds when the system senses it can get by that way.

Another interesting feature unique the Hybrid version is that 15-inch wheels are standard issue on the car. While this may not attract attention they way larger wheels found on some of the competition, consider it from a cost-of-ownership perspective – i.e., fifteen-inch tires are going to be less expensive to replace than a set of 17” low-profile rubber.

The whole Corolla platform has been updated for 2020, now running on the company’s Global Architecture platform, and the Hybrid benefits from all of that, but rather than bore you with a litany about the updates, I’ll just post this link straight to the horse’s mouth, so to speak. After all, Mindful Reader, you don’t come to wozeroff.com to see a retyped press release, you come here for a drawing of a pregnant walrus. We’ll get to that later.

Suffice to say, the vehicle is easy to get used to and easy to get comfortable in. The upgraded interior of my test car gave me ‘Softex’ leather seating surfaces and a heated steering wheel, Apple CarPlay and an 8-way adjustable power driver’s seat.

The Corolla handles very well for its segment, steering feel and brake response were very good, and I never felt I lacked power, despite the relatively low horse-and-torque figures. Putting it in Sport mode when I wanted all the available power boosted the accelerator response noticeably, and the little sedan now looks as good as it should, thanks to an exterior makeover that finally sees Corolla getting a better appearance from all angles, and a lowered stance for curb appeal.

The real takeaway from my time in the car, however, is here:

Yes, that’s right. I actually beat the company’s stated fuel economy figure (which is 4.4L/100km) in combined city/hwy driving, and I wasn’t trying particularly hard; although I did predominantly use it Eco mode, for a week of (mostly) city driving.

So overall, it’s all good, right? Well, sure, but with a couple of caveats:

Obviously, it isn’t a sports car. Performance is quite acceptable, but if you’re looking for adrenalin-filled thrills, you need to look elsewhere.

Also – and again, obviously – this is compact car. The rear seats are best for smaller people (although I must note that the Corolla rear seats have more head and legroom than the Honda Civic sedan, and more legroom than a Kia Forte).

I had no issue with room and space in the front seats, and I am 6’2” and roughly 190 lbs (of solid, rippling muscle), but if you have been – how shall I say this – blessed with the physique of a pregnant walrus, you’d be better advised to consider something larger.

A Hyundai Palisade, perhaps. If you’re googling that, remember that ‘Palisade’ has only one L in the name.

Oh, and the overall quiet of the vehicle is something to be aware of. Particularly when you’re running in purely electric mode, the Corolla Hybrid makes almost no sound; and it is important to be conscious that pedestrians and cyclists can’t hear you coming up behind them.

Heck, you could sneak up on a dog with this car in EV mode.

That’s about it for ‘cons’ though, even the price isn’t going to scare anyone. The vehicle starts at $24,790 for a base model, and the one used to for my story here added two grand for a Premium Package option, which brought things like the heated, leather steering wheel, 8-way power driver’s seat, heated rear seats, leather seating and wireless smartphone charging and still only came to $28,566 (including freight and PDI).



2020 Hyundai Palisade

Damn, what is UP with me and tailgaters lately?

For it seems like every time I turn around, there’s some Goober cleaved to my bumper limpet-style, so close that I can see the fillings in their gappy little teeth in the rear-view mirror.

I should stress, too, that it is a different Goober each time, not like just one guy who has made it his mission to follow me too closely.

I have a theory, though (and not just my usual ‘people in this city don’t know how to drive’ rant) I figure that it is likely they were trying to read the name off the back of my vehicle. Perhaps, like me, they were thinking:

“Geez, is THAT how you spell Palisade?” Because I have been visualizing the word with two L’s all my life. Don’t know why.

Ah, but I have buried the lede long enough now, eh, Gentle Reader? Because as I’m sure you may have already figured, the subject of this week’s test drive here at the Auto Section is: the 2020 Hyundai Palisade.

The Palisade is the Korean manufacturer’s newest flagship vehicle (although really, the company is starting to sport a whole lineup of products that could be considered ‘flagship vehicles’, with head-turning looks or performance or technology – heck, they could call anything from the Veloster N to the Nexo to the also-all-new 2020 Venue their flagship and get full buy-in from me)

Anyway, the basics are these: Palisade is a mid-size sport utility vehicle – although it is on the ‘larger’ end of the mid-size range, to be sure – that will hold up to eight people in a roomy and comfortable interior, and keep the driver, in particular, engaged and informed with a suite of convenience and high-tech accoutrements.

The Palisade also seems to be positioning itself to out-do a few rival manufacturers at the own game, in some ways. Witness the shifter; a strip of push-buttons reminiscent of several Honda/Acura products (an they’ve also cribbed one of Honda’s best innovations, a side camera, but they have outdone them by having the cameras on both side of the Palisade). The company is also ready to challenge BMW to a friendly game of Big Ostentatious Grilles, too – check out the face on this thing!

A well-appointed interior, surfaced in Nappa leather, in the case of my test vehicle (which came to me in the ‘Luxury’ trim level, which is kind of in the middle of the lineup, neither base nor top-end) offered excellent room and overhead space for up to eight people, or massive cargo capacity if the seats were folded down.

Hyundai has made the folding of the seats pretty easy, too. The second row is a one-touch flipdown, and the third row is power operated.

From the driver’s standpoint, this is one of Hyundai’s finest efforts yet. Fully adjustable and comfortable seat, facing a heads-up speed display, with good visibility all around, augmented by the blind-view cameras on either side (all the better to view the tailgating goobers with, I suppose) a 10.25-inch touchscreen on the console and big, all-digital instrument cluster with various options for info mode display.

A responsive and capable 3.8L V6 under the hood, with 291hp and 262 lb.-ft. of torque on tap and Hyundai’s HTRAC four-wheel drive system leave you feeling confident in any situation. My Palisade’s driver-selectable terrain modes offered some factory-tuned configurations of the engine/drivetrain combo dialed in for Snow, Mud and Sand.

It competes in the segment against rivals like Highlander, Explorer, Pathfinder, Honda Pilot and Kia’s Telluride (as you know, Kia is Hyundai’s sister company and Telluride is virtually the same vehicle, though Palisade is slightly shorter and narrower) Palisade will match any competitive offerings feature-for-feature, and beats a lot of the field when it comes down to pricing. I’ve seen vehicles with a lot less included, for a much higher price.

The one used here is a not-quite top of the line “Luxury” trim level, configured for 8 passengers, with AWD and wired for trailer towing, and as far as I’m concerned, a fully complete package as is, with no options; came with a sticker price of $52,104 Canadian bucks, including freight charge.

And remember the most important thing we’ve learned today – there is only one L in Palisade, and tailgating is just bad manners.



2020 BMW M340i xDrive

So I’m out driving around in an M340i when suddenly, a robotic voice coming through the speakers starts asking what I want, something to the effect of “Say a command, or choose from these categories…”

This can be pretty weird if you aren’t used to voice-activation, but looking at the big info-screen on the center console I can see that the system is offering me a series of choices – except that I don’t actually want it to do anything, so I say “cancel!”, because that usually works in these situations.

My artificial co-pilot replies in a monotone: “Current. Weather” and displays this:

Now, maybe it is my thick Etruscan accent, but I get this kind of miscommunication a lot with voice command systems; which is why I don’t really like them all that much.

(Oh, and the reason the voice started up in the first place was because there is a button on the steering wheel that activates the whole voice-communication thing, and it is really easy to accidentally hit it with your thumb. Trust me, I did it several times while driving the car).

I’ll tell you what I do like, though: the 2020 M340i from BMW.

Part of the seventh generation of the company’s mainstay 3 Series, the one we’re looking at here is the first of the 3s to get the M Performance treatment, promising to kick the car up (yet another) notch.

The most obvious upgrade is to the powertrain, with the M340 getting a new version of the six-cylinder engine, a wonderfully smooth 3.0 litre twin-turbo monster that promises 382 horsepower and 369 lb.-ft. of torque and puts it to the wheels (all the wheels, in the case of my test car) through BMW’s intelligent all-wheel drive system.

Depending on the drive mode selected, the xDrive system increasingly sends more power to the rear wheels, and when you’ve selected the more ‘dynamic’ modes (Sport or Sport+) the system will put it even more when it detects a driver steering hard into a corner.

Honestly, I have never had any complaints about power or handling in any 3 Series I have driven, but the M Performance model boasts improvements to what was already a great driving experience through a model-specific rear differential, and chassis and suspension tuning.

The transmission is an 8-speed Steptronic, which is equally quick and smart – in fact, an interesting thing that BMW points out is that this transmission works with both the car’s ‘intelligent connectivity’ system as well as the radar sensors from the Cruise Control equipment – essentially to allow maximum performance, safely, by determining what it thinks the driver is doing in situations involving either other traffic on the road or when cornering. The company explains it as avoiding unnecessary downshifts, or in other cases, employing earlier downshifts when approaching an obstacle.

Clever stuff, all of it, and perhaps my one regret is not using the transmissions Launch Control function (which optimizes traction control when you’re blasting off from a standing start, to keep the M340 in a straight line). I just figured there would be no point in unnecessarily scrubbing extra rubber off the tires, just to amuse myself; so I’ll take Bimmer’s word for it when they say that it can catapult the car from 0-100 km in 4.4 seconds.

Anyway, a first-rate driving experience is guaranteed with the M340i and not only when you’re driving hard, but even just from sitting in the cabin using the car as a regular ol’ daily driver.

Inside the redesigned cabin (the company loves to refer to their ‘design language’ regarding the interior styling) is a new-look dash and console, featuring the bright and enlarged information screen and ultramodern lines. The digital instrument cluster behind the wheel is likewise new for 2020 and can be tailored to display a variety of information.

BMW says the cabin has had more space carved out for passengers, and indeed I found the car generously roomy up front, very good overhead room and shoulder space; and not too bad in the rear seats. I will venture, though, that the rear might feel less generous if it were filled to its max (3-person) capacity.

All the surfaces in my test vehicle felt great to the touch, with component materials having been upgraded from the previous generation. This particular 3 series also benefitted from an option package that clad the dash in ‘Walknappa’ leather, and all the seats were wrapped in cognac-colored Vernasca leather surfaces.

A Harmon/Kardon sound system provided the ambient background to an elegant driving experience from within the cockpit.

So the inside’s great, and the outside, well it is also pure BMW.

By now I am sure everybody’s joked about the company making the twin-kidney grille larger and larger every year, and the front of my M340i carried on this tradition (although they go as nuts on enlargement as they have done with some of their SUV models). The mesh inserts on the car pictured here replace the more common vertical slats I am used to seeing.

The appearance of the car has been made more aggressive, sweeping from the attention-getting grille with contour lines on the hood that lead the observer’s eye from front to rear, down new rooflines and culminating in trapezoidal tailpipe trim.

You have to love a car that looks like it’s moving even when parked, and this one doesn’t disappoint.

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So heck, I’d say sure, run out and buy one, but let’s not overlook a couple of factors here – there is the price of course, and also as you may have figured, that premium-drinking turbo 3.0L engine isn’t the most fuel-economical powerplant but there is also the low ground and curb clearance of the car.

Fortunately the vehicle has a lot of sensors (and a very cool overhead-view display that helps a lot when parking), but that won’t save you if you have a lot of those really aggressive speed bumps in your city. Indeed, for my city, a utility vehicle like the X5 would probably be the more practical choice.

Ah, but practicality is not what we’re all about here. This vehicle is all about high style and luxurious elegance (and telling you the current weather trends, whether you want it to or not), and that can be had starting in the low 60K range.

The test car pictured here pushed that up with the addition of the Premium Excellence option package (which added $8,300), Tanzanite Blue metallic paint ($1,450) and adaptive M suspension ($600), all of which is quite desirable. Tack on a destination charge ($2,245) and it comes out to $74,445


2019 Honda Insight

The Insight, one of the original pioneers of hybrid technology, is back again with a third generation.

Honda keeps the Insight nameplate alive, constantly reviving it in new bodies, although he car hasn’t really been visually distinct since the memorable first wave of them that debuted in the late 90s. Remember those? An eclectic little two-door hatchback with covered rear wheel wells (a styling cue that can still be found on the company’s Clarity PHEV) that grabbed attention.

And then it went away for a while before returning for a second generation where, in a peculiar design choice, it was almost identical to Toyota’s Prius, which was at the time the unquestioned champion of hybrid passenger cars. I remember being at the North American launch of the second-gen Insight, and when they unveiled it we of the press all said in unison: “Um, that’s a Prius, dudes”, to which Honda’s engineering team responded “No it isn’t! No it isn’t! It’s totally unique bla bla bla”, which convinced almost no one.

Now the badge is back, as is Honda’s underlying technology – a combination of gas engine and two electric motors – but this time dressed in the body of a Civic.

Because, seriously, that is basically what it is, it is a Civic with a hybrid powertrain. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you, Civic is one of the most well-known and highly regarded compacts in the world; so if you’re going to look like something it may as well be that.

And here is where I’ll point out that this is, in my opinion, a darn good-looking car.

With dimensions and volumes that are identical to Civic (the sedan version of the Civic, that is, not the cool new hatchback configuration that is also available) and a sticker price that isn’t too much of a premium (especially if you live somewhere that offers incentives for buying a hybrid) this may be the Insight that finally grabs a bigger market share; because the thing is, there isn’t much to dislike about this car.

The Insight I drove recently was a Touring trim (so, the top of the line), and loaded up the car with all the tech and driver assistance that Honda can pile on:

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Most of it is accessed through the touchscreen on the center console (and, now that the company has gone back to at least including a knob for volume control, it isn’t hard to learn to like the interface).

A basic suite of apps lets you get to the settings for phone connection, Bluetooth and navigation, and the screen is also where the side mirror camera’s image is displayed.

This is one of my favorite features in any Honda product that includes it (not all models do), a rear-facing camera in the side mirror that comes on automatically when you signal a right turn (or when you activate it with the button on the stalk on the steering wheel) that shows a driver what is right beside them – a cyclist, for example.

The Insight uses a 1.5L gasoline engine mated to the hybrid drive’s electric motor, pumping a potential 151 horsepower and 197 lb.-ft. of torque.

Honda says fuel economy will average 4.6L/100 km in city driving (and 5.4L on the highway). I came in a little over that, but still well within ‘good’ economy territory.

The Insight offers the usual choices of drive modes found on a lot of hybrid cars – you’ve got Sport, Econ and full electric (EV). I’ll mention, too, that Sport mode isn’t just an afterthought on the Insight; it really does give the car some jam.

But with me being something of a skinflint, I ran it in Econ mode for most of my time with the car, and you know what? For everyday, regular ol’ daily driving, Econ is fine. I never felt underpowered with it, and any time I was concerned about needing some extra oomph for a quick merge, I’d just jab the Sport button for additional acceleration.

Steering, handling and braking were likewise fine. Better than average, I would say.

Combine this with a genuinely nice interior, a black-on-black motif in the case of the vehicle I used, and the Insight is a solid package for a compact family sedan.

The price, well tell me what you think. Granted this one here is Touring trim, feature packed and with no additional option packages, but it tipped the scales at $34,245 (that’s including freight and tax)

Insight has also got some serious competition coming down the pike, both from the segment-dominating Prius family.

Oh, and Toyota’s newest entry, the Corolla Hybrid, which we’ll be checking out next – but spoiler alert: it came in nearly 5K cheaper.









2020 Hyundai Veloster N

Okay, this is certainly the most exciting Hyundai product I have driven to date. A performance hatchback, a super-souped up version of the company’s distinctive, slightly weird three-door compact, this right here is the 2020 Veloster N

(Listen, I’m going to try to not use the term ‘hot hatch’ here, not because it isn’t appropriate, but because that phrase has been sputtered out by literally everyone else who has driven it and now it is overused).

Hyundai has pulled off a real achievement here, not only creating a track-ready car with genuine fun factor, but doing so at a competitive price.

Starting with the biggest difference between the N and the regular ol’ Veloster, this one gets Hyundai’s turbocharged ‘Theta’ 2.0L engine under the hood, pumping 275 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque (or, 74 more horses than the 1.6L turbo available in regular Veloster models, and 128 more ponies than the base model two litre).

A six-speed manual transmission is the way to go with a car like this, and the stick in my test car did the job magnificently, short throws and the gates exactly where they should be (that’s my way of saying I never ‘missed’ a shift in my time with the car) paired with a clutch that is, likewise, easy to get used to.

The N model gets exterior cosmetic enhancements to differentiate it, most notably the grille and bigger wheels (19 inch, with low-profile tires which I can only assume would be pricey to replace after you’ve burned all the rubber off driving in the performance modes). The Veloster N body is also slightly longer, end-to-end, and slightly (10mm) wider.

It gets better front seats, too. Strap yourself into the sport-oriented, comfortably-but-firmly bolstered driver’s position (with the cool blue seatbelt) and hit the keyless start button and the fun begins.

There’s the standard, driver-selectable modes that we find in a number of vehicles (Normal/Eco/Sport), but behind the prominent N button on the steering wheel, this Veloster offers a bunch of user-customizable features (as well as a default N Mode, where the manufacturer has built a package of suspension stiffness, accelerator response and steering wheel ‘weight’ that, frankly, is pretty much perfect).

As you may imagine, N Mode is what people will buy this car for, and it really delivers on its promise. The suspension tightens up noticeably, the exhaust note changes to a suitably throaty growl, and the handling and cornering ability of the car (and full and instantaneous torque response) come out in full display.

Indeed, I wish I’d had some track time during my experience with the Veloster N, but even just keeping it within the posted limits and only doing the fun stuff in safe areas with no one around, this car is a hoot to drive.

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And even when you keep it in Comfort or Eco modes and just treat it as an A to B conveyance, the balanced feel of the low-slung body remains.

The interior is comfortable enough, once you get in (which in my case, was a case of folding myself up and doing a sort of backwards half-somersault while swing my knees under the steering wheel) but once inside there is good room overhead in the front seats.

Everything is pleasant enough to look at, and feels good (as you should expect from the price tag, though, you’ll find cloth upholstery and an array of plastic surfaces), and a relatively small suite of electronic/infotainment googaws.

Operated by a touchscreen (and supplemented with steering-mounted buttons), the N includes things like Android and Apple CarPlay mobile integration, Bluetooth connectivity, and a surround sound stereo system with 8 speakers.

But there are a number of things my test car didn’t include (and aren’t offered), and herein lies my main problems with the Veloster N

There was, for example, no navigation system.

The car had no front parking sensors, either, which can and will be a problem with a low-to-the-ground car with a fairly long overhang of the front end, just begging to play everyone’s favorite game: Meet the Curb.

It also lacked rear cross-traffic alert (one of my absolute fave safety features in any car) nor did it have a blind spot monitor system (and you can’t get them on the Veloster N, either, although it does come with regular Velosters). The lack of blind spot warning thing in particular gets up my nose, because rearward and over-the-shoulder visibility in this car is not as good as I’d like it to be.

And also, with heaven as my witness, I don’t like the rear seats.

It’s not just that they’re small, and there isn’t a lot of headroom (though all the passengers I had in the car during my time n it felt that legroom was pretty good), no, what bugs me is the whole ‘three doors’ thing.

The rear seat passenger on the driver’s side, has no door beside them, and that makes me feel claustrophobic as hell. I mean, let’s think the unthinkable here and pretend that you’re that passenger and there’s a rollover or something, and you find yourself trapped in the back seat with an immobilized fat guy beside you, blocking the only way out. Scary, yes?

Anyway, pretend I never said that. The main takeaway here is that if you like the regular Veloster, you’ll love the Veloster N. And the best part: the price.

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Coming in at $34,999 (with another $1,705 freight charge), this is one of the best price-per-horsepower cars around.

2019 Honda Passport

Okay, the Passport is touted as all-new for 2019, but let’s start with the question that I (and everyone else I showed the Touring-trim test vehicle to during my time in it) asks:

What’s the difference between this and Honda’s other, very similar vehicle, the Pilot?

Because at a glance, they look a lot alike to my eye, both are pretty much the same size (and use the same engine, and depending on the trim level, the same transmission) and be honest, they look alike. In fact, I would cavalierly say that you could just just think of it as a Pilot without the third row of seats, but that wouldn’t be quite correct.

Both vehicles use the same engine, a 3.5L six-cylinder that promises a capable 280 horsepower (and 262 lb.-ft. of torque), and a nine-speed automatic transmission (at least in the case of the Touring trim models, which was the case with test car; and both can be had with all-wheel drive.

The Passport, is slightly shorter, end-to-end, and also slightly wider and taller on a wheelbase that is almost the same (it is three whole millimetres shorter with the Passport). Oddly, despite this, the Passport’s turning radius is greater than the Pilot. Oh, and Passport has more second row legroom, owing to not having a third row squeezed in behind it.

This fine by me, and possibly for most potential customers, as I don’t need or use the third row in any vehicle I test, and the seats get folded down to make for more cargo space – which the Passport offers plenty of, boasting an interior cargo volume of 1,430 litres.

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So there’s that. Mostly though, it dishes out a Honda-level utility vehicle experience and brings its AWD platform and ground clearance to the real world where I recently drove one around for a week.

As I always enjoy mentioning, my city is fraught with potholes and uneven road surfaces, and in the summer we love to compound that by tearing up all the streets and major thoroughfares at once; in order to provide the residents with a delightful challenge – hence the desirability of an SUV or crossover vehicle.

I actually beat the NRCan fuel economy projection (11.3L/100km) after a week in the Passport, running it in Eco mode most of the time.

It handles all the bumps very well (including those ruthless extra-large speed bumps they put in quiet, children-infested neighbourhoods, those really tall ones that’ll rip your underside off if you’re driving a low-slung sports car) and a pretty capable suspension smoothed the ride and kept everything comfortable inside the cabin in both rows.

Some credit for Passport’s bump absorption must go to the seats. Well padded affairs, wrapped in leather upholstery and fairly roomy for people of almost any size, they are comfortable in either row and the driver’s perch offers a good range of adjustment.

Fire it up via push-button start, and appreciate the clean look of the instrument cluster – easy to read with all the major gauges obvious and use. The steering wheel houses a number of buttons, which you may also appreciate, as you may be using the steering-mounted controls more than the touchscreen interface (because the touchscreen has almost no buttons – although Honda at least brought the on/off/volume control knob back). You know what I figure it could use, is a central control knob on the centre console, such as you’d find in Mazda’s products.

Meh, I’m not sure I can fall in love with this.

What you do find on the centre console is the gear selector, which is the ‘strip-of-buttons’ arrangement found on most Honda (and Acura) vehicles. I have never really liked this thing, although really, it doesn’t offend anything but my dinosaurian sensibilities, which demand a proper shifter.

Boiling it all down, the Passport is an option for people who like the Pilot for its overall size and capabilities, but don’t need to stuff up to eight people into it. It also comes with a sticker price a few grand less than Pilot: the model I drove, Touring trim, came to $50,911.25 including freight and PDI

And, for those who like the size and configuration, but don’t care for Honda’s interface and controls, check out competitors like Toyota’s Highlander, the Kia Sorento or Hyundai’s Santa Fe (among many others, of course. This is a crowded segment, gentle shopper, with lots of choices available).

Mazda3 tackles 2019

2019 Mazda3 GT Sport, AWD

This is one of those vehicles that I never hesitate to recommend to anyone looking for a compact car, and Mazda has expanded the choices for 2019 with the introduction of an all-wheel drive option for their likeable sedan (or hatchback).

I love a mainstream family car with some curb-appeal on the outside, and enough attention to comfort and technology in the cabin that it never feels like the only reason for buying it is sheer value-for-money.

2019 Mazda3 GT sedan, front wheel drive

Indeed, the Mazda3 feels and looks and drives like a much more expensive car than it is, and is one of those marques that has moved the bar for all manufacturers by showing how well it can be done.

Having had the chance to get into a one of each earlier this summer, both in the top-line GT trim (so, you know, with more leather and a higher price tag than the entry-level) and came away impressed. In fact, picking a favourite mainly revolves around how much you feel you need the AWD drivetrain.

Otherwise, what you get in either package (the AWD is the red Sport hatchback in the photos, the grey sedan is the regular front-wheel drive) is a welcoming interior with comfortable seats and an array of controls that manage to remain easy-to-use while looking suitably high-tech and 21st century.

Here are the common stats for both these vehicles:

• 2.5L 4-cylinder engine (with cylinder deactivation)
• 186 horsepower, 186 lb.-ft. Torque
• 6-speed automatic transmission
• Heated seats, heads-up display, blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert and backup camera
• 8.8 inch information display
The Sport hatchback is about 65kg heavier, owing to the AWD system

Hopping into either model, I’m greeted by a heads-up display (or ‘Active driving Display’ as Mazda bills it), a little cooler hologram projected on the windshield just above the steering wheel. This is a great feature in any vehicle, for keeping important information – like the vehicle’s speed, for I live in the land of radar traps – right in front of you.

Firing the car up with the keyless start button, and the SkyActiv 4-cylinder engine shows off… well, let’s not call it a ‘sporty’ engine note, but a pleasant one; and also a quiet engine, which I like.

I didn’t find a big difference between the Sport AWD and the front-wheel drive sedans steering and handling (although the Sport is heavier), and frankly I doubt most drivers would, unless you jump from one model to the other back-to-back. For a mainstream family car, the steering feel is very good indeed, bringing a more tight and connected sensation with little ‘play’ in the wheel and just heavy enough that there’s enough feedback through the wheel to keep a driver engaged.

A lot of this is due to Mazda’s SkyActiv powertrain and the incorporation of the company’s G-vectoring Control system; which they tout as a grand enhancement to the car’s overall stability. Heck, I’ll just quote directly from their press kit, as I wouldn’t want to get the wording wrong:

“GVC maximizes tire performance by focusing on the vertical load
on the tires. The moment the driver starts to turn the steering wheel, GVC controls engine drive torque to generate a deceleration G-force, thereby shifting load to the front wheels. This increases front-wheel tire grip, enhancing the vehicle’s turn-in responsiveness”.

And, well, I have no reason to doubt them – the handling is very good, and twisting and cornering in the car is genuinely fun.

Inside the cabin, in either of the models I drove (both GT trim level) the driver gets the best seat in the cabin – a ten-way adjustable power affair with excellent lumbar support in my test cars, thanks to the inclusion of the Premium Package option (which also gave it the heads-up display). This $2500 package also includes rear crossing brake support and parking sensors, rear parking sensors and a traffic sign recognition system; all in all a pretty good addition to the car.

All the seats are quite good throughout, passengers aren’t punished by either the seating or the ride, and cabin quiet has been further bolstered by seals and damping, and sound insulation. All the better to listen to the Bose sound system, I suppose.

As for fuel efficiency, well it goes without saying that the AWD models consume more gas that the front-drive ones, but frankly not that much more.

The NRCan numbers for the Sport are 8.2L/100 km (combined), and the Fwd sedan is rated at 8.0L, but here’s an interesting anecdote for you: when Mazda entered both models in this year’s EcoRun competition, each of them achieved some pretty astounding results (which you can see here, alongside a number of other entrants), with an incredible 5.4 and 5.7L/100km, respectively.

Styling is one of the key selling points for the entire Mazda lineup as well – the company has really got their game on (finally, after a few years of that odd ’smiley face’ grille they were doing). Front-to-back, the 2019 Mazda3s rule the segment, I like their looks better than most of the competition.

The only thing I’m going to bring up is the new, fattened C-pillar on the hatchback model, which I don’t especially care for, both aesthetically and from a rear visibility standpoint. Now obviously, things like the blindspot monitor and rear traffic detection help make up for the compromised sightlines, but I am one of those old people who still enjoys things like shoulder-checking and, y’know, looking around.

All in all, it comes down to whether you prefer a hatch or a sedan, and AWD or front-drive. Speaking for myself, I’ve always liked a five-door body, but there is a decent trunk on the sedan, so you tell me – which one?

As for pricing, both vehicles were loaded up with the Premium Package option, which added $2,500 to the sticker, but the GT sedan (in optional Machine Grey Metallic paint) came to $30,695, all in, and that fancy-lookin’ Soul Red Crystal Sport model with all-wheel drive showed up at $33,645




EcoRun 2019: Alberta Edition


We were yahoo’d properly into the spirit of the town, and given big, funny hats befitting our stature by the city’s Director of Business Development, Greg Newton, down at the Stampede grounds as the 2019 edition of EcoRun came to a close.

Stampede didn’t officially start for another week, but around here they take this festival/rodeo seriously, and start the party early. Our hotel downtown was buzzing with people in similar hats to ours, and the atmosphere decidedly celebratory.

However, just as the speechifying was about to begin, with the announcements of who among us had achieved the best fuel economy numbers – and would thus rule over us all with their prize, the coveted ‘Green Jersey’ (similar to an Oscar, except it isn’t rigged, ha ha), that’s when the weather turned on us.

The sky cracked open, and blasted down upon us some truly biblical rain, which is one thing; but it was when the thunder started and the power in our building went out that our group abandoned Stampede Park and ran to the buses back to downtown, sheltered from the monsoon (somewhat) by our big, funny hats.

But wait. I’m formulating this tale poorly – stories aren’t supposed to start at the end. Let’s back it up a couple of days, to the beginning of this 8th installment of AJAC’s EcoRun:


We kicked it off in Edmonton, down by the river at Louise McKinney Park. Mayor Don Iveson joined Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi and Suncor VP Dean Wilcox on a stage with several of the vehicles to open the drive.

(And hey, for a complete list of vehicles that were involved in the event, and their fuel scores, scroll down to the bottom of the page).

EcoRun Chair David MIller (left) opens the event along with Mayor Don Iveson, Minister of Natural Resources Amarjeet Sohi and Suncor VP Dean Wilcox Photo courtesy John Walker/AJAC

You don’t need me to run down what the annual EcoRun is all about – in a nutshell it’s a demonstration of vehicles from a number of manufacturers’ most fuel efficient products. Not everything needs to be an EV or a hybrid to enter; we had a diesel-powered Chevy Colorado in the mix along with a couple of gasoline-only Mazda3s (both sedan and hatchback, and one an AWD to boot).

Here’s some links to some past history and overview of the event and its intent.

Getting back to the story: I jumped into a Toyota RAV4 and drove out to our first destination (and charge point for the electric vehicles):

Red Deer

I rolled into the ‘Deer with an average of 5.5L/100km, which is actually .5 under the NRCanada rating for the RAV, and pretty decent for an AWD crossover. It underscores another important point, too; almost every vehicle entered in this year’s run actually beat the projected ‘official’ mileage figures – some by a little and some by a lot. Check out the results for the Hyundai Elantra and the Colorado, for example!

Red Deer isn’t just famous for being the birthplace of Wade Ozeroff, either, there’s a sports museum on the outskirts of the city where we pulled in for a look while the EV’s recharged. The recharging can take a couple of hours, even with 240v power, so the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame is a good place to kill time, and hear a few words from one of the big sponsors of the EcoRun, ATCO’s Francois Blouin.


I switched to a Volvo for the next leg, an XC60 T8 for the drive from Red Deer to Drumheller. Great vehicle, incidentally; I love Volvo’s interiors in any of their current vehicle lineup. I got less-stellar fuel economy on this leg of the run, though, coming in at 6.7L per 100km.

But hey! Drumheller! I haven’t been to the area since I was a little kid, and they’ve got way more stuff at the excellent Royal Tyrrell Museum. I totally recommend it – there’s dozens if not hundreds of dinosaur skeletons (and prehistoric mammals). The facility is awesome, as is the Badlands countryside around it.


It was in Drumheller that I swapped the Volvo for a fully electric vehicle, a Kia Niro. And here’s an important point: EVs have become much better at predicting, accurately, their range. When they unhooked my test car from the charging station, it claimed to have a range of 220 kilometers.

I have been in earlier-generation electric vehicles where this claim meant nothing (which is where the whole ‘range anxiety’ comes in – a car starts off saying it has lots of range and then the estimate plummets when you pull onto the highway in a headwind, and then suddenly you’re worried about not making it home).

Not the case with the Niro, though. The drive to Cowtown was 141 km, and pulled into the hotel downtown with 80 km of range still left in the battery, according to its info display.


Photo courtesty AJAC/John Walker

Longview, AB isn’t just the home of country music icon Ian Tyson, it is also the base of one of the finest Jerky stores in our fine province. I picked some up for the rest of the trip, and totally vouch for the quality of their fine product.

That aside, the trip to Longview from Calgary (this is into the second day of the Run) allowed another hybrid from Toyota to stand out – the Corolla Hybrid.

What made it remarkable in particular was that this was only leg of the event where I drove with a passenger in any of the vehicles. A delightful woman named Andrea from NRCan joined me for the trip, which was great timing because the Corolla didn’t a navigation system and I am absolutely terrible at directions.

Indeed, the only thing worse than a car with no nav is a car with a navigation system that gets confused and does stupid things like try to send you the wrong way down a one-way, or keeps making you drive across the bridge over the river unnecessarily. So it was good to have someone to read the map directions, especially since all the highways to Longview seem to be called Hwy 22. Andrea can attest to this.

Anyway, the point is, the Corolla hybrid came in under the official economy estimate with two of us in the car (I got 3.9km/100km versus the stated 4.5 from the company) and that was including me getting lost for a while on the way out of downtown.


Coming into the home stretch, Andrea abandoned me in Longview (perhaps in favor of a more competent media geek, one who doesn’t get lost, I dunno), and I hopped daintily into another Toyota product – one of my favorites: the Prius!

And not just any Prius, either, but the company’s new, all-wheel drive model. It turned in stellar mileage on the drive from Longview to Banff/Canmore yielding 3.7L/100km which is incredible for an AWD car, and full litre below the official economy numbers. Also, this one had a nav system, and a really good one at that.

Calgary Redux

In summation: that was about that, my gentle friends. My last push of the EcoRun was in a Nissan Altima that took me into Calgary (admittedly, it was pretty much a straight run down the highway) with a result almost two km under the official FE number, at 5.8L/100km.

I could have done better, too, but the Altima’s nav system got confused and kept trying to make me drive over to the wrong side of the river and I got mad at it and was perhaps mashing the gas a little hard as I drove ‘round and ‘round in downtown traffic.

Actual photo of David MIller, outgoing EcoRun Chair and a pretty right-on guy.

And now we’re back to the start of this tale, y’all, with a bunch of really good-lookin’ men and women fleeing the Stampede grounds deluge in big funny hats.

Don’t worry, though, we took over the bar at the hotel for the closing ceremonies, conducted under makeshift conditions by longtime EcoRun Chair, David Miller. The poignant touch on the evening is that will be Miller’s last turn as Chair of the event after 8 years – a great guy with absolutely first-rate planning skills who consistently pulls together the wonderful showcase of fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles. I can’t imagine how much work must go into putting this spectacle on, primarily done by Miller and the event Logistics Manager, the excellent Jim Koufis.

My big funny hat is off to them, and to the Alberta edition of the AJAC EcoRun!

You can check out the results below for the results of all the entries, there really isn’t a loser in the bunch: